Saturday, April 12, 2008


There are two fundamentally different ways of shopping, practiced by two fundamentally different types of shoppers. They can be categorized in a way that is analogous to the great divide in normative ethics – deontological shoppers and consequentialist shoppers.’

Deontological shoppers concentrate on the process. They believe that it is their duty to practice the art of shopping in a correct way, and they are convinced that if they do, then they are shopping in a manner that they can recommend to others. All shoppers, they believe, should follow these rules, and in so doing, the world will be a better place.

A deontological shopper does not rush. Time and contemplation are important if shopping is to be done correctly. The deonotolgoical shopper first spots the item she would like to purchase, but instead of doing so, she immediately starts looking around to see what else there is that might be cheaper, or better, or more attractive. She circles the desired object, usually in concentric counterclockwise circles, first moving outward, and then moving in steadily diminishing circles until she comes back to it the prey, having convinced herself that there are no better alternatives. At this point the consultation takes place with the shopkeeper or sales clerk. Questions are asked about price and availability and safety, and considerations given as to how the item is to be carried or delivered back to the shopper’s home. If all of these questions are satisfactorily settled, then the sale is made. The deontological shopper leaves the store convinced that the process is the right way to shop. Observing a store full of deontological shoppers would give the impression of Brownian motion, random movement with not discernable direction or purpose.

The consequentialist shopper, on the other hand, is not at all concerned with the process, and does not believe that it is his duty to shop in any prescribed way. The final outcome is what is important, and how one gets there is immaterial. The consequentialist shopper values not only the item purchased, but also seeks to minimize the time and aggravation of the shopping process. It is this balancing of the happiness of the purchase and the unhappiness of the shopping that drives the consequentialist shopper.

The consequentialis shopper enters the store with a predetermined idea of what he wants to buy. Once seeing such an item, he makes a calculation of how valuable the item is to him versus the necessity of continued shopping. If the item fits the needs and the price is right, then the net sum of pleasure is positive and the consequentialist shopper buys the item. He leaves the store confident and pleased that he has increased his own happiness by minimizing the shopping process. A store frequented by consequentialist shoppers would be fairly empty because the shoppers travel in straight lines to the intended purchase, pay, and leave following the same path.

The categorization into deontological shoppers and consequentialist shoppers is important because sometimes these two types of shoppers make the mistake of going together into a store with the objective of buying some item they both believe they want. Typically, the consequentialist shopper will spot the item, ask if it is OK, and fully expects to leave the story in a short order. The deontological shopper will have none of that because the required shopping process has not been followed. She then starts the circling procedure, leaving the consequentialist shopper befuddled, then aggravated, and finally resigned to having the required process play out. The deontological shopper sees the consequentialist shopper being bored and fidgety, and does not understand why he is not grateful to her for approaching the purchase with such care. He, on the other hand, seeks to just get the item which seems to fit the predetermined requirements, and to get out of the store as fast as possible. Interpersonal conflict is sure to follow.

It is interesting that in most cases the consequentialist and deontological shopper, given the opportunity to shop in their own way, would have reached the same conclusion – they would have purchased the same item – but the procedure they used to get there would have varied markedly in its theoretical approach. Most importantly, intelligent people will recognize the timeless conflict between these two modes of shopping and choose their shopping companions accordingly.

1 comment:

Charlie DeWitt said...

Thanks for describing me so clearly in your recent descriptions of the two kinds of shoppers. I am ovbiously, and have always been, a "consequentialist," even though I never realized it. Much to the chagrin of my wife, who is obviously the other kind (can't remember what you've called it) I have often asked the following series of questions: "1) Why would you ever go to a shoe store unless you needed a new pair of shoes? And, likewise, 2) why would you ever leave a shoe store still in need of a new pair of shores?"

Isn't this a concise definition of what you folks have described as "consequentialism?"

And to Aarne & Libby-Lu: Congratulations on your marvelous new adventure. I look forward to sharing it with you, albeit vicariously!

Charlie DeWitt