Shoppers: They Say One Thing Then Do Another

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Shoppers: They Say One Thing Then Do Another

You’d think that the best way to understand shoppers would be to ask them why they buy what they buy. It’s not. The truth is that shoppers usually don’t tell you the real reasons behind their purchases.


A recent article by Dan Young provided great insight into how shoppers try to rationalise their shopping choices – to the point where some were outright lying about how they made their decisions. You can imagine how difficult this can make life for a market researcher who takes their statements at face value? Any information based on these shopper lies is going to mislead clients, and so at SBXL, we use methodologies that can correct for the discrepancies between what shoppers think, say and do, and our proven psychological techniques can identify areas of untruth.

Young uses an example of a female shopper buying a bottle of red Argentinean Malbec based on the recommendation of a friend of hers. She plans to drink the Malbec all by herself in front of the TV while her husband is out. However, when the Market Researcher asks her about her purchase, she may not want to be forthcoming about her decision.

Perhaps she doesn’t want to admit to drinking the whole bottle herself, after all it seems far more suitable to say her friend is coming over to share it with her even though this is an intentional lie. She might also say she chose the Malbec because it was a special offer – this is also an unintentional lie, because she based her decision on her friend’s recommendation.

One thing I have learned in over 15 years’ of analysing shopping behaviour is that shoppers often reply ‘price’ as their reason for buying – because they don’t really know what to answer. Because of this, we dig a little deeper and ask for a secondary response when they give ‘price’ as a response.

The shopper will generally say the packaging design did not influence her choice (unintentional lie) and that the country was a factor in her decision because she likes new world wines (truth). She will also say that the grape variety is important (truth) and claim that she buys this brand about once a month when her friend comes over (intentional lie).

In this example, the intentional and unintentional ‘lies’ are mixed together and the outcome is that the Market Research Agencies ends up identifying the shopper inaccurately. Young’s shopper is defined as a monthly, sociable drinker, for whom the grape is important, and to whom, price and special offer are crucial. The reality is that she likes to relax all by herself with a bottle of wine on a Friday night while her husband is at the pub.

SBXL differs because of our way of delving beyond mere words. With FACS, we can identify the emotional responses and know if they are telling the truth because we find out how they feel about the answer they’ve just provided. We also film data so that we can capture the actual behaviour at the point of purchase. This way, we know if it’s a customary purchase or an impulse buy. Combined with psychologically validated interview data we get the authentic “what” and genuine “why” of shopper behaviour.


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