What Path Do You Take When You Grocery Shop?

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Grocery shopping for most of us is simply a matter of searching, gathering and finding a place in line.

Not so for Wharton marketing professor Peter S. Fader.

In a new paper called "An Exploratory Look at Supermarket Shopping Paths," Fader, Wharton marketing professor Eric T. Bradlow and doctoral candidate Jeffrey S. Larson analyzed RFID-captured grocery store data, focusing exclusively on travel patterns without regard to purchase behavior or merchandising tactics.

Data charted for the first time by radio frequency identification (RFID) tags located on consumers' shopping carts.

Using a new "multivariate clustering algorithm," the authors identified 14 distinct grocery store travel paths during short, medium and long shopping trips. Based on this information, Fader, Bradlow and Larson concluded:

* Grocery shoppers don't weave up and down all aisles a pattern commonly thought to dominate store travel. Instead, most shoppers "tend only to travel select aisles, and rarely in the systematic up and down patterns most tend to consider the dominant travel pattern."

* Once they enter an aisle, shoppers rarely make it to the other end. Instead, they "travel by short excursions into and out of the aisle rather than traversing its entire length."

* Shoppers prefer a counter-clockwise shopping experience. They tend to shop more quickly as they approach the checkout counters. Shoppers' behavior is driven more by their location in the store than the merchandise in front of them.

* The perimeter of the store often called the "racetrack" is actually the shopper's home base, not just the space covered between aisles. "Whereas previous folklore perpetuated the myth that the perimeter of the store was visited incidental to successive aisle traverses, we now know that it often serves as the main thoroughfare, effectively a home base from which shoppers take quick trips into the aisles," the paper states.

Who knew . . .

Remember to check your cart for bugs the next time you shop!

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