Brain Food: Souvenir Research...Why Do We Buy Them?

Jul 24, 2014

Travelers love souvenirs, and now research being done at Northern Arizona University proves that.

Arizona souvenirs.
Credit Musings by Maravin

Kristen Swanson studies merchandising and what people buy when they're vacationing. "Research has shown that all tourists, or most tourists...there's always that one exception, are predisposed to shop for souvenirs as part of the activities they're going to do when they go traveling," Swanson says. "A souvenir is a remembrance of an experience. They have emotional value attached to them that ordinary objects don't have."

Swanson's research shows that people who visit a place for the first time are most likely to buy something inexpensive and ordinary, like a coffee mug or T-shirt. But for people who like to come back to the same place year after year, Swanson says they purchase fewer items but spend more money on something special, like artwork.

"One of the most fun and exciting parts of this research is hearing from people about their souvenir purchase," Swanson says. "Everybody, absolutely everybody has a favorite souvenir. And when you ask somebody about that item that has souvenir status, the person will immediately launch into the story behind the souvenir - where they were, what they were doing, how they felt, who they were with." Swanson goes on to say, "these are great stories about cherished moments and are triggered because of a souvenir."

Understanding how and why people buy souvenirs is not just interesting from a research perspective, but it makes good business sense, as well. Swanson says a smart business strategy is to cater to both types of souvenir shopping: the generic shot glass, and the one-of-a-kind necklace.