Retail Ninja Mind Trick #4: Habituation

Most of our purchases are mindless and habit-based rather than mindful and considered. Therefore, branded products companies know that once they've got us habitually buying their products, well, they've got us.

In prior posts here at Casual Kitchen, I've talked about how easy it is for consumers to settle into buying a specific brand of each of the various products they use.

And it's totally okay to settle into some habitual purchasing decisions. Honestly, if we spent time deeply considering every purchase, we'd never make it out of the grocery store. I'd still be in there deciding between 45 brands of shampoo. And I don't even have that much hair.

The problem is, if we are too habit-based, the company behind that brand can easily take advantage of us. They can put in stealth price hikes that we don't notice. They can gradually raise the price of their brand until it reaches a premium far beyond what it's really worth. Heck, they can stop making their product entirely and choose to outsource that product to the same factory that makes the nearly identical generic brand sitting next to it on the store shelf.

Over the course of a lifetime, a pattern of habitual and passive purchasing decisions will needlessly separate us from thousands (perhaps tens of thousands) of our hard-earned dollars. That's why from time to time it's an excellent practice to reconsider the value of each of the brands you buy. An empowered consumer will occasionally look over the prices of competing products--including store brands--and ask: does the brand I normally buy provide value to me commensurate with any premium in price?

If it doesn't, you know exactly what to do: Drop that brand instantly.

One final thought: the laughably pretentious assumption that certain brands "say something about us" is just another form of habituation. It is also, coincidentally, deeply in the interests of consumer products companies for us to think this way.

After all, being pretentious can be habit-forming too.

Next up: Value and Discounting Biases

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by purchasing items from via links on this site, or by linking to me or subscribing to my RSS feed. Finally, you can consider submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like, digg or stumbleupon. Thank you for your support!


gharkness said...

It took me a couple of times driving an expensive car or buying an expensive brand of purse, for example, to realize that nobody really cared ONE BIT more about me than they did before I bought these things.

What a revelation! So, that was the end of expensive cars and purses (and anything else with a high-end brand name). Now I buy what suits my needs, not what suits what I thought was my "image." If that then conveys the image of "thrifty," now THAT'S an image I would be proud of!

Daniel said...

Thanks, gharkness, for an insightful comment. It's not easy to do what you did. Buying branded products gives us a such a convenient shortcut to self-image construction that many of us start to believe that this "constructed" self-image is actually the real thing.

Again, it's not in the interest of the makers of branded products to tell us this... we have to figure it out for ourselves.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts.


Melissa said...

High five for thrifty!

And Dan, I've said it before and I will say it again: Casual Kitchen broke me of mindless brand name purchases when it comes to household items and groceries. I save a ton of money buying store brands now, brands that have the *exact* ingredients of the national or name brands. I will not shop on autopilot!

chacha1 said...

I am a little bit brand loyal but I still read their labels. Was heartbroken when Kings Hawaiian started using high-fructose corn syrup ... fortunately Orowheat picked up the slack and I can now get non-HFCS Hawaiian rolls again!

I forked over quite a bit in "habituation" costs at the liquor store before I wised up. To my palate, there really is no difference between that $18 bottle of Baileys and the $9 bottle of Cask & Cream - and often not between the $20 pinot noir and its $9 neighbor.

Now I am just waiting for someone to come up with a chocolate liqueur as good as Godiva that doesn't cost 27 damn dollars a bottle! I don't care how tacky the label is! :-)