June 28, 2022
Drinking caffeinated coffee drives shoppers to spend more and buy more items on impulse, a new university study finds.
International study, conducted by the University of South Florida, conducted three experiments that installed an espresso machine at the entrances of a chain of household goods stores in France and a department store in Spain. Upon entry, more than 300 shoppers received a free cup – about half offered coffee containing around 100mg of caffeine and the rest offered deca or water. Shoppers then shared their receipts with researchers as they exited the stores.
Shoppers who drank a cup of caffeinated coffee spent about 50% more and bought nearly 30% more items than shoppers who drank decaf or water.
Caffeine also impacted the types of items they purchased. Caffeinated shoppers purchased more non-essential items, such as scented candles and perfumes, than non-caffeinated shoppers. Minimal difference was found between the two groups when it came to utilitarian purchases, such as kitchen utensils and storage baskets.
“Caffeine, as a powerful stimulant, releases dopamine in the brain, which excites the mind and body. This leads to a higher energy state, which in turn improves impulsivity and decreases self-control,” said lead author Dipayan Biswas, professor of marketing at the University of South Florida, in a statement.
A fourth lab experiment exploring online shopping showed similar results.
The study noted that the retail industry was increasingly adding cafes near entrances. Among US retailers, Target stands out for having a Starbucks-licensed coffee shop at the entrance to most of its larger locations.
Bob’s Discount Furniture appears to be the rare retailer offering free coffee, as well as cookies, candy and ice cream, to in-store browsers. Trader Joe’s was known for its free coffee, although their sampling stations have not returned since the pandemic. Williams-Sonoma also frequently offers free coffee to support in-store promotions.
The research came with a warning about the “unintended consequences” of consuming caffeine while shopping. Professor Biswas said: “Consumers trying to control impulse spending should avoid consuming caffeinated drinks before shopping.”
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Does it make sense that caffeine buyers are bigger, more impulsive consumers? Should retailers invest in free coffee, at least during key sales periods, or add in-store coffee bars?
“Is it the caffeine or the hospitality? Probably both.”