How much of our shopping behaviour is pure habit?

As a relatively recent arrival to the USA, my family was put through some major changes to their lives, one of which was a change in how we undertake our weekly grocery shop. We came from a city where we had shopped on-line for most products, including weekly groceries, for the last 5 or so years. The convenience of having what we ordered delivered to our door within a two hour time slot is fabulous. However, we moved to an environment where that is no longer a viable option, having instead to drive to a supermarket and walk the aisles. (And as I am at work most of the time, I confess that my role in this activity is now non-existent!)

We were discussing this with friends the other week though and I was amazed at quite how quickly my wife had fallen into a pattern of behaviour that, when we thought about it, is driven purely by habit. Very quickly she fell into a new routine – she uses the same supermarkets, walks the aisles in the same order, buying the same brands, on the same day of the week at about the same time. It’s clockwork. She doesn’t even particularly like one of the supermarkets she uses – it is cluttered, cramped and not the nicest environment. Yet there is little incentive to change going there, and when I asked her about why if she is not that impressed, she doesn’t go somewhere else, she hadn’t really thought about it. It’s just part of how she lives her life now.

So how much of our shopping behavior is actually driven out of habit? How sedimented do we become with regular purchases like this? How much more difficult is it to change our shopping behavior than to establish it? When was the last time you thought about and changed how you shop?

And what impact would a change in the store environment have on our shopping basket? I guess the impulse to act is not that great for my wife, but how much
better could shopping be (and how much more money a supermarket, in this case, might extract?) if they could break down this cycle of habit? What could the store and/or brands be doing to make this a better experience, to help her discover new things and make it interesting?