Exploratory Shopping: How Attentional Breadth Affects Unplanned Purchasing



A fundamental function of retailing is to bring products into the view of shoppers. Retailers thus employ various strategies to entice shoppers to explore the product assortment and store environment, in the hopes of stimulating unplanned purchasing. Here we investigate consumers’ visual attention as a mechanism of such exploratory shopping and hence of unplanned purchasing. Specifically, attentional breadth is the focus that is directed to a wider or more limited area in processing visual scenes. In a series of lab and field experiments, we show that shoppers’ attentional breadth influences not only their visual exploration of product displays, but also their physical exploration of the store layout, ultimately affecting their product choices and unplanned purchasing. We also show that more impulsive buyers, due to their natural sensitivity to attentional influences, are more susceptible to these effects. These results complement and constrain prior theorizing on product placement, store navigation, and unplanned purchasing, all of which are of practical importance to both retailers and consumers.