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The Power of the Impulse Purchase

Ryan Willis

To some degree or another, every consumer will admit they can be rendered powerless by the retail phenomenon known as the impulse purchase. In fact, research has shown that over our lifetimes, the average UK consumer will spend a frankly terrifying £144,000 on impulse buys, which can range from chocolates and clothes to furniture and takeaways.

For bricks-and-mortar retailers, our seemingly irresistible urge to make impulse purchases presents a huge opportunity to increase sales and combat at least some of the threat posed by online stores. But what can shop owners do to encourage those all-important impulse buys?

What are the UK’s most common impulse buys?

A closer look at the UK’s shopping habits reveals that the most common impulse purchases are new clothes and items to fill our kitchen cupboards and fridges. According to a survey of 2,000 customers by delivery company Whistl, the most popular impulse buys are as follows:

  • Clothes – 56%
  • Food & drink – 49%
  • Home accessories – 34%
  • Shoes – 27%
  • Jewellery – 22%

One of the survey’s more interesting anomalies was one individual – who we’re not sure whether to pity or envy – whose impulse led them to spend £120 on cheese.

What are the psychological drivers behind an impulse buy?

According to Psychology Today, most consumer behaviour lies in our unconscious mind, in the same area of the brain responsible for information processing, automatic skills, dreams and intuition. There are five primary psychological drivers that are responsible for an impulse purchase:

  • We’ve been conditioned from a young age to derive pleasure from receiving new things.
  • We have the fear of missing out (FOMO), something psychologists call ‘loss aversion’.
  • We’re hardwired to believe we’re better than average and make purchases that fit into this idealised view of ourselves.
  • We gravitate towards perceived value because we’re too lazy to shop with conscious intent. This is something retailers capitalise on with bulk promotions, discounts and till-side displays.
  • The biological drive to hoard the daily essentials that were necessary for survival as hunter-gatherers still exists in our unconscious minds.

How can shop owners encourage impulse buys?

Pick the right products

Triggering impulse purchases is all about putting the right type of products in front of customers at the right times. Items that require little thought, easily fit into shopping baskets, don’t cost much and are bought frequently are perfect impulse-buy fodder. Testing different products in point-of-sale displays to see what buying patterns emerge and where the most sales can be achieved will help you get it right.

Make them an offer they can’t refuse

People are more likely to make an impulse purchase if they think they’re getting a great deal. Running promotions on products that fit the impulse-buy price bracket and creating a perceived sense of urgency by attaching time limits to the promotions will give customers the impression that a deal is too good to miss.

Attract the shoppers’ attention

According to OgilvyAction, almost 20% of shoppers make impulsive purchases from product categories they had no intention of buying from before entering the store. A quarter of those customers decide to make the purchase because they see the product category featured on a display. Therefore, to maximise impulse buys, you need to engage shoppers in every part of the store. You can:

  • Display relevant products and accessories next to best-selling items.
  • Use prominent displays and signage to draw attention to product categories and deals around the store.
  • Analyse shopper behaviour to identify which parts of the store customers spend most of their time in, and display the right type of products there.

Upsell by pairing complementary items

Anticipating your customers’ needs and pre-emptively pairing similar or related items that are commonly purchased together is one of the simplest strategies to implement. For example, placing batteries at the end of a toy aisle is not rocket science, but it can certainly boost your bottom line.

Use digital channels to increase trips to your stores

Social media and mobile apps are two of the most successful tools for encouraging shoppers to make unplanned visits to your stores. Sending existing customers personalised offers or making them aware of new products can entice them into your store where your strategically placed impulse buys await.

Never underestimate the power of effective retail displays

Well-placed, attractively designed point-of-sale systems increase impulse buys and boost your bottom line. Contact Nabco for more advice about harnessing the power of impulse purchases in your shop or to enquire about our Q50i range of till-side shelving.

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