Drinking coffee before shopping may make consumers spend more money, study finds

Photo (c) Eva-Katalin - Getty Images

Decaf coffee and water didn’t have the same effect on shopping habits

Consumers are constantly trying to save money when shopping, but a new study conducted by researchers from the University of South Florida suggests that caffeine may sabotage that effort. Their findings showed that drinking caffeinated coffee before shopping may make consumers spend more money than they anticipated. 

“Caffeine, as a powerful stimulant, releases dopamine in the brain, which excites the mind and body,” said researcher Dipayan Biswas. “This leads to a higher energetic state, which in turn enhances impulsivity and decreases self-control. As a result, caffeine intake leads to shopping impulsivity in terms of higher number of items purchased and greater spending.” 

How caffeine affects shopping habits

The researchers conducted experiments in three retail stores to see how caffeine affected shopping habits. Half of the shoppers were offered a complimentary cup of coffee with 100 mg of caffeine; the other half were offered either decaf coffee or water. The participants then went about the store as they normally would and provided the team with their receipts at the end of their shopping trips. 

Drinking caffeine before shopping led the shoppers to spend more money than those who drank decaf coffee or water. Compared to those who didn’t have caffeine, caffeine drinkers bought 30% more items and spent 50% more money on their shopping trips. 

The researchers learned that caffeine also affected what the shoppers purchased. Caffeine drinkers were more likely to purchase things like fragrances or candles instead of more essential items for their homes. 

Online shopping has similar results

While the first part of the study focused on shopping behaviors in brick-and-mortar retail stores, the researchers also looked at how caffeine affected consumers’ online shopping. Half of the participants were given caffeine and the other half received decaf coffee. They were then given a list of 66 items that they could potentially buy online. 

Similar to the in-person shopping experiment, drinking caffeine before online shopping influenced what the participants wanted to buy. They were less likely to pick practical items and more likely to choose items that were "fun." 

The researchers’ biggest piece of advice for consumers who are looking to stick to a budget is to lay off the caffeine before going shopping. 

“While moderate amounts of caffeine intake can have positive health benefits, there can be unintended consequences of being caffeinated while shopping,” said Biswas. “That is, consumers trying to control impulsive spending should avoid consuming caffeinated beverages before shopping.”

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