Shopping Psychology: Do Your Reusable Bags Influence What You Buy?

Shopping Psychology: Do Your Reusable Bags Influence What You Buy?

Jennifer Hunter
Mar 30, 2015
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

You made the switch and are now diligently bringing your reusable bags along on every shopping trip. Could that habit alone really be affecting what you put in your cart? You might be surprised at what this research reveals. Even I scoffed at this idea at first, but then sheepishly realized I totally do this!

Here's what researchers Uma Karmarkar and Bryan Bollinger found:

People who brought their own shopping bags were more likely to buy organic AND more likely to buy junk food.

Interesting. The organic element makes perfect sense. It seems logical that people who try to reduce shopping bag waste might also be concerned about the environment and their own health. Choosing organic milk or veggies falls right in line with that thinking. So what about the junk food? Here's Uma Karmarkar's explanation:

In consumer psychology the word “licensing” is the key. If I behave well in one situation, I give myself license to misbehave in another, unrelated situation. Similar research has also been done on health decisions. I get a Diet Coke; I treat myself to a hamburger. In this case bringing a bag makes you think you’re environmentally friendly, so you get some ice cream. You feel you’ve earned it.

And, she says, it's most likely subconscious. Bringing the bag makes you feel virtuous so you feel okay about making another, unrelated and less virtuous decision. You feel you've balanced out your behavior.

Although this never occurred to me before, I'll admit it sounds pretty familiar. I'll often pick up a pint of ice cream when I've already put a few, healthier things in my cart (and I always feel slightly self-satisfied while digging my reusable bag out of my purse).

So, do you recognize this habit?

Read the whole interview at the Harvard Business Review.

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