SMITH BUSINESS Magazine
Volume 11 No. 1 SPRING 2010

Avoid Impulse Purchases

Ever unload your shopping cart wondering how you ended up with so many extra items when you just intended to grab the essentials? Those extras may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but might sting a bit when it comes time to pay.

Rosellina Ferraro, assistant professor of marketing, studied the habits of 2,300 grocery shoppers across 28 stores in 14 cities and found there is an average 46 percent chance shoppers will make an unplanned purchase. She and co-authors J. Jeffery Inman of the University of Pittsburgh and Russell S. Winer of New York University used the data to pinpoint some causes of unplanned purchases and come up with some strategies for changing habits.

The researchers found that product displays have the greatest effect on likelihood of unplanned purchases – an eye-catching display can increase the chance that a shopper will buy an unintended item to 64 percent. Customer shopping habits can also increase unplanned purchasing. Shopping all aisles in a store boosts the probability of leaving with unplanned purchases to 57 percent. Paying with a credit card increased the probability of unplanned purchases by an additional 9 percent for every item in the basket. And consumers who spent extra time shopping – in the study, an extra 18.6 minutes more than the mean of 42.5 minutes – increased propensity for unplanned purchases to 52 percent.

So what’s a budget-conscience shopper to do? Ferraro and her co-authors have some easy-to-enact strategies for consumers who want to curtail unplanned purchases:

  1. Use a shopping list.
  2. Make more frequent, fewer-item trips – get in, get the items you need, and get out!
  3. Limit browsing because visiting all the aisles increases the chances you’ll make unplanned purchases.
  4. Limit the time you spend in the store – it will force you to focus on the task at hand: getting what you came for!
  5. Pay in cash. Make the decision to use cash before you enter the store. Paying by credit or check lessens the “pain of paying” and makes it easier to pick up things you hadn’t planned on buying.

On the flip side, retailers can use Ferraro’s research findings to encourage shoppers to buy more by making it more enticing to walk down as many aisles as possible to expose shoppers to more product categories and in-store displays. The research suggests using innovative aisle layout and shelf design, or targeting specific shoppers with frequent-shopper programs to increase store familiarity. The more pleasant the shopping experience, the more time a shopper is likely to spend in store. And if manufactures and retailers move beyond category management of products to “aisle management,” they can be strategic about increasing customers’ in-store decisions to buy.

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