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Don’t Drink Coffee Before You Go Shopping —Study Shows You’ll Spend More (By A Lot)

'Tis the season to stick to your holiday budget.

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With Black Friday around the corner, holiday shopping season will soon be in full swing. But even at the holidays — maybe even more so at the holidays — scoring big deals and sticking to a budget are key. There are a lot of ways to do this, but one of the lesser known is to avoid coffee before you hit the mall. Why? Because the java that gives you the energy to shop ’til you drop also makes you spend more. New research links drinking caffeinated coffee before a shopping trip with significant overspending.

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Retail Research

A recent study published in the Journal of Marketing examined how caffeine consumption influences spending habits. In the study, a University of South Florida research team conducted four experiments: three experiments were in retail stores, and one experiment was online. For the in-store experiments, an espresso machine was positioned at the entrances of brick and mortal shopping destinations: two national home goods stores in France, and one department store in Spain. In each of the three experiments, approximately 300 shoppers were offered a complimentary drink when they entered the store. Half of the participants were given cups that contained caffeinated coffee, while the remaining cups were filled with decaf or water. Participants consumed their beverage prior to shopping, and then shared their receipts with researchers afterwards.

It turns out that shoppers who chose caffeinated coffee purchased more items and spent more money than those who chose decaf coffee or water. Shoppers who drank caffeine also bought more non-essential items — things like scented candles and fragrances — compared to other groups. Researchers did not find a significant difference between the two groups with practical purchases like storage baskets and kitchen utensils.

The online shopping experiment yielded similar results. A total of 200 college students were divided into two groups based on the type of coffee they were given to drink: caffeinated or decaf. Participants were given a list of 66 products and asked which items they’d like to purchase. Caffeinated students chose impulse purchases (things like a massager) at higher rates than their non-caffeinated counterparts. By contrast, the decaf coffee group focuses primarily on purchasing practical items like notebooks.

Lead author Dipayan Biswas, PhD, reveals why caffeine intake before shopping results in a higher chance of spontaneous spending. “Caffeine, as a powerful stimulant, releases dopamine in the brain, which [is a neurotransmitter that] excites the mind and the body. This leads to a higher energetic state, which in turn enhances impulsivity and decreases self-control,” Dr. Biswas explains in a press release.

Things To Consider With This Research

The full study details the average age and gender breakdown of participants for each experiment. Although the authors didn’t outline the study’s limitations, the distinction between correlation and causation is an important one here, and an issue that should be addressed in future studies. The fact of study participants choosing their drink (versus being randomly issued one of the three drink options) indicates selection bias and possible confounding bias, which could skew the data and suggest a link that does not exist. As for future studies, the researchers are eager to explore the impact of pairing coffee with an indulgent food like chocolate cake on caffeine-induced energetic arousal.

What This Means for You

The study is a reminder to be mindful of what motivates your purchases. “While moderate amounts of caffeine intake can have positive health benefits, there can be unintended consequences of being caffeinated while shopping,” Dr. Biswas notes. It might be best to enjoy your cup of coffee after your shopping trip — perhaps as a reward for sticking to your gift list!

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