What is in-store slack? Consumers often plan for unplanned purchases

February 17, 2010

Those unplanned grocery purchases may not be so unplanned after all. According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, shoppers often expect to buy a certain number of unplanned items, and most have a pretty good idea of how much they'll spend on them.

Authors Karen M. Stilley, Jeffrey Inman (both University of Pittsburgh), and Kirk L. Wakefield (Baylor University) say that consumers have spending expectations for grocery shopping trips, called mental budgets, and those budgets typically leave room for unplanned purchases. The authors call this "in-store slack."

The researchers conducted a field study at several grocery stores in Texas. They asked shoppers what items they planned to purchase, how much they expected to spend on the planned items, and how much they expected to spend on the total trip. After shopping, participants provided their receipts and answered questions about themselves and the experience. More than three-fourths of the participants included room for unplanned purchases.

"Shoppers in the study indicated that they employ this strategy both because they anticipate 'forgotten needs' as well as because they realize that they will encounter 'unplanned wants'--with some respondents even explicitly indicating that they expected to make impulse purchases," the authors write. Consistent with prior studies, the shoppers were remarkably accurate when predicting how much they would spend. The average budget deviation (actual spending minus planned spending) was only $0.47.

How does in-store slack affect household budgets? The impact of in-store slack on budget deviation depended on how many aisles the shopper visited and the shoppers' level of impulsiveness. "Less-impulsive individuals who shop most aisles tend to spend the money available from in-store slack, but don't exceed their overall budgets. In contrast, in-store slack leads to overspending for highly impulsive individuals who shop most aisles," the authors explain.

"For the majority of consumers, having in-store slack appears to be a rational way to use the store to cue needs and preserve self-control," the authors write. "Highly impulsive individuals may want to consider planning as many purchases in advance as possible."
-end-
Karen M. Stilley, J. Jeffrey Inman, and Kirk Wakefield. "Planning to Make Unplanned Purchases? The Role of In-store Slack in Budget Deviation." Journal of Consumer Research: August 2010. A preprint of this article (to be officially published online soon) can be found at http://journals.uchicago.edu/jcr).

University of Chicago Press Journals

Related Consumers Articles from Brightsurf:

When consumers trust AI recommendations--or resist them
The key factor in deciding how to incorporate AI recommenders is whether consumers are focused on the functional and practical aspects of a product (its utilitarian value) or on the experiential and sensory aspects of a product (its hedonic value).

Do consumers enjoy events more when commenting on them?
Generating content increases people's enjoyment of positive experiences.

Why consumers think pretty food is healthier
People tend to think that pretty-looking food is healthier (e.g., more nutrients, less fat) and more natural (e.g., purer, less processed) than ugly-looking versions of the same food.

How consumers responded to COVID-19
The coronavirus pandemic has been a catalyst for laying out the different threats that consumers face, and that consumers must prepare themselves for a constantly shifting landscape moving forward.

Is less more? How consumers view sustainability claims
Communicating a product's reduced negative attribute might have unintended consequences if consumers approach it with the wrong mindset.

In the sharing economy, consumers see themselves as helpers
Whether you use a taxi or a rideshare app like Uber, you're still going to get a driver who will take you to your destination.

Helping consumers in a crisis
A new study shows that the central bank tool known as quantitative easing helped consumers substantially during the last big economic downturn -- a finding with clear relevance for today's pandemic-hit economy.

'Locally grown' broccoli looks, tastes better to consumers
In tests, consumers in upstate New York were willing to pay more for broccoli grown in New York when they knew where it came from, Cornell University researchers found.

Should patients be considered consumers?
No, and doing so can undermine efforts to promote patient-centered health care, write three Hastings Center scholars in the March issue of Health Affairs.

Consumers choose smartphones mostly because of their appearance
The more attractive the image and design of the telephone, the stronger the emotional relationship that consumers are going to have with the product, which is a clear influence on their purchasing decision.

Read More: Consumers News and Consumers Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.