The Science Behind Being A Smarter Shopper

Everyone has their own tricks to scoring the best deal, but how many of those tricks can be backed up by hard data?

Below are four insights gleaned from surveys, experiments, and research studies that could help you become a smarter shopper.

Know Your Needs

While you may not consider yourself an impulse shopper, everyone has at one point walked into a grocery or department store only to come out with more than the intended purchases. Combating those impromptu habits can be difficult, but making a concrete shopping plan can help keep your shopping on track.

A 1985 research paper on the phenomenology of impulse shopping by Dennis Rook and Stephen Hoch presented five crucial components to impulsive shopping. One of those components was “a reduction in cognitive evaluation.” The paper explains that, when struck by the sudden impulse to purchase something, shoppers critical reasoning declined, leading to the unplanned purchase.

To combat the allure of an unplanned extravagance, respondents in the study relied on mental discipline tactics, such as committing to buying only the items they went to the store for, or limiting their access to additional funds like credit cards. Being aware of what you need to purchase, by making a list, ranking the items in your cart by priority, or whatever you need to do to remain focused on what you need to buy, can help curb unplanned spending.

Ditch Brand Loyalty

The denim company you never stray from or that brand of toothpaste that you have used since you were 10, is banking on your loyalty. And chances are good that your loyalty has become more of a unconsidered preference than an informed decision based on value or quality.

In a study published by the journal Advances in Consumer Research, researchers found that consumers who were more receptive to particular brands proved to be generally less interested in taking advantage of sales or discounts than those without such brand attachments.

Whether your loyalty is based on actual quality, ingrained identification, or both, you shouldn’t neglect shopping around for a better deal. You could end up finding a new favorite, or, worse case, reaffirming what you already knew.

Do Your Research

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that exposing yourself to a wider range of options for a given product will make you better informed about what you should expect to pay, but there is hard science that proves it.

In a 1988 consumer study, subjects were asked to rate their familiarity with the general market price of a given product—a personal computer—and asked to choose the highest and lowest price they would pay for it based on provided specifications. The study explained that, “Subjects indicated a higher mean lower and upper price limit, and an narrower acceptable price range when they were market price knowledgeable than when they possessed little or no market price knowledge.”

While it may not seem like a major insight that becoming knowledgeable in at least the market price of a product, the virtue of shopping around and being aware of how much value you are getting from a sale or markdowns, has only grown. Browser applications like PriceBlink and Invisible Hand can help locate where you might find the lowest price for some of your purchases.

But Not Too Much

Finally, if you are planning a critical purchase in the near future and you’ve done your research, you will probably be just a satisfied going ahead with the purchase it than if you spent another week shopping around and agonizing over it.

A survey experiment conducted by researchers at Indiana University showed that there was no noticeable difference in either consumer confidence or satisfaction with major purchases, planned or unplanned, after eight months.
The study’s focus was on the performance of the item and did not necessarily take into account its purchase price. However, given that those who spent time shopping around reported about the same satisfaction with their purchase as those who did little research, the only difference between the two groups might be how much they paid for the same reward.