The Time Dimension of Shopping Behavior: Some Empirical Findings

Johan Arndt, Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration
Sigmund Gronmo, Norwegian Fund for Market and Distribution Research
ABSTRACT - This study addresses a fundamental, but neglected aspect of consumer shopping behavior, consumer use of time for shopping. The data to be analyzed were provided by the Time Budget Study of the Norwegian Central Bureau of Statistics. The results showed that indicators relating to supply needs of consumers were less important than non-economic indicators in explaining variations in time spent on shopping.
[ to cite ]:
Johan Arndt and Sigmund Gronmo (1977) ,"The Time Dimension of Shopping Behavior: Some Empirical Findings", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 04, eds. William D. Perreault, Jr., Atlanta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 230-235.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 1977   Pages 230-235


Johan Arndt, Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration

Sigmund Gronmo, Norwegian Fund for Market and Distribution Research


This study addresses a fundamental, but neglected aspect of consumer shopping behavior, consumer use of time for shopping. The data to be analyzed were provided by the Time Budget Study of the Norwegian Central Bureau of Statistics. The results showed that indicators relating to supply needs of consumers were less important than non-economic indicators in explaining variations in time spent on shopping.


A recent review of the consumer behavior literature found an overemphasis on prepurchase decision processes for brands. More fundamental problems, such as the purchase of strategic products and budget allocation processes as well as post-purchase phenomena, have been neglected (Arndt, 1976).

Some of the fundamental dimensions of consumer behavior may be summarized by the factor time. Interwoven with the processes of acquisition, consumption, and dispossession of products and services is the expenditure of energy and time. In a way, time and money are interchangeable since time may be converted into money by working, and household appliances and cars have often the function of saving time (Garretson and Mauser, 1963). Therefore, time may be used as a common denominator in the economic behavior of households.

A time-expenditure approach to consumer behavior means viewing consumer behavior as a household management area in which members of the household interact and allocate tasks to maximize satisfaction of the input of the scarce resource time (or its equivalent money). Such an approach deviates much from the dominant stimulus-response, effects-of-the-marketing-mix research tradition in consumer behavior in which the consumer is positioned as a passive target for marketers' efforts (Arndt, 1976).

In the study to be reported here, the central variable is time spent on shopping (or time spent on purchasing goods). Admittedly, such a study will give an incomplete picture of the time dimension of consumer behavior. A complete analysis should also include time spent on planning and on the processing of symbolic information, as well as on the actual consumption of the goods and services bought.


In what is the most comprehensive review of studies of time in consumer behavior, Jacoby, Szybillo, and Berning, (1976) concluded, not unexpectedly, that the area had been given scant explicit attention.

In psychology, time has occasionally been a secondary dependent variable in laboratory studies, which seem to be of somewhat questionable external validity. In economics, there is an emerging normative research tradition, pioneered by Stigler (1961), Mincer (1963), Becket (1965), and Linder (1970) who have tried to determine the condition of the optimal time allocation, given the opportunity cost of time

The most prolific empirical research traditions may be found in the areas of sociology and home economics, where studies have addressed how time is allocated among various activities such as sports, mass media consumption, traveling, household work, and work (Jacoby, Szybillo, and Berning, 1976). The favorite research instrument in these studies (also used in the present one) is the so-called time budget, a method consisting of letting respondents keep track of their own time consumption by keeping a log or diary recording each activity performed and the length of time devoted to it (Szalai, 1972). The time budget studies published so far give the impression of being mainly descriptive and classificatory and not based on a priori theoretical schemes.

This study aims at developing a systematic explanation for variations in time spent on shopping. Hence, studies examining different motivations of shoppers are also relevant, though none of these has had shopping time as dependent measure. A pioneering study is Stone's (1954) investigation of the shopping behavior of 124 Chicago housewives. On the basis of their responses, the housewives were classified by their "orientation to shopping" into the following categories: Economic (33 per cent), personalizing (28 per cent), ethical (18 per cent), apathetic (17 per cent), and indeterminate (4 per cent). The one-third classified as "economic" shoppers was the closest approximation to the "economic man" of economics putting main emphasis on price, quality, and assortment of merchandise, viewing the stores themselves and the personnel merely as instruments for quick and efficient sales. The majority of the shoppers were non-economically oriented hence supporting Stone's hypothesis that shoppers establish relationships to stores and store personnel to form identifications binding them to the larger community. Later replications of the study such as Darden and Reynolds (1971) and Boone, Kurtz, Johnson, and Bonno (1974) have confirmed the importance of non-economic orientations to shopping. Results reported by Tauber (1972) provide further support for the role of psycho-social shopping motives.


The theoretical scheme shown in Figure 1 positions the variable Orientation to shopping as an hypothetical construct intervening between Time spent on shopping and a set of antecedent variables believed to be correlates of Orientation to shopping. These variables are specified in Figure 2 along with the expected direction of the relationship between each variable and Time spent on shopping. Our choice of variables was to a certain degree restricted by the limitations of the available data, which were not collected for the special purpose of explaining variations in shopping time, but for the purpose of describing use of time in general. Furthermore, it should be noted that the expected relationships do not refer to the household, but to the individual consumer.



On the basis of prior research, we distinguish between two different classes of orientations to shopping reflecting differences in resource allocation in the household. The first class, Supply-need orientation is essentially an economic orientation. According to this orientation, Time spent on shopping is believed to vary with the need of supply from retailers. Because of the data limitations we have no direct measure of this need. Referring to results from the survey of consumer expenditures carried out by the Central Bureau of Statistics in 1973, we may, however, regard four of our variables as supply need indicators (Statistisk SentralbyrS, 1975a). Thus, Time spent on shopping is expected to vary with Number of children in the family (Variable 12), Stage in family life cycle (Variable 13), and Total household income (Variable 16). Since total supply need varies negatively with private production of food in the household, average shopping time was expected to be less in areas dominated by agriculture or fishing occupations (Variable 3).

From the literature, it was expected that non-economic indicators would be more important predictors of shopping behavior. Possession of strategic durables such as refrigerators (Variable 5) and freezers (Variable 6) was believed to be facilitating conditions making for more efficient and shorter shopping time.

Variables 1 and 2 refer to structural conditions determining opportunities to shop.

All Social position variables, except Variables 12, 13, and 16, were believed to reflect opportunities to shop and motivations for shopping. Opportunities to shop were believed to be more favorable if the respondent's health was good (Variable 8), if the respondent was not employed (Variable 9), or the respondent worked for fewer hours if employed (Variable 11). If the respondent's spouse was employed (Variable 10), the respondent's own individual shopping time was expected to be longer. Education for either respondent or spouse was expected to be correlated with somewhat higher level of ambition for shopping and hence to be positively correlated with shopping time (Variables 14 and 15). Finally, the expected organization of the household function with the wife as the purchasing agent having the main responsibility for supplies, was expected to be manifested in longer shopping time for women than for men (Variable 7).

The remaining hypothetical construct Elasticity of activities refers to the fact that certain activities being mandatory or structurally determined are less amenable to contraction (and to expansion) than others given an autonomous change in another activity. For instance, if adjacent stores are closed down and/ or transportation opportunities deteriorate, normally total shopping time increases. Since the total time available is given, there is the question of which activities will then be curtailed. To get insight into this issue, the relative importance of various activities will be compared for those having long with those having short shopping time. Since shopping time is not necessarily the causative variable, the arrows in Figure 1 run in both directions.


The source of the data is the Time Budget Survey conducted by the Norwegian Central Bureau of Statistics in 1971-72. The design of the survey and other findings are presented in Statistisk SentralbyrS (1974, 1975b) and Gr°nmo (1976).

In the Time Budget Survey, respondents were selected by a multistage probability procedure among all Norwegian citizens 15 to 74 years of age. Each respondent was randomly assigned to periods of 2 to 3 days covering the total year from September 1, 1971 to August 31, 1972. In principle, such a sampling procedure should provide a representative picture of the behavior of the population of interest over a year.

Each person was asked to fill in a diary having space for entries for each quarter of an hour of the day of the most important activity (as well as one simultaneous secondary activity). In addition, information on the background variables listed in Figure 2 and others was obtained in personal interviews conducted when distributing the questionnaires and when collecting them the day after the diary period.

Of the original sample of 5,215 persons, 3,040 persons completed the diary and participated in the interviews. The completion rate of 58 per cent for a study as unusually demanding for the respondents as this, compares not unfavorably with other time budget studies (Szalai, 1972 and Jacoby, Szybillo, and Berning, 1976). As compared with census data on criteria of age and sex composition, the final sample does not seem to be seriously biased.



One weakness of the present material is that the unit of analysis was individuals and not households. This means that spousal roles in the household can only be studied at the aggregate level.


In all, 56 per cent of the respondents reported having engaged in shopping activities during the diary period. The average shopping time per week-day was 25 minutes, of which 16 minutes represented in-store shopping activities and 9 minutes transportation to and from stores. Sixteen out of the 25 minutes allocated to shopping related to purchase of convenience goods. While 7 per cent of the respondents reported using public transportation, and 12 per cent private cars for shopping in the diary period, most of the transportation activities consisted of walking or using bicycle.

If the 25 minutes found as average shopping time per day is projected to the national population, this yields an estimate of the annual consumer time input in distribution of 1.1 million hours per day. By way of comparison, the total daily labor input in retailing of owners and employees is estimated at about 1 million hours. While the accuracy of these numbers may be questioned, they nevertheless suggest that the time efforts of consumers in distribution are substantial. In analyses of the complete economic efficiency of distribution, consumer efforts should also be included. If the attention is limited to the commercial channels only, suboptimalization may result from passing on costs to consumers.

In the following, the relationship between the set of antecedent factors and shopping time will be examined, confer the upper part of Figure 1. Next, the relationships between shopping time and time used on other activities will be presented, confer the lower part of Figure 1.

Determinants of Shopping Time

The relationships between each antecedent factor and shopping time are shown in Figure 2. To test the significance of the differences between groups in mean shopping time, we utilized t-tests and F-tests.

As seen in Figure 2, the hypotheses for the supply-need indicators Occupational structure of municipality of residence (Variable 3) and Total household income (Variable 16) were supported. For the indicator Number of children (Variable 12), no relationship emerged. The effect of increasing supply need may have been balanced out by the effect of increasing inconvenience of having the children on the shopping trip as the number of children increases. Since the latter effect might be expected especially when the children are young, we reexamined the relationship between Number of children and Shopping time, controlling for age of the children. However, for none of the age groups a significant relationship between Number of children and Shopping time was found. Nor did we find any significant relationship between age of the children and Time spent on shopping, either when controlling for Number of children or not.

The expected relationship for Stage in family life cycle (Variable 13) was supported for women, but not for men. This finding suggests that spousal role differentiation, a non-economic variable, interacted with the supply-need indicator.

The two indicators of structural conditions, Distance to nearest grocery store (Variable 1) and Centrality of municipality of residence (Variable 2), were found to be correlated with Shopping time in the expected direction.

Only 5 per cent of the sample reported having no refrigerator (Variable 5). These persons did not have longer average shopping time than those who possessed such a strategic durable. However, possession of a freezer (Variable 6) was negatively correlated with shopping time. As a facilitating condition for saving shopping time long term storage capacity seems to be more important than short term storage capacity.

The key indicator of the organization of the household - sex of respondent (Variable 7) - emerged as a strong determinant of shopping time. While the average shopping time for men was 18 minutes, women reported as much as 31 minutes. Similarly, 68 per cent of the women reported to have the primary responsibility for the supply of convenience goods, as compared with 12 per cent of the men. This suggests that the traditional spousal role differentiation, with the wife being the purchasing agent of the family was still dominant in Norway in the early 1970's.

Other non-economic variables which turned out to be ...... important were employment status of respondent (Variable 9) and spouse (Variable 10). Status as non-employed person means more time available to be spent on shopping. Having an employed spouse normally means more responsibility for the supply of goods in the household and longer shopping time, because the spouse has less time available. Similarly, the negative relationship uncovered for Time spent on work (Variable 11) gives further support for this pattern. Finally, education of spouse (Variable 15), but not education of respondent (Variable 14) was positively associated with Shopping time. The explanation is that spouses of better than average educated respondents were more likely to be women and hence more likely to have main responsibility for shopping.

In addition to the examination of bivariate relationships shown in Figure 2, multivariate analyses were conducted to identify the effects of each factor when controlling for the other variables. By this procedure the effects of Ownership of freezer, Sex, Time spent on work, Education, and Income were confirmed. In contrast, the multivariate analyses showed no significant relationship between Shopping time and the three structural conditions, stage in family life cycle and employment status, but in this analysis, employment status was reflected in the variable Time spent on work. However, final conclusions should not be drawn on the basis of these results. A relatively high number of respondents had missing data on at least one of the 16 variables. As these units had to be excluded in the multivariate analyses, the findings are based on a substantially reduced and probably biased sample.

Furthermore, a tree diagram analysis was performed on the data to isolate the effects of the most important variables. This analysis also gives an example of the interactions among the variables. The technique utilized, AID (Automatic Interaction Detector), makes successive splits in the sample of respondents, so as to maximize the explained variance in each split. The results which are shown in Figure 3 support the tendency of findings already earlier established. The first split occurred for non-employed versus employed respondents and students. Since most of the non-employed respondents were women, the sex role pattern shows up indirectly in this split. Second, sex roles appear more directly in the split of the employed/ student group. The reason may be that employed men are more likely to have non-working wives than vice versa. Among the occupationally inactive respondents, opportunity to shop (as measured by distance to the nearest grocery store) was important, while the time saving provided by the freezer was particularly important for non-employed persons with short distance to the store. As seen in Figure 3, the maximum difference occurred for men who were employed or students as contrasted with non-employed persons living near a grocery store and having no freezer.

In conclusion, the findings reaffirm the importance of non-economic factors in the shopping process. None of the 4 supply need indicators were among the most important variables shown in Figure 3. Furthermore, the 4 supply-need indicators counted for less than one sixth of the variance explained by the 16 variables in Figure 2. However, the variance explained by all these 16 variables did not amount to more than 8.5 per cent of the total variance. Thus we may hypothesize that most of the variation in time spent on shopping is explained by the organization of the household function and by the psycho-social functions performed by stores - factors that were not directly tested in our analysis. For non-employed wives, stores may have a compensatory function in that they provide opportunities for diversion, self-gratification, and substitute social contacts for housewives who otherwise would be isolated in the daily routines of the home. Hence, stores may have important "latent functions" transcending their goods supply function.



Shopping Time and Time Spent on Other Activities

Since total time is given and cannot be expanded or stored, it follows that increases or decreases in shopping time will affect the time available for other activities. Furthermore, these activities will not be affected in the same fashion as they differ in what is here called elasticity. Certain activities such as work and education and some part of the household work and family care are mandatory and therefore inelastic. Other activities such as leisure may be more elastic and amenable to change.



Table 1 shows the average number of minutes per day allocated to the seven main groups of activities for respondents having long or short shopping time. It is clear from Table 1 that long shopping time varies negatively with time spent on income-producing work and education, but positively with time for household work and family care, personal needs, and leisure. This pattern adds further support to the hypothesis of the psycho-social function of shopping. The heavy shopper is confined to the home and spend much more time on household activities and is, because of having more available time, able to spend more time also at leisure activities.


Much of the thinking on distribution and analyses of "Does distribution cost too much?" has been dominated by economic criteria for the efficient moving of goods, see for instance Statens offentliga utredningar (1975). From this viewpoint, an efficient distribution system is one minimizing capital and labor input in the commercial channel as well as in the households themselves.

The results of this study may be interpreted in the perspective provided by the hypothesis of the psycho-social functions of shopping. For many consumers the problem is not to save time, but to spend time, and to get diversion and establish identification with society. It may be a symptom of the undesirable characteristics of modern urbanized life that retail stores have to take on the responsibilities which otherwise should have been performed by networks of friends and extended families and other social institutions. However, as long as the stores are involved with such latent functions, this role should not be ignored by policy makers or by researchers.


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