retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The New York Times has an interesting tidbit, quoting from a soon-to-be-published article in the Journal of Consumer Research about people’s supermarket spending habits:

“The authors approached 175 people entering grocery stores, asking them what items they planned to buy and how much they planned to spend. The average shopper could name items totaling $41.11, but reported a total budget for the trip of $58.46, a near-perfect prediction of spending. That leaves $17.35 that was mentally committed to the shopping trip but not put aside for any particular item.”

The study concludes that when these shoppers walked down every aisle of the store, they tended to use up all or most of the reserve...but when they only visited aisles that had the products they were looking for, they walked away with money in their pockets.

Karen M. Stilley, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pittsburgh who helped write the study, says: “It’s kind of crazy that there are people walking into the store, expecting to spend money, and the store is leaving it on the table.”
KC's View:
I hate to be the one to challenge an assertion by a postdoctoral fellow, especially since I have but a modest B.A., but...

Depending on the store, this actually could be a good thing. Imagine a shopper walking into a store with money to spend, but also in a situation where times are tough. The shopper buys what is needed, but discovers - yippee! - that the items actually cost less than expected ... and so, departs the store feeling good about the experience and determined to return to the same store next time food is needed.

Maybe I’m wrong, but this doesn’t sound like a bad thing. For many stores, this actually seems like it would be the point.

Sure, getting people to want more stuff and then to buy it is one of the goals of retailing. But especially in the food business, where a positive experience can turn into a lifetime of weekly shopping, that cannot be the only goal.

Besides ... this study looked at only 175 people. It’s also possible that a different 175 people in different stores could have behaved in a different manner.

But maybe postdoctoral fellows don’t think this way...