As Retailing Has Changed So Has the Impulse Buyer

Checkout Lane Impulse BuyingOne of the most curious behaviors exhibited by consumers is their propensity to make unsought or impulse purchases. Just walk into any convenience store and you are bound to see someone making a purchase they had not thought about making when they first entered. Appealing to the unplanned purchaser is a key marketing strategy for many companies, such as those selling fast foods, snacks and soft drinks. Firms in these industries, and many others, make every effort to have their products noticed while a shopper is still in the store. For instance, while standing in the checkout line at a grocery store, consumers are surrounded by racks containing candy bars, magazines and money cards, as well as small refrigerators containing soft drinks. In convenience stores, there is barely space on countertops as these are well stocked with takeout food.

However, to successfully appeal to impulse purchasers, a marketer must make sure the consumer is slowed down. Customers who breeze through a store may not be exposed long enough for unplanned buying to set in. The result is that sped up customers are leading to a slowdown in impulse purchasing. The reason, according to this story from the Washington Post, can be traced to such retailing trends as self-checkout lanes, curbside pickup and online purchasing. Additionally, the story examines how the reduction in impulse buying is negatively affecting candy giant Hershey. The company is now responding by planning new ways of stimulating consumer unplanned buying. Their efforts will focus on the use of new technologies and, more importantly, new locations for placing their products. The options being tested include adding kiosks or menu boards in curbside pickup areas, adding vending machines in unusual locations (e.g., next to gasoline pumps) and placing new candy dispensers at self-checkout spots.

Curiously, much of the slowdown in impulse purchasing is happening because of changes made by retailers despite the fact that such purchasing can be quite profitable. For instance, as noted in the story, while products sold around a checkout area represent just 1% of a supermarket’s sales, these products represent 4% of total profit. So it would seem retailers may be very open to new new ways to spur unplanned purchasing.

Image by Harmons Grocery