6 Ways to Increase Impulse Buys: Online and In-Store

Do you want your shoppers to spend more when they visit your stores? Which retailer doesn’t? One effective way to increase those basket sizes is through impulse buys—the act of making an unplanned purchase once already inside a store or browsing online.

There’s a fair chunk of change to be earned through impulse buying, too. A survey commissioned by social shopping platform Slickdeals found that U.S. consumers spend an average of $276 per month on impulse buys. That figure is up 51 percent compared to the same time in 2020.

Popular categories for an unplanned purchase include food and groceries, household goods, and apparel, according to Slickdeals. Perhaps unsurprisingly, two-thirds of impulse buys happen when shoppers are browsing eCommerce stores in bed.

Impulse shopping is not reserved for physical stores. Here’s how you can get shoppers buying impulsively, both online and in-store.

What Causes Impulse Buys?

You have to understand the psychology behind impulse buying before you can capitalize on this behavior at your stores.

Positive Emotions

A driving force behind impulsive buying is emotional, of course. (Another insight shared by Slickdeals was that 61 percent of shoppers felt happier after impulse spending). Positive emotions can help you trigger a purchase.

You can create a shopping situation where consumers feel like they have something to win if they buy, either literally, through sales and promotions, or figuratively, by positioning the purchase as “retail therapy.”

Negative Emotions

On the flip side, negative emotions play their part as well.

Shoppers might be on the hunt for a product to fix a need or resolve a conflict, like fixing a plumbing leak or replacing a ruined favorite shirt. You can promote products that can stop that pain from happening again, or otherwise solve the challenge your consumers are facing.

Most reasons for impulse buys are rooted in emotions, such as instant gratification, feeling like you’re getting a deal, and so on—but how you set up and plan your stores (physical or digital) can also contribute.

Pricing Position

Some tricks for causing impulse buys aren’t so straightforward. Research shows there are some changes you can make to one of the biggest influences when impulse buying—the price tag.

People think of numbers as progressing along a horizontal line from smaller numbers to larger. Consequently, putting your prices on the left side of a price tag indicates that whatever price is there is “small.” But there are exceptions.

If the item has a high price, you don’t want to put it on the left. It won’t convince shoppers that the price is low. Instead, you put the price on the right, which subconsciously communicates higher value. You can achieve a similar effect by having the more expensive price be a little higher up on the product. A price low and on the left says “small,” while high and on the right says “valuable.”

If you have both the original price and the sale price, and the difference between them is moderate, the sale price should be on the right. Having numbers ordered that way helps consumers do the math and see the advantage to the sale price. It’s easier to subtract from the original price to the sale price and helps customers perceive a larger discount.

How to Control Impulse Buys

Tactics to generate a few more impulse purchases for your business can be best suited for online, in-store, or omni channels.

Omnichannel Strategies

No. 1: Price Management

Price is one of the biggest motivators behind an impulse purchase. It makes sense as to why—consumers are less likely to impulsively buy a product priced in the thousands of dollars compared to one priced in the tens.

It also ties back into the idea of emotions, getting a good deal, saving money, and so on. Strategically price products to capture an impulse buy. Mark items down and place them next to higher-priced products or captive products. You can also be very clear in your advertising the dollars saved thanks to your deals. Sales holidays are also great times to lean into this behavior, such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Shoppers will be on the hunt for a good deal—but might not have a product in mind until they see it on your site or in your store.

No. 2: Time Exclusivity

On a related note, another effective strategy to get shoppers to spend more on impulse purchases is to create deals that are time-exclusive, meaning the sale price or the product itself is only available for a limited time.

Scheduling more deals at the end of the month, for example, when the money’s running tight can make people feel less anxious about shopping. This is especially true for staples that they might need but are running low on. Your loyal shoppers will know they’ll get good value for their dollar when they really need it.

Time exclusivity plays right into the psychology behind impulse spending. There’s a direct fear of missing out on the deal if it’s not bought right now. There’s also a sense of winning—beating out other shoppers to the product. This strategy can work online or in-store, during sales holidays or not. Consumers always want to get a good deal and get ahold of a product that won’t be available forever.

Online Strategies

No. 1: Stay in Contact

On the eCommerce side, there are a few unique tactics you can employ to get an impulsive purchase from a shopper. One of the most effective is to stay in contact with that person while they’re not visiting your site.

What does this mean? Specifically, look for opportunities to market to them. The most obvious is via email marketing. Get their email address and send them your newsletter, promotions, deals, limited time offers, and more. Make it easy for them to click through and buy. Another option is to use paid advertising, such as Google Ads or Facebook Ads, to remarket to them. You can serve your ads when they’re browsing the web (but not necessarily thinking about buying). This can trigger an impulse buy.

No. 2: Show What People Also Buy

People also buy, recommended products, also bought—whatever you call it, serving up recommended items on a product page is a proven tactic to capture an impulse buy. Amazon is fantastic at this, including a “buy it with” section on most pages that include similar items, captive products, and more, all bundled with an easy add-to-cart button.

You can use this same strategy on your own eCommerce site. All you’re doing is making it very easy for your shopper to know what products pair well together, or to see other consumer behavior on your site. This is not only good for your sales, but it can be an educational tool for first-time buyers or for new product lines. Now people can easily tell how you want your products used and how everything fits together.

In-Store Strategies

No. 1: Product Placement

This is probably one of the biggest and most effective tools to get shoppers to spend more—how you design your store, your shelves, and your checkout aisles.

For starters, you want to create a logical footpath through the store. Place high-demand items where there’s a lot of foot-traffic or put lower-demand products next to those that frequently sell out. Get a bunch of low-priced options right by checkout. Set up merchandising displays where they’ll be most effective and optimize your planograms, facings, and other on-shelf elements to drive more sales.

There’s a lot of options here, so the important takeaway is to make data-driven decisions about how shoppers behave inside your stores and to constantly test your strategies to find out what’s most effective.

No. 2: Cross-merchandising

Another smart option for physical retailers is to lean into cross-merchandising. What is cross-merchandising? It’s when you display related products (not necessarily part of one category) on the same display or shelf.

For example, you can present customers with everything they need for a trip to the beach in one part of your store. Swimsuits, towels, chairs, sunblock, and more. They don’t have to zig-zag across the entire store to get what they need and they’re more likely to go: “Oh yea, I do need some more sunscreen” before checking out. So, it’s not just captive products here, but any item that can go well together. It’s the in-store version of people-also-buy.

Be Subtle with Your Price Changes

But you shouldn’t raise prices too abruptly or unexpectedly. Many retailers find success with short-term sales, but research shows that a more gradual approach leads to more sales and higher profits. If shoppers feel your pricing is too unpredictable you may lose trust.

Instead, if possible, gradually phase out high-level sales items so that people don’t notice the sharp spike in prices. Steadily decreasing the discount resulted in higher revenues, more willingness to pay, and a greater likelihood of visiting a store because they had more time to anticipate the loss if they didn’t take advantage of a deal.

Mix and Match to Build Effective Strategies

As a retailer, there’s not really an option to not generate impulse purchases. Instead, it’s about how you can best go about it for your specific customer, channel, and assortment. Odds are, you’ll want to use a mix of a few different strategies to create the most effective solution for you.

Good luck with tempting your shoppers’ self-control!

Matt Ellsworth

Matt is the Director of Marketing at Wiser Solutions, a retail analytics provider with an emphasis on data quality, data accuracy, and holistic in-store and online solutions.

Need better data to inform your decisions?

Schedule a Consultation