The Real Reason Impulse Buying Is So Hard to Resist

The Real Reason Impulse Buying Is So Hard to Resist

Let’s face facts: Impulse buying is evil. Yes, it’s thrilling in the moment, but like the man-child dating phase many of us go through in our twenties, it eventually becomes a soul-sucking, money-draining experience. So what makes impulse buying so irresistible, often defying our better judgement and causing us to go home with everything but what we went to the store for? Well…

According to a recent study in the Journal of Marketing, your impulse buying tendencies may depend on your budget and the length of your shopping trip.

“Shoppers enter the grocery store planning to buy certain things, but are tempted to buy unplanned items,” write study authors Timothy J. Gilbride (University of Notre Dame), Jeffrey Inman (University of Pittsburgh), and Karen Melville Stilley (Market Rise Consulting). “Over the course of the shopping trip, the tendency to buy unplanned items increases. As shoppers spend more on planned items, the tendency to purchase unplanned items goes up. Depending on the shopper’s budget, the later an unplanned purchase is made, the more likely the next purchase will be unplanned. The likelihood of an unplanned purchase can be as much as 9.6% higher toward the end of the trip.”

Four-hundred customers at two grocery stores were approached as they entered and were asked how much they expected to spend on their planned purchases, and how much they expected to spend as a whole (because, you know). Shoppers then used a handheld scanner to scan the barcode of each item as they placed it in their cart, in order to track the order each item was chosen. Two sets of impulse buying spending habits emerged:

Self-regulation Theory

When people who shopped with smaller budgets (less than $64) made an unplanned purchase, it decreased the probability that the next purchase would be unplanned—but as the shopping trip went on, the opposite became true.

Cuing Theory

When people who shopped with a medium budget (between $64 and $109) made a unplanned purchase, the odds that the next item would be unplanned increased—and kept increasing throughout the trip.

With penny-pinching being one of the most annoying things on the planet, this makes total sense: Between the “shopping high” you get from finding a spontaneous item that excites you, and the exhaustion that comes from a shopping trip dragging on, there are times when it feels like you don’t stand a chance against your impulse buying cravings.

“Consumers should be aware that their urge to make unplanned purchases grows as a shopping trip unfolds, and that using a mental budget or app could help them avoid an unexpectedly large bill while still enjoying a certain amount of impulse buying,” the authors conclude.

Other ways to help combat impulse buying: Don’t shop when you’re upset (or you might come home with an entire aisle), only shop with budget-friendly besties, and give yourself a splurge budget—or if you’re forever a sucker of impulse buying, make sure you buy from stores that have a good return policy (you know, in case regret kicks in the second you get home).

How do you keep your impulse buying in check?

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Food shopping image via Shutterstock