MARKETING NOTES AND
COMMUNICATIONSA Replication of the
"Shopping List" StudyFREDERICK E. WEBSTER, JR. and
FREDERICK VON PECHMANN
Mason Haire's "shopping list" study is one of the most often quoted piecesof research in marketing. This brief note reports on a replication of thatstudy which yielded different results.
MASON HAIRE'S classic "shopping list" studyis one of the most familiar and most oftenquoted pieces of research in marketing.' Thatstudy, reported in 1950, supported three generalconclusions. First, many products (such as instantcoffee) have meaning and significance for consumersthat go far beyond the physical attributes of theproducts themselves. Second, these hidden valuesin products are a major infiuence on the consumer'spurchase decisions. Third, the identification andassessment of such motives require indirect ap-proaches, such as projective techniques. To theseconclusions drawn by Professor Haire can also beadded the observation that convenience foods, suchas instant coffee, carry a certain opprobrium. How-ever, if asked directly why they did not purchaseinstant coffee, people had been found to .say "I don'tlike the flavor." This is a much more acceptableexplanation than "People will think I am lazy andnot a good wife."
The authors' hypothesis was that the differencesbetween the "Maxwell House (Drip Grind)"housewife and the "Nescafe Instant" housewifewhich Haire identified in 1950 would not be foundin 1968. There is strong evidence that conveniencefoods in general and instant coffee in particularhave become much more acceptable to the Americanhousewife. Soluble (i.e., instant) coffee sales haveincreased from less than 20% in 1955 to over 30%of total U.S. coffee sales in 1965. Well over halfof the products on grocery store shelves in 1968were not available to the consumer in 1957. Themajority of new products offered to the housewifehave been convenience items such as boil-in-the-bag
1 Mason Haire, "Projective Techniques in MarketingResearch," JOURNAL OF MARKETING. Vol. 14 (April,1950), pp. 649-656.
Journal of Marketing. Vol. 84 (April, l70), pp. 61-77.
frozen foods, baking mixes, prepared foods, snacks,canned meats, and dietetic foods.^
The Haire Study
Haire conducted personal interviews with asample of 100 housewives in the Boston area. Thefollowing verbal instructions were given to eachrespondent:
Read the shopping list belovv-. Try to projectyourself into the situation as far as possibleuntil you can more or less characterize thewoman who brought home the groceries. Thenwrite a brief description of her personality andcharacter. Wherever possible indicate whatfactors influenced your judgment.
Two shopping lists were u.sed. Each one was givento 50 respondents. The respondents were notaware of the existence of two shopping lists.
Shopping List IPound and a half of
hamburger2 loaves of Wonder breadBunch of carrots1 can Rumford's Bak-
ing PowderNescafe Instant Coffee
Shopping List IIPound and a half of
hamburger2 loaves of Wonder breadBunch of carrots1 can Rumford's Bak-
ing Powder1 lb. Maxwell House
Coffee (Drip Grind)2 cans Del Monte peaches5 lbs. potatoes
2 cans Del Monte peaches5 lbs. potatoes
Strict coding procedures, which required virtuallyliteral inten^retation of the stories, were used toanalyze responses. Nothing was "read into" theresponses. For example, if a respondent describedthe shopper as "careful and thrifty," this response
2 "New Items in the Food Industry," ProgressiveGrocer, Vol. 46 (June, 1967), pp. 55-62.
62 Journal of Marketing, April, 1970
AscribedCharacteristicsLazyPoor plannerThriftySpendthriftBad wifeGood wife
OverweightTime-saverDoes not enjoy
homemakingEnjoys homemakingNo imaginationSingle girl, busyBrand of coffee
RESPONDENTS ASCRIBING CHARACTERISTICS TO SHOPPERS
MaxwellHouse.shopper(n = 50)
(n = 22)18%2736231818
shopper(n = 20)
'Significant at .10 level."Significant at .05 level.Significant at .01 level.'Significant at 0.001 level.
was recorded as "careful" and "thrifty," not as"budget conscious" or "conscientious."
The 1968 Study
The authors attempted to duplicate Haire's meth-odology as clo.sely as possible. Questionnaires weredelivered to a judgment sample of urban and subur-ban hou.sewives in the Hartford, Connecticut area.A total of 44 questionnaires were delivered in per-son and 42 of these were returned by mail. Thefollowing instructions were placed at the top ofeach questionnaire:
After the two questions [asking for the re-spondent's age and marital status] there is ashopping list. Please read the list. Try toproject your.self into the .situation as far aspossible until you can more or less character-ize the woman who bought the groceries. Thenwrite a brief description of her personalityand character. Wherever possible, indicatewhat factors influenced your judgment. Thisis a test to see how well you can size up an-ther person's personality on the basis of verylittle information.
These instructions are virtually the same as thoseused by Haire, except that the last sentence ("Thisis a test . . . . " ) was given verbally in the Haireresearch. The authors corre.sponded with Profes-sor Haire during the conduct of this research tominimize differences in methology. The major dif-ferences between the two studies are in location and
in sample size. The authors obtained 22 responsesto the Nescafe list and 20 responses to the MaxwelfHouse list, whereas Haire obtained 50 responses toeach shopping list. While a larger sample wouldhave been better, sample size was not felt to be aserious limitation given that neither sample was atrue probability sample and that projective tech-niques are the methodology. The present study fol-lowed the same careful, literal coding policies asused in the Haire study.
The findings of the two studies are presented inTable 1. The results of the 1968 studv confirm the
ABOUT THE AUTHORS. FrederickE. Webster. Jr. is associate professor ofbusiness administration at the AmosTuck School of Business Administra-tion at Dartmouth College. ProfessorWebster received his MBA at Dart-mouth and his PhD at Stanford.
Frederick von Pechmann is a mar-keting specialist with the ManagementConsulting Services Division of Ernst &Ernst. He received his AB degreeirom Dartmouth College and his MBAwith distinction from the Amos TuckSchool.
Marketing Notes and Communications 63
hypothesis which guided the research. There areno significant differences between characteristicsascribed to the Maxwell House shopper and thosefor the Nescafe shopper in 1968. In the Hairestudy, the six characteristics listed first in Table 1were all found to be significantly different for theMaxwell Hou.se and Nescafe shoppers. (While Pro-fessor Haire did not report his statistical analysis,the authors have compared his reported data withtheir data by using a chi-square test for two inde-pendent .samples.^) None of these characteristicswas found to be significantly different for the twoclasses of shoppers in the 1968 study.
While the Nescafe housewife of 1968 tends to bedifferentiated from the Maxwell House housewifeon the same dimensions as in the 1950 study, thedifferences have diminished to the point where theyare no longer statistically significant. (This mayalso reflect differences in sample size to someextent.)
DiscussionThere are at least two kinds of explanations for
the results of the 1968 study. The authors are com-fortable with the explanation, offered by their hy-pothesis, that convenience foods are more acceptableto the American housewife today than they were in1950. The Nescafe shopper receives a more favor-able assessment today. On the other hand, it isimportant to note that the Maxwell House shopperhas taken on more negative characteristics. Thereare increases in the percentage of respondents de-scribing the Maxwell House shopper as "lazy," "poorplanner," and "thrifty." Subjective interpretationof the respon.ses suggests that this reflects the "old-fashioned" nature of the shopping list itself. Thisis also consistent with the authors' hypothesis aboutthe role of convenience foods. Forty-one percent ofthe Nescafe and 30% of the Maxwell House re-spondents described the shopper as having "noimagination."
Thus, not only is the Nescafe shopper more ac-ceptable today, but both the Nescafe and the Max-well House shopper are seen in a more negativelight than in 1950 due to the influence of such itemsas a bunch of carrots, baking powder, and a bag
3 Sidney Seigel, Nonparametric Statistics (New York:McGraw-Hill, 1956), pp. 104-110.
of potatoes on the list. The modem housewife'sshopping list might find the.se items replaced withcarrots and peas in butter sauce, brown 'n' serverolls, and in.stant potatoes au gratin.
The 1968 Nescafe shopper is more likely to becharacterized as busy, single, interested in savingtime, and lacking in imagination. Respondents alsodescribed the Nescafe shopper as quick, energetic,fast-working, out-going, friendly, physically active,and on-the-move. Many of these comments werestated in a positive waythe 1968 Nescafe shopperis seen by many as a busy girl, not necessarily abad wife.
By contrast, the Maxwell House shopper was seenas more likely to enjo
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