Getting distracted at the supermarket is inevitable. There are temptations around every turn: brightly coloured sale signs! Sample tables! New flavours of ice cream! You might think that keeping your nose in your phone — scrolling through podcast episodes, calling your mum — would prevent you from getting sucked in by the modern grocery’s marketing ploys. But it turns out that if you’re noodling around on your phone in the store aisles, you could end up spending more than you bargained for.
Don’t believe me? Two recent studies provide evidence that using your phone for tasks unrelated to your shopping list lead to spending more at the grocery store. This distinction is important: if you use shopping list apps or rely on your favourite store’s app to check the circular, you’re unlikely to suffer from the kind of distraction that impacts your spending. But the moment you click on that text message notification that pops up while you’re checking for a discount on a wine carton, the distraction action starts to add up.
A 2018 study in the Journal of Marketing used eye-tracking technology, sales receipts and surveys to determine that phone use while grocery shopping led to spending more. Phone use increased the amount of time spent in the store, which increased shelf attention (how much time you spend looking at products and prices) and loop diversion (changing your path through the aisles).
All of that adds up to spending more. While this study notes that phone use actually decreased spending in the checkout — because checking Twitter prevents you from checking out magazine headlines and the price on Kit Kats — by that point, the damage of being distracted elsewhere has already been done.
Another study in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science interviewed shoppers at large stores like Target and Costco in the U.S. to find out how mobile phone use impacted their shopping list. Fast Company sums it up:
Those who used their phone in shopping unrelated ways were 9 per cent more likely to buy items that they had never intended to buy when going to the store. And the impulse items they purchased tended to be more hedonistic (think chocolate candy, snacks, electronics, and toys) – rather than practical – in nature.
If you’re determined to use your phone to check your shopping list or find discounts, consider turning off other notifications while you’re in the store. If you find yourself using your phone for other tasks while you peruse the aisles, you might want to switch back to a paper list to keep you on task. Otherwise, you may find yourself with a few extra items in your cart.