When people are in situations in which it’s not obvious what the correct choice is, they sometimes look to others for cues. But that’s not all: People also look to their own past decisions for cues about what to buy. 

Let’s say you are a regular Dunkin’ Donuts customer. There is one near your house, and on most days you grab something there on your way to work. Now let’s say you go to Minneapolis on a business trip. Right across the street from your hotel, there is a Starbucks. Since you don’t see many other options in sight, you go to Starbucks for breakfast.

A few days later, you are at the mall and you walk by a Starbucks. You don’t necessarily think about all the details of your experience at Starbucks: How tasty was the coffee? Was it too sweet? Did it give you a nice “perk” that gave you energy and put you in a good mood? In fact, you are actually unlikely to think through all these details. Instead, you would probably take the mental shortcut of remembering that you went there before, which means it must have been a good decision. 

This effect is called self-herding and it is not limited to the idea of making a product purchase. It could also be about the specific context in which a product is bought.

Key lesson

It can be difficult for companies to persuade people to make that initial purchasing decision. But once that has occurred, repeat decisions are easier to make.


Think about your own spending habits. What are some things you buy almost automatically, without putting too much thought into the choice? How did this habit start? Is that product really better than competing products, or are you buying it because you’ve bought it before?