Why You're a Picky Shopper

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It's a blessing and a curse, but at least you know what you want. If you're one of the 40 percent of consumers who can describe themselves as a picky shopper, you have no illusions about what a trip to the grocery store — or to any other establishment — will require. It makes everything from choosing lunch to finding a mate more labor-intensive, but at least we know now why we do it.

Researchers at Penn State University have just released a comprehensive study of so-called picky shoppers. "In marketing, we call customers who want the absolute best version of a product 'maximizers,'" said co-author Margaret Meloy. "But with picky customers, the best is more idiosyncratic. For them, it might not be about getting the best quality, but getting the precise version of a product they have in their head — a shirt in a very precise shade of black, for example."

Picky shoppers are hard to please for a reason. One insight came from their increased likelihood of turning down free stuff. "This may seem irrational to some people who may not understand why a person would reject things that come at no cost," said co-author Andong Cheng. "We speculate that it could be psychologically costly for picky shoppers to take free items that they don't like because possessing these items is a source of irritation for these individuals."

In other words, if something doesn't spark joy, picky shoppers will hold out for the thing that does. It makes them impervious to marketing — and hopefully more satisfied with what they finally settle for.