5 Ways to Drive Impulse Buying

Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

Impulsive lady shopper

CHICAGO -- With the impulse buy a cornerstone of convenience retailing, studies are shedding light on what drives last-minute purchases, both inside the store and online.

Most Americans—five out of six—have made an impulse purchase at least once, with three out of four (77%) saying they made one in the past six months, according to CreditCards.com. In most cases (79%), survey respondents made that purchase at a brick-and-mortar store vs. on a smartphone, tablet or in another way that circumvented a physical store, according to the Austin, Texas-based credit-advisory website.

For retailers looking to maximize the format’s strongest opportunities, here are some tips …

1. Appeal to emotions

Candy at checkout

Brick-and-mortar formats beat online on impulse because it’s all about physical connection and emotion, the report said. CreditCards.com quoted Brad Klontz, associate professor of economics and finance at Creighton University, Omaha, Neb., as saying, “We aren’t rational beings … especially with money.”

The trick for retailers is triggering an emotional response. “[Retailers] don’t put Scientific American at the checkout for a reason,” Klontz said. “They place magazines like The National Enquirer and candy. Those things are more likely to make you feel emotions, like jealousy, curiosity and desire.”

2. Know thy selfish

Lady browsing candy

Impulse buys are most often made to fulfill a selfish desire, with 47% of respondents making impulse purchases for themselves, said CreditCards.com. It’s especially true for those in the 18-to-29 age bracket, with 61% saying they made most impulse purchases for themselves. 

3. Think past age

Checkout counter

Younger people are more apt to make an impulse purchase, with 20% of people 65 or older saying they’ve never made an impulse purchase vs. only 8% of people below 50; however, older people still make impulse purchases, just for different reasons. Consumers ages 30 to 49 are the most likely to impulse buy for a child; those who are 65 or older are the most likely to buy for a spouse or significant other, CreditCards.com said.

4. Encourage mobile chatter

Shopping online

While only 6% of respondents to the CreditCards.com survey said they made an impulse purchase with a smartphone or tablet, c-store retailers considering how to maximize that medium should consider encouraging electronic chatter.

Product and in-store experiences are often fodder for posts on social media. In a recent article, Retail Info Systems News, Randolph, N.J., suggested retailers make not only their apps mobile-friendly, but also their websites. The report said people use mobile phones to access retailers’ websites as often as they engage a retailer’s app. Those touchpoints should also allow for written reviews, because people like to read reviews of places before they shop. Finally, stores should use rewards to encourage people to take pictures of themselves holding products or having fun inside the store as a way to plant the seeds for future impulse buys.

5. Extra dollars matter

Gas pump

Lower gas prices do have a positive effect on impulse buying, the CreditCards.com report said, because people’s perception of their own financial wealth and security influence what they buy. While only 13% of all surveyed consumers have never made an impulse buy, 30% of those who make less than $30,000 annually said they have not made an impulse purchase of any amount over the past three months. Similarly, 26% of people with part-time employment and 32% of unemployed consumers said they haven’t made an impulse buy in the past three months.

Princeton Survey Research Associates International, Princeton, N.J., conducted the CreditCards.com survey via landline and cellphone calls during early January 2016. Researchers asked 1,003 U.S. adults about their impulse purchases, which were defined as unplanned or unnecessary decisions to buy a product just before the purchase was made.