An online grocery shopping study suggests that as the days go down prior to delivery of an order, the % made up of essentials decreases and the % made up of desirables increases. The closer to the present moment, the less less rational we become (though only up to a point!).
Milkman, Rogers & Bazerman (2009). Ice cream soon and vegetables later: A study of online grocery purchases and order lead time.
As aspirational creatures, our intentions are clearly always good. I kid you not. We all want to spend less, save more, and choose products that we should consume, as opposed to want to consume. However, time has a curious effect on the quality of our decisions…
Research has shown that we make drastically different choices for the near-future in relation to those made for the more distant future. For instance, customers are found to spend less, the further in advance of delivery they complete their online grocery order. We also tend to buy less unhealthy ‘want’ groceries, and more ‘should’ groceries with each additional day between ordering and receiving our order, especially for order times of between 2-5 days. Putting this another way, we behave more impulsively, the sooner our decisions will take effect.
Fascinatingly though, the study found a fascinating discovery: that the proportion of healthy ‘should’ product choices actually increased the day before delivery. It’s thought this is because, at this point, we’re in a mindset of meal-planning, rather than mere pantry-stocking, so we visualise and make more real the idea of a planned meal. Research has shown that such visualisations tend to fall by the wayside as time increases, and we start to conveniently abstract the curious features of chocolate, burgers etc (Trope & Liberman, 2003).
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