Women: Beware of Shopping While Ovulating

A woman in a white dress and black jacket in the mall, shopping while she's ovulating

An ovulating woman needs her options — and she's willing to pay to get them. A study that's being published in the April 2015 Journal of Consumer Research suggests that getting a woman to try new products may come down to figuring out the time of the month when she's most fertile. The study has big ramifications for advertisers (and for women wondering why they came home from the grocery store with three different kinds of toothpaste and the entire produce aisle).

According to the study, ovulation activates a "variety-seeking mindset" in women, likely related to the need to find a good potential mate when they are near to ovulation. This produces a desire in women to explore her options — and that doesn't end at potential DNA donors. It can also include munchies.

"Candy bars and cosmetics have little to do with mating goals or our personal relationships, but the state of mind that we are in when it comes to making really good decisions about mating, which is highly adaptive, seems to be bleeding over into how we make choices in other domains, " the study's co-author, Kristina Durante, a marketing professor at the University of Texas, told Mic.

This shift in psychology, according to the paper, might also influence a woman's desire for variety when it comes to consumer products. For a brief period each month, female loyalty for certain brands could just go out the window, and that could make her ripe for marketers to target.

The study: The researchers at the University of Texas at San Antonio recruited 553 women who were not pregnant or taking contraceptives. Participants who reported having unusually long or short cycles were excluded, along with ones who were unable to recall the start date of their last period.

Then, Durante and her colleague presented that participants with 15 different choices of lipstick, high-heels, yogurt and candy bars and instructed them to choose which ones they might want to pack for an imaginary vacation. They were told they could select as many or a few as they wanted of the options.

In addition to the options test, the researchers also measured hormone levels, had participants complete surveys and investigated how the need for variety might be different for married women versus unmarried ones.

"First, we found an increase in a woman's desire for variety in consumer choice at high fertility that was particularly strong for women in relationships," the team wrote. However, when the researchers manipulated a woman's commitment to a man (by telling her to imagine an attentive and loving partner or having her wear her wedding ring) this suppressed the variety-seeking desire of most of the participants. On the surface, this indicates that partner loyalty might be reflected in brand loyalty, but more research is needed to substantiate that claim.

It's impossible for marketers to know when a woman is at her most fertile, right? Wrong. There are several apps (like P-Tracker) on the market that are programmed to keep track of women's menstrual cycles. If these companies decide to sell information to advertisers, that could mean that  ads designed to shake your brand loyalty could get sent to you at just the right time. Furthermore, marketers can target a woman based on her shopping habits. Buying products like Midol or tampons could send a flare up to the marketing gods, who will know to send you a robust list of options in about two weeks.

"It's just sort of that mindset that I want more options," said Durante. Women want to essentially "play the field" and "explore and evaluate" candidates before deciding on a mate. But that doesn't mean that they want to be more promiscuous, especially during ovulation; it's actually a time when women are more likely to really scrutinize potential partners.