Shop 'til you sweat.

By Kristine Thomason
December 08, 2015
Credit: Getty Images

There are 10 minutes left on the clock. Time to quicken your pace. You narrow in on your goal: a pair of running shoes. Red slash marks cover the price tag of this double-discounted item. You swiftly snag the sneakers and head to the finish line. After the cashier rings up your purchase, you get a thrill of excitement and proudly carry your bag out of the store—a trophy for your triumph.

If this experience sounds familiar, you may be a “sport shopper"—a new type of individual researchers identified in the recent study "The Thrill of Victory: Women and Sport Shopping."

“This isn’t a ‘shop til you drop’ or ‘retail therapy’ situation,” says one author of the study, Kathleen O'Donnell, PhD, Associate Dean of Marketing at San Francisco State University. “These shoppers look at bargain hunting as an achievement domain, similar to how athletes look at sports.”

Unlike the classic “bargain hunter,” these sport shoppers can often afford to pay full price. "But it’s no fun for them to do so," says O’Donnell. Instead, they scour stores looking for the best deal, proving they’re clever enough to outsmart the system.

O’Donnell explains: “They pride themselves on this skill and talk about the good deals they found, almost like trophies for all of their hard work.”

And sport shoppers’ "trophies" aren’t the only parallel to competitive athletes. For instance, they’re always training and conditioning their skills. Each shopping trip is an opportunity to gather information on merchandising patterns: they observe when new items come in, when things get marked down, the latest prices, and current products. So even if they walk away from one trip without any purchases, they feel totally fine, says O’Donnell. They file the newfound information away, and develop extensive strategies to find a better deal on their next shopping excursion.

But when they do find total steals, those triumphs become a part of sport shopper's identity. Finding a great deal is about more than just feeling good in that instant, says O’Donnell. “It’s a positive aspect of their self-concept.”

In fact, they can recall their most successful purchases in vivid detail the same way professional athletes can recite every stat of their best game. And sport shoppers love the opportunity to tell anyone who will listen about the deals they got, says O’Donnell. “Telling people reinforces it for them. They re-live the positive feeling by talking about it.”

O’Donnell plans to continue this line of research along with her co-authors Judi Strebel and Gary Mortimer. One new aspect she hopes to look into is these shoppers’ physiological response when they walk into a store (Does their heart race? Adrenaline kick in? And so on). She’s also working on developing a simple "sport shopper scale" and questionnaire. With this scale, she'll be able to survey a much larger sample size and get a better idea of just how many sport shoppers exist. So if you think you might actually be one of these retail-mavens there will soon be a way to know for sure.

But even if you are a sport shopper, don’t kid yourself—“sport” may be in the title, but these shopping habits are NOT an excuse to skip your workouts. (Sorry!)