Can in-store coffee add pep to retail sales?
A new university study finds drinking caffeinated coffee leads shoppers to spend more and purchase more impulse items.
The international study, led by the University of South Florida, ran three experiments that consisted of setting up an espresso machine at the entrances of a retail chain and home goods store in France and a department store in Spain. Upon entry, more than 300 shoppers were provided a complimentary cup — about half offered coffee that contained about 100 mg of caffeine and the others decaf or water. The shoppers then shared their receipts with researchers as they exited the stores.
Shoppers who drank a cup of caffeinated coffee spent about 50 percent more and bought nearly 30 percent more items than shoppers who drank decaf or water.
Caffeine also impacted what types of items they bought. Caffeinated shoppers bought more non-essential items, such as scented candles and fragrances than non-caffeinated shoppers. Minimal difference was found between the two groups when it came to utilitarian purchases, such as kitchen utensils and storage baskets.
“Caffeine, as a powerful stimulant, releases dopamine in the brain, which excites the mind and the body. This leads to a higher energetic state, which in turn enhances impulsivity and decreases self-control,” said lead author Dipayan Biswas, a marketing professor at the University of South Florida, in a statement.
A fourth experiment in a lab exploring online shopping showed similar results.
The study noted that the retail industry has increasingly been adding coffee bars near entrances. Among U.S. retailers, Target stands out for having a Starbucks-licensed café at the entrances of most of its larger locations.
Bob’s Discount Furniture appears to be the rare retailer offering free coffee, as well as cookies, candy and ice cream, to in-store browsers. Trader Joe’s was known for free coffee, although their sampling stations haven’t returned since the pandemic. Williams-Sonoma also frequently offers free coffee to support in-store promotions.
The research came with a warning about the “unintended consequences” of being hopped up on caffeine while shopping. Prof. Biswas said, “Consumers trying to control impulsive spending should avoid consuming caffeinated beverages before shopping.”
- Tight budgeters beware: Skip the coffee before shopping – University of South Florida
- EXPRESS: Caffeine’s Effects on Consumer Spending – Journal Of Marketing
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Does it make sense that caffeinated shoppers are bigger and more impulsive spenders? Should retailers be investing in complimentary coffee, at least during key sales periods, or adding in-store coffee bars?