A new scientific study into the shopping habits of consumers has found that most people return to the same stores with remarkable regularity. Over the long term, shoppers tend to have extremely similar visitation patterns with clear regularities across the population. In other words, when it comes to shopping, we're far less canny and selective than we think we are.
Researchers from MIT analysed hundreds of thousands of individual economic transactions in a bid to discover how predictable consumers are in their merchant visitation patterns. The study involved anonymised credit card data from over 50 million accounts at two major US and European financial institutions. Each individual’s purchases were analysed over 6–11 months, revealing not only how much money they spent, but how they allocate their time across multiple merchants.
The research team discovered that despite their varied individual preferences, shoppers are on the whole very similar in their overall statistical patterns, and return to stores with remarkable regularity.
Our results suggest that much of our seemingly elective activity is actually highly predictable. Notwithstanding a wide range of individual preferences, shoppers share regularities in how they visit merchant locations over time...While our results point to the elusiveness of precise predictions about where a person will go next, they suggest the existence, at large time-scales, of regularities across the population.
The report concludes that even though people shop both by choice and out of necessity (or "for fun and for fuel"), shopping is a highly predictable behavior at longer time scales.
How online shopping fits into all this is not quite clear, but we're willing to bet that merchant/site predictability is a lot less pronounced. Er, unless you count eBay.
Are you a creature of habit when it comes to traditional brick-and-mortar shopping? Or do you do your research and chase the best deals? We'd also like to hear what percentage of your shopping is done online. Let us know in the comments section below!
The predictability of consumer visitation patterns [Scientific Reports]