Impulse Purchasing

Impulse buying or as some marketers prefer to call it unplanned purchasing is another consumer purchasing pattern. As the term implies, the purchase was not specifically planned. The process is rather widespread and may have significant implications for the marketer.

The Nature of impulse purchasing:

It is difficult for marketers to agree on a definition of impulse buying. Four types of impulse purchases have been cited:

1) Pure impulse: A novelty or escape purchase which breaks a normal buying pattern.
2) Suggestion impulse: A shopper having no previous knowledge of a product sees the item for the first time and visualizes a need for it.
3) Reminder impulse: A shopper sees an item and is reminded that the stock at home needs replenishing or recalls, an advertisement or other information about the item and a previous decision to purchase.
4) Planned impulse: A shopper enters the store with the expectation and intention of making some purchases on the basis of price specials, coupons, and the like.

While most marketing research has treated impulse purchasing simply as unplanned some maintain that it is a traditional process in which the urge to gratify an impulse triumphs over the rational parts of the mind. In this view five critical elements seem to distinguish impulsive from non impulsive consumer behavior. First the consumer has a sudden and spontaneous desire to act, involving a marked divergence from previous behavior. Second, this sudden desire to buy puts the consumer in a state of psychological disequilibrium where he feels temporarily out of control. Third, the consumer may experience psychological conflict and struggle weighing the immediate satisfaction against the long term consequences of the purchase. Fourth, consumer reduces their cognitive evaluation of product features. And Fifth consumers often buy impulsively without any regard for future consequences.

It has been suggested that the explanations of why consumers engage in such impulsive buying are that they do not realize the consequences of their behavior that they are compelled by some force to buy even though they realize the dire consequences and that in spite of the ultimate problems of buying, they are more intent on fulfilling the present satisfaction.

How does the consumer feel after impulse purchasing? One study indicates that impulse buying is an effective tactic for breaking out of an undesirable mood or state such as depression, frustration or boredom. Ninety percent of the respondents felt somewhat extremely happy after such purchases indicating a pervasive immediate gratification from it. There was some ambivalence however with almost 40 percent to extremely guilty over, their most recent impulse purchase.

The extent of Impulse Buying:

There are several studies which have indicated the significant and growing trend towards unplanned purchasing. Here are some of the conclusions on the extent of impulse buying.

1) More than 33 percent of all purchase in variety and drugstores are unplanned.
2) One half of the buying decisions in supermarkets are unplanned
3) Thirty nine percent of all department store shoppers and 62 per cent of all discount store shoppers purchased at least one item on an unplanned basis.

These statements are somewhat deceiving in that no distinction is made between the various kinds of impulse purchases possible for consumers. Although many consumers may not use a shopping list, their product and brand purchases are certainly rational (as we have defined it) and most probably fit into the reminder and planned impulse categories rather than the pure and suggestion impulse types.

The important point for marketers is that there is a large amount of decision making occurring at the point of purchase. Thus, as far as the retail decision maker is concerned impulse buying can be pragmatically defined as purchasing resulting from a decision to buy after the shopper has entered the store (or perhaps simply turned on their television at home to shop via cable).