What Motivates Impulse Shopping?

What’s behind our impulse shopping? Is it convenience or price? Or the desire for something new? What’s the motivation? Whatever the reason, if you’re an impulse buyer, you’re not alone.

In today’s busy lives, shopping is a way of life. The average American spends $1,200 per year on non-essential items, according to a study from the National Retail Federation.

And the number of shoppers who shop impulsively is growing rapidly.

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What Drives Impulse Purchases?

Impulse buying is defined as making unplanned purchases without thinking. While many people think of impulse buying as something negative, there are actually some good reasons why you might make a quick purchase. These include:

  • Not wanting to miss a sale
  • Not wanting to miss the last available item
  • The opportunity to purchase in bulk
  • Not wanting to miss a bargain
  • You know you can’t get the item anywhere else but where you are.

What Exactly Is an Impulse Buy?

Impulse buys are defined as purchases that people make without thinking about them. They are impulsive because they are bought on a whim or during times of stress.

Although we may be hazy about why we bought something, we are always very definite about the fact that we must buy it. The most popular impulse purchases are:

  • Clothing and shoes
  • Food
  • Makeup and beauty products
  • Take out
  • Gadgets and devices
  • Software and apps

Who Makes Impulse Purchases?

We buy something because we want it, but we may not necessarily need it. And while men are generally thought to be more impulsive than women, research suggests that women actually make far more impulse buys than men.

Women are also more likely to make impulse buys when they feel glum, stressed, or depressed. Women tend to be more likely to refer to impulse buying as “retail therapy,” as purchases generate positive emotions (and therefore positive experiences) as they shop.

Impulse Buying: Key Triggers

Impulsivity is a trait characterized by acting without thinking first. This behavior is often linked to poor decision-making and risky behaviors.

It’s all about how we feel

Consumers who make repeated unplanned purchases tend to make decisions based on emotion rather than rational thought. We tend to believe that we shouldn’t buy something unless we truly desire it. If we truly desire it, then we must have it.

We impulsive buyers also tend to feel guilty afterward.

It’s all about what we think

While we are focusing on our “mistake” (rather than on our impulse buying tendencies), our positive emotions become negative ones. We chastise ourselves for our impulse-buying behaviors and think of ourselves as reckless and misleading.

It’s all about who we know

When we admire someone, we also admire their work. There’s nothing like seeing one of our local heroes wearing a cool new hipster belt (in a cool new way) to trigger our impulse-buying urges.

The Reasons Behind Impulse Buying

People who buy things impulsively often do so because they feel like they don’t have enough money to wait and get them later.

A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research suggests that when you’re feeling financially strapped, it’s harder to resist purchasing goods and services.

In fact, researchers found that people who bought something impulsively tended to spend more than those who planned purchases ahead of time.


Stress, fatigue, and anxiety are more psychological factors lurking behind our last spontaneous purchase. The positive feelings generated by brand-new ownership of a coveted item really are balm for the senses.


A person’s mood state seems to play a role in how much self-control he or she possesses.

People who are prone to rapid positive or negative emotions or who are quickly stressed or depressed typically report having less self-control than individuals who are slower to reach peak feelings.

Shoppers who respond quickly to external factors, such as gorgeous shopping displays or clever advertising, typically display more impulse buying behaviors.

Past experiences

Our brains make connections between objects based on how often we’ve seen them together. This suggests that the sources of impulse buying are also embedded in the environment we shop in.

Why We Make Impulse Purchases and What It Means for Stores

Impulse buying is associated with both online impulse purchases and shopping malls, but it actually happens everywhere.

Research has shown that we are more likely to exhibit impulse buying behaviors when things are displayed prominently in front of us.

In addition to being visually prominent, items that are physically accessible are also easier to purchase.

For example, if you’re looking at a pair of shoes online, you can view the product, but you won’t be able to interact with it.

This is why brick-and-mortar retailers focus on creating an experience where shoppers can easily see and touch the products they want to buy.

Street stores are also more likely to create an atmosphere that is conducive to impulse purchases.

How Stores Encourage Impulse Shopping

Believe it or not, a good retail store will be constantly coming up with new ideas to encourage impulse shopping. and you’re the target. Do any of these scenarios sound familiar to you?

A purchase path along which you, the customer, are willingly led: even online stores have purchase paths, all of them ending up with a nice, bright, easy-to-find “Buy Now” button somewhere on every product page. When we see one, we love to obey.

A beautiful display where all the products complement each other: this means that “women’s sports shoes” might be combined with “women’s sports clothing” and of course with “women’s sports accessories.” How can we just walk by?

The devastating discount section is set up so that ignoring the items on display would be a serious mistake.

All of these elements work together to give us a map of exactly how to navigate a store and ultimately make a purchase. or five purchases. Just saying.

How to Stop Impulse Shopping

Impulse buying happens when we make purchases without thinking about whether we really need them. If you want to control your impulsive spending, here are some ideas to help :

1. Make a budget

Before you start shopping, figure out what you can afford. You might think you’re saving money by buying cheap stuff, but over time, those items could cost you more than you thought.

Write down everything you plan to purchase and add up how much you can actually afford to spend.

2. Shop online to avoid impulse shopping

If you’re looking for deals online, use sites like Groupon and LivingSocial. These sites offer great discounts on products and services, making it easier to save money. You can even find coupons for free shipping.

3. Ask friends for suggestions

When you’re feeling bored or stressed, ask your friends for suggestions on where to go shopping. Most people love to give advice, especially when it involves finding good deals.

4. Invest in an app

Imagine if there was an app for your phone that helped you see your money, your spending mindset, and your financial needs—in other words, money mindfulness.

Well, there is. Take a look at the Nav.it app and change your financial well-being for the better.

Wrapping Up on Your Impulse Shopping

Impulse buying is one of the most common reasons why we end up spending too much money and accumulating too much stuff. If we want to avoid this problem, it’s important we recognize our triggers.

While everyone experiences impulsive buying differently, there are certain things you can do to recognize those impulses and help prevent overspending.

Related Reads:

Overcoming Bad Spending Habits

How to Save More Money

How Habits are Formed

9 Bad Money Habits and How to Break Them

Control Your Spending

Why is Impulse Shopping Worse Online

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