Autonomic Behaviour – The Shopping Habit

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Autonomic Behaviour – The Shopping Habit

How much shopping is conscious and how much stays below cognitive awareness?

 According to Gerald Zaltman, 95% (some say 100%) of thought, emotion and decision-making occurs in the unconscious mind – that is, without any conscious involvement. Furthermore and even more startlingly, there is now evidence from Professor John-Dylan Haynes – Bernstein Centre for Computational Neuroscience, that the human brain starts to make a decision a full 6 seconds before that person has any awareness of the fact that they are coming to that decision. With these facts in mind, it further clarifies just how specialised effective shopper research actually is. What shopping behaviour experts are able to do is to identify the aspects of the purchase process that have become autonomic – a process that is completely sub-consciously managed and therefore harder to influence with any deal or promotion.

Armed with this information, leadings retailers and brands are then able to create 2 separate parts to the in-store decision hierarchy:

  • Short-term memory based decision hierarchy
  • Long-term memory based decision hierarchy

When these two hierarchies are aligned, it is possible to understand how, and precisely when, to influence shoppers and more often than not, through what medium or sense(s). To demonstrate just how much of everyday life is managed without conscious awareness, remember your last drive to work. How much of the journey can you actually recall? Furthermore, if you are an experienced driver, you are probably capable of driving, while talking to a passenger or on your hands-free device, eating or drinking and even perhaps applying make up or smoking a cigarette. Ask yourself how you can do this if, when learning to drive, you couldn’t even turn right without a great deal of effort and concentration.

For example…

Even the most regularly shopped categories can vary in terms of how much behaviour at fixture is short-term memory managed, and how much the long term memory gets involved. A key-influencing factor is simply how familiar the shopper is with that store (local visitor or in a strange area, for example). The shopper in the video below (seen from 2 angles) makes a completely automatic repeat purchase, but still looks around as she makes her selection.


For further insights, visit my website: or read my book ‘Shoppology, The Science of Supermarket Shopping’.

Phillip Adcock

Shopping Behaviour Xplained