Impulse buying takes a hit

26 November 2014

NEW YORK: Three quarters of Americans have made impulse purchases, sometimes pricey ones, according to a new survey, but a separate report suggests that this behaviour is increasingly a thing of the past.

CreditCards.com polled 1,000 adult consumers and found that 75% had made an impulse purchase, with 16% spending upwards of $500 and 10% more than $1,000.

The emotional state of the buyer was a major factor in the decision to purchase, with excitement (49%) the most frequently cited reason, ahead of boredom (30%) and sadness (22%). Anger (9%) and intoxication (9%) were also mentioned.

Overall, equal numbers of men and women reported impulse buying, but men tended to buy bigger and be less sober while women spent less and were sadder.

Gail Cunningham, vice president and spokeswoman for the National Foundation for Consumer Credit, said that retailers took advantage of this habit.

"That's why the end-cap displays and checkout lanes are so enticing," she said. "We don't realize that we need that magazine or candy bar until we are only minutes away from paying, yet they often make it into our shopping carts."

Yet, such items are appearing there less often than before, according to a new report from the Wall Street Journal, which argues that "intentionality" has taken hold of shopping.


The End of the Impulse Shopper noted a "lingering frugality after the trauma of the financial crisis" but said there had been a deeper shift in shopping habits, driven by the web. Time-pressed consumers were doing more online research before heading off "on a mission" to stores where they buy only what they came for.

The Journal observed how families in the Milwaukee area set out armed with a shopping list and did not deviate from it, despite the temptations retailers placed in their way. Walmart's Better Together approach, matching items that sell well together, is one reaction to this trend.

Another has been to invest in smaller neighbourhood stores, especially as consumers are tending to visit stores only when they run out of items like cereal or toilet paper.

David Guenthner, Walmart's senior director/global customer insights and analytics, admitted to a recent conference that online purchases had affected impulse buying but added that shoppers welcomed the click-and-collect service as they could then pick up any items in-store that they might have forgotten to buy online.

Data sourced from CreditCards.com, Wall Street Journal; additional content by Warc staff