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Ordering Food Online? That'll Be More Calories, Cost And Complexity

Think about it — when you order something online, you avoid long lines, there are infinite options at your fingertips, and no one can see your face. So it comes as little surprise, then, when people order food online, they might go a little overboard.

Actually, sometimes a lot overboard.

Ryan McDevitt, an assistant professor at the University of Rochester's Simon Graduate School of Business, examined 160,000 orders of a North Carolina pizza chain over four years. He found that online orders by the same people who had previously ordered in traditional ways were 15 percent more complex, 4 percent pricier, and 6 percent more calorific. For example, people quadrupled their bacon toppings online.

But as McDevitt told the Wall Street Journal blog Real Time Economics recently, people may just feel less inhibited when ordering food online.

"They have the same choices as before, but they're removing the social transaction costs," he says. "From my own personal experience, I feel more comfortable ordering something online than at the counter."

For example, somebody standing in a long line at the coffee shop may decide against ordering a double-whip grande skim mocha latte with an extra shot if they notice 15 people behind them checking their watches — or not.

The research suggesting lower consumer inhibitions lead to more and different purchases has implications for Web sales beyond just calorie-loaded pizzas, McDevitt suggests.

"Because the potential embarrassment experienced from purchasing a pizza is comparatively limited, an even more dramatic shift in the sales distribution seems likely for more sensitive products when consumers become able to transact anonymously," the paper says.

We were thinking about personal health care products. What were you thinking?

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