Impulse Buying: Why Customers Make Impulse Purchases & What It Means for Stores

Blog post author
Ross Malpass
June 2, 2021
  1. Quick Navigation:
  2. What Is An Impulse Buy?
  3. Who Makes Impulse Purchases?
  4. The Science Behind Impulse Buys
  5. Boosting Impulse Buy Sales


What is an Impulse Buy?

An impulse purchase is an unplanned buying decision that happens just before a purchase occurs. While many consumers like to think that all purchases are planned and considered, that simply is not the case.

In fact, some studies have indicated that shoppers make at least one impulse purchase each week. Those impulse buys add up to $5,400 each year, on average. Depending on the product, impulse buys can make up to 80% of all sales.

Impulse buying today occurs both in a brick-and-mortar store and online. Any spur-of-the-moment purchase is considered an impulse buy, from the small pack of gum on the way to the check out to quickly ordering a product from a personalized Facebook ad. They can be triggered by just about anything.

Impulse buying occurs more often when a consumer can see and feel a product. This type of sale makes up about 80% of all impulse buys. But eCommerce impulse buys are common as well. Setting up both your online store and your physical location to increase impulse buys can give your bottom line a huge boost.

Who Makes Impulse Purchases?

Everyone will make an impulsive purchase from time to time. However, those who score high on general impulsiveness will often engage in impulsive purchases.

Shoppers who make impulse purchases often have the following characteristics:

  • They enjoy new experiences
  • They are generally riskier than other consumers
  • They think buying the object is going to be emotionally or mentally gratifying
  • They might feel the need to reward or “treat” themselves
  • They have a specific, almost-niche-like interest in the product
  • They are often younger shoppers
  • They have lower self-control in general
  • They are more emotional shoppers
  • They shop for fun or for a form of entertainment

Some marketers believe that women are more likely to impulse shop compared to men. However, this may not be the case. Instead, both men and women will engage in impulse purchasing, but they have a tendency to impulse purchase on different kinds of items.

In fact, men are actually inclined to spend more when they impulse purchase compared to women. Women’s impulse buys are often smaller items. In addition, women are more likely to have regret when they impulse shop and more likely to make an impulse purchase when they are feeling down. In many cases, the regret that these purchases trigger will lead to returning the product or canceling an online order.

The Science Behind Impulse Purchases: What Causes Impulse Purchases?

Decision Fatigue

In many cases, impulse buys are the result of “decision fatigue.” This phenomenon occurs where a person’s ability to make decisions decreases after making many decisions. It is also sometimes called ego depletion.

The concept is often directly related to stress levels, getting good sleep and exercise, and even the time of day. For example, shopping after work or later in the day will often increase impulse buying simply because the consumer is tired from making decisions all day—and they do not have the “willpower” to stop impulse buying.

Emotional Shopping

Buying is often related to emotions. Stress, sadness, and even period of celebration can all trigger impulse buying. Shopping or obtaining new items is enjoyable for many people, so impulse buys are often the result of simply needing a “pick-me-up” or some form of entertainment.

Loss Aversion

Another reason impulse buys occur is that the shopper is concerned about missing out on something good. Perhaps there is a really good “deal” on an item that is only available for a short amount of time, or maybe the store only has a “limited supply” of an item.

The loss aversion thinking process assumes that the customer will miss out if they do not act right away to make a purchase.


Simply not paying attention can lead to impulse buying. When a shopper’s mind is elsewhere, they are less likely to think through a purchase.

Impulse Purchases

Boosting Impulse Buy Sales

Stores can increase sales by tailoring their product offerings to those who are making an impulse purchase. Making a purchase easy is one of the best ways to increase these types of sales.

Take Advantage of In-Store Signage

In-store digital signage, for example, can give impulse buys a boost simply by making customers aware of a product right where the product is located. Ombori, for example, creates interactive retail displays to elevate customer experiences and appeal to those who are prone to impulse buys. Product displays are one of the main ways that larger retail stores can tap into those impulse buyers.

Signs that show a positive experience or positive feelings with a brand or product are more likely to target impulse buying.


How a product is packaged can be a driving factor to increase impulse buys for certain types of products. Product packaging is more likely to influence a buyer when the product is lower priced and at lower risk.

Price and Sales

In general, price places a huge role in impulse purchases. Buyers are more likely to buy an item when it is “on-sale” or sold at a discount. Increasing the perceived value of a product, such as by placing it by similar products that are significantly higher priced, can also lead to impulse buys.

Make Impulse Buying Fun

Impulse buying will often occur because the shopper is waiting in line. They will examine a product that they might not have otherwise considered simply because it is placed in front of them while they wait to purchase other items or to speak with a customer service representative.

Creating an environment that tailors to this idea through a queue management system can be a great way to boost impulse purchases.

Store Ambiance

Impulse buying often increases when stimuli increases. As a result, having music, attractive signs, and displays, and other attention-grabbing items in your store or on your website can lead to an increase in impulse buys.


When it comes to online impulse purchases, personalized advertisements and other targeted content can significantly increase impulse buys. More than 60% of shopping sales funnels start online, and if retailers can target those who are considering a purchase at the start of the funnel, they can tap into those who are more likely to impulse buy.

Increasing Revenue by Increasing Impulse Buys

Since impulse buys can make up a huge portion of overall sales, retailers need to create an environment that increases the likelihood that an impulse buy will occur. Ombori’s wide variety of retail solutions can help accomplish this goal. Learn more by contacting us.

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