Shopping and influence of other consumers

Some weeks ago, I’ve done a kind of “personal investigation” in Consumer Behavior, about an issue I think scholars don’t take too seriously into account. It’s about that situation where someone, (you, the reader of this article, for e.g.), is choosing a product from the shelf in any place (supermarket, street market, pet store, whatever) and another consumer is near you (less than a meter) doing the same thing – let’s call him/her “X”.

I wondered if there is any kind of influence in the buying behavior when “X” is near to us in the shopping scene: so I’ve made a survey and sent it to my personal e-mail list and (in this case) Linkedin connections here in Portugal. The idea was to invite them to answer and spread the survey link (a kind of snowball sampling approach).

And I did it very well – 281 responses (these are the good news). But, as I expected too, the sample represents a non random pattern of my connections and connections of my connections. It’s a very high sample concerning the educational level (these are the bad ones). Consequently, we may think that socially and economically this is an high sample too, but this is just guessing (if this connection is true, the picture gets even worst)

As I said, this is a personal curiosity, nothing commercial, so we must live with this constraint. So many thanks to those who helped me filling the questionnaire. And, if you find useful, you can do whatever you want with the data, I’m sharing the results with you. This is open innovation.

So, the sample is “as is”:


Country: Portugal

Man: 121 (43% of the sample); Woman: 160 (57% of the sample)

Ages: 18-24 (6%); 25-30 (22%); 31-35 (30%); 36-40 (22%); 41-45 (12%); 46-50 (5%); 51+ (3%)

Education: Less than 9 years of scholarship (0%); Completed 9 years (2%); Completed 12 years (7%); In university right now (8%); Graduation (40%); Graduation + specialization (27%); Graduation + Master (14%); PhD (2%)

So, let´s begin with results for question number 1 of 13:

“X” handles/choose products near you.
How do you feel about this situation?

(choose a value between 1 and 5. Scale limits>>> 1=I don’t like it, I prefer to have the space only for me and 5=I don’t mind to share the shopping space)

Quick feeling: For this sample, is not very easy to share the shelf space. 30% is more likely to be alone choosing the products than being “accompanied” by other consumers. Of course 42% falls in the positive side of the scale, but 60% don’t like to share the space or are divided, and maybe this is more interesting from a statistical point of view. If we imagine a little store, with small shelf space, maybe the presence of others could be of dramatic importance in the buying behavior. Consumers like to have all the conditions to choose and buy, and space is not something they are ready to give up easily.

Question 2 of 13

“X” handles/chooses products near to you.
How do you feel about this situation?

(choose a value between 1 and 5. Scale limits>>> 1= Do not disturb the decisions about what I intend to choose and 5= Disturbs a lot  the decisions about what I intend to choose)

Quick feeling: For this sample, it seems that the presence of other consumers don’t has a significant impact in the choosing process. Again, education and social/financial status is relevant to this: they have all the tools to be informed citizens and that gives a sense of control in their buying decisions. I wondered what happens if education, status and financial independence were low: maybe the (lower) control feeling and misinformation would break the defenses and consumers were more likely to be influenced. Note that the question only focus on the disturbance aspect, not in the value (positive or negative, change or not my decisions…). That type of evaluation is highly dependent on the context, the knowledge of the consumer “X” and the subject, it’s appearance, and so on. Choosing the specific aspect of “disturbance” does not give us the Saint Graal… but gives us a more secure point of view to take some outputs.

Question 3 of 13

“X” handles/chooses products near to you. Usually, how much do you pay attention to what “X” says, do or observes?

Quick feeling: For this sample, some of the principles of prior question can be used. A consumer with good education and status can give himself the pleasure of a decision on its own, without the need of observing others consumers in the same situation. As we can see, the left part of the graphic as more weight. But instead of having 62% of the answers in the left positions (1 and 2), now we have just 49% and a huge proportion on the central point (position 3). It’s not a subtle difference. It’s like saying: “Your behavior does not disturb my decisions, but… I pay some attention to what you do.” It’s a question of comparing choices? It’s to confirm our decisions? It’s to find potential alternatives? It’s just pure curiosity? How it would be like if we had another sample structure?



 Question 4 of 13

“X” handles / chooses products near to you. You have not yet decided on any product.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following phrases?
(Choose a value from 1 to 5, where 1 = Strongly Disagree and 5 = Strongly Agree)       

Quick feeling: Nothing new on this one. Our sample declines clearly the influence of other consumer’s actions in his/her choices. And the graphic provides strong evidence that our respondents usually follow their own criteria when choosing products in the buying scene, no matter what “X” says or do. At limit, they can take some ideas from “X” behavior to decide, but still decide following their personal scripts and rituals.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Question 5 of 13

“X” handles / chooses products near to you and you take the opportunity to ask for an opinion.
Which of the following statements corresponds to what happens to you more often?

I ask “X” an opinion about the products I intend to choose   …………………………….. 39%

I ask “X” an opinion about the products he/she intends to choose ……………………… 30%

I ask “X” an opinion on the products that are in the shelf and on which none of us has expressed its choice  …………………………31%

 Quick feeling: Well, I assume this was not an easy question. It’s worth noticing that the majority of the questions in this survey were forced (respondents only could choose the answer options I gave them). The idea was to force respondents not to take the easy way out, and effectively think about the question. During fieldwork time, some respondents write to me saying that they cannot think about things this way. I agree – there are questions that simply don’t work – I’m afraid this is one of those. And the results don’t help me much.

But, at least, I need to tell you the underlying thought. When we usually face this situation and ask (more often) an opinion about what “X” intends to buy, maybe this means we are more curious and open to other alternatives as consumers. Instead, if we often ask others about what we intend to buy, maybe this means we want to confirm our decisions or expectations. One way or another, remains the intention.

Question 6 of 13

Imagine you’re shopping in a store and there is no staff in your area.
You need an opinion to choose a product that any consumer could give.

How much embarrassing is for you to ask for an opinion to another consumer?

Quick feeling: This one is overwhelming. In this sample, almost 50% of respondents (45.6%, to be more accurate) chooses option A. I would like to see this kind of question in countries like India, Morocco or in most of  African countries, where culture encourages proximity and bargain is a national entertainment. Of course this answer enclosures other aspects: for e.g. people can anticipate that other consumer wouldn’t like to be confused as a staff member. Or the customer itself could see the majority of choosing situations as a personal issue, were other customers could be of little help or even not welcome. Or the customer simply think that his question is trivial, and demonstrate some inferiority for not knowing the answer. Or, in other angle, the sample is too polite or introspective in situations like this one. But the truth is that 70% says clearly “I would not ask for an opinion”, even if it’s an opinion that any consumer could give. It’s a cultural matter? Any help on this one?

Question 7 of 13

“X” handles/chooses products near to you.

In the times where exists interaction with “X”, which of the following situations happens more often?

I ask “X” for an opinion/help so I can decide.      > 11.7% 

“X” asks me an opinion/help so he can decide.    > 88.3% 

Quick feeling: Another undoubtful answer. This respondents are resistant to ask for help or for an opinion; normally, others ask them. Are these results (plus other prior answers) a mirror of well informed Portuguese citizens, from higher social classes or this is just an “image” they want to give (and reality is different)? It’s not uncommon situations where surveys gives us “wishful” behaviors, instead of real behaviors. That’s why is so difficult to evaluate attitudes toward situations or brands: explicit evaluations (“I would not buy white brands!!”) sometimes are incongruent with implicit behaviors (unaware, they take a chocolate bar from a white brand into the cart). In this case, I would risk that a proportion of those 88,3% is filled with people that want to give an idea of well informed, independent, that as no need for help, with a good intern locus of control. A provoking question: what if two people from the sample encounters and both need an opinion?  🙂


Question 8 of 13

“X” handles/chooses products near to you.

In the times where exists interaction with “X”, which of the following situations happens more often?

I give “X” an opinion/help so he can decide.      > 84.7% 

“X” gives me an opinion/help so I can decide.    > 15.3% 

Quick feeling: This question is a kind of reverse of question 7. Here we can see clearly that our sample is ready to give opinions, instead of receiving them. There is consistence within these two questions: More instructed people usually is asked for opinions and usually give answers to help others to decide.

Question 9 of 13

“X” handles/chooses products near to you.

When there is an interaction with “X”, which of the following sentences applies best to you?                                                                                     
1)    I ask more easily an opinion/help to “X”, if “X” is a person of the opposite sex   >   37%

2)    I ask more easily an opinion / help to “X”, if “X” is a person who has the same sex I have     >   63%

Quick feeling: Well, I think this is an expected pattern. The overall sample asks more easily an opinion if “X” is from the same sex. Maybe a question of comfort and confidence. Or maybe, you know… “Man stuff asks for men opinion; or women stuff asks for women opinion. In the meanwhile, some persons have more comfort asking to the opposite sex, and this does not happens only in shopping – in other contexts (e.g. emotional) people from opposite sexes communicate better, and feel great about it. But let’s rewind to the buying scene, where I find something interesting. When we see question 9 in the light of gender, things are not the same. 63% of men, choose option 1; in contrast, 83% of women choose option 2. Eh, eh, I think this question is not a dating issue (laughs). If we think about the empire of massive shopping – supermarkets – we find that women are queens. Now things are changing, but I think that in this kind of stores women still play cards. It’s (unfortunately) very common to see couples doing shopping like this: the woman chooses and asks; the man make some company, pay the bill and drive the car. This is what happens in Portugal, despite a good evolution in the paper of men in shopping, housekeeping, taking care of children… Who knows, 5 years from now maybe men will be as comfortable as women in supermarkets. And this is my interpretation: men asks more easily to woman, not because it’s “easy” to ask, but because they need some expertise they don’t have right now. Just a theory, nothing more.

Question 10 of 13

“X” handles/chooses products near to you.

When there is an interaction with “X”, which of the following sentences applies best to you?        

1)    I ask more easily an opinion/help to “X”, if “X” is younger than me   >   2%

2)    I ask more easily an opinion / help to “X”, if “X” is about the same age than me     >   66%

3)    I ask more easily an opinion/help to “X”, if “X” is older than me         >   32%

Quick feeling: I take two clear conclusions with this results: (i) people of the same age, normally, have more interests, opinions and knowledge in common. It’s statistically more common to be in the same life stage when people have about the same age, so communication and interactions is not affected for any generation gap, language differences or even different products to choose – it may happen, but is less common. (ii) when the issue is buying and choosing, people rely less in younger fellows. It’s the “you’re still very young stuff”. Could be a matter of experience, knowledge, communication… there are lots of hypothesis to justify. However, if we are talking about computer games, IT or television channels, we may be surprised.

Question 11 of 13

Imagine “X” handles/chooses products near to you.

Please, indicate 3 types of products for which is more likely that you pay attention to the actions of “X”


Quick feeling: (click the picture) this question as some juice in the results, although we cannot draw causal conclusions. If we think about  “paying attention to the actions of X” as an indicator that we need some help, advise or support to decide regarding some products, then food & beverage counts for 24% to the whole picture. Food & Beverage, Personal products (e.g. Perfumery), Technology, Clothing and Cleaning products for the house, represents 76% of all products type where is most probable that we take an eye on our fellow neighbor in the shopping scene.  This still show us that there are some products where we need to have some “knowledge” about the quality of a product. If we don’t have, we must rely on the observation of others in order to buy a good product instead of a bad one. Specially in the Food & Beverage sector, the study demonstrates that is on eatable fresh products that we can see this more clearly: fruit, fish, meat and vegetables are the products where consumers need to pay more attention to the surrounding consumers, looking for clues that help in the decision process. And this happens with men and women! Other important items are wine, yogurts, cakes/chocolate/cookies and bread. Gender differences? Not quite. Food & Beverages, house cleaning products and books are quite the same in both sexes. Differences appear with Perfumery/personal Care/Beauty, Clothing and domestic appliances – products in which is most common women look at the action of “X” than men. Buying Car products, Computer/computer accessories and Technology/gadgets are situations where men look more to the actions of “X” than women.

Question 12 of 13

Concerning the last 7 days, approximately how much times happened to you to be choosing something, and being another consumer near to you choosing products (less than one meter)?


Quick feeling: answers higher than 15 times were merely residual. 76% says that in the last week, the “X situation” happened 5 times or less. I’m quite skeptical about this proportion – I think the situation happens more often than we are aware. Maybe we forget, don´t pay attention or other explanation. But what we have is this.

Question 13 of 13

Imagine that “X” handles/chooses products near to you.
Which of the following situations happens more frequently when you ask “X” an opinion?

Quick feeling: When a customer asks something to another costumer, answers will probably be different than if he/she asked the same question to a staff member. For e.g. option E, when asked to the staff, would probably have an answer like this: “It’s not because I work here, but clients say very good things about it and in my opinion they are better than those you see in other places. Honestly…” Within customers, and if the communication context is adequate, answers will be less convenient – or terribly glamorous if we find someone that loves the product we are asking about. So, my interest was to know how consumers ask opinions to other consumers, not to the staff. And more than a third of this sample asks opinions directly about the product itself. The underlying thought was to understand if customers asks in terms of products, categories, characteristics, brand or place when they need an opinion. And results show that the product is the basic metric when they look for information. They don’t want the macro level (the “place”, the “category”) or the micro level (the “brand” of the product or “characteristics” of the product) in the same intensity than they want to know about the product. Of course we have here a bias, because the example “Do you know if this yogurt is good”” has great similarities with “Is this yogurt too sweet?”: in the final, we are asking about characteristics. Too late. L

It’s done! If you survive to the reading of this article and want to contribute with your thoughts, please comment!

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The opinions expressed in this blog, despite they are supported by practical and scientific knowledge, are just that: opinions.

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2 thoughts on “Shopping and influence of other consumers

  1. Hi, Sichere!

    Hope you’ve get the information about heart attack. Concerning the post, I’m glad you liked it!

    Francisco Teixeira

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