Are there Downsides to Comparison Shopping?

One of the biggest pieces of advice offered to savvy shoppers is to do a little comparison shopping. You need to do this to get the best bang for your buck, right?

But what if there are downsides to comparison shopping? Before you decide that you need to shop around and focus on specific items in order to find the “perfect” item, here are a few things to think about:

Where’s Your Focus?

According to the publication “If money doesn’t make you happy, then you probably aren’t spending it right,” from academic researchers Elizabeth W. Dunn, Daniel T. Gilbert, and Timothy D. Wilson, sometimes comparison shopping takes the focus on items that might not actually impact their happiness. According to the publication:

From this perspective, comparison shopping may focus consumers’ attention on differences between available options, leading them to overestimate the hedonic impact of selecting a more versus less desirable option.

So, you might be focusing on things that won’t actually make you happy. It might be getting the cheapest price and then finding out that the quality of the product is so poor that you aren’t really that happy with the low cost. Or this effect might manifest in getting some feature that you think you “need” — only to discover that you really aren’t that happy with it. You think a certain feature will satisfy you, but then realize it doesn’t.

Another issue that it’s common for shoppers to make false comparisons. The publication points out that “the comparisons we make when we are shopping are not the same comparisons we will make when we consume what we shopped for.”

What we’re shopping for often turns out to be different from what we actually value when we experience the results of our purchasing decisions. A study cited in the publication takes a look at expectations of those predicting how much they would like a potato chip. Those were exposed to “superior” foods didn’t think they would enjoy eating the potato chip very much. Those who were exposed to “inferior” foods thought the potato chip was just fine. Interestingly, though, once the subjects were given the potato chip to eat, they enjoyed it equally.

Once the comparison is over, and you get home, you might not actually receive any additional emotional benefit resulting from your decision. Which means that comparison shopping may only stress you out as you strive to get the “best” thing at the “best” price — but the payoff at the end may not be any better.

Of course, this analysis takes the dollars out of it and mainly focuses on whether or not comparison shopping makes you any happier in the long run. If you are just trying to save money and stretch your dollars, and if survival is your main focus, it may not matter to you whether or not comparison shopping actually makes you happy. Sometimes, it just has to be done.

What do you think? What are your challenges with comparison shopping? And can it make you happy?

Image Source: USAG-Humphreys via Flickr

About the Author

Miranda writes about financial topics for several web sites. Her blog is Planting Money Seeds, and her book, Confessions of a Professional Blogger, is available on Amazon.