I'll Have the Icecream Now and Vegetables Later

There is a great study by Harvard Business School titled “I’ll Have the Ice Cream Soon and the Vegetables Later: Decreasing Impatience over Time in Online Grocery Orders“. The study found that consumers tend to choose “want” items in the short run and “should” items in the long run.

So in other words a person shopping at Kwick-e-mart would buy the icecream, while the person shopping on Safeway.com would buy the vegetables. A person who will have immediate satisfaction will likely act on impulse and urge to satisfy their immediate desires. However if you have to wait a while to enjoy your product, you would be more thoughtful of the future consequences of your decision, and therefore more likely to choose the healthy option.

We analyzed a year of individual-level data from a North American online grocer to determine how the delay between when a person’s order was completed and when it was delivered affected the content of the order. In general, as the delay between order completion and the date a customer selected for delivery increased, customers spent less money per order (or behaved less impulsively), ordered a higher percentage of “should” items (e.g., vegetables), and ordered a lower percentage of “want” items (e.g., ice cream).

This is great news for marketers of health foods who can encourage consumption of their products by offering them via online channels. If online grocery became more cost efficient and widely adopted, we could see a healthier population as a result. The study about kids preferring anything in a McDonald wrapper shows the awesome power of influence marketers have over society. Online groceries could help healthy food marketers get more consumers to adapt a healthier lifestyle.

1 Comment

  1. Neuromarketing

    08.28.2007

    Reply

    Very interesting stuff, Charles. I just did a post yesterday on the brain’s center for impulse control, which I dubbed (slightly tongue in cheek) the “Don’t Buy” button. It seems possible that that area of the brain is involved in mediating the “want” behavior, which may often be impulsive, and the “should” behavior, which involves more rational analysis.

    Roger

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