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Impulse buying: Advice for retailers

What is impulse buying?

An impulse buy is an unplanned decision to make a purchase.

Some people are more impulsive than others, but we are all susceptible to making impulse purchases. Whether it is the last minute chewing gum at the till or the 50% off coffee machine – we’ve all done it.

Impulse buying is the art of increasing basket value without even thinking about it. Retailers design their entire store layout and displays in a way to make people pick up products they didn’t go there for. Even the strictest shoppers who go armed with a well prepared list are likely to stray from the list if they are presented with temptation.

But why do we do it?

The psychology behind impulse buys

When in a shop, the customer has already made the decision to spend, but just how much money they are willing to part with is still up for debate.

There are a number of psychological factors that we aren’t even aware of that affect a persons decision to buy.

Loss aversion

As emotional beings, the thought of missing out and feeling bad about it is something we try to avoid. If we see something on offer we convince ourselves that if we don’t buy this now, we will miss out.

No matter the cost or the necessity of the item, we are more inclined to make the purchase through fear of missing out.

Desire to save

Everybody loves a sale; everybody wants to feel like they are saving money to rid themselves of the shopper’s guilt. Look at Black Friday, for example, the busiest most expensive shopping day of the year, all because it is a sale.

Research showed 88% of impulse buys are sales motivated - Media Scope

If a product appears reduced, we convince ourselves that by buying the £40 pair of trousers reduced from £50, we are saving ourselves £10. When in actual fact, you entered the shop with a £20 budget, so the only winner is the retailer.

Time Limits

If a time limit is added to an offer, it will have the desired effect. A sense of urgency builds excitement around the offer and will result in an influx of buyers.

People don’t want to miss out. If their neighbour has just redone their garden and is now pride of the street, if they see a lawnmower, shed paint or plant offer, of course they will go for it.

Natural hoarders

Our hunter gatherer instinct is still buried within our subconscious decisions. This is particularly true with food or household essentials.

Psychologists found that 95% of human decisions are subconscious - Style Psychology

If kitchen roll is on offer, we best stock up now in case we run out and something dreadful happens, right? Or if our favourite Uncle Bens rice is £1 instead of £1.59, we best buy 10 packets, because £10 on rice isn’t that much if it lasts for ages, right?

Impulse buying advice for retailers

Armed with the above information on how the mind of a shopper works, increasing your impulse buy opportunities around your store has never been easier.


Start with your tills. Customers are stood around waiting, so give them something to look at. Small inexpensive items have been on our tills since the 50s, so this isn’t a new technique.

Shoppers aren’t going to pick up something they need, you need to show them what they want. This is why tills are filled with chocolate and sweets – nobody wants an apple. People will reward themselves for completing the shop and pick up a snack to have on the way home.

It isn’t only food supermarkets that can fill their tills with extras. Clothing retailers can display accessories, shoe shops can display laces or shoe cleaner and jewellery stores can display insurance deals.

Next, your posters. This is mostly for larger products where you need to sell them to the customer and make them see how much this product will improve their life.

Think Lynx. One spray of their deodorant or a morning in the shower with their body wash and men become irresistible to all women. You need to make people want your product.

Store layout

Lay your store out in a way that makes people take a certain path. If you have a power aisle, extend this so that people don’t rush to the end of it. If it spreads over two aisles, people will have to walk a little further to check what promotions you are offering. During this extra walk, something else might catch their eye and deter them.

Regularly updating your store layout is a must. Many of your customers will visit your store frequently, if you are a supermarket some of your customers probably come multiple times a week. This means they know what they want and where it is. To avoid this in and out style of shopping, move your products.

Swap the tinned products with confectionery. Swap baking goods with sauces. This change in layout will make your customers have to walk around most of your store, which whilst annoying the first time, it will make them walk past more offers increasing your chances of impulse buys.

Your products

To succeed you must choose to promote the correct products. Again, focus on the want and not the need. People want a treat, a luxury item for less or an exclusive.

Gadgets and household appliances are something people always want the best of and can still provide great margins when discounted.

Likewise, maybe you are the exclusive retailer of a certain brand. If so, shout about it. This time it doesn’t even need to be discounted, it just needs to be displayed prominently and known that you are the only store that has this product.

Gondolas and bay ends are perfect locations for 'want' products as the majority of your customers will have to walk past them.

Product placement

Now you know what products you are using, knowing where to place them is crucial. As mentioned, the till is great for small last minute extras, but where should you place impulsive products in store?

Think about up sells, what products go hand in hand? Batteries displayed at the end of the toy aisle is a classic tactic, so take this idea and spread it across your store.

Think about small products you can hang from clip strips or throw in dump bins. Straws on the drinks aisle, crisps next to the dips, croutons with the soup and footballs in the toy aisle.

Store environment

Customers want an experience when they go shopping, which is why retailers now work towards engaging all the senses.

Taste can be conquered quite simply with promotional stands handing out samples of food or drink. By letting customers taste while they shop, they are more likely to purchase the product whilst it is fresh in their mind.

Touch can be anything from being able to feel the material of a product to being able to interact with it. Selling soft furnishings? Display your cushions or throws in a way that customers can access them, hold them and touch them to get a true feel for the product.

Sound is a big one. Topshop wants to appeal to the young student with a disposable income, so they often have an in-store DJ to promote this vibe.

Studies found that when French music was played, sales of French wine increased and German music increased the sales of German wine - Adrian C. North

Music can really set the tone of your store. Slow, quiet and relaxing music is great for homeware stores, wine shops or even spas selling products.

Fast, loud music with a heavy beat is more suited to trainer shops, music stores (of course) and alternative clothing stores.