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What is impulse buying?

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Last editedMay 20222 min read

Have you ever walked into the home goods store to buy a can of paint, only to walk out with a cart filled with discounted candles and throw pillows? Most of us have made impulse buys at one point or another. Customers often make unplanned purchases due to attractive promotions or clever marketing – so, what is impulse buying, and how can your business leverage this as a strategy?

What is impulse buying?

Impulse shopping or buying simply refers to unplanned purchases. When a customer makes a purchase that’s not planned for in advance or listed in the budget, this is called an impulse buy.

Impulse buys can be small, such as packs of gum you grab at the checkout counter. They can also be larger, like browsing a department store and walking out with a big-screen plasma television.

Examples of impulse buying

While almost any type of product can be purchased on a whim, there are certain items that are more prone to impulse buying than others.

  1. Clothing: When customers browse a clothing shop, either online, or in-person, they’re often tempted by discounted apparel or the allure of free delivery.

  2. Groceries: Grocery stores are notorious for impulse buying, even for customers who try to stick to a shopping list. When hungry customers see bundled deals or tempting treats in the checkout line, they’re more likely to grab something unplanned.

  3. Homewares: Home décor is often designed in matching, complementary sets. While a customer might set out to purchase a new toothbrush holder, they’ll be enticed by the matching soap dish and shower caddy.

What causes impulse buying?

Shopper psychology comes into play when looking at the root of impulsive purchasing behaviour. Here are a few reasons why we impulse buy:

  1. An emotional response: Buying something shiny and new can trigger positive emotions. In fact, studies show that shopping can make your body release a hit of dopamine, the brain’s feel-good happiness hormone. You’re treating yourself to something nice, whether it’s a candy bar or a new pair of shoes.

  2. Love of a bargain: One of the primary causes of impulse buying is a discount or sale. Shoppers love a discount. Free shipping, buy-one-get-one offers, and major sales can all lead a shopper to finalise their purchase, whether or not it’s actually a good deal.

How to boost sales using impulse buying

Now that we’ve touched on the psychology behind impulse buying, how can your business take advantage of this buyer behaviour to improve sales? You want to:

  • Make the shopper feel happy with their purchase

  • Offer an enticing discount or deal

Cross-selling and upselling are great ways to encourage impulse buying. The customer’s already primed to make a purchase, so you can recommend related products at checkout and encourage them to buy more. This appears online as “frequently bought together” with a list of suggested products.

Another sales tactic to use is a time-limited deal, gift, or reward. Online shoppers are big on browsing, often putting items into their shopping carts with the intention to finalise the purchase later. If you provide a time-limited special discount, they’re far more likely to complete the sale to avoid missing out. You can increase impulse buying of additional unplanned items by setting a threshold to trigger free shipping or a percentage off the total.

Speaking of free shipping, a whopping 9 out of 10 consumers say they’re more likely to shop online if the delivery is free. They’re more likely to add more items to the cart to avoid that shipping fee, which many resent paying.

With a combination of attractively marketed products, special deals and free shipping, you can grow your customer base both online and off. Leverage the possibilities of impulse buying and optimize your checkout to increase sales and brand loyalty all at once.

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