The Shopping Momentum Effect

February 21, 2019

Newton's cradle.jpeg

Newton’s cradle uses swinging spears to demonstrate conservation of momentum.

Shopping is often described as a two-step process. First is the “deliberation or evaluation phase,” which is when you decide whether or not you want to purchase something. During this phase you browse items for purchase, create a list of what you want, and ultimately you weigh the pros and cons of the item in question.

The second phase, is the “buying phase,” which is when you actually make the purchase. During this phase a shopper experiences the “high or thrill” of suddenly owning something they wanted. Unlike the first phase, which can take a while, this phase is short lived. And if you’re a shopaholic, then you’re quite familiar with the urge to continue to “buy, buy, buy” because you are consciously (or subconsciously) seeking another “high or thrill” from your purchase.

Unfortunately, seeking a shopping high is not the only thing that a shopaholic (or anyone who is shopping) has to worry about, there’s something else too—The Shopping Momentum Effect.

What is The Shopping Momentum Effect?


As quoted by Dhar R, et al. in the Journal of Marketing Research. 2007:44(3):370-378.

“Shopping momentum occurs when an initial purchase provides a psychological impulse that enhances the purchase of a second, unrelated product.”

In other words, when you buy one thing, it can trigger the impulse to buy another thing, and another thing, and another thing, the “buy, buy, buy” feeling that anyone and especially shopaholics feel. If you’ve ever walked into a store to buy one thing, and walked out with a cart full, then you’ve succumbed to The Shopping Momentum Effect. I’ve joked with friends and family that stores such as Walmart, Target, Costco, and Sam’s Club are $100 stores. I go in to buy one thing, and walk out with a cart full of $100 or more worth of goods.

Why does this happen?

The decision to buy something, often builds momentum because you’ve given yourself permission to buy. It’s like opening pandora’s box, you’ve already said it’s ok to do it, so you keep on doing it!

One way to minimize this effect, is to set a spending limit. Using cash works best, because once the money’s all gone, you can’t spend anymore. Of course, in today’s day and age of plastic, setting a spending limit is a little harder to do, especially if you have a credit card with a high limit, for example $5,000 or $10,000. In those instances, you may want to consider using a credit card with a low limit, such as a store card or gift card or your debit card instead. No matter how you do it, setting a spending limit will help you to overcome—The Shopping Momentum Effect.

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