Monday, June 21, 2010

See It, Don't Spend It

An article in the local paper discussed and gave the notes from a seminar/workshop that was given at a community center. The seminar dealt with the visualization of spending. One of the points the seminar leader made was that using plastic and checks is one way that people overspend. When all you are doing is writing your name and the amount to be paid on a check or on a credit card slip there can be a disconnect between the amount being spent and what is being purchased. Perhaps intellectually we know that there is a connection between $216.44 and the items in our wagons, but that knowledge does not give us pause--we sign on the dotted line. On some level our expenditures don't count as "real money" going out. One recommendation that was made was to decide how much you can afford to spend on groceries and take that amount--no more and no less--with you to the market.

During the seminar participants were not given credit cards or checkbooks to use during some of the participation exercises; they were given play money in ones, fives, tens and twenties. The seminar leader mentioned that some studies have shown that people who handle actual money when making purchases feel more connected to the money and look at those purchases with more attention.

I also found of interest an exercise that was done that was called the empty wagon syndrome. Apparently some people feel they are getting their money's worth only if they see a full wagon. Wagons with only a few items in them are seen as too meagre. During the seminar participants were shown three shopping wagons. One wagon had relatively few items in it--perhaps only 1/8 to 1/4 full. The second wagon was about 1/2 full. The third wagon was full to the brim. First, the participants were asked to rate the wagons on a scale of satisfaction--how pleasing did they look to the participants. With only 2 exceptions out of some 50 participants, the full wagon was given the highest marks for being pleasing and the least full wagon was given the lowest marks. Then the participants were asked to state which wagon was worth more than the others. Here all the participants picked the wagon that was most filled. [Interesting note: the cost of the items in the wagons was not mentioned, only the fullness of the wagons. The seminar leader mentioned in the article that this could be one of the reasons why people tend to overspend in the market. If there are too few items in their wagons they are somehow sure they have not done enough shopping and look for other items to put in until the wagon "looks right."]

What was in those wagons? The least full wagon contained a variety of fruits and vegetables, both fresh and frozen. It contained spice bottles and ketchup and mustard. The fullest wagon contained drink mixes, soda bottles, pretzels, potato chips and a variety of jarred and canned nuts. It contained boxes of crackers and cookies and jars of dips.

Some interesting food for thought in the article. There's an old saying: "stop eating with your eyes." Simple pshat: we see and therefore want more than what is necessary for health and nutrition and satiation. More is better, at least visually. Apply that to grocery shopping (or a whole lot of other types of shopping) and what we get is that empty cart syndrome: we're only fully satisfied if the cart is full, never mind what that might cost us.


Rae said...

Some truth in this. Even though I always take a written list with me to the store I sometimes look at the wagon and ask myself what I've forgotten if that wagon looks kind of empty. Doesn't matter that I've gotten all the things on the list and that I don't need anything else.

Anonymous said...

This also applies to how much food is on your plate. I've read about studies that show that people who use smaller plates eat less, so it's time to get rid of those over-sized fancy dinner plates.

Trudy said...

Anonymous, I'm not sure those smaller plates would really help. Ever see people at a smorg at a wedding? They put out very small plates and everyone keeps going back and back and back for more. And then they sit down and eat a full dinner.

JS said...

There's definitely a lot of psychology involved in the shopping experience. Retailers put a lot of money into research and development of the stores and displays to make you spend, on average, more than you normally would. I saw a special (forget the channel) on coca cola in which they showed a mock store that coca cola has set up in their laboratories. It is a complete supermarket with aisles and everything. They try to discover subtle tweaks they can make to the aisle set up and bottle design to make people spend just a little bit more, on average. One of the head researchers said that a recent change to bottle design led to a 5% (or something similar) increase in purchases. Supermarkets do the same thing in the ways they lay out the aisles, not having clocks anywhere, making sure you have to go up and down many aisles to get what you need to increase impulse purchasing, etc.

Also, shopping carts are much larger nowadays than they used to be. The supermarkets near me almost exclusively have the large carts. The only "normal" carts are the 4-5 that haven't been tossed yet.

Chana said...

Trudy, that's because those smorg plates are too small. People are convinced that since they only had a little to eat they can go back for seconds and thirds and maybe then they'll have eaten the equivalent of a normal sized portion.