Impulse buying : how to encourage impulse purchases in stores and online? (Comprehensive Guide)

by | 8 Apr, 2020 | CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

Impulse purchasing is the tendency of customers to acquire goods they hadn’t planned on buying, whether in store or online. It is a spur-of-the-moment decision.

This type of consumer behaviour is interesting for brands. Why is that? Because when customers buy impulsively, they tend to choose products with a higher margin. It is a great way to maximize revenue.

What steps need to be undertaken to encourage more impulse buying? And how is this behaviour triggered?

How does impulse buying work?

Impulse buying is all about emotions

Impulse purchasing is set off by feelings. The emotional state is the main influence when it comes to prompt decision-making. When bought impulsively, a product brings more pleasure than if it is bought out of utility. There is no long or complicated process, nothing to damage what is felt at the given moment. Only the aesthetic, emotional and social characteristics tip the scales.

It is not only the product that they buy, but also the feelings that arises when getting acquainted with the product. As well as the satisfaction and experience that got them to this instant. All in all, impulse buying isn’t an action, it’s a process.

A different buying process

On the journey leading to impulse purchasing, several factors come into play. Some depend on the customers themselves, others on the brand’s decisions.

The first and most important factor is the consumers’ state of mind. Let me explain myself. When they steps in the store, or open the e-commerce website’s homepage, they need to be able to be receptive, and start shopping for pleasure. They might have a specific goal in mind that will turn into useful purchasing, but they have time to look at other things. That is to say they go through the online or physical store, and let their emotions and senses guide them. They take pleasure in discovering the variety of products and the brand’s image.

The second factor is commercial solicitation. Through merchandising or e-merchandising, brands stir up the consumers’ desire and urge to buy a compelling product.

Finally, brands must find ways to overcome the obstacles linked to purchasing : payment, price, fear of making a mistake… Customers remain rational individuals, they will still weight the pros and cons before buying. With this in mind, brands can take precautions to tip the scales in their favour.

But what kind of actions can they take?

How to encourage impulse purchasing in stores?

Putting customers in the right state of mind


To encourage customers’ willingness to buy, retailers can improve the inside of their store, meaning, the merchandising. Depending on their positioning and image, brands have to offer a specific atmosphere as soon as somebody enters a brick-and-mortar shop. It can be a refined or cozy atmosphere, or even give out a vintage-like vibe. It needs to stand out and charm customers. Some brands already do this very well, like Ikea who stage living areas with their best selling products.

Letting them explore and be surprised

It’s important for consumers to be able to go around the whole store. In order to do that, nothing beats creating a definite route. For example, at Sostrene, there’s only one path to visit the store. Same thing for Ikea, but they also have arrows to lead the customers.

Surprise being a key element when it comes to impulse purchasing, brands should regularly renew their products, the way Zara does for instance. Not knowing what awaits them, customers will mainly be guided by the pleasure of discovering new items, even before entering the store.

Communicating beforehand

In addition, retailers can create a favourable state of mind before visiting the store. Through communication tools like emailing or advertisement for example, consumers can notice an appealing product and go straight to the shop to buy it. Brands can also reveal the opening of a new sore, or an exclusive preview to generate enthusiasm.

Physical or digital gift cards

Gift cards, physical or digital, are an ideal way to induce shopping for pleasure. Whether they’re gifted by a relative or by the brand as part of their loyalty program, the outcome remains. The beneficiary of a gift card will be in the perfect state of mind to buy impulsively. Why is that? We need to keep in mind that the card being a gift, it is naturally linked to pleasure. Therefore, when customers find themselves in a brick-and-mortar store with a gift card, they will take their time, explore every corner. Since they’re looking for their own gift, emotions are not lacking. There are less obstacles and no fear of choosing wrong because the money they’re spending was given as a present. It’s not money earned from their personal hard work.

Encouraging consumers

Giving visibility

Products have to be visible in order to encourage consumers. Spots near checkouts, for when customers have almost finished their shopping, or near the store’s entrance, are key locations. Retailers can also choose to interrupt the consumers’ journey through the shop, like an island display.

Cross merchandising is another way to give visibility to certain products. Putting next to each other products that are often bought together tells a story and generates emotions. In supermarkets, for an instance, they could very well sell a specific type of meat next to complementary vegetables. They could also pair it with wine to entice customers.

Adding more context

Aesthetics and situations are key elements to trigger desire. The packaging needs to be alluring and in agreement with the wanted positioning as well as the display. For example, to sell organic cosmetics, one can create a natural setting with flowers and raw materials. The main goal is to immerse customers in a unique environment in line with the product.

Appealing to all five senses

All five senses trigger emotions and have the power to reminisce precious memories. To deepen the bond between consumers and the products, the brand can play with their senses. Sensorial marketing relies on the sense of smell, it can be triggered when walking by the bakery aisle for example. Smelling fresh bread is probably the best way to pique consumers’ interest. Stimulating the hearing with a particular song or offering to try the product (whether it is food or a smartphone) are incentives for customers to buy impulsively.

To further immerse in the product’s background, brands can create workshops or specific events. It can be a cosmetic workshop to test new products, or a fashion show to present the latest collection under a favourable light.

Creating a sense of urgency

To increase significantly the desire to buy a particular product, brands have another trick up their sleeve : create urgency. Certain customers might want to buy a product, but hesitation makes them postpone the purchase. The more they wait, the more the spontaneity that defines impulse purchasing is lost. To overcome this behaviour, retailers can undertake different types of actions to make the product even more attractive. Limited stocks, ephemeral sales, flash sales, … However, the old classic of the genre remains promotions. Although the promotional coupon is a format that’s losing momentum, other even more attractive alternatives exist, such as the digital gift card. That way, if customers don’t make up their mind right away, they’ll get the feeling they’re missing out on a great deal.

Contextual marketing

Getting in touch with customers at the right time, meaning when they’re most likely to be interested in buying. This is known as contextual marketing, and is an opportunity every brand should seize. With modern technologies – smartphones, geolocation and so on… – it’s easier to assess when’s the right time and how to be relevant.

How can a brand use these to encourage impulse purchasing? If customers own the brand’s mobile app or have a digital gift card registered on a wallet, retailers will be able to send them push notifications. And to be relevant and use geolocation, beacon technology is an example that will do the trick!

Overcoming the obstacles


To go from wanting to buying, customers must have the product fast, as soon as they leave the store. Otherwise, they could quickly talk themselves out of buying it, or postpone the purchase. In those cases, the risk of them looking elsewhere increases. Therefore, there has to be enough products in stock. That’s not a problem for small or medium-sized products customers can easily add in their shopping basket. But when it comes to bigger products such as TVs or furniture, the brand must make sure delivery is easy : such as a home delivery the next day, or providing help to carry it to the customer’s vehicle…


If the price is too high, even if consumers want the product, they will not buy it. A promotion or discount can encourage them, but that technique only works temporarily. What can be done then? Offering additional payment methods can be a solution. If they can pay later or in instalments, the customers are more likely to consider letting themselves get carried away by spontaneity, and give in to their desire.

How to encourage impulse buying for e-commerce?

Impulse purchases in e-commerce are trickier since consumers have more trouble immersing themselves in the brand. But they’re still manageable! In fact, 20% of Internet shoppers have added unplanned purchases to their carts.*

*Respondi & Edelman Intelligence & PayPal

What levers can brands use to encourage spontaneity?

Motivating to shop for pleasure

First of all, consumers have to be in the right state of mind, one that will lead them to a more hedonistic shopping.

A responsive web design

Nowadays, it’s very important to have a responsive web design, meaning that one can easily navigate through it via any device (computer, smartphone, tablet…). Consumers enjoy being able to choose. This is all the more relevant for impulse purchases, as online shopping is often all about pleasure. On smartphones, users scroll and wander, it’s a great way to encourage a hedonistic behaviour.

A digital and fluid customer experience

In order to trigger a state of mind favourable to spontaneity, the e-commerce website must focus on UX. For consumers to fully immerse as they would do in a brick-and-mortar shop, the website has to be pleasant, but above all, it must be fluid when it comes to navigation. For example, Ikea creates a specific and suitable landing page for each different range of products.

Thanks to customizations, recommendations and customer data analysis, brands can create tailor-made experiences for their users.

Working on the mindset beforehand

Just like in brick-and-mortar shops, when it comes to online shopping, there are several tools to steer consumers towards shopping for pleasure long before they open the website. Communication tools, online advertising, emailing… as well as digital or plastic gift cards that can be spent on the e-commerce website.

With a card gifted by the brand itself or by a relative, consumers are more likely to treat themselves while looking for what they might like on the website.

Appealing to consumers through the digital world

Once consumers starts shopping online for pleasure, the brand must reach out to them through several means to encourage them to go through with the purchase.

Showing products in their best light

It’s always interesting to highlight flagship or seasonal products on the website’s homepage by working on the online merchandising around them. Regularly changing or adding new collections is also a great way to encourage pleasure in shopping. When online consumers don’t know what they’ll find, they tend to let their emotions guide them.

Creating a sense of urgency

In order to lead them to validate their shopping cart, brands can rely on the sense of urgency. Consumers will act with more spontaneity if they know they might miss out on a great deal unless they make up their mind on the spot. Several technics can be used: displaying the number of products left in stock, flash sales, limited promotions, ephemeral sales, delivery the next day if ordered now, … Travel websites have become experts in this field.


Online shoppers find it much harder to imagine themselves with a product. In brick-and-mortar shops, they can feel, try, inspect products. Therefore, perfecting each product page is crucial to create sales incentives. For example, a brand can show off a product with a video, create a story around it, have pictures showing different details, offer complementary products,… When it comes to online shopping for clothes, offering to zoom in on the pictures enables customers to inspect the product as if they could touch it.

Overcoming the obstacles of online shopping

Even when customers spontaneously want to buy a product, they always consider the drawbacks. There are more obstacles when purchasing online, and long-distances sales are always more challenging. Brands must therefore do their best to remove the obstacles that might prevent customers from e-shopping.

The fear of choosing wrong

The fear of making a mistake, or of being disappointed because the product doesn’t match the pictures, … Even if consumers let their emotions guide them while shopping online, they can’t help but doubt. This is what hinders impulse purchases. In order to remove indecision, numerous methods can be used. Brands can display size charts or offer instant messaging to answer the customers’ questions. They can also implement a free return policy with easy steps to follow and quick refunds.

The “I want it, and I want it now” attitude

When customers desire a product, they usually expect to have what they want as soon as they make up their mind. But online, with the processing, preparation and delivery delays, it can take a few days or weeks. Having to wait that long might deter some consumers. How can brands address this issue? Nowadays, some offer delivery within 24h, or in just a few days, like Amazon Prime. Others offer customers to come by their local physical store to collect their order within 2h. All means are good to have a fast and accommodating delivery service.

Regarding time, payment can become another sore point. Brands have to offer flexible payment solutions, along with a process that’s short and easy. One-click checkout processes are a great asset when it comes to impulse buying.

High prices

Price is the main obstacle linked to impulse buying. Online shops can provide several payment solutions to compensate, such as differed payment or payment by instalments. They can also offer free shipping costs, that way customers don’t feel like they also have to pay for delivery.

Impulse buying can’t be controlled, but brands can encourage it. They can work on the customers’ state of mind, spontaneity and can break down the barriers that prevent them from indulging. Numerous strategies exist for brick-and-mortar as well as online shops. However, one essential element remains. If customers buy spontaneously a product, they need to be satisfied by their purchase as well as the customer service afterwards. If the experience doesn’t measure up, they will not become regular customers and will not make other impulse purchases.

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