Impulse buying is defined as a sudden strong tendency to buy products which the customer had not planned to buy and has bought them without deep contemplation (Tifferet and Herstein 2012).
The action of impulse buying is not to be confused with compulsive buying, in which consumers “feel a tendency for extreme buying of goods and services which they do not need and even sometimes cannot afford”, particularly to counter negative feelings (Tustin 2011).
Here’s a little video that explains the difference between typical impulse buyers, and slow buyers.
There are endless multitudes of stimuli and techniques that encourage impulse buying in both in store and online contexts, a couple of the main ones will be discussed here, including sales promotion, ease of transaction and stimulating purchase desire (Lo 2016).
With economic uncertainty a constant fixture in society these days, people are paying more attention to where their money goes, so making purchases have utilitarian benefits for consumers makes impulse buying easier to stomach for consumers. Sales promotions such as buy one get one free, price reductions, reward schemes and free gifts with a purchase add extra value to products purchased (Lo 2016).
In addition to this, a sense of urgency is created in consumers when promotions such as limited time only sales, group-buying promotions which only apply for the first x amount of people to purchase, and limited products for sale are initiated.
These types of sales promotions can apply in online and in store contexts.
Ease of Transaction
When it comes to impulse buying, the easier the process, the more likely a consumer will go through with the purchase.
Online stores tend to utilise free and fast shipping in addition to the option of multiple payment methods, home deliveries, an easy registration process, and fully electronic purchase process which both in store and online stores have the option to use (Lo 2016). In addition to these methods, the option to Paypass most carded payments in recent years means that in store purchases have become significantly quicker, leaving less time for the impulse to buy to simmer down and disappear.
Stimulating Purchase Desire
Consumers’ purchase impulses can be triggered by certain visual elements, such as emotions caused by certain colour combinations in displays and in eye-catching large titles on sales promotion announcements (Lo 2016).
In addition, pre-purchase uncertainty is reduced by the addition of product reviews and fitting rooms into the buying process, the latter of which can be applicable in the online shopping scene in addition to an in store context in the form of virtual fitting rooms. Sampling, demonstrations, and testing all assist in easing pre-purchase uncertainty and help consumers visualize themselves using the products in everyday scenarios (Lo 2016).
Promotional information and catalogues also attract impulse buying consumers when distributed (Lo 2016).
These techniques are necessary to increase impulse/unplanned purchases, but there has been some debate as to if online shopping has made it more difficult to capture those sales from impulse buying. The general consensus is that there are some extra steps brands have to take to maintain impulse purchases online, such as developing partnerships with other brands i.e. Pizza Hut and Hulu, and identifying impulse shoppers using platforms such as Facebook in order to make the process easier for those people (Taylor 2015).
Lo, L 2016, ‘Motivation for online impulse buying: A two-factor theory perspective’, International Journal of Information Management, vol. 36, no. 5, October, pp. 759-772
Taylor, K 2015, ‘The ‘impulse buy’ is dying — here’s how companies are trying to revive it’, Business Insider Australia, 14 November, viewed 7 May 2017, <https://www.businessinsider.com.au/e-commerce-impulse-buy-category-2015-11>
Tifferet, S, and Herstein, R 2012, ‘Gender differences in brand commitment, impulse buying, and hedonic consumption’, Journal of Product & Brand Management, vol. 21 no. 3, pp. 176-182
Tustin, D 2011, ‘The prevalence of impulsive, compulsive and innovative shopping behaviour in the economic retail hub of South Africa: A marketing segmentation approach’, African Journal of Business Management, vol. 5 no. 14, pp. 5424-5434.