Straight From the Mouths of the Most Honest Consumers — Kids

December 7, 2020 | Articles

Author: Torrie Sheridan, Communication and Marketing Specialist, Purdue University Center for Food and Agricultural Business

a woman and child shop in a grocery store

If you’ve hung around at all in Consumer Corner, you know that Dr. Nicole Widmar refers to a certain, specific demographic as the most honest beings to walk the earth — kids. Often, contrary to whether we’ve asked for it or not, children are exceptional at giving us their matter-of-fact truths.

Kids are honest; they have no problem sharing exactly what comes to mind, and they lack ego in their interactions with others. Remember when Nicole wrote how children are much better than adults at being unafraid to assess a situation and change direction if they don’t like where it’s heading (e.g. getting away from that 1980’s style mall Easter Bunny)? Or the time she talked about how the internet is congruous with basic modern life necessities such as electricity in the eyes of her kindergartener (e.g. when the Wi-Fi goes out, her kindergartener troubleshoots with the thought process of, “The lights are on, so why isn’t my iPad working?”).

With the holiday season sparking increased shopping and buying behaviors, we wanted to learn more about consumption, shopping and decision making. So, who better to ask than a kindergartener? I didn’t have to look far to find a willing participant — Nicole’s kid was more than excited to be a guest on my “podcast”, where we chatted all things consumer-related.

Q: What is your favorite thing you have learned in school so far?
A: Counting by 10s … 10, 20, 30. I can count alllll the way up to 100.

Q: Do you ever buy your lunch at school?
A: I only eat the cafeteria food on Fridays because it’s pizza.

Q: Do you have to bring money or how do you pay for your lunch when you eat at school?
A: My mom pays some money. If she forgets to pack my lunchbox, I have money in my backpack so I can buy my lunch.

Q: Have you learned anything about money at school or from your mom and dad?
A: Yes, we have learned about money and how different money is worth different cents.

Listen here for his response to how much each change piece is worth and the rhyme he uses to remember their values:

A penny is small and easily spent
It’s copper-colored brown and worth one cent
A nickel is thicker and weighs a bit more
You can use this five-cent piece to buy at the store
A dime is silver, and it’s really small
It’s worth ten cents, and it’s the thinnest of them all
A quarter is large and heavy and shiny
It’s worth twenty-five cents
That’s a lot of money!

Q: So, you know all of this about money. Now, what does it mean to you to “go shopping”? What do people do when they shop?
A: Shopping is getting food and stuff. People get food for their family to eat and things that they need. I wait in the car with my iPad and watch videos since we can’t go in right now (referring to the current COVID restrictions).

We knew kids were honest and that their perspectives would help provide clarity. So far we’ve learned that shopping takes time away from other activities (aka – incurring search costs in the consumer literature). We often forget that we pay for things in both money, and in our time invested to seek, find and acquire.

Q: Even though shopping takes up time from your other activities, what is your favorite store to go to if you have to be out shopping? What do you like about it?
A: I think I would go to Walmart because they have a lot of my favorite things in the store, like cookies and cake.

Q: How do you decide what to buy when you are shopping?
A: I just have a list and find what is on it in the store. If I’ve been to the store a lot of times, I know where everything is. I even know some short cuts! We usually have bell peppers on our list because we always buy them and my other favorite things.

Q: Do you only buy things that you need, or do you sometimes buy things that you want?
A: Sometimes I buy things for my mom, like coffee.

Q: What about grownups, do you think they like to go shopping?
A: Yes, but I don’t know why. Probably because they get stuff they need for their family.

Q: Do you think there is anything grownups don’t like about shopping?
A: I don’t think they like buying cookies and cake.

Q: Do you think they like shopping for healthier options instead, like fruits and vegetables?
A: Yes, they buy things like bell peppers because they are sooooo good! They are a little crunchy and a little sweet, too.

Q: Do you think that maybe spending money is something grownups don’t like about shopping?
A: Yeah, kind of like when I was playing Monopoly. I saved up all of my money and good cards until I really needed them or if bad stuff happened. Then if I ran out of bad cards, I could use my good cards and money for backups.

After our in-depth conversation about shopping, buying things and more from the lens of a five-year old, he also showed me some new activity books his parents ordered online that showed up in a box at his house. When I asked him how they were paid for, he said he didn’t have any money, but his mom and dad probably had a lot of pennies they used to pay for them!

Kids are watching us as consumers every day. If we take a step back and listen to them, there are plenty of consumer-related insights we can gain from their incredible ability to say whatever they observe. Sometimes they say things in the most simple, black and white way while we’re out searching an endless grey space for answers. Today, we learned that things cost money, finding the things you want to buy costs you time (in addition to money), and that you may want to consider setting some money aside, you know, just in case you “really need it or any bad stuff happens”.

Signing off,

<Spoken as a child who has clearly heard a few podcasts in his day.>