Shopping apps 'almost certainly' lead you to spend more, says behavioral scientist: Here's why

"Brand-specific apps are all about saving mental energy."


If you're an Amazon Prime member, it's likely you already know Prime Day is happening Monday and Tuesday. It's also likely that you'll be tempted by some of the deals the retail giant is offering.

Shoppers tend to spend big on Prime Day. During last year's sale, Amazon sold $10.4 billion worth of goods, according to DigitalCommerce360.

For the last few years, Amazon has made shopping its deals on Prime Day, or any day, even more seamless by building out its app, Josh Lowitz, a partner and co-founder of CIRP, tells Grow. "In recent years, there has been an emphasis on encouraging usage of the Amazon Shopping app on smartphones and voice shopping with Alexa, with special promotions for each of those shopping channels," he says.

Shopping on brand apps "almost certainly" leads you to spend more money, says Matt Wallaert, head of behavioral sciences at design consultancy Frog and author of "Start At The End." Here's how.

Apps decrease 'inhibiting pressures'

"All behaviors are a result of promoting pressures and inhibiting pressures," Wallaert says. A promoting pressure is a factor that encourages a behavior while an inhibiting pressure discourages it.

Brand or retailer apps are a "double whammy," Wallaert explains. Companies can, as Lowitz says, offer deals exclusively through their apps, which is a promoting pressure. Simultaneously, a well-designed app makes it easier for people to shop in the moment, as opposed to thinking about a product and waiting to get home before purchasing it.

Brand apps also make it less likely that customers will price compare. On a computer, you can have multiple tabs open. In stores, you can see side-by-side price differences on shelves. If you're shopping on an app, it's not as seamless to switch from one brand to another.

"You are radically reducing inhibiting pressure," Wallaert says. "People are cognitive misers. They don't want to spend mental energy they don't have to. There's been a million times when I'm out and I need to remember to get 'blank.' My phone allows me to do that instantly.

"Brand-specific apps are all about saving mental energy."

There's been a million times when I'm out and I need to remember to get 'blank.' My phone allows me to do that instantly.
Matt Wallaert
author of "Start At The End: How to build products that create change"

How to avoid overspending on a shopping app

All of this means that apps are designed to make spending money easy. "If you want to save money, there are reasons the [app] experience is not awesome," Wallaert says.

One way to ensure your spending doesn't get out of control is to not download brand apps at all.

Another way is to use them for small purchases only, Wallaert suggests. A recurring purchase, like trash bags or toilet paper, might not cause you to overspend. But an expensive TV, where comparison shopping could save you hundred of dollars, is something worth researching.

How the pain of paying can affect your spending

Video by Courtney Stith

Platforms like Instagram can trigger more impulse spending than brand or retailer apps because you're scrolling through them all the time with no intention to shop, says Wallaert. However, because of ads, you might make a purchase you never planned on making.

It may help to unfollow "bad-influence" accounts that you have found lead you to make unplanned purchases.

Brand apps haven't reach the point of creating a desire to spend yet, he says. Most people who go into a brand app have a specific purchase in mind. "I have a hard time believing you're browsing the Walmart app at 2 a.m.," he says. "If that starts to happen, if we get to a place where brand apps become so entertaining that we are browsing them at 2 a.m., that might be a reason to not have them."

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