A Cup of Coffee Before Going Shopping May Cause You to Overspend

According to University of South Florida researchers, coffee and credit cards may be a financial planner’s worst nightmare. According to researchers, shoppers who drank a complimentary cup of coffee before going shopping spent 50% more money and bought 30% more items than their non-caffeinated counterparts.

“Caffeine, as a powerful stimulant, releases dopamine in the brain, which excites the mind and the body.”  In a university release, lead study author Dipayan Biswas, the Frank Harvey Endowed Professor of Marketing at USF, says, “This leads to a higher energetic state, which in turn enhances impulsivity and decreases self-control.” As a result, caffeine consumption leads to shopping impulsivity in the form of more items purchased and higher spending.

Researchers set up an espresso machine at the entrances of a retail chain and home goods store in France, as well as a department store in Spain, to arrive at these conclusions.

Over 300 customers were given a complimentary cup with nothing in it when they entered those stores. Half of those shoppers chose a coffee with about 100 mg of caffeine, while the other half chose decaf coffee or water. Customers also shared their shopping receipts with researchers as they exited the stores, which was important.

People who drank caffeinated coffee purchased significantly more items and spent significantly more money.

Coffee encourages more impulse purchases

Caffeine consumption appears to influence the types of items people buy. Caffeine drinkers purchased more non-essential items (candles, fragrances) than the others. When it came to making more utilitarian purchases, however, there were few differences between caffeinated and decaffeinated shoppers (kitchen utensils, storage baskets).

The researchers also ran a fourth experiment in the lab to see how caffeine affected online shopping. They divided a group of 200 business school students into two groups based on whether they only drank caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee. Then, from a list of 66 options, each person had to choose which items they wanted to purchase. People who drank caffeine chose more “impulsive” items from the list, such as a massager, while others chose more practical items, such as a notebook.

While moderate amounts of caffeine intake can have positive health benefits, being caffeinated while shopping can have unintended consequences.  That is, consumers who want to limit their impulsive spending should avoid drinking caffeinated beverages before going shopping.

The research has been published in the Journal of Marketing.



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