The Politics of Chain Stores: Where to Go for Coffee When Traveling?

25.-coffee-brandsThere are numerous political decisions related to your coffee buying decisions. Heuristics range from the pragmatic (where is closest? what’s cheapest?) to the philosophical (is it free trade/fair trade?). Those are subjects for later posts, though. Over the next week many Americans will be traveling for the holiday season. Whether on the road, in the airport, or in another town visiting relatives, your favorite source of caffeine may not be available.

In these circumstances you are likely to turn to familiar well-known brands like Starbucks. Like the comfort of an embassy in a foreign country, it is a sign of familiarity and predictability. Our discussion has so far been largely hypothetical, but it turns out there is some hard evidence for these patterns:

The researchers [Shigehiro Oishi, Felicity Miao, Minkyung Koo, Jason Kisling, and Kate Ratliff] obtained the number of outlets of a variety of chain stores (ranging from Home Depot to Kay Jewelers) from annual reports filed by the companies. Data on how often people move around was obtained from the 2000 census. Using the statistical technique of multiple regression, the researchers looked at the combined influence of residential mobility (how much people move around), median income, and population of each state as predictors of the number of outlets for these chains. They found that the amount of mobility really did predict the number of outlets of chains in a given state. Population also affected this number (not surprisingly). Median income of families was not a predictor of the number of outlets of chain stores.

You can find the paper here. An post at Psychology Today has references to further studies on the topic.