Grocery Shopping: Men Lost Without Grocery Lists (cont.)

"I am optimistic about people's ability to handle things," Rotfeld tells WebMD. "People go in with their coupons and their lists. It's not a free-for-all."

Getting More From the Store

Rotfeld's optimism notwithstanding, there's lots of room for error. That's because two-thirds of our grocery-shopping decisions are made in the store, says Barbara E. Kahn, PhD, director of the Wharton undergraduate division and Dorothy Silberberg Professor of Marketing at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

"People come in with a general idea of what they are going to buy, but their lists tend to be vague," Kahn tells WebMD. "When decisions are made in the store, you are vulnerable to cues such as corner displays, big red 'Value!' arrows, and other in-store merchandising."

Some of these cues result in impulse buying. A true impulse buy is hard to resist. That's because it's not a conscious act.

"Impulse buying is an emotional, almost out-of-control sort of desire to grab something right now without much thought for its consequence," Mick says.


"You can't leave your values at the front door."

But cues also get us to make unplanned purchases. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. A big red arrow, for example, may alert us to a good buy on our favorite kind of soup. We may not have planned to buy soup, but we can save a little by picking up a couple of cans now, so why not?

On the other hand, these are the kinds of sensible-seeming decisions that later make a person -- or a spouse -- say, "What were you thinking?"

Here are the experts' tips on how to get more from your trip to the store:

  • Values aren't price tags. "You can't leave your values at the front door," Mick says. "If you are mindful about what you choose in relation to your goals and values, you should be able to get out of the door with a basket of goods that comes closer to the satisfying and fulfilling sort of products that are best for you."
  • Train yourself to plan ahead. "Know what you are going to make for the week," Hutchinson says. "Do your diet planning before going to the store. Shop for what you planned for -- or at least for your general style of cooking."
  • Pay attention to pricing. "People don't really pay attention to pricing," Hutchinson says. "We all forget to send in the rebate coupons. And a lot of time there are little shelf pullouts that influence our purchase, but which we never actually use. We are influenced by things we think affect the price -- even a sign that claims 'good value.' Or we assume better price because of large size -- something that's not always true."
  • Don't shop when you are hungry. "When people go in hungry, lots of things look good. And you can't eat all that stuff," Stewart says.
  • Stick to your list. "Going in with a list of the things you need and sticking to it will result in you being a more disciplined shopper," Stewart notes.
  • Clip coupons. "Clipping coupons is a really good idea," Stewart says. "Marketers know that the vast majority of coupons go unredeemed. But you can get very substantial savings -- and some grocers will double the coupon. So there is an opportunity for very significant savings."
  • Don't browse if your list is short. "If you go in for milk or bread and end up doing a tour of the store -- there is a reason the store wants you to do that," Stewart says. "The more real estate a retailer can get you to traverse, the more likely it is you will buy something on impulse. So if you are trying to control your spending, don't be a browser."
  • Try brand X. National brands cost more, and you may find you like the store brand better.
  • Don't buy too many perishables. Sure, fresh fruits and vegetables are healthy. "But you could buy a shopping cart full of healthy foods and then, if you're going to be going out for a hamburger, they'll perish in the refrigerator," Stewart warns.

And, of course, there's that thing you should never tell your spouse.

"The worst time to shop is on the way home from work when it's been a long time since lunch and you're hungry for dinner. Everything in the store is going to look really good," Stewart says. "If you have somebody who is basically undisciplined, and their spouse says, "Pick up something for dinner" -- that is a risky proposition."

SOURCES: David W. Stewart, PhD, Robert E. Brooker Professor of Marketing, Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California. David Mick, PhD, Robert Hill Carter Professor of Marketing, McIntire School of Commerce, University of Virginia; president-elect, Association for Consumer Research. Barbara E. Kahn, PhD, director, Wharton undergraduate division and Dorothy Silberberg Professor of Marketing, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Wesley Hutchinson, PhD, Stephen J. Heyman professor and professor of marketing, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; past president, Association for Consumer Research. Herbert Jack Rotfeld, PhD, professor of marketing, Auburn University; editor, Journal of Consumer Affairs. Customer Focus 2002: Retail, December 2002.


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