Billed as Covid-safe shopping to avoid the checkout, scanning your own groceries is adding an average 12 per cent to your supermarket spend, according to research from the University of Bath School of Management.

Studies of consumers found a surge on spending from between nine to 38 per cent, and it was shoppers with a firm budget plan that were behind the overspend.

Researchers found that using a handheld scanner gives people a sense of control and a more enjoyable shopping experience. They spend more time in the supermarket, look at a wider array of products and make 14 per cent more impulsive, unplanned purchases.

“Essentially shoppers are spending more time touching products while they look for barcodes and that builds a greater sense of desire. People feel more impulsive and they start to enjoy their shopping trip and feel happier. Interestingly they also make healthier choices in what they put in their trolley, as their shopping trip becomes a more conscious process and 5 per cent more of their selected products are healthy,” said Dr Carl-Philip Ahlbom from the University’s School of Management.

The researchers were surprised to find those who had an idea of what items they needed but no fixed budget were not susceptible to making extra purchases.

“It may seem strange that people without a budget don’t seem to be spending extra, but that’s because essentially most people are risk averse. We tend to have some sort of mental budget, even if it’s very rough, and we usually overestimate how much we have spent.”

Published in the Journal of Marketing Research, three studies were carried out on over 1,000 shoppers at supermarkets in Sweden between 2017 and 2019, using eye-tracking technology and other sophisticated data tracking techniques, replicated in two further laboratory studies involving around 1,200 participants. Data was collected with the support of the Retail Academics Research Institute.

In the field experiments the researchers used both entrance and exit interviews. During the entrance interviews they asked shoppers what they planned to buy and during the exit interviews they collected the shoppers’ receipts. This way they could compare planned purchases with what they actually bought.

Professor Jens Nordfält, also from the School of Management, said: “What’s fascinating about the results is that they’re counter intuitive. We expect our minds to control our actions but we consistently found that when you pick up a product and spend time touching it, your actions influence how you think. You have to pay more attention to the product and you start to think, feel and behave differently. It’s called embodied cognition - the idea that the body influences the mind.”

While the results point to a sales win for retailers the researchers say that consumers shouldn’t feel they are being manipulated. They highlight the improved shopping experience, healthier product choice, and the ability to verify shelf prices against what the scanner registers -more challenging with traditional checkout scanners.

More research is needed to know whether the effects are short-lived, potentially reducing as consumers become more familiar with the technology, and how the impact would transfer to other types of retail, as handheld scanning spreads from supermarkets.

The research, The Sales Impact of Using Handheld Scanners: Evidence from the Field, was carried out with Dhruv Grewal, Professor of Marketing at Babson College and the University of Bath, and Stephanie Noble, Professor in Marketing at Haslam College of Marketing, at the University of Tennessee.