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10 December 2021 • Grow Your Sales

Impulse buying: Definition, causes, and 11 ways to encourage it in ecommerce

Impulse buying: Definition, causes, and 11 ways to encourage it in ecommerce

It’s a tale as old as time—okay, slight exaggeration—you’re at Target (a popular American retail chain for those outside the US) and heading to the checkout counter with the three items from your shopping list in your red basket. 

Suddenly, out of the corner of your eye, you spot a sparkling display a few feet away. The checkout lines are looking pretty long, so you decide to go investigate the items in the display in hopes that the wait will soon shorten. 

Half an hour later, you’ve successfully made it to the front of the checkout line and are paying the cashier. However, you’re leaving with five more things than you’d actually planned on purchasing that day and wondering how it happened!

Impulse purchases like this are common throughout many areas of the world, occurring both in brick-and-mortar stores and on the internet. As the owner of an ecommerce website, you can use this behavior to your advantage to increase your sales.

Learn exactly what impulse buying is, what triggers an impulse purchase, and how to encourage impulse buying from shoppers visiting your own online store in this detailed article!

What is impulse buying?

Impulse buying is the purchase of a product or service without having previously planned to do so. This often occurs after a shopper sees an item unexpectedly, online or in store.

With a 2021 survey of 2,000 U.S. shoppers by Slickdeals determining that the average number of impulse purchases and average spend amount per month per respondent is 12 and $276 respectively, we see that e-merchants can benefit from this buying behavior to boost their revenue and their ecommerce success!

Impulse buying statistics

To help you to have a better understanding of impulse buying and its effects, here are several interesting stats to ponder.

Age group most susceptible to making impulse purchases

A study of U.S. consumers by Statista found that in 2018, almost half of the purchases made by shoppers aged 18–24 were impulse buys. In contrast, the 65+ group made the fewest impulse purchases, with 35% of their buys being made spur of the moment.

age groups impulse buying 2018 statista

Experiences after impulse buying

Think about when you most recently bought something spontaneously. What did you feel after completing your purchase? Joy? A sense of impending doom?

Finder surveyed 2,245 Americans in 2017 and discovered that regret was the big winner when it comes to feelings experienced by shoppers after purchasing something impulsively, with 44.5% wishing they hadn’t gone through with it.

However, contentment was a close second at 42.5%, followed by indifference at 31.8% and the feeling that they wouldn’t have enough money to pay for essential things (e.g., rent, loans, etc.) at 18.9%. Finally, 10.1% experienced fights with a spouse or other family members after impulse buying.

experiences after impulse purchase 2017 finder

Most popular products bought impulsively

A Slickdeals study surveyed 2,000 American adults in both January and April of 2020, just before and directly after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the US, to determine what kinds of goods made up the majority of impulse purchases and what effect the pandemic had on consumers’ behaviors.

It’s interesting to see how priorities changed!

Pre-pandemic preferences for impulse buying included food/groceries, clothing, and vehicles. After lockdowns and stay-at-home orders started, though, the top impulse buys leaned more to health and hygiene and other essential goods, as shown in the Slickdeals infographic below.

top 5 pandemic impulse buys slickdeals

A more recent Slickdeals survey in 2021 shows that preferences have again changed for U.S. shoppers now that many of the pandemic restrictions have been lifted. The top products purchased on impulse by Americans are now in the following categories: food/groceries, household items, clothing, coffee, and toys.

Why does impulse buying occur?

The urge to make an impulse purchase will strike most people at one point or another. But what’s behind this behavior? Are some consumers more likely to buy something immediately without any planning than others? 

Here are several of the most common factors that result in impulse buying for shoppers everywhere.

Emotional state

One of the top reasons why consumers decide to purchase an item all of a sudden is due to their emotions or how they’re feeling at that moment. Emotions can be very powerful, and purchasers may not even realize that how they’re feeling is behind their desire to buy something. 

It’s important to note that both positive and negative emotions can trigger the urge to buy something

For instance, during celebratory periods, people may be more likely to engage in impulse buying to commemorate the occasion. In contrast, they may also make an immediate purchase in response to feeling sad, tired, or anxious.

In addition, with stress management being a major issue for people everywhere, they often turn to shopping as a distraction. As many people use the “treat yo’ self” motto as a way to remedy any and all stressful situations, impulse purchases are omnipresent.

Resources and ideas about consumption

It’s logical that consumers with greater financial resources may be more likely to make impulse purchases. After all, if your resources are limited, you’re probably going to try to be more careful with where your money goes and may not be as comfortable with buying something without prior careful consideration.

Shoppers’ beliefs about consumption can also factor in their likelihood of buying things on a whim. If they think that purchasing something will lead to increased feelings of happiness, there’s a better chance of them going ahead with the buy.

Past experiences

When faced with the decision of whether to buy something, many consumers will look to what they’ve experienced in the past to help them decide. 

For example, say that buying a bottle of your favorite perfume made you feel better after a rough day at work a few months ago. The next time you come across this fragrance in the store, you may be more apt to repurchase it on impulse because you know it provided feelings of happiness before.


The “fear of missing out” or FOMO is another strong factor behind impulse buying, especially due to today’s extensive usage of social media. People generally like to be “part of the pack” and act accordingly. 

If they notice that a large number of their peers have the newest version of the iPhone, for instance, they won’t want to feel left out and are more likely to purchase it themselves. I use the term “peers” loosely, as this can include friends, family, or even strangers on the internet!

Belief that the purchase will result in saving money

Though people often think of impulse buying as involving the purchase of random items that the consumer wouldn’t usually buy, this isn’t always the case. Shoppers often decide to buy something on a whim if they think that they’re getting a great deal or saving money in the long term for goods that they often purchase anyway.

In fact, the aforementioned study by Slickdeals also describes how 52% of Americans surveyed stated that the belief that they’d be saving money was the rationale for the majority of their impulse purchases.

Instant gratification

For many consumers, the rush of dopamine that they feel after buying something, no matter how brief, is very powerful. If a consumer’s feeling stressed or like they’ve lost control in another area of their life, the instant gratification that shopping brings can lead to impulse buying to remedy those feelings.

Then, in combination with two other factors mentioned above, emotional state and past experiences, this instant gratification can cause the consumer to make even more impulse purchases down the road.

How do you encourage shoppers to make impulse purchases on your ecommerce site?

Getting visitors to your ecommerce website to buy something that they hadn’t planned on is a great way to boost your online store’s revenue. Though every shopper is different, there are several actions you can take to make impulse buying easier for your site visitors.

1. Make your website easy to navigate

People seek adventure in all kinds of ways, from skydiving to running a marathon to starting a new business or trying to trim a cat’s nails—facing a challenge and achieving success is a popular goal for many. 

However, most consumers don’t look for challenges in their shopping experiences. For this reason, if you’re hoping to boost impulse purchases on your online store, it’s crucial that your site offers simple navigation with no stress

Make sure that your shop features clear, logical categories and subcategories so that visitors can easily find the product(s) that they’re looking for. It’s also a good idea to have a functioning search bar on your site that provides results relevant to the user’s search query.

In addition, visitors shouldn’t have to spend lots of time searching for information on your website. Whether they’re trying to find details related to shipping, returns, or the history of your business, they should be able to locate the desired information in just a few clicks of the mouse.

2. Ensure that your site is optimized for mobile devices

With today’s prevalent smartphone usage, it’s no surprise that mobile shopping, or m-commerce, is on the rise. Statista reports that for ecommerce retail sales in 2021, 72.9% is expected to come from mobile shopping.

mobile retail sales 2021 statista

Furthermore, this figure is up more than 20% from that for m-commerce just five years prior in 2016

Consider that many people have their mobile phones with them throughout most of the day, allowing for more online shopping opportunities to arise, such as during the commute to work or on a lunch break. 

Having a responsive, mobile-friendly online store is therefore pretty much a must for ecommerce these days, especially if your goal is to capture those all-important impulse purchases.

Fortunately, when you build your online store with WiziShop, you can opt to add the AMP format for your site to guarantee speedy page loading. Shoppers will be able to hop from page to page quickly, whether viewing on a computer or mobile device, and finalize their purchases in a flash! 

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3. Offer product bundles

Convenience is a big factor in consumers’ purchasing decisions. If your ecommerce site has something that other sites don’t, it can give you a significant advantage. Offering product bundles is one way to boost convenience for visitors and thus increase the chances of impulse buying.

A potential customer may come to your site to check out a particular product. If it’s bundled with other products that they also need or want, they might decide to go and get the bundle right away rather than shop around on other sites

Though the shopper may be spending more than they’d originally planned for that visit with the purchase of a bundle, the added convenience of not having to go to other stores to get the rest of the items on their list is worth it to many!

4. Optimize your product pages

You already know the importance of easy site navigation, but once visitors locate your product pages, those pages need to be optimized to convince them that they need to buy from you TODAY!

First and foremost, each of your product pages should include high-quality photos of what you’re selling. Multiple images that show the product from different angles and give an accurate representation are ideal. 

Don’t forget to create clear, detailed descriptions for each of your products as well, providing any info that you think shoppers will need to be convinced to buy from you. If people have questions about something you have for sale, they may hesitate and hold off on their purchase.

You may also want to try cross-selling and suggest complementary products here to bolster the total amount in the shopper’s cart. 

In the example below, we have the product page for a plush gingerbread house for small animals on the pet supply website, Chewy. Before we even see the full description of the product farther down on the page, Chewy proposes several other items that other customers have previously purchased with the gingerbread house.

guinea pig gingerbread house product page chewy website

If a customer was already planning on buying the gingerbread house for their pet guinea pig, Herman, they may see one of the other products listed here and decide that it’s just what Herman needs to stay on top of his festive game for the holiday season. 

While the customer could opt to research other online stores to locate guinea pig costumes like these, buying one simultaneously with the gingerbread house would save them time, which is a huge selling point for online shoppers!

5. Propose lower-priced items at checkout

Generally speaking, consumers are far less likely to make an impulse purchase involving an expensive product. 

Similar to how you might see cheaper items like candy, magazines, or travel-sized beauty products in the checkout lane of a brick-and-mortar store, you can suggest less expensive goods during the final steps of your site’s checkout process to encourage impulse buying.

Let’s say that you sell electric toothbrushes. Just before customers complete their purchases on your site, you could suggest that they add batteries, dental floss, or toothpaste to their shopping carts.

Just like with product bundles, the extra convenience of being able to take care of multiple purchases in one go can outweigh the added expense, especially if that expense is minimal with lower-priced items!

6. Create a sense of urgency

Consider the extensive toilet paper and hand sanitizer shortage that briefly occurred in early 2020 when lockdowns were prevalent throughout many parts of the world due to COVID-19…

The shortage was less because of supply-chain issues and more because of panic buying and hoarding. People were worried they’d be stuck at home without access to these items and therefore purchased much more than they usually would, leaving many stores completely depleted for weeks.

While the products your online store offers may not be considered as “essential” as the aforementioned goods, you can still communicate urgency to encourage impulse buying. A good way to do this is by adding phrases such as “Get it before it’s too late!” or “Buy now!” to your product pages or other areas of your site.

Did you know that online merchants who create their stores with WiziShop can add a special notification bar to their site? Yep, and you can use this to announce one of the aforementioned messages or alert visitors about remaining stock numbers.

However, ensure that you’re being truthful with the messages you convey to visitors. For instance, if you include stock information on your store, don’t say there’s only one of something left in stock when there are actually several hundred. Any extra sales you earned due to misinformation wouldn’t compare to the loss in reputation if your customers no longer trust you.

7. Know your customers’ needs

To most effectively get visitors to make impulse purchases, you’re going to have to have a good understanding of your customers so that you can foresee their desires and behaviors. Knowing the needs of your potential and current customers can help you better determine what kinds of products to propose for cross-selling and when to suggest them.

While there are general guidelines to follow when it comes to types of products and product placement for encouraging impulse buying, it all really depends on your specific customers.

What goods would they most likely need or want in conjunction with your top-selling products? Are they generally easily persuaded to make impulse purchases or do they need to have the impression that they’re getting a really good deal to follow through?

8. Grant free shipping for purchases over a certain amount

There’s no question—shoppers LOVE free shipping. Complimentary shipping is offered by so many ecommerce websites these days that many consumers have even come to expect it. Yes, offering no-cost shipping does cost your business money, but the increase in sales and customer loyalty can be well worth it.

In an April 2021 Statista study of online shoppers around the world in 2020, it was determined that the top reason for purchasing something on the internet was free delivery, ahead of coupons/discounts and customer reviews.

reasons for online purchases 2020 statista

Despite the added cost for your business of providing shipping at no extra charge, you can balance out the extra expense by only offering it for purchases over a specific threshold. This in turn can also drive impulse buying!

Be sure to clearly state your policy for complimentary shipping on your site, and remind visitors of the amount they must spend in order to avail of this benefit when they get to the checkout area. Here, you can propose several products they can add to their cart to get them to meet the threshold if they aren’t quite there yet.

9. Feature special promotions

Most people enjoy getting a good deal, whether shopping in store or online. Why not use this to your advantage to encourage impulse purchases?

Not only that, but promotions involving “buy one, get one free (or get one at a discounted price)” offers are a great way to boost sales, build your email marketing list, and increase customer loyalty.

Don’t forget to tell your target market about any special discounts you’re offering! Communicate the news on your website, newsletters, social media, etc. to guarantee that as many people know about your promotions as possible.

Keep in mind, however, that it’s best to avoid offering promotions too often on your website. If consumers see that you’re frequently discounting your products, they may start to think that they’re overpriced or not high quality. 

10. Use social media to promote your store

If you’re not already using social media for your ecommerce business, it’s definitely time to start! Social media is an extremely powerful platform for increasing brand awareness, brand loyalty, and site traffic.

Furthermore, it’s now possible on several networks for your audience to purchase from your online store without exiting the platform. Whether you opt to tag your products on Facebook, create product Pins on Pinterest, or set up Instagram Shopping, your followers will be able to easily buy the products in the images you post.

instagram shopping the body shop

Instagram Shopping with The Body Shop

These features are especially helpful for boosting impulse buys, as there’s no interruption with the browsing experience, making it easier for visitors to purchase on the spur of the moment!

11. Provide social proof

Regardless of if we’re conscious of it, many of us like feeling like we belong and take action or make decisions based on the desire to be part of “the group.” This is no less true for online shopping.

When consumers see that others have bought something and given it a positive review, they’re more likely to feel more at ease with purchasing it themselves. Adding customer testimonials to your ecommerce website can give visitors the final push they need to add an item to their cart.

Another way to include social proof in your marketing efforts and encourage impulse buying is to indicate how many people have purchased a particular product on the product page. If visitors see that 150 people have already bought Product X from your shop, they’ll have more confidence in the item. 

Finally, don’t forget about the magic of influencer marketing! According to OptinMonster, 40% of people admit to having gone ahead with a purchase due to seeing an influencer use it on social media.

Take advantage of impulse buying to grow your sales

By now, I’m sure it’s fairly clear that it’s important for you as an e-merchant to harness the power of shoppers’ urges to make impulse purchases to help increase sales for your online store. 

If you aren’t already doing so, try combining several or all of the strategies in this article to ensure that you’re offering current and potential customers an enjoyable shopping experience. The easier and more convenient it is for them to complete a purchase on your site, the more likely they are to buy without planning in advance!  

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