Shop Til You Drop

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Burning up the plastic at your favorite store? Your spending could be out of your control.

You might think you can put a handle on how much your next spree will cost you. But according to MSN Money there are eight unusual factors to blame for your shopping. Marketing experts say we are more seduced by outside factors when we shop than we realize. For example, where your last name falls in the alphabet can contribute to shopping behavior.

According to a study from the Journal of Consumer Research the farther back in the alphabet your name falls; the more conditioned you are to be last. Since teachers usually do things alphabetically people at the end of the alphabet usually had fewer options. As a result when people get older they want to be among the first to buy the latest product and will often pay more for it. On the flip side people at the beginning of the alphabet can usually wait longer for something.

To find out what else is making you spend keep reading. At least you’ll have an excuse for your next credit card bill.

Your genes
A certain amount of our shopping behavior is, like many parts of our identity, determined by genetics. One study published last year found that the degree to which consumers are willing to prefer luxury items, willing to compromise on purchases or prone to gamble may all be based on our genes. The study was based on surveys of identical and fraternal twins and found strong similarities in their choices in these shopping categories.

Where your name falls in the alphabet
Your last name says more about you than just your lineage: It also contributes to your shopping behavior.
According to a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Consumer Research, the farther back your last name falls in the alphabet, the more conditioned you likely have been to be at the end of the line, so to speak, as teachers and event planners often organize children alphabetically. Often this means that someone whose last name starts with Z is more likely to have limited or no options because he is the last to be called upon.
As a result, when this person grows older, he is more likely to compensate for missed opportunities by trying to be among the first to purchase a new product, whether it be the latest iPad or a new line of clothing, even though it usually costs more at these times. On the flip side, someone whose name starts with A or B may be less interested in being among the first and can stand to wait longer.
Unfortunately, this is one factor that, if true, is largely beyond our control, as the study notes that the conditioning takes place when we're young, so changing your name later in life makes little difference.

The size of your shopping cart
Lindstrom also urges consumers to pay attention to an otherwise unnoticed menace to your wallet: the shopping cart. He notes that the size of the shopping cart can play a big part in how long you stay in the store and how much you feel the need to purchase.
"The smaller shopping carts are never as readily available as the bigger ones, but as soon as you take a big shopping cart, you are basically priming yourself to say this isn't just a quick run to buy a candy bar," he said.
The larger the size of the shopping cart, the greater the likelihood that you will purchase more. Lindstrom says that although 10 items might seem like a lot when they are overflowing from a small shopping basket, they seem like less when they take up just a small fraction of a larger cart, which makes it easier for the consumer to keep pulling items off the shelves without feeling as guilty.

Moving counter-clockwise through the store
Retailers put a lot of thought into the layout of the stores, whether they advertise it or not, with the goal of creating an environment that is the most conducive to consumers spending more. But Lindstrom says one of the simplest and perhaps most common tactics is to arrange the entrance in such a way that consumers are led to circle through the store in a counterclockwise motion.
It might sound arbitrary, but the reason, according to one previous study, is that it feels more natural for us to walk counterclockwise around an area, and when we walk in the other direction, we naturally feel a slight discomfort and are more likely to exit the store sooner.
"Most of the retail stores have done this deliberately, and particularly food stores, because it causes shoppers to stay in the store longer and spend more," Lindstrom said.
For those looking for an excuse to leave the store quickly then, it might be worth trying an experiment in which you force yourself to walk in the other direction.

Your mood
The emotions you feel in the lead-up to a shopping trip may play a bigger role than you think in what you buy.
One 2008 report, cleverly titled "Misery is Not Miserly," from researchers at Harvard, Stanford and several other prominent universities found that consumers are more likely to spend greater amounts when they are feeling sad because they feel more desperate to satisfy their urges and cheer themselves up.
But even positive emotions can be costly to consumers.
For example, when shoppers are feeling a greater amount of pride about themselves, they are more likely to desire nicer products, such as fancy watches and shoes that let them show off a bit, according to one study published last year in the Journal of Consumer Research. On the other hand, the study found that when consumers are feeling content with life, they are more likely to purchase fixtures for their home, such as beds and dishwashers, as well as comfortable clothes for lounging around the house.
So perhaps the best option is to go shopping when you feel at your most apathetic.

How religious you are
At first blush, it seems that whether or not a person is religious should have little effect on his shopping behavior. But according to one study conducted last year by Gavan Fitzsimons, a professor of marketing and psychology at Duke University, secular shoppers may end up spending more than their religious counterparts.
Fitzsimons and his fellow researchers surveyed more than 1,000 consumers and found that those with less religion in their lives were more likely to embrace brand-name products as a means to express their identity, while consumers who identified as being more religious felt less of a desire to find other ways to express themselves and so were more likely to purchase generic goods.
The net effect of this, as Fitzsimons notes, is that secular shoppers spend "way more" on branded goods, which can lead to a significantly higher bill, given that generics are almost always cheaper than brand-name products.

Shopping with your partner
Sometimes, shopping with a friend can be the best way to stop yourself from making an impulse buy, if you prime the friend in advance to help keep you in check. But one exception to the rule may be shopping with your spouse or significant other.
Lindstrom says the downside of having the extra pair of eyes is that you start to add items to your shopping cart that you might have skipped over on your own because they appeal to your partner.
"You start to inspire each other to make a purchase. The first person may not need the item, but the other may push for it," Lindstrom said. "You are also much more likely to have a fight because you disagree about a particular product, and as a result, you are more likely to buy that product to get the other party to stop complaining."
On the bright side though, guys may finally have the excuse they've always wanted to get out of going shopping.

Shopping while hungry
Many studies have suggested that when we're hungry, a primal part of our brain kicks in that encourages us to be more aggressive and acquire as much food as we can stomach. One 2008 study said we effectively become addicts to food in the moment we're hungry, and need more, more, more until our stomach tells our brain that enough is enough.
Everyone has probably experienced a version of this at some point or other. Just think of all the times you've ordered a heaping portion of food at a restaurant only to realize at the end of the meal that your eyes really are bigger than your stomach. But this problem extends well beyond the confines of your nearest Denny's. Several studies have found that consumers will buy more goods in a grocery store when they are hungry than when they are full.