Over 500,000 people visited Farnam Street last month to learn how to make better decisions, create new ideas, and avoid stupid errors. With more than 100,000 subscribers to our popular weekly digest, we've become an online intellectual hub. To learn more about what we do, start here.

Why Americans Love Chain Stores

The Egyptians have pyramids, the Chinese have a Great Wall, the British have immaculate lawns, the Germans have castles, the Dutch have canals, the Italians have grand churches. And Americans have shopping centers.*

An insightful study on why Americans love chain stores and the lure of familiarity:

“Our main thesis is that residential mobility, the very factor that allows Americans to pursue their individual desires, ironically facilitates the uniformity of American landscapes. This is because a move to a “strange land” evokes the desire for familiar objects, including national chain stores. Although starting a new life in a new city is exciting, a residential move also causes a significant amount of stress and anxiety. … This general state of agitation, stress, and overload is expected to lay the foundation for familiarity-seeking behaviors among movers.”


Why are American landscapes (e.g., housing developments, shopping malls) so uniform, despite the well-known American penchant for independence and uniqueness? We propose that this paradox can be explained by American mobility: Residential mobility fosters familiarity-seeking and familiarity-liking, while allowing individuals to pursue their personal goals and desires. We reason that people are drawn to familiar objects (e.g., familiar, national chain stores) when they move. We conducted 5 studies to test this idea at the levels of society, individuals, and situations. We found that (a) national chain stores do better in residentially mobile places than in residentially stable places (controlling for other economic and demographic factors; Study 1); (b) individuals who have moved a lot prefer familiar, national chain stores to unfamiliar stores (Studies 2a and 2b); and (c) a residential mobility mindset enhances the mere exposure and familiarity-liking effect (Studies 4 and 5). In Study 5, we demonstrated that the link between mobility and familiarity-liking was mediated by anxiety evoked by mobility. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2011 APA, all rights reserved)

Source: Residential mobility breeds familiarity-seeking.

Read what you've been missing. Subscribe to Farnam Street via Email, RSS, or Twitter.