All Real-World Shoppers Are Zombies

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.

See also: How Stores Manipulate Your Senses So You Spend More Money

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]


    I would say online predictability is probably just as high. From my own experience, I know there are about four or five retailers online that I return to/buy from with regularity. The rest are one-time visits for occasional/special purchases.

    Can we have a link to the study please?

    I tend to shop online almost exclusively for items that aren't 'time sensitive' such as clothing, PC gear, books etc.

      Link added :-)

        Cheers, it seems long term we are predictable, but in the short term not so much. Interesting.

    Some of us optimise our shopping for time instead of just money.

    -I frequent the same shops because they've been shown to be pretty good in the past
    -I tend to shop in 'clusters', where I'll visit a shop just because it's near others that I'm already visiting.
    -I pay an obvious premium in some cases. At king-size menswear I pay $100 for a pair of pants, but it takes 10 minutes and they fit perfectly. Attempting to do the same thing at regular shops can take hours.

    Dawn of the Dead was primarily about consumerism, the zombies were secondary

    Not all the researchers were from MIT - one of the co-authors is Manuel Cebrian from NICTA in Australia . (Disclosure - I'm from NICTA too.)

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