Shopping Leads to More Shopping

Research shows that buying one thing makes a shopper more likely to purchase more items.

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If you've ever impulsively bought a muffin to go with your coffee, or surprised yourself by buying a whole new outfit when you meant to get only a shirt, then you will relate to the findings of a new study: Shopping, it turns out, leads to more shopping.

Before you beat yourself up for this kind of splurging spiral, know this: Researchers say that the forces at work are, in fact, psychological in nature and beyond our control. (Warning: That line may not work on spouses.)

Shopping can be broken into two phases, the researchers say. In the first stage, people question whether they want to make a purchase. When they decide that the pros outweigh the cons, the "buying phase" takes over. "Once that happens, a roller coaster of shopping can begin," says Uzma Khan, assistant professor of marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and one of the study's authors. The researchers call the phenomenon "shopping momentum."

So, how to stop that horse once it's out of the gate? Keeping money in separate areas—in your wallet and in your pocket, for example—may create a second deliberation phase, even after one purchase has been made.

The lesson for stores trying to siphon money from our wallets is to put necessities, such as an umbrella on a rainy day, in the front of the store, so we have our cash ready when it comes to making more optional purchases, like that giant scented candle.