The Impulse for Ecommerce, pt. 2: How to Increase Impulse Buying with a Better User Experience


More and more impulse purchases are made online everyday as B2B and B2C ecommerce expands. In the second part of our series, we take a closer look at ecommerce site design and its effect on impulsive buying, and we will explore the user experience princip

The Impulse for Ecommerce, pt. 2: How to Increase Impulse Buying with a Better User Experience

Anatomy of an Impulse Buy

Before we dive into user experience best practices, it is important to know that all unplanned purchases follow a two-step mental process:

  1. The urge to buy when you encounter the item
  2. The decision to act on that urge

Studies show that the more urges a customer experiences, the higher the chance of ultimately buying something unplanned. So in order to increase impulse-based conversions, a website must entice customers with products, and often.

Website Quality Matters to Impulse Buyers

Just as brick-and-mortar retailers adjust store atmospherics like lighting, music, and floorplan to encourage impulse buying, ecommerce websites can take steps to optimize their site design for this kind of purchasing.

One case study showed that higher perceived website quality increased the urge to impulse buy. In particular, when the site demonstrated higher perceived security, ease of navigation, and visual appeal, all resulted in a stronger temptation to buy. Additionally, the study found that the effect of website quality was even stronger for inherently impulsive customers. If you want to attract likely impulse buyers, the best way to do that is by improving your website quality.

Site Design Practices That Lead to Impulse Purchases

Here are a few practical solutions to improve website quality for likely impulse buyers:

  1. Security Cues:

Customers will only buy from your site if they feel secure with it in the first place. Display visual cueslike lock icons near credit card information and security software credentials on your site to make users feel more at ease.

  1. Frictionless Navigation:
  • Category links on your site help customers browse more effectively because they help customers discover products in a more strategic way. A UIE study found that 87% of the dollars spent on impulse purchases came from category link navigation.

An example of category links on

  • Product Search: Although impulse shoppers are not looking for a specific item, they may still have an idea of what they want, so a powerful search capability can assist a user as they narrow down the type of item they want. Functions like type-ahead and drop-down lists with product icons expose users to more items, increasing the likelihood of an impulse buy.
  1. Visual Appeal: Much like brick-and-mortar atmospherics, organized, beautiful websites increase the desire to browse and explore its products. Consumers enjoy interactive and moving elements that create a dynamic experience. Your website is like the shelf on which your products are displayed—a better display makes customers want to pick something out.

Make the Most of Post-Purchase Impulse Buys

To top off a great user experience, you should think about generating impulse sales after a purchase is completed. It’s not like online shoppers leave the store after they check out, so reach out to customers with product suggestions on the sales confirmation page and in their confirmation email. These are great spaces to display suggested and complementary products.

If your company has both an ecommerce and an in-store presence, in-store pick-ups and returns are a great way to immerse your online customers in physical product displays and encourage already paying customers to add unplanned purchases to their shopping cart.

To recap what we’ve covered in the series so far,

  • There are 4 types of impulse buys to consider when you plan a path to purchase
  • Display more products and promotions to maximize the potential for impulse buys
  • Upbeat, action-oriented website copy appeals to likely impulse buyers
  • Higher quality websites appeal more to impulse buyers
  • Appeal to shoppers’ impulses post-purchase, both online and in-store

In the third and final installment of our series, we’ll take a look at m-commerce and how to harness impulse buys with mobile technology.

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