Impulse buying is the sudden purchase of something that the shopper had no initial intention of buying. Even if you haven’t come across this term before, chances are you know exactly what we’re talking about.
We’ve all been there: the jazzy sunglasses we thought would suit us; the new kitchen gadget that was supposed to make our lives easier but now languishes in the back of the cupboard for all eternity; and, of course, the day you decide to become a hat person after you went to buy some jeans and were suddenly overcome with the urge to buy a trilby as well.
But impulse buying is not a momentary loss of senses, where the shopper accidentally makes a purchase. In fact, impulse buying is a huge amalgamation of different factors, many of which businesses and marketing companies have been using for years to get us to buy more things spontaneously.
What affects impulse buying?
The urge to buy something spontaneously is created by many elements, including the shopper’s internal emotions and outside influences. So why is it that one day we’ll buy the Snickers conveniently placed next to the checkout in Tescos, and other days we won’t?
Let’s take a look.
It sounds very obvious, but your emotional state at the time has a lot to do with whether or not you will make an impulse buy.
For example, let’s say you’re having a bad day. On your way home you pass by a bakery with some beautiful glazed donuts in the window. Usually, you try to watch what you eat but, because today has been rotten anyway, you decide to treat yourself as a way to make yourself feel better after a long day of stress. Been there? Don’t worry, we all have!
However, it’s not just negative emotions that will push customers to impulse buy. The same goes for if you are having a great day.
For instance, you’ve just got a promotion and you are feeling on top of the world. You happen to pass by a department store with a beautiful cocktail dress in the window. You’re feeling proud of yourself and you deserve a present, so what’s another £100 on the credit card? You’ll pay it off with your next big paycheck, now that you’ve been promoted.
As you can see, it doesn’t matter if we’re feeling high or low; with the right emotions in play, and the perfect product placed under our noses at the correct moment, it can lead us to buy something we wouldn’t normally consider in an instant.
Being sociable creatures, we are all affected by outside influence in our everyday lives. Aside from huge marketing billboards and TV advertisements, there are many other influences that marketers use that increase the likelihood of impulse buying.
Good ol’ peer pressure can make us consider buying things that we would never have dreamed of by ourselves. All the mums got a new portable smoothie maker that they stand around with after school? You’ll most likely convince yourself you need one too in no time.
Not to mention, nowadays we also have the influence of, quite literally, influencers! These body-beautiful men and women are plastered all over our smartphones, constantly promoting a product or service that is intended to make our lives better. And, just by flicking it through Instagram or Facebook, you’ll be presented with endless products that, if you’re in the right mood, you can very well end up purchasing without batting an eye.
A sense of gratification
As with buying something if you’re in a good mood, we often buy things for the pure reason of instant gratification. A study by the United States Census Bureau showed that during the pandemic e-commerce sales shot up by 43% to $815.4 billion in the US, with many people citing the fact that buying something online simply made them feel better in that moment.
After all, as soon as you have pressed the ‘buy’ button and got your confirmation email, you now have something to look forward to. And our brains remember that. Therefore, when we’re considering buying something else we’ve seen online, our subconscious remembers the warm fuzzy feeling we got the last time and encourages us to do it again. See? Even our brains want us to buy more stuff!
Impulse buying tactics that businesses use to get you to spend
As we’ve seen, there are many factors that can affect a person’s likelihood of buying something impulsively. And, of course, all the best business minds, entrepreneurs and marketers in the world already know all of these elements, which has given way to some very clever marketing techniques that shops and other businesses use to encourage us to impulse buy.
So, let’s take a look at just some of these tactics and how they are used.
Keeping up with the Joneses tactic
If you’ve never heard the expression ‘keeping up with the Joneses’, let us explain. Your neighbour, Mr Jones, buys a new car. Seeing this new car roll past your clapped out banger each day creates a sense of envy and the desire to also have a new car.
This is the basic principle of the ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ tactic; make it seem as if someone else has something shinier and newer than you, and wait for you to want the same thing enough to go and buy it.
The urgency tactic
We’ve all been on sites such as Booking.com where, as you’re casually scrolling through potential hotels for your upcoming holiday, you get a pop-up notification saying ‘there’s only one room left on the site at this price!’
This creation of a sense of urgency is a fantastically effective tool that makes people rush to buy something, without having thought the process through thoroughly. You can see this sort of technique in a lot of advertising copy and web content.
Things like ‘final days of sale’, ‘until midnight tonight only’ and the classic ‘everything must go’; all of which are designed to make you run into the shop, or add things to your online basket, without thinking about it.
The bargain technique
Another technique that taps into our psyche is the bargain tactic. Pretty much everyone on the planet likes to believe that they got something for a better deal than was originally proposed.
Just look at bartering and haggling in markets; the sense of gratification you get when you talk the vendor into giving you a fiver off is far more satisfying than the final price of the item. The same goes for shopping and other industries.
When you see a sofa advertised at £500, this information will probably just wash over you. But if the shop tells you that it was £1,000, suddenly your ears prick up and you’re fascinated. It’s not important that you have a perfectly good couch at home, and that you would still be parting with £500. It’s a bargain!
Another example is in the world of iGaming, where online casino bonuses are offered to customers to get them to play at a site. A lot of times, these deals are laden with complicated terms and conditions, where the customer ends up walking away with no real winnings. However, a lot of casinos are now changing tack and offering ‘keep what you win’ bonuses. This means that the customer is far more likely to walk away with a large cash prize, having used a bonus they got for free from the casino operator.
This feeds into both the sense of gratification and the feeling of having bagged yourself a bargain. Now throw in some aspiration, in the form of potentially winning a life-changing sum of money, and you have the perfect recipe for a marketer’s dream!
Goldilocks pricing tactic
Another tried and tested tactic to make you buy something that you potentially don’t want is the Goldilocks pricing tactic. We’re pretty confident in saying that you’ve already seen this, usually with a subscription-based service, such as the gym.
Goldilocks pricing tactic is when a company presents you with three or more options in a classic tiering system, going from cheaper to more expensive, with the hope that you will land on the middle option. Or, to use the Goldilocks’ most-famous phrase from the story, choose the one that’s ‘just right’.
Let’s look at the example of a gym membership to explain what we mean.
You go along to your local gym with a view of signing up for a membership that includes using the weights, machines, showers and changing rooms. When you arrive, you’re presented with three options: bronze, silver and gold. The bronze is the basic package, which contains exactly what it was you were looking for when you walked in. But then there’s the gold package, which includes access to a pool, sauna, steam room, pilates studio and spin classes. None of these things had appealed to you before, but they’re starting to look rather good now, especially under the banner of the elite ‘gold membership’.
However, you are not stupid and you don’t have money to burn. At this point, you should logically go back down to the original bronze package that you wanted. But there, casually lying in between the bronze and gold lies the ‘silver membership’. A little more expensive than the bronze, but not as pricey as the gold, and with access to the sauna and swimming pool, you start to convince yourself that this is in fact the best option for you.
You tell yourself that you really could do with a swim a couple of times a week, and that the steam from the sauna is actually very good for your back, and before you know it, you’ve completely and utterly sold yourself on the higher-priced package. And voila! You are now the owner of a silver membership, having sold it to yourself, without the gym needing to lift a finger.
This is a classic tactic used by marketing companies all over the world, and it’s especially effective as it taps into our sense of aspiration.
Aspirational marketing techniques
For many of us, the idea of owning a real Chanel or Gucci bag would be a dream come true. Of course, when you look at things logically, a £30 bag will do the same job as a £5,000 bag, so why do we want the expensive, illogical and financially ridiculous designer bag? The simple answer is that it’s aspirational.
Aspiration, in terms of marketing, is creating a feeling of exclusivity. This is done by advertising a product, service or experience that only a select group of people can access or, in most cases, afford. And it’s this entry into a ‘private club’ environment that keeps us reaching for those high ticket items.
Aspirational marketing, just like Goldilocks pricing, makes us want the most exclusive and usually most expensive deal available. Not because it benefits us more, but because we feel special and accepted into a group that we would otherwise not be able to join. Hence, people on a £30,000 yearly salary walking around with a bag worth 2 months’ wages.
Today, we barely scratched the surface of how companies and advertisers get us to buy their products. But while the things we’ve talked about might seem almost like trickery, to get you to buy something you don’t need, the truth is that we, as consumers, often love the end result.
Those shoes you bought that weren’t really your style, but ended up being the comfiest things ever; the viral dress that actually really does accentuate your waist; even the £5,000 Gucci bag that you’ll be paying off for the next 2 years, but that gets compliments every time you leave the house. The fact of the matter is, marketers might encourage you to buy something you wouldn’t usually consider, but sometimes those impulse buys turn out to be some of the best purchases you’ve made in your entire life.