There's a classic cartoon plot device that represents a struggle with temptation. A tiny angel pops up on the conflicted character's left shoulder, urging him to follow the path of righteousness. A tiny devil sits on his right shoulder, pressing him to give into his desires.
In real life, it turns out that an everyday item has the power to act as both angel and devil every time we go to the grocery store. It lurks in car trunks and pantries all over the world, waiting to guide us simultaneously down paths of virtue and vice. What is this surprising Svengali?
It's a reusable shopping bag.
New experimental research shows that shoppers are more likely to buy virtuous organic items when they bring their own reusable bags to the store than when they opt for paper or plastic bags at the checkout counter. At the same time, those who bring their own bags are more likely to buy indulgent items like ice cream and cookies. Moreover, consumers tend to place a higher value on both organic products and decadent treats when they bring their own bags than when they don't.
Researchers Uma R. Karmarkar and Bryan Bollinger report their preliminary findings in their working paper BYOB: How Bringing Your Own Shopping Bags Leads to Treating Yourself, and the Environment. (The collaborative effort addresses each of their particular interests. Karmarkar, an assistant professor and neuroscientist in the Marketing unit at Harvard Business School, studies factors that affect consumer choice. Bollinger, an assistant professor at NYU's Stern School of Business, studies the marketing of sustainable products.)
"There are all these little things that we're supposed to do to be better to the environment, like turning off the lights when we leave the room or recycling our bottles," Karmarkar says. "Bringing bags is interesting in that it's a difficult thing to remember to do, and actually requires a fairly big behavioral change on the part of the consumer. Our question was, when you succeed at this big behavioral change, does it change other elements of what you're doing as well?"
A SERIES OF EXPERIMENTS
As their working paper explains, the researchers combined empirical and experimental methods to test the purchasing effect of reusable bags.
Looking at loyalty card data from a large grocery chain in California, Karmarkar and Bollinger tracked and analyzed 936,232 purchases by 5,987 households across two years. To assess organic purchases, they looked for transactions in which the consumer could choose either an organic or a nonorganic option—a carton of milk, for example. In monitoring what they called "indulgent" purchases, the researchers looked at sugary items like ice cream and candy bars, as well as salty treats like potato chips.
The data showed a definite correlation: Shoppers who had brought their own bags bought decidedly more indulgences and chose more organic products than those who didn't. But this wasn't necessarily enough information to establish causality—that is, that both effects were specifically due to bringing their own bags. "There are a lot of things going on in a store and a lot of inputs," Karmarkar says.
So she and Bollinger dug deeper with a series of experiments, enlisting participants for a number of online surveys.
In the first experiment, the researchers assigned participants to one of two conditions. The "with bags" participants were asked to imagine approaching a supermarket to do their grocery shopping with their own bags. The "without bags" group received nearly identical instructions, but nothing about bags was mentioned. All the participants looked at a floor map of the grocery store and listed 10 items they would most likely purchase on their hypothetical outing.
Regarding indulgent items, the results depended on whether the participants had children in their households. For those with dependents, there was no significant difference between the with-bags and the without-bags condition. For those without children, the with-bags participants were more likely to imagine buying ice cream and potato chips than the -without-bags- participants.
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[This article was provided with permission from Harvard Business School Working Knowledge.]
These days we do not accept such surveys without questioning. What are the exact scenarios? How many samples? How exactly did the conclusions come?on Apr 8, 2014