Common Online Impulse Buys

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Online Websites - Features that Encourage Impulse Buys

Five useful tools that online websites use to encourage impulse buying include discounts and sales, urgency, mobile optimization, interactive displays, and social influence. Below are descriptions of how and why they influence online impulse purchases.


  • Discounts and sales encourage impulse purchases by making consumers feel as though the items may not be available at a later date or miss a good deal.
  • Tickers and countdowns as well as posting the remaining number of the product creating an urgency that can spur buyers to make an impulsive purchase.
  • Free shipping is noted to help a consumer decide to go through with an impulse purchase.


  • Tickers and countdowns, as well as posting the remaining number of the products, creates a sense of urgency that can spur buyers to make an impulse purchase.
  • Social deal sites like Groupon apply countdown clocks to their deals to grab the consumers' attention and to market products as limited-time offers.


  • Sites that are streamlined and optimized for mobile devices make it a lot easier for consumers to make spur of the moment purchase decisions.


  • Augmented reality is one of the most vital tools for items such as furniture as it allows the consumer to interact with the product and the intended environment before making a purchase.


  • Social media platforms such as Instagram offer direct buying options while engaging customers. They also create more opportunities for impulse buying due to their sizable influencers' social media following.
  • Instagram and Pinterest are slated to have billions of active monthly users and offer a ton of opportunities to drive traffic to online stores.
  • Out of 200 websites, 192 were found to have social influence features, those that recommend products based on what other people thought. Social media influencers do more for brand perception among younger generations and are a useful tool.
  • Impulse purchases can also be triggered or influenced by peer recommendations and reviews.
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Online Websites - Products, Categories, and/or Brands: Impulse Buys

Five common products that the consumers of the United States tend to buy impulsively online are groceries and food items, clothing, household items, children’s items, and electronics. Online shoppers make impulse purchases once they are committed to buying an item online that require steps such as entering your information, dealing with shipping costs, and are more open to dropping additional products into their cart.



  • Purchasing groceries is a popular and common way to spend money online. According to a poll, over 26% of respondents buy food items online every week and only 9% do it once every month. Buying groceries and foodstuff is said to be an impulse buy because shoppers do not realize that they are buying more than they would at the grocery store.
  • Online buyers of groceries and foodstuff tend to spend an extra few dollars to save time since they are more accustomed to the concept of convenience shopping online. This spurs them further to drop extra items into their shopping cart without comparing costs.
  • Online grocery shoppers are found to be just as impulsive as they would be in a physical store. However, they tend to be more open-minded online due to the vast range of choices and the ability to shift between brands. Online shoppers are freer to explore their choices to fulfill their needs.
  • Advantages of online shopping for groceries is mostly due to good customer service, on-time home delivery, convenient shopping, and options for same-day-delivery.
  • Amazon is one of the world's leading websites in terms of the number of impulse-buying features for this category, according to a study conducted by the University of Michigan. The price range of groceries and food items via the e-commerce platform, Amazon, is between $3 and $50.


  • According to a study conducted by the University of Michigan on "Impulse Buying: Design Practices and Consumer Needs", one of the most common products that have been reported being bought online on impulse is clothing.
  • Touch is an important factor in purchasing clothing and given that the internet prevents consumers from actually touching or trying on garments, purchasing clothes online would constitute an impulse buy.
  • According to the Impulse Buying study, Macy's, JCPenney, and NY&C (New York & Company) are some leading websites in the United States for apparel and accessories in terms of the number of features designed for impulse purchases.
  • The price range of the impulsive buy for the category of clothing through the e-commerce platform, Macy's, is between $50 and $500 and that of NY&C is between $6 and $18. These ranges constitute products that are on sale, have discounted prices, featured products, or have free shipping option.


  • According to the Impulse Buying study, a common category that consumers tend to buy online on impulse is houseware products. Several participants of the study described their past purchases for household items as products they did not “need”, such as an unnecessary household item.
  • The study revealed that the online stores of Bed Bath & Beyond and Williams Sonoma, within the houseware category, contain the largest number of impulse features for consumers.
  • The price range of the impulsive buy for the category of houseware products through the e-commerce website Bed Bath & Beyond is between $9.74 and $159.99 and feature products with special deals.
  • The price range of the impulsive buy for this category through the website of Williams Sonoma is between $9.74 and $50 and feature products from its "shop top sellers" section that are on sale.


  • According to the Impulse Buying study, a common category that consumers tend to buy online on impulse is children's items. This is primarily because adults, especially mothers, go online shopping with their backup impulse buyers, their children. "Nobody’s desire for instant gratification is as strong as a child’s".
  • Mass merchant online platform such as Amazon and eBay cater items for children and are two of the world's largest online stores for consumer shopping. According to the Impulse Buying study, Amazon and eBay's websites have the largest impulse features for customers.
  • The price range of impulse buy for children's products through the e-commerce platform, eBay, is under $2 and over $7. These products usually have the option of free shipping internationally.


  • According to the Impulse Buying study, a common category that consumers tend to buy online on impulse is electronics. Electronic online impulse buyers are keen on grabbing most of the available deals and are particularly driven by the fear that certain products will not be available at a later time.
  • Newegg and Best Buy are two electronic online stores that have the highest number of impulse features for customers, according to the study conducted by the University of Michigan.
  • The price range of the impulse buy for electronic products through the e-commerce platform, Newegg, is between $69.99 and $909. These products constitute items that have rebates, discounts, and promo codes.


We began our search by leveraging information from research studies, industry publications, pre-compiled information from market research and media websites such as CNBC and eMarketer, and articles from industry-specific websites such as FoodDive to identify five products, categories, and/or brands that US consumers tend to buy online on impulse. We found a list of impulse purchases online from a study conducted by the University of Michigan. We then conducted an extensive search to provide an analysis as to why these products are an impulse buy by searching through behavioral science articles, blogs, and publications that are related to impulse online purchase. After an extensive search, we were able to identify the most common categories that US consumers tend to buy online on an impulse. However, these channels did not contain information on the price range of the impulse buy.

In order to identify the price range for each category, we looked into the data from consumers product databases that compile and categorize products in the United States. The idea was to find products such as food and goods one can buy at a regular store and online to provide insights and data surrounding their price range. However, most of the data found were prices from e-commerce platforms.
We then looked for information that can be used as a proxy by searching for the prices in each of the websites identified by the Impulse Buying study under the section of most number of impulse features. The price range of impulse buy for each category has limited availability since the available data on the subject is present in a more general capacity rather than specific to impulse online purchasing. We then listed out the price range of e-commerce websites based on the category and the products that are on sale, with discounts and free shipping among others. We assume that products which are on sale, have discounts, promo coupons, and free shipping options are most likely to be bought on an impulse.

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Online Websites - Psychology Behind Impulse Buys

The main reasons for online impulse buying by consumers include a sense of urgency for the product, social influence, and instant rewards.



The appeal and user-friendliness of the website

  • The layout of the website, its appeal, and user-friendly navigation can lead a consumer to spend more time browsing the webstore; additionally, it can positively affect the urge of a consumer to buy a product impulsively.
  • The effect can be attributed to greater exposure of novel products and in-store marketing stimuli. Additionally, greater exposure to different product assortments and repetitive stimuli can lean to increased impulse buying. Hence, we can assume that greater exposure to online product recommended systems increases the consumer’s chances of unplanned purchases.

Social influence and advertising

  • Specific hints about product acceptance can encourage impulsive purchases. This can be brought on by things like social comparison; for example, consumers see their peers buying a particular product may entice them to buy the same.
  • Posting on social media sites about products or services makes people become more influenced by the number of 'likes' or 'views' the product has received which then increases the likelihood of a consumer experiencing an impulsive urge to buy.
  • The product advertising also influences the impulse buying behavior of a consumer. The stimuli such as mass advertising, in-store marketing, and precise user-targeting with online ads may lead to developing an impulsive urge to buy a product.

Perceived product scarcity

  • Perceived scarcity is the creation of a perception that product is facing a shortage and is generally conveyed to limited customers with personalized messaging.
  • E-commerce sites enhance perceived product scarcity by using stock pointers to indicate that there is a limited quantity of products left in stock.
  • This can be explained by people not wanting to miss out on good deals; hence, they experience a push to buy items that they are not really sure they need at that moment.

The buyer’s sense of urgency

  • Certain features implemented on e-commerce sites like limited-time discounts or countdown clocks may create a buyer's sense of urgency leading to impulse buying.
  • Additionally, the use of limited-time availability messaging urges a consumer to take action before a deadline. This can also lead to a trigger-effect of online impulse buying.

Immediate rewards

  • Online retailers lure shoppers into making add-on purchases with enticements like discounts or free shipping above a certain dollar threshold.
  • The availability of the next or same-day shipping gives the promise of almost instant gratification for online consumers.

Enhancement of perceived physical proximity to a product

  • The enhancement of the vividness and interactiveness of online product presentations can help to conjure the feeling of physical closeness to a product or partial ownership and potential loss if the product is not ultimately purchased.
  • For example, in the case of a sunglass e-store, having a 360-spin view or a web-cam mirror to try on the sunglasses can lead to a trigger feeling of wanting to purchase it impulsively.
  • Additionally, shopping through Facebook live video contributes to helping the consumer feel as though they are shopping in a physical store. This perceived temporal proximity, or how quickly a consumer believes they can acquire a product, can also encourage impulse buying.

Lowering the perceived risks of shopping

  • Highlighting the generous return or refund policies especially when impulsively buying clothes helps to quell the fears of a buyer and encourages the likelihood of impulse buying, knowing that they can always return it or get refunded if the product ends up not being suitable for them.
  • Labeling products as being on sale, gives a comfort perception to the buyer that they have stumbled on a good deal which can then trigger an impulse buy.
  • Similarly, being offered unexpected or surprise deals at the beginning of a shopping venture can result in a greater amount being spent on unplanned purchases.


  • According to the US Census, e-commerce sales made almost 10% of all retail sales in the second quarter of 2018. Additionally, the online spending reached $6.22 billion on Black Friday alone with a lot of that shopping being unplanned.
  • According to a poll by CreditCard, many Americans who purchased something online this year, about 44% made an impulse purchase on the internet in the past three months.
  • The younger generation showed a higher propensity for impulse buying with 21% of 28-to-37-year-olds saying that they made a spontaneous online purchase in the previous week.
  • Nearly 80% of both Gen Xers and millennials admitted to having at one time made a split-second decision while purchasing online.
  • A research done on 200 of the top online retailers in the US showed that retail websites contain an average of 19 features that can encourage impulse buying; it includes discounts, product ratings, and interactive displays that allow users to buy impulsively.
  • The same research showed that five websites topping the charts include Macy's, OpticsPlanet, Amazon, Newegg, and Target. Further, the research team identified more than 30 features that could contribute to impulse buying on each of the sites.
  • Additionally, of the 200 retail websites studied during the research, nearly 192 contained social influence features, that recommended products based on what other people bought.
  • About 69% of the websites studied during the research; use features like limited-time discounts with countdown clocks.
  • Moreover, about 67% percent of the websites studied also used tactics that made the product seem scarce, with low stock warnings or exclusive product offerings.


  • Impulse purchases promotions usually feature a psychological trick known as the Gruen effect. It entails the stores to actively make efforts that can lead a buyer away from the path of budgetary restraint.
  • The theory of Gruen came into existence after denoting that if the shoppers are bamboozled with sensations like attractive colors, lights, and textures; it can change the mindset of a buyer, especially when they enter a store.
  • Gruen also noted that people often abandon their shopping lists and shift from the thought of shopping as an experience to be savored. In this latter frame of mind, the shopper ends up leaving the store with more items than they had planned to buy.
  • Studies have shown that making an unplanned purchase increases the probability of making subsequently unplanned purchases, especially for those with medium or small budgets.
  • The feelings associated with impulse buying can generate feelings of guilt, shame, and regret due to the financial strains they may face.
  • Alternatively, when used strategically to deal with negative emotions, impulse buying can backfire and lead to higher negative thoughts.

Did this report spark your curiosity?


From Part 02
  • "E-commerce sites have an incentive to encourage impulse buying, even when not in the consumer’s best interest. This study investigates what features e-commerce sites use to encourage impulse buying and what tools consumers desire to curb their online spending. "
  • "Consumers who buy groceries and household staples online may be more likely to throw extra items into their cart without comparing prices."
  • "A new poll by found that almost half (44 percent) of Americans have made an unplanned buy on the internet in the past three months, almost one-third (29 percent) have done so in the past month and one in seven (14 percent) in the past seven days. "
  • "older millennials and Gen Xers are less likely than other age groups to resist making unplanned internet buys. Only about one in five in each group (21.8 percent of older millennials and 23.3 percent of Gen Xers) say they have never made this type of purchase. That means almost 80 percent have made a split-second buying decision while perusing the web."
  • "A growing number of supermarkets allow their customers to shop online for their groceries, preparing the order for pick-up or delivering it directly to their door. Shopping from home for your grocery store items is a great way to deal with this necessary chore: It's convenient, it's a time saver, and sometimes you can even take advantage of online sales not otherwise accessible."
From Part 03
  • "Popular tactics include targeting heavy users with online ads, offering larger package sizes, adding a selection of impulse buys available at checkout and offering recipes and cooking tips through retailer websites."
  • "Of the millions of Americans who bought something online this year, a poll of more than 1,000 U.S. adults aged 18 or older finds that almost half, or 44 percent, made an impulse buy on the Internet in the past three months. For younger people, the numbers go up even more: 21 percent of 28-to-37-year-olds say they made a spontaneous online buy in the previous week."
  • "They found that retail websites contained an average of 19 features that can encourage impulse buying, including discounts and sales, product ratings, and interactive displays that allow users to, for example, zoom or spin product photography."
  • "Other strategies included increasing the buyer’s sense of urgency (69 percent of the websites) using features like limited-time discounts with countdown clocks. Some websites (67 percent) also made the product seem scarce with low stock warnings or “exclusive” product offerings."
  • "Stores actively try to lead you from the path of budgetary restraint using a psychological trick known as the Gruen effect."
  • "Gruen noted that if you bamboozle shoppers with sensation -- colors, lights, textures -- when they enter a store, their mindset changes. Their carefully crafted shopping lists fall by the wayside and they shift from thinking of shopping as a means to an end (e.g. picking up a present for dad) to thinking of it as an experience to be savored. In the latter frame of mind, we end up leaving the store with way more items than we planned."
  • "Impulse purchases represent almost 40% of all the money spent on e-commerce"
  • "One company that is thinking about how to capitalize on impulse purchases in ecommerce is Teleflora. The online floral delivery company, which tends to rely on marketing tactics like search marketing, is experimenting more with paid social advertising to encourage more in-the-moment purchases via digital means"
  • "People are more likely to add on unplanned items once they’ve already committed to spending money on an item"
  • "52% of millennials were more likely to make an impulse purchase than any other generation"
  • "Knowledge that a certain person/group is already using the product, and perceived exclusivity can all lead to purchase"
  • "Limited time offers” tap into loss aversion principle, which implies that people buy now so they don’t feel like they’re missing out later"
  • "Marketing research studies estimate that 88 percent of impulse buys are affected by the perception of lower prices"