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Why stores and brands just love us to impulse shop

Article by Philip Adcock

how we are persuaded to impulse buy image
Impulse shopping refers to purchasing something on the spur of the moment. If you observe an impulse shopper in a food category like sweets and chocolate, you’ll see them walking slightly past the product and then taking a small step back as the brain determines the chocolate bar is simply too good to miss. Shoppers appear to make a sort of ‘double take’ movement as an impulse product catches their eye and then causes them either to buy or resist it.

Resistance is futile

Impulse shopping offers brands and retailers the opportunity to generate that all important add-on sale. For example, we see this when the shopper visits the ‘food to go’ section for a sandwich and while they’re there are unable to resist that ‘naughty’ bar of chocolate. Another example of impulse purchasing well known to the retail industry relates to merchandising sweets, drinks, magazines and the like to the queue of people at a main check out, kiosk or petrol forecourt shop. The queue consists of a captive audience that has little to occupy their minds and is therefore more likely to look around their surroundings. Offering them a self-reward or tempting treat is a great way to generate additional sales.

Cream cake craving

Categories in which impulse shopping is common include confectionery at the petrol station or from the checkout in the supermarket, indulgent items such as cream cakes and puddings and pretty much anything else that we can ingest but that is bad for us.

Emotional groups
In the supermarket, there are many locations that generate impulse purchasing and trials have been conducted by grouping products by occasion: For example the ‘girls’ night in’, consisting of a DVD, some confectionery and a bottle of wine. These provide shoppers with positive emotional experiences and reportedly generate more sales.

Big stuff too
Impulse purchases aren’t confined to small items. For example, research in electrical departments identified an increase in sales of camcorders by up to 15% by presenting them more as impulse purchase opportunities. Researchers identified that shoppers were less concerned about the technical specifications of the units, and were more interested in simply capturing memories. They wanted to film the family growing up, record their holidays for posterity, etc. Once the camcorder displays were adorned with images of the family having fun, children playing and other emotionally laden images, interest in the category grew, as did sales.

Why do we impulse buy?

Temptation overload
Researchers discovered that the more time shoppers spend in-store, the more impulsive they became, but only up to a point; after this they tend to reach a temptation saturation point and mentally switch off, ignoring most offers, promotions and possible impulse purchases. Another interesting finding was that at the beginning of a big weekly shop, people were more likely to impulse purchase for others rather than themselves, but the more they travelled the store, the more ‘selfish’ they tended to become. Mentally, they perceived that as they had worked so hard doing the shopping, they were justified in rewarding themselves with a bar of chocolate or cream cake.

Buyer’s remorse
As shoppers, we often criticise retailers and brands for encouraging us to impulse purchase, but for the most part, we actually feel better as a result. We get to reward ourselves or others, which is emotionally positive. However we may suffer a feeling of buyer’s remorse as well; this is the regret we sometimes feel when we get a product home and we realise the purchase was unwarranted, unneeded or a waste of money.
So next time you go shopping and find yourself tempted on the spur of the moment, ask yourself: “Do you really want it, do you, really? And then make a more reasoned decision”.

Phillip Adcock is a commercial psychologist and author of Supermarket Shoppology and Master Your Brain. Both available on Amazon.


Ceri Wheeldon

Ceri is Founder and Editor of Fabafterfifty.co.uk She is a frequent speaker at events and in the media on topics related to women over 50 , including style and living agelessly. With 20+ years experience as a headhunter Ceri also now helps support those looking to extend their working lives.

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