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The creation of an online grocery store for experimental purposes: A pilot study

Published: July 2023
Bibliographic reference: Bianca C. Braga, Sean B. Cash, Katrina Sarson, Remco Chang, Ab Mosca, Norbert L.W. Wilson. The creation of an online grocery store for experimental purposes: A pilot study. Food Quality and Preference, Volume 109, July 2023, 104888.

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Grocery Store


More households shop for groceries online than ever in the United States. Thus, changes in online grocery store environments can affect the nutritional quality of food choices on a large scale. In response, we built a simulated online grocery store for experimental purposes. This paper describes the development of an online grocery store that displays actual products, brands, sizes, prices, pictures, and ingredient lists sold in current online grocery stores in the United States. We ran a pilot study to evaluate this research tool by calculating adherence and accounting for participants’ experiences. We assessed the impact of game elements (point scoring and a scoreboard) and different budgets on the nutritional quality of the food bundle in the final shopping baskets of participants (n = 654). Participants in the treatment group saw the nutritional quality rating system illustrated for each food item as 1 to 5 “crowns.” Ordinary least square regressions compared the nutritional quality of the final shopping baskets between experimental groups. Participants who saw the game elements selected food bundles with 2.53 (CI 95% [0.72; 4.33], p = 0.006) more crowns in their final basket. Receiving a high budget ($50) increased the number of crowns by 2.78 (CI 95% [0.66;4.90], p = 0.010) compared to a low budget ($30). We found no significant interaction between the game intervention and budget level. Participants noted that the store was intuitive to navigate, had a high quality interface, and easily found the products they often buy. The game elements encouraged shoppers to make healthier food choices. Our simulated grocery store can help researchers gain insight into online consumer behavior by testing interventions.