Is there science to shopping?

Absolutely. We were the first people to put cameras and eye-tracking devices in stores to monitor where people go and what they look at.


When we married this with brain scans, we were able to see the effect these activities have on decision-making.

Should I price-check?

The question is, do you want to have an easier shop or a cheaper shop? If you want an easy shop, continue on automatic pilot and accept that at some point in the past, you made a choice to say that’s the sort of price you will pay for this product.

Or, shop carefully and pay attention to the prices, but accept it will take two to three times longer.

pain-free shopping © Carlos Ortega
© Carlos Ortega

How should I navigate aisles?

Sideways! To properly shop a category, stop and turn to face the shelves. We have a bias to look slightly down, between waist and chest height, so scan the full height of the shelves, and work your way along. This will help you to check the prices and promotions.

Should I write a list?

People who shop without a list are more likely to buy impulsively.

If you want to control your budget, write a list and stick to it. People who do this buy 15 per cent fewer items than those who don’t.

Basket or trolley?

We did an experiment in a convenience store and found that if people don’t have a basket, they buy only what they can carry.

If they have a basket, they buy more. We have this unconscious mentality that the size of the shop matches the size of the container. So, if we grab a trolley, we buy more.

Need to know:

  • Write a list and stick to it, especially if you are on a budget.
  • Do not take your kids with you, as they’ll stress you out and you’ll buy the wrong stuff.
  • Don’t shop hungry, as you’ll be more likely to buy things on impulse.

Should I bring the kids?

Do not take your children! They have the power to pester and influence what you buy. Managing them is stressful so you get distracted and end up forgetting things or buying the wrong stuff.

Online vs instore?

The websites for online stores tend to be poorly designed. There’s the hassle of trying to build a shopping list, so people often start their shopping, then go away, come back and add to it. You end up spending more because the websites are difficult to navigate.

Big weekly shop, or smaller top-up shops?

If you do small, frequent shops, you will spend more money and time than if you do a big weekly or monthly shop. But when we asked people how long they think they spend shopping, we found that people who do smaller shops underestimate the time it takes – so you feel like it takes less time than a big shop.

More like this

What’s the best time of day to shop?

Late morning because it’s quietest, so you’re less likely to get stressed or distracted. But don’t go shopping hungry. You’re twice as likely to impulse purchase if you’re hungry.

Any other tips?

Our eye-tracking research shows that people are drawn to big displays. We think if it’s a big display it must be a good brand, but be aware that brands pay for this level of prominence.

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Helen Pilcher
Helen PilcherScience writer, presenter and performer.

Helen Pilcher is a tea-drinking, biscuit-nibbling science and comedy writer, with a PhD in cell biology.