Psychology of Shopping

If you’ve ever wondered why some people are proud to announce a great deal on a new outfit, or why they like wine more when it’s expensive, author, Philip Graves, might have the answer. Graves, one of the world’s leading experts in consumer behavior, shares his insights into the psychology of shopping in a new book, “CONSUMEROLOGY: The Market Research Myth, the Truth about Consumers and the Psychology of Shopping.”

In it, Graves explains, “It’s likely that there’s an evolutionary link between the original gathering role women had, and the way they like to shop today. Women will often enjoy exploring new shops to get a sense of what’s available, which links back to the nurturing and providing role.” Graves also notes that women appear to find shopping far less tiring than men, and their shopping stamina is often far greater. “This may go back to the way our brains have evolved to manage tasks efficiently,” he notes. “Gathering requires an ability to keep an eye out for what’s tasty, and retail environments are crowded with products and messages and require a vast amount of such filtering. If you’re not used to it, this can be mentally draining.” He also notes that from an early age, girls get attention, or psychological ‘strokes,’ from things more closely linked to purchasing than boys, who tend to get theirs linked to strength, power and status. Saying, “Don’t you look lovely,” to the child in the new dress, becomes, “Don’t I look nice,” when that girl has disposable income years later. “It recreates the same positive feelings,” Graves says. “Given the consumer nature of society, recreating this feeling is relatively easy and can become habitual.”

In his research, Graves also found that a bargain causes a feel good rush of brain chemicals, and telling other people gives us a reminder of that feeling. “Getting a good deal makes a good story,” he says, “and in the end we are little more than story telling primates. When we get a good deal, we’re the hero who has defeated the store to win the prize.” Because of this, bargain shoppers can be like gamblers, with a highly inaccurate recollection of how good they are at shopping, as they are quick to forget the mistakes.

Finally, Graves notes that our brains work by making associations. “While we tell ourselves that our conscious mind evaluates something on the basis of certain known variables, the reality is that there’s a lot more that influences what we think,” he says. For example, when we see the wine label or the price, it triggers certain associations. “Think of it as a rough track that’s just been turned into a surfaced road,” Graves says. “Now when we taste the wine, our brain finds it easier to go down the road than some of the other rough tracks, and we get to the destination more quickly.” In the case of higher price, drinkers tend to associate this with better quality, so they find it easier to like the wine more. For more information on Philip Graves and his work, go to