The Impulse for Ecommerce, pt. 1: What is Impulse Buying and Who Does It?


As an ecommerce merchant, a large portion of your sales probably comes from impulsive buys.

As an ecommerce merchant, a large portion of your sales probably comes from impulsive buys.  But what if you could understand what triggers impulse buying behavior, who does it and how to best facilitate getting customers to add impulse purchases to their shopping carts?

You are going to get those answers in this series.  So, let’s start at the beginning.  What is the definition of impulse buying?

There are four different types of buying impulses:

  1. Pure Impulse: an unplanned novelty purchase, e.g. casually browsing Etsy and buying a handmade ceramic sculpture you like
  2. Reminder Impulse: seeing a product and remembering that you need it, e.g. buying AA batteries at checkout to power a gadget you just bought
  3. Suggestive Impulse: seeing a product and visualizing a need for it, e.g. purchasing socks after seeing them listed as a recommended product on an ecommerce website that sells shoes
  4. Planned Impulse: taking advantage of a promotional offer with an unplanned purchase, e.g. adding an item to your cart to reach a free shipping threshold

Tip One: Since shoppers only make impulsive buys after being exposed to a product or promotion, the more products, promotions, and complementary product-pairings you make visible on your ecommerce site, the greater the potential for impulse buys. Because impulse buyers are not driven by exact specifications, focus more on visual elements on product pages than on written descriptions—include multiple views that demonstrate exactly how a product looks and works.

Tip Two: Surveys show that younger people and people who consider shopping a form of entertainment are more likely to be impulse buyers. To appeal to these demographics, keep your website copy upbeat and action-oriented. For a clothing ecommerce website, for example, display product recommendations under a heading like “Complete the Look,” which suggests that the purchase of a particular item is incomplete without the complementary product.

Tip Three: Keeping in mind the 4 types of impulse buying, imagine how your customers might arrive at an impulse buy for every type of product you sell. If they are taking advantage of a promotion, what is their path to purchase, and what items are they buying with that promotion code? Does your site remind customers that they might be out of a product so they will buy a replacement? The answers vary widely across ecommerce sites and product categories, but the spontaneity of the purchase is the same.

The next post in this series explores how website design affects the psychological urge to buy spontaneously.

By clicking 'Accept All' you consent that we may collect information about you for various purposes, including: Statistics and Marketing