3 Reasons People Buy on Impulse and How to Capitalize on Them

Credit: Image by gonghuimin468 from Pixabay

Never underestimate the potential of a last-minute purchase.

Today’s consumers are not only more likely to buy in-store, they’re more likely to buy more in-store, and that includes impulse purchases. Despite the hue and cry about online shopping taking over the world, the great majority of people—85%, according to the annual The State of Brick & Mortar Retail report—still buy half or more of their goods in stores. And they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. Turns out that Gen Z, the “always online” generation, gets a little sick of always being online. They crave legit, tactile, in-person shopping experiences that allow them to unplug from the constant ping-ping-ping of social media and gaming from time to time.

So, let’s talk about those impulse buys. According to Statista, roughly half of the purchases carried out by 18 to 24-year-olds in the United States in 2018 were as a result of impulse buying. It’s not chump change, either. More than half of U.S. shoppers have spent $100 or more on an impulse buy. Point of purchase (POP) displays are a big reason why. They are purposely designed to draw attention and drive incremental sales, and they can be tucked away in almost any area of your store.

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons people buy on impulse and how to take advantage of that.

Reason #1 – People don’t want to feel like they’re missing out on something.

According to, more than half of people cite the fear of missing out on a deal, on something being in stock, on something they think they may forget about later, etc., as their primary motivation for an impulse buy. Remember Kmart’s blue light specials? People would race from wherever they were in the store when one was announced over the loudspeaker to find the bin with the blue light whirling above it to get whatever was on sale, whether they needed it or not. That blue light wasn’t going to be on for long. It was retail’s “flash sale” of the time. Time limits are powerful motivators. So is scarcity. And price.

Loudspeaker announcements aside (people often tune that out anyway) retail signage is the way to go with this crowd. Here’s what that might look like, in an eye-catching graphic style, of course:

  • Time-bound: deal of the week… one day only… for the next 24 hours
  • Scarcity: limited supply available… only 20 left in stock… hot seller
  • Save money: 40% off… save $25.00… get 3 months free

Reason #2 – Because, why not.

We love our shiny objects, and like a dog that spies a squirrel or a 4-year-old on the T-ball field, we’re easily distracted. Great news for store owners, yes? Absolutely. The same survey found that more than a third of impulse buyers had no idea why they went ahead and bought something. So, make it easy on them with an eye-catching POP display that’s right in their grille. When you understand your store’s traffic patterns, you can place POP displays at strategic points along the way. Useful items that complement everyday sellers can be placed on tables or in dump bins next to them for true grab-and-go convenience. There’s a reason why sporting goods stores put the socks next to the shoes and the ball pumps next to the basketballs.

And really take advantage of the queue to the register. A captive audience is nothing to sniff at. Configure “aisles” using dump bins, tables, pedestals, display racks, whatever works for your space. This is the place for relatively inexpensive items and trial sizes that entice people to come back for more. Once they get to the register, be sure to have a little something-something on display there, too. Just remember not to irritate your customers by not giving them the space they need to stand or complete their transactions. No one wants to be the person everybody’s staring at because they just knocked over a poorly-placed display.

Reason #3 – Mmm, that looks yummy.

Don’t sell food in your shop? Consider starting. A survey commissioned by Slickdeals found that food was the most popular unplanned product to “accidentally” make it home with shoppers. Whether you sell trinkets from the abyss or services such as massages or tire changes, there’s always a way to pair food (or drink) that complements your store’s vibe at a POP display near the  register. If Ed Hardy made lollipops and you owned a tattoo shop, that would be a POP display made in heaven.

If you do sell food, you’re in luck. When people get to the register, make sure there are plenty of mouth-watering or complementary options perfectly suited to a last-minute purchase. Fresh cookies, quirky utensils, spices, candies, dinner bells, egg timers—there is no shortage of what you can put in a food shop’s POP display, whether in acrylic bakery containers or on shelves behind the counter. Plus, your counter staff can talk them up and hopefully, talk them right into someone’s bag or take-home container. Consider offering a rotating assortment of sample-sized goodies to bring people back again and again.

Impulse buying is just what we humans do. Think about your shop as a wonderland of last-minute purchasing opportunities and set up your POP displays accordingly.

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