Recent research at the Stanford Graduate School of Business suggests that shopping can lead to more shopping.

When such savvy marketing researchers as Uzma Khan of Stanford, Ravi Dhar of Yale, and Joel Huber of Duke noticed that shopping sometimes proceeded unchecked even in their own private domains, they decided to get to the bottom of things. Setting up a series of tests of purchasing behavior, they found that for most people buying that fateful first — and often innocent — item seems to open the purchasing floodgates. This realization, they say, has important implications for how stores are laid out as well as for understanding individual behavior.

These researchers indicate that shopping is a two-stage process.

  1. First, a consumer deliberates over the need to purchase an initial item, weighing the pros and cons.
  2. Once this initial “deliberation phase” has ended — once a consumer has decided to buy one thing — the consumer deliberates less about subsequent items.

Essentially, once a person decides to buy one thing, this creates “shopping momentum”, increasing the likelihood that he will buy additional items. If you pick up an impulse item (like a magazine or candy bar) as you enter a store, this can serve as a trigger to encourage you to buy more.

I’ve actually noticed this tendency in my own life. If I’m at the comic book store trying to decide whether to buy the latest Superman compilation, I can escape without spending anything if I stand my ground. But if I buy one book, it’s much easier for me to buy a second and a third. It’s almost as if I’m not making a decision on the Superman book I had planned to buy — it’s like I’m really deciding “will I buy stuff today or not?”

This study supports the notion that to avoid spending too much, it’s best not to lead yourself into temptation. I shouldn’t even enter the comic book store. If you like to shop for clothes, stay away from your favorite stores. It’s best to avoid temptation entirely.

[Stanford Graduate School of Business: Buyer beware: Shopping can lead to more shopping]

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