An Exploratory Study of Grocery Shopping Motivations

ABSTRACT - Increasing time pressure and declining discretionary time may have altered shopping motivations and shopping behaviour. In order to reveal contemporary shopping motivations a qualitative research method is used. Eleven different motivations are determined, and classified as functional, experiential and social. On the basis of these shopping motivations, six different grocery shopper segments are hypothesized. The results show that no real new needs seem to emerge, but that consumers seem to become very demanding: they expect a large assortment, high quality food, high quality personnel and management, but also low prices and a nice shopping atmosphere.


Maggie Geuens, Malaika Brengman, and Rosette S’Jegers (2001) ,"An Exploratory Study of Grocery Shopping Motivations", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, eds. Andrea Groeppel-Klien and Frank-Rudolf Esch, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 135-140.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 2001      Pages 135-140


Maggie Geuens, Ghent University, Belgium

Malaika Brengman, University of Brussels, Belgium

Rosette S’Jegers, University of Brussels, Belgium


Increasing time pressure and declining discretionary time may have altered shopping motivations and shopping behaviour. In order to reveal contemporary shopping motivations a qualitative research method is used. Eleven different motivations are determined, and classified as functional, experiential and social. On the basis of these shopping motivations, six different grocery shopper segments are hypothesized. The results show that no real new needs seem to emerge, but that consumers seem to become very demanding: they expect a large assortment, high quality food, high quality personnel and management, but also low prices and a nice shopping atmosphere.


An increasing number of females in paid work force, more one-parent families, less discretionary time, and more time pressure on the one hand (Lachance, Legault and Bujold 2000; Perry-Jenkins, Repetti and Crouter 2000), and more variation in retail outlets, more opportunities for e-shopping and increasing technological improvements on the other (Donthu and Garcia 1999; Kumar 1997), may impact current shopping behaviour. A recent study points out that about 20% of the Belgian citizens consider grocery shopping as a tough chore and 40% want to reduce the time they spend on it (Van Rompaey 1998). Therefore, the question rises whether these trends of the last two decades have changed consumers’ motivations and needs for grocery shopping. In order to answer this question, qualitative research is undertaken. Besides probing into shopping motivations, an attempt will be made to hypothesize a shopper typology.


According to Westbrook and Black (1985) one of the most appropriate bases on which to develop a shopper typology is the underlying shopping motivations. Therefore, a brief review of studies investigating shopping motivations is presented. One of the first researchers to investigate shopping motivations was Tauber (1972). Using depth interviews, Tauber probed into the satisfaction consumers experienced from shopping and identified six personal motivations: 1. Playing a culturally prescribed role, 2. Diversion from daily routine, 3. Receiving sensory stimulation, 4. Self-gratification, 5. Learning about new trends and fashions, and 6. Getting physical activity. Besides personal motivations, Tauber also distinguished five social shopping motivations: 1. Social interaction outside the home, 2. Communicating with others sharing similar interests, 3. Affiliating with peer groups, 4. Increasing social status and experiencing authority (with regard to the personnel who have to fulfil the customers’ wishes), and 5. Successfully bargaining and negotiating. The major contribution of Tauber is the recognition that shopping may occur not only for acquiring goods, but also for satisfying social and personal needs (Westbrook and Black 1985). Studies in the US, as well as in Europe, show that the importance of interactions with salespeople as a surrogate for social contact should not be underestimated (Forman and Sriram 1991; Reynolds and Beatty 1999). However, also some of the personal needs (hedonic, experiential and recreational motivations) seem to be universal and have been stressed by many researchers (Bellenger and Korgaonkar 1980; Bloch, Richway and Sherrell 1989; Van Ossel 1998). Westwood and Black (1985) include on top of personal and social motivations, a product-oriented dimension consisting of anticipated utility and satisfaction of obtaining what one was looking for.

Sheth (1983) distinguished functional and non-functional motivations. Functional motivations pertain to tangible aspects such as product assortment, product quality, convenience, price etc., while non-functional motivations comprise non-tangible aspects (such as store clientele, store reputation and promotions), social motivations (social interaction etc.) and personal motivations (enjoyable experiences). Similar classifications are proposed elsewhere. Dawson, Bloch and Ridgway (1990) classified shopping motivations in experiential (watching other people, enjoying the crowd, meet new people, etc) and product-related needs (find new or unique products, see new things, etc.). And Dholakia (1999) identified, besides a product-oriented motivation labelled "utilitarian" and a personal or hedonic motivation consisting of shopping as pleasure, a social dimension referring to having interactions with family members.

Shim, Gehrt and Holikova (1998) started their study from previously defined shopping orientation scales, and add items pertaining to food safety, health, and home cooking, leading them to seven dimensions: convenience, price consciousness, recreation, food safety, health, home shopping and enjoying home cooking. Although the first three dimensions have been encountered elsewhere, the other four dimensions are new. This shows that recently new shopping motivations may have arisen. And, unless newer aspects are incorporated in existing questionnaires, these changes cannot be revealed.

As a conclusion, a certain overlap in general dimensions seems to exist, no matter where the study is carried out (US, Canada or Europe). However, specific dimensions differ, even within the same country. Therefore, other variables besides cross-cultural effects impact shopping motivations: 1. Retail format. Value, convenience and price seem to be the most important motivators for home shopping, while a greater variety of motivations seem to prevail for in-store shopping (Eastlick and Feinberg 1999), 2. Shopping situation and personality. Situational shopping motivations are temporary and differ depending on a consumer’s situation such as time pressure (Dellaert et al. 1998), social surroundings or task definition (e.g. urgent versus regular purchase) (Van Kenhove, De Wulf and Van Waterschoot 1999). Enduring shopping motivations are relatively stable over time and are related with a person’s personality in the sense that some consumers may actually be "born to shop" (Mooradian and Olver 1996), 3. Product category. Motivations for grocery shopping may be very different from motivations for apparel shopping. The former usually is considered as stressful and unpleasant, while the latter is more likely to be regarded as satisfying, rewarding, and as a way of self-expression (Aylott and Mitchell 1998; Dholakia 1999). The question then rises whether, for example, experiential and recreational motivations are as strong in grocery shopping than in shopping for products such as apparel.


Shoppers have been segmented on a wide variety of classification variables. In 1954, Stone offers the first typology based on consumers’ attitudes towards shopping. The 'economic consumer’ is concerned with price, product assortment and quality. The 'personalizing consumer’ seeks social relationships with retail personnel. The 'ethical consumer’ is concerned with moralistic concerns and is willing to give up lower prices or a larger assortment to help out the little retailer, for example. Finally, the 'apathetic consumer’ shops out of necessity and is not involved at all with shopping.

Starting from perceived characteristics of preferred grocery shops, Williams, Painter and Nichols (1978) found four shopping segments: 1. Low-price shoppers, 2. Convenience shoppers, 3. Involved shoppers and 4. Apathetic shoppers. Lesser and Hughes (1986) surveyed 17 different US communities and come up with: 1. Inactive shoppers (not interested in shopping and not concerned about price, service or product assortment), 2. Active shoppers (looking for value for money, and interested in exclusive products and retailers with an upper middle class appeal), 3. Service shoppers (pay higher prices for additional services, seek convenient stores with friendly personnel), 4. Traditional shoppers (not enthusiastic about shopping, not very price sensitive nor very demanding), 5. Dedicated fringe shoppers (continuously looking for new products and new ways of shopping, not brand, nor store loyal, not interested in socializing), 6. Price shoppers (willing to give up quality, service and assortment for the lowest price), 7. Transitional shoppers (young people who often switch stores).

Bellenger and Korgaonkar (1980) classify shoppers into recreational and functional economic shoppers. Recreational, as compared to functional economic shoppers, spend more time per shopping trip, are less inclined to plan their purchases in advance, and are more likely to show a preference for department stores. In a similar way, Boedeker (1995) segmented consumers into 'new type shoppers’ and 'traditional shoppers’. New type shoppers are very demanding consumers valuing not only the recreational, but also the economic and convenience characteristics of a store. They prefer a good above a nearby store, value service, and often do not pre-plan purchases. Traditional shoppers, on the other hand, only buy pre-planned products, are not the first to buy new products, compare prices, look for bargains, and do not value recreational aspects.

Segmenting on seven shopping orientation dimensions (price consciousness, recreation, food safety, health, convenience, home shopping and home cooking), Shim et al. (1998) came up with four grocery shopping segments: 1. Food safety/health shoppers, 2. Convenience shoppers, 3. Middle-of-the-road shoppers, and 4. Home shoppers. The first segment does not care about convenience nor recreation, but value food safety and health to a great extent. Convenience shoppers are willing to forego other characteristics for convenience and show a proclivity towards home shopping. Home shoppers score highest on the home shopping and the recreation dimension, while middle-of-the-road shoppers provide mid-rate scores for all dimensions.

Van Kenhove and De Wulf (2000) investigate both a personal factor (income) and a situational factor (time pressure), and classify Belgian grocery shoppers into "money-poor, time-rich", "money- poor, time-poor", "money-rich, time-poor" and "money-rich, time-rich" shoppers. Money-poor, time-rich shoppers switch store for bulky items in order to buy at cheapest prices. Money-rich, time-poor shoppers show less need for stock-up purchases since their time is more valuable than the savings from buying a large quantity at a lower price. Time-rich shoppers hold a positive attitude towards shopping, while time-poor shoppers express a negative attitude. As for one-stop shopping, only the attitudes of money-poor, time-rich shoppers are negative. This is not surprising since they have the time and a financial motive to search for low prices.


One of the challenges facing retail management is not to lose touch with and remain responsive to consumers (Dawson 2000). Because of changes in people’s personal and professional life, as well as in the retail environment (see introduction part), consumer motivations and needs for grocery shopping may have changed over time. With increasing time pressure nowadays, functional motivations may have become much more important than experiential motivations. Moreover, the results of Shim et al. (1998) indicate that new shopping segments have recently emerged. Therefore, in order to better understand the consumer, an exploratory, qualitative study is undertaken consisting of listening to consumers rather than having them respond to predetermined questions. For, the results of Shim et al. (1998) show that it can be important to adapt existing questionnaires to actual life situations.

The objective of this study is twofold. The first objective consists of determining current and future grocery shopping motivations by investigating aspects of satisfaction and dissatisfaction with current retail formats, as well as by having respondents invent a future grocery store that they would like to patronize. A second objective is to formulate a hypothesized shopper typology on the basis of factors that seem to determine store preferences and shopping behaviour. Such a typology can give an answer to the question whether or not new kinds of shopper segments seem to be arising and if so, how grocery stores might deal with them.


A qualitative research method, focus groups, is used since focus groups offer the advantage of interviewing several persons at the same time during which respondents can stimulate each other. Eight focus groups are run, on average consisting of 9 respondents. Four focus groups took place in the Dutch speaking part and four in the French speaking part of the country. Moreover, homogeneous groups were formed with respect to education level (university, college, secondary school) and working status (full time employed versus part time or unemployed). A professional moderator led the focus groups, and only intervened to probe into consumers’ statements. Every session was recorded on video and watched by five persons (2 of the authors, 2 students making a thesis on the subject and the moderator). Full write-ups and summaries were made of each session. The text of the write-ups was divided in chunks and coded and check-coded by all five members of the team. This way objectivity was enhanced and it was ensured that the reported motivations and typology came from the data and not from the researchers’ prejudices.


6.1. Shopping motivations

Shopping motivations are inferred by means of four different questions. First of all, negative and positive associations with grocery shopping are taken into account. Secondly, consumers are directly probed for their shopping needs. Next, consumers have to classify the available grocery shopping alternatives and indicate why they do or do not like the different alternatives. And finally, consumers have to compose a store that they would like to patronize in the future.

Associations, and negative and positive aspects

Going shopping, as compared to grocery shopping, is perceived to be a relaxing, recreational activity. The consumer can explore, be seduced, and spend money, without feeling the urge to return home with a full basket. As was indicated by Aylott and Mitchell (1998), and Dholakia (1999), grocery shopping has more negative associations. Consumers see it as a functional or utilitarian activity representing a necessity. Frequently mentioned positive aspects of grocery shopping refer mainly to experiential motivations such as the discovery of new products and new tastes, the liking of animations, demonstrations and nice decorations especially during the Christmas and Easter period. However, also a social motivation (meeting of other people) and a functional motivation (sales promotions such as gadgets or gifts that accompany products) can be deduced. Negative associations predominantly point to functional motivations. For example, statements such as "too long waiting lines at the checkout", "old people shopping during peak time", "too crowded store", "too narrow aisles", "frozen products that start melting at the cash counter", "no parking space available", "badly manoeuvrable trolleys", "bringing back trolleys on rainy days", and "stress when closing hour is approaching" all refer to a lack of convenience. Lack of reliability also seems an important negative aspect as can be deduced from the mentioning of "out-of-stocks", and "mistakes in the check", while "decayed products on the shelves" and "ignorant personnel" seem to refer to an inadequate level of the quality of the products or of the quality of the personnel. However, not only functional motivations form the basis of negative associations as can be inferred from the remarks "annoying music" and "unfriendly personnel".



Grocery shopping needs

The top-of-mind motivations indicated by the respondents for having a satisfying grocery shopping experience consist of fve functional motivations (convenience, assortment, reliability and quality), and one experiential motivation (atmosphere). Convenience is related to opening hours, speed of shopping, and not having to drag the groceries. Assortment points to the fact that the consumer wants the assortment one is looking for: no more (too large assortments impediment the choice process) and no less (the consumer wants the advantage of one-stop shopping). Reliability is synonymous for availability: the consumer wants his or her favourite products to be available all of the time. Quality refers to the products, as well as to the personnel and the management. As was to be expected, the consumer is only satisfied when a minimum level of quality is reached. With respect to atmosphere, the consumer seems to favour the extremes: a very rational environment (no or very few services, entertainment and promotions) in which the consumer can keep control, or a nice shopping atmosphere aimed at seducing to which one can render oneself.

Liking and disliking of shopping alternatives

Respondents list all the different grocery shopping alternatives they know, after which they are written on separate cards. Next, respondents classify the shopping alternatives in different groups. No classification characteristics were given, nor the number of groups that were to be formed. In general, nine different store groups are composed (see Table 1). The advantages and disadvantages mentioned mainly refer to: 1. Functional motivations pertaining to the price, quality of products and personnel, whether interesting food or non-food promotions are offered, depth and width of the assortment, reliability (no stock-outs) and convenience (speed at the checkout, the time needed for shopping, the quality of the trolleys, large parking lots, etc.), 2. Experiential motivations consisting of a nice and seductive store atmosphere, with demonstrations and the possibility of discovering and tasting special products, 3. Social motivations composed of social interactions with peers and store personnel.

The future store

Participants are asked, in groups of four or five people, to compose a future store they would like to patronize. Again, similar motivations as described above are revealed. Convenience is expressed by the desire for opening hours of 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as well as by the desire for large parking lots, stores easy accessible by public as well as by private transportation, one time scanning in order to reduce waiting lines at the checkout, repair services, child care services, and a home delivery service. The demand for specialised and fresh food, and for expert personnel points to an underlying need for quality. A desire for transparent and competitive pricing procedures reflects the price motivation, while the desire for a perfect stock management is associated with a reliability motivation. Furthermore, respondents explicitly mentioned that they would like to have broad product assortments consisting of both fresh and pre-packed foods, and a store atmosphere conducive of fun and seduction. Consumers want a bright, green store, with nice music in which they can shop without feeling stressed. Contrary to the statements made concerning current shopping motivations where respondents wanted or a rational, or a seductive environment, the future stores were all composed of fun and seduction. Promotions, demonstrations and tasting of products should be part of the shopping experience, as well as the possibility to discover new products. Finally, consumers stress the importance of social interactions with friendly and helpful personnel. They hold on to this even in case the designed store was made up of a very automated and rational environment. Surprisingly, no one mentioned anything about social interactions with peer groups. However, the desire for a cafeteria and a restaurant in the store may indicate a need for having social conversations away from the immediate grocery environment.

To conclude, he four ways used to reveal shopping motivations all lead to more or less similar results. The motivations discovered here are very similar to Sheth’s (1983) typology, but are rather different from the ones proposed by Tauber (1972), and Westbrook and Black (1985). Dholakia’s (1999) "interaction with the family" dimension is also missing, as are the newer shopping orientations detected by Shimp et al. (1998), such as food safety, health and home cooking. In view of the Belgian dioxin crisis that broke out 6 months prior to the focus groups, especially the fact that the participants did not make a reference to food safety and health is remarkable. Although time poverty was frequently mentioned, functional shopping orientations do not seem to overrule the hedonic or social motivations. All in all, consumers’ shopping motivations remain pretty similar than 15 years ago. Even in the description of the future stores, in which a lot of attention was paid to functional and efficient shopping, social interactions with store personnel and a nice shopping environment, that reminds more of going on adventure than doing grocery shopping were highlighted. The only difference with 15 years ago is the fact that consumers have become very demanding: they want professional personnel, high quality products, an efficient store management, a nice store environment and low prices. Boedeker (1995) also mentioned this demanding aspect for his 'new type shopper’.

A hypothesized grocery shopper typology

During the focus sessions, special attention was paid to shopping motivations, personal and situational factors that seemed to impact the respondents’ store preference and shopping behaviour. In this respect the following factors came up:

$ Time poverty. Time poverty as defined here not only refers to the amount of time consumers are able to spend on grocery shopping, but also to the amount of time they are willing to devote to it (enduring involvement). Some respondents who were objectively not time pressured (e.g. part-time employment and no kids), had an active lifestyle and preferred doing other things to doing grocery shopping.

$ Social needs. Some people were looking for social interactions with peer groups and/or preferred to engage in social relationships with store personnel, while other consumers were not looking for social contacts during grocery shopping.

$ Experiential needs. Experiential needs reflect the extent to which the consumer looks for sensory gratification by the store atmosphere and/or his or her desire for new experiences such as new retail forms, new stores, and/or new products.

On the basis of these three factors, six grocery shopper segments are hypothesized: 1. Convenience shoppers (time-poor, low social needs, low experiential needs). Shoppers in this segment exhibit purely rational shopping behaviour driven mainly by functional motivations: they want to buy good value for money products in an efficient way. Therefore, they engage in routine behaviour to reduce search costs and save time. The grocery stores most frequently patronized are larger hard discounters. The smaller assortment is perceived to be an advantage since this leads to less purchase decisions and saves them time. However, the assortment should be large enough in order for the consumer to take advantage of one-stop shopping. Supermarkets may also be visited if they are more conveniently located or in case they have more convenient opening hours. Convenience shoppers favour technological improvements and automatization since they do not care about socializing with the personnel. This type of shopper is also included in the typology of Williams et al. (1978) and Shim et al. (1998). 2. Low-price shoppers (time-rich, low social needs, low experiential needs). These consumers have a lot of time and are willing to spend a lot of time on grocery shopping. They look for the cheapest prices and best bargains. Therefore, they are more likely to patronize multiple stores, and are category-specific store-loyal rather than category-independent store-loyal. They typically patronize hard discounters. This segment is also mentioned by Williams et al. (1978) and Lesser and Hughes (1986). 3. Social shoppers (time-poor, high social needs, low experiential needs). Because of time-poverty, social consumers shop less frequently than intense social shoppers. The main shopping motivation for this shopper segment consists of a social need. Therefore, they are more likely to be category-independent store-loyal in order to increase the possibility of building social relationships with the store personnel. Therefore, antisocial ways of shopping such as internet shopping are definitely out of the question. 4. Intense social shoppers (time-rich, high social needs, low experiential needs). The main motivation is again social interaction. These consumers either visit multiple small stores (bakery, butcher, corner shops) or visit the same store very frequently. They are also very likely to go shopping on the market since this is an ideal place for socializing. Similar to social shoppers, intense social shoppers do not consider internet shopping or another form of in-home shopping as an alternative for in-store shopping. 5. Experiential shoppers (time-poor, low or high social needs, high experiential needs). The main motivation of experiential shoppers is sensory gratification. Therefore, store atmosphere is very important. They are willing to give up a lower price for a nice and stimulating shopping environment. Because of time poverty they do not often visit shopping malls, but try to satisfy their experiential needs in supermarkets offering both a large assortment (with several new and exotic products) making one-stop shopping possible, and a nice atmosphere with seductions, promotions and demonstrations. A remarkable finding is that, contrary to the time these consumers have available, experiential shoppers often exert a lot of effort (and lose quite some time) to patronize specialty and ethnic grocery stores. A similar observation was made in a Trends survey conducted by the Food Marketing Institute (Anonymous, 1998). 6. Recreational shoppers (time-rich, low or high social needs, high experiential needs). Recreational shoppers are identical to experiential shoppers, except for the fact that they are able and willing to spend time on grocery shopping. They have the opportunity to visit shopping malls besides supermarkets, and to patronize specialty stores. This satisfies their need for seduction, new products and new shopping experiences, as well as a possible need for socialization. As for experiential shoppers, recreational shoppers may enhance social interactions by frequently shopping in the same store. Recreational shoppers are also comprised in Bellenger and Korgaonkar’s (1980) typology and resemble the "innovator shopper" in Lesser and Hughes’ (1986) typology.

Three of the hypothesized shopper types (convenience, low price and recreational shoppers) appear frequently in the literature. The other types have not been explicitly mentioned before, although they are not real new kind of shoppers.


A qualitative research method was employed to increase the likelihood of detecting changes in shopping motivations. Nevertheless, current shopping motivations seem to remain pretty similar to the ones identified 15 years ago. In this study eleven motivations were registered: six functional motivations (convenience, product and personnel quality, price, reliability, assortment, and promotions), three experiential (discovering new products, store atmosphere, and demonstrations, animations and tasting experiences), and two social (meeting people, and social interaction with personnel). Moreover, consumers’ motivations and demands seem to differ for current and future shopping. In current stores a consumer looks either for efficiency and convenience, low prices, social contacts, experiential experiences, or for a combination of some of these characteristics. The future store consumers want to patronize encompasses all elements: e.g. large assortments for one stop shopping, fresh and pre-packed foods, techniques reducing shopping time, friendly and knowledgeable personnel, nice shopping atmosphere full of seduction, promotions and demonstrations, AND low prices. In this way, the six different shopping types hypothesized for current shopping behaviour and store preferences seem to merge in the 'new type shoppers’ identified by Boedeker (1995). However, one can wonder how realistic it is to combine all these elements in the same store. The next question then becomes: if these store outlets are not feasible, which characteristics are consumers willing to forego for which others? How important is each characteristic for the different shoppers, and in what exact direction does the consumer want his or her currently preferred store to evolve? Future quantitative research should answer this question. Since the current study is only qualitative in nature, quantitative research is needed anyway in order to test whether or not the hypothesized segments can be confirmed and to investigate the size and profile of each segment.


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Maggie Geuens, Ghent University, Belgium
Malaika Brengman, University of Brussels, Belgium
Rosette S’Jegers, University of Brussels, Belgium


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5 | 2001

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