Marketing Letters

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 17-35

First online:

I’ll have the ice cream soon and the vegetables later: A study of online grocery purchases and order lead time

  • Katherine L. MilkmanAffiliated withThe Wharton School Email author 
  • , Todd RogersAffiliated withAnalyst Institute
  • , Max H. BazermanAffiliated withHarvard Business School

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How do decisions made for tomorrow or 2 days in the future differ from decisions made for several days in the future? We use data from an online grocer to address this question. In general, we find that as the delay between order completion and delivery increases, grocery customers spend less, order a higher percentage of “should” items (e.g., vegetables), and order a lower percentage of “want” items (e.g., ice cream), controlling for customer fixed effects. These field results replicate previous laboratory findings and are consistent with theories suggesting that people’s should selves exert more influence over their choices the further in the future outcomes will be experienced. However, orders placed for delivery tomorrow versus 2 days in the future do not show this want/should pattern, and we discuss a potential explanation.


Lead time Intertemporal choice Want/should E-commerce Intrapersonal conflict