May 3, 2019

Acting on impulse is something you can influence

Paul Clapham looks at the ways you can boost your sales

Everybody makes impulse purchases from time to time. It’s part of human nature: ‘Ooh yes I fancy that and I fancy it right now’. Even the most buttoned-up of shoppers with a detailed list is not immune to making the occasional impulse purchase. For some people of course it’s a problem, close to an addiction like gambling.

Can you build impulse purchase into a marketing plan? It ought to be impossible. By definition impulse purchases are unplanned, so how can you aim to persuade a customer to buy what they had zero thought of buying. But you can. And there are lots of brands for which impulse purchase is central to their marketing.

That could well apply to you. British shoppers make £21.7 billion worth of impulse purchases per annum. That equates to an average of £416 per adult. 62 per cent of consumers have items they wanted but admit they didn’t need and 71 per cent have items at home that are unused and which they are considering throwing away.

Probably the classic impulse purchase marketing strategy is Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum. The product is available in just about every retail outlet and it sells consistently well. I would guess (Wrigley’s wouldn’t tell me, so I bet I’m right) that only a tiny percentage of customers go into a shop with Wrigley’s on their physical or mental shopping list.

The key to Wrigley’s success is product location right next to the till in a dispenser small enough not to discourage retailers from sitting it there, but generating good profits year round (a big advertising budget has done no harm either).

Let’s just define an impulse purchase: when a customer buys something they hadn’t planned to get. It’s subtly different from seeing milk and realising you forgot to put it on your list.

There are three key tactics for driving impulse purchases and you need two or three of them to get a result. First the product should be interesting, instantly understandable and something customers can see as a virtuous choice. Next create an air of urgency – only ‘five days left’, ‘when they’re gone they’re gone’. (Personally I dislike this tactic, but it does work).

Third run a promotional offer of some sort – free, win or save help close a sale and free is the strongest, while win is weakest but all three techniques increase the perceived overall value of the purchase. Putting the product in a dump bin gives the impression that it is ‘on offer’ but it need not be.

Avoid the barriers to impulse buying. First customers have to be able to see the product, then they need to be able to pick it up. Once it’s in the customer’s hands you’re nine parts home. If you have highlighted a product as an impulse purchase it should be carefully merchandised and most definitely not on the bottom shelf.

To quote Brian Ferry, I’m in with the in crowd. Tell customers which new product or old favourite is flying off the shelves. It will drive yet more sales because people like having products that other customers like. It’s logical, too: we use the same shop, we probably like the same products. OK some people always want to be different but the herd instinct is much stronger.

Effective display is critical to increasing impulse purchase. Big supermarket chains spend a lot of money getting display right. You don’t have their megabucks budgets, but, happily, you don’t need them. Small impactful changes typically produce better results than big bold and bloody.

One trick the supermarkets use is to slow their customers down by making floor tiles narrower in premium priced aisles – it makes people feel they are rushing so they slow up and spend more time looking at high end products One impulse prompt that is definitely underused, by multiples and independents alike is paired products: eggs and bacon, cheese and onions, tea and biscuits etc etc. This works in the booze aisle of supermarkets with gin and tonic.

By the way, the official name for this technique is transaction marketing.

Impulse purchase is to a large degree dependent on our fear of missing out: there it is, product x, better still at an attractive price, we like x and so does the whole family let’s pile in and get some, right now. If we don’t it will all be gone and my husband/wife/lover won’t talk to me for a week.

Incidentally, all of this thinking goes into overdrive at certain times of the year, Christmas being the classic but by no means unique example. Anything related to holiday times when ‘desirable’ becomes ‘essential’ will bring on impulsive buying traits. Please note that the marketing techniques which succeed at Christmas often fail at other times when the pressure is rather less.


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