Grab a coffee before shopping? You may want to think twice

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How does drinking a caffeinated beverage influence shopping behavior?

Are customers prone to impulsive purchases after consuming coffee, tea, or soda at retail stores or car dealerships?

A new study published in the Journal of Marketing examines how caffeine affects consumer spending.

About 85% of Americans consume at least one caffeinated beverage every day with coffee being the primary source of caffeine, followed by tea and soda.

Caffeine is also found in energy drinks, chocolate, and many over-the-counter and prescription medications.

The study finds that drinking a caffeinated beverage before shopping leads to more items purchased at the store and increased spending.

The effect of caffeine is stronger for “high hedonic” products such as scented candles, fragrances, décor items, and massagers and weaker for “low hedonic” products such as notebooks, kitchen utensils, and storage baskets.

Several studies have demonstrated that caffeine intake enhances arousal, which is experienced as a state of activation and alertness that can range from extreme drowsiness to extreme excitement.

Arousal can be a positive hedonic state – referred to as excitement or energetic arousal – such as when one feels active, energized, and excited or a negative hedonic state – referred to as “tense arousal” – such as when one experiences tension and nervousness.

Energetic arousal enhances the perception of product features and, in turn, increases purchase intentions for hedonic products such as buttery, salty popcorn, chocolate candy, and luxury vacations.

Prior research has shown that consuming caffeine in the range of 25 mg to 200 mg enhances energetic arousal with practically no effects on tense arousal.

This study examines effects of caffeine intake in the range of about 30 mg to 100 mg since most caffeinated beverage servings have caffeine content in this range.

As part of the study, the research team set up an espresso station near the entrance of two different retail stores in two major cities in France and outside a department store in Spain.

Upon entry, half of the 300 shoppers were handed a complimentary cup of coffee containing caffeine and the other half offered decaf or water. “We found that the caffeine group spent significantly more money and bought a higher number of items than those who drank decaf or water,” says the researchers.

Caffeine also impacted the types of items bought at the stores.

The group that took in caffeine bought more hedonic (enjoyable/fun) items such as scented candles and fragrances. However, there was very little difference between the two groups with regard to utilitarian purchases such as utensils and storage baskets.

Also, the effects of caffeine on spending hold for those who drink a little over two cups of coffee (or less) daily and is weakened for heavy coffee drinkers.

“Overall, retailers can benefit financially if shoppers consume caffeine before or during shopping and that the effects are stronger for high hedonic products.

This is important for retailers to factor in to determine the proportion of hedonic products in their stores. Policymakers may also want to inform consumers about the potential effects of caffeine on spending,” conclude the researchers.

This research can be extended in several directions. Can arousing elements such as loud music influence the effects of caffeine on shopping behavior?

It is possible that high levels of arousal

induced by a combination of caffeine and ambient elements can alter shopping behavior. What if shoppers consume coffee along with some food like chocolate cake?

Several interesting findings could emerge from research involving caffeine and these variables.

Written by Marilyn Stone.