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  • Writer's pictureBridget Sullivan Mermel CFP(R) CPA

Shopping Angst Revealed

I've got a theory about stress:  it's cumulative.  In other 

words, stress isn't about the two big things that constantly   

worry you.  You can handle the big problems if you're not   

constantly annoyed with the little ones.

One man who has studied the little stressors is Herb Sorensen,   

author of Inside the Mind of the Shopper: The Science 

of Retailing.  This book instructs retailers how to get you to   

buy more.  He describes two of the low-level shopping   

annoyances so retailers can avoid them.

That got me thinking; if we avoid retailers that strike up   

these annoyances, we'll reduce some of our low-level stress. 

Here are the two:

Navigational angst:  This is when you go to a store and can't   

find things.  You have to search for an employee, interrupt   

what they're doing, and hope they'll be familiar with their   


Stores design can help with this.  Obviously clearly marked   

aisles help, but so does low shelving.  If you can see the   

entire store, you'll have less navigational angst.  This must   

be what CVS was thinking when they bought Osco and took down   

the high shelves.

Choice angst:  This comes from having too many items to pick from.  One   

study showed that shoppers bought ten times more when offered   

limited choice.  People spend less time in the aisle   

scratching their heads and more time buying.  This phenomenon   

can help explain the success of Trader Joes and Aldi.  Less   

choice of one product = less stress.

Choice angst doesn't affect everyone, however.  I have one   

client who loves researching major purchases.  This was   

brought up by his wife, who reported that this tendency   

stressed her out.   I have a friend who is such a thorough   

researcher that I want her to start her own newsletter.  That   

way I can keep up on what she's buying and buy it too.   (As   

Estelle Reiner said in When Harry Met Sally, "I'll have what   

she's having.")

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