Why Is Impulse Buying Worse Online?

We all know what online shopping can do to us. We’re online, we scroll, we discover, and we swoop on bargains and beauties. Next thing we know, half our paycheck is gone. Why does it feel like impulse buying is worse online?

Because it is.

Shoppers making unplanned purchases suddenly (Rook, 1987) occurs more online.

Why do we throwaway our shopping lists? Suddenly, we’ve maxed out the credit card, and there are unplanned purchases all over the place. What’s behind it? Is it normal?

Most of the time this is due to impulse buying.

Impulse buying is when you purchase goods without thinking it through or asking yourself if you need them or can afford it.

Why We Love Buying Online

Shopping online makes us feel good about ourselves. There are no lines, no crowds, everything is delightful, and it’s easy to do.

But research shows that impulsive shopping can also make us unhappy — especially when we buy things we don’t really need.

While buying stuff might help us feel better in the short term, we often end up feeling worse.

But there is hope. We can change how we shop, drop the need for instant gratification, and keep the positive emotions

What Is an Impulse Purchase?

An impulse buy is any sale we make without thinking about it beforehand. We might impulsively purchase something because it’s on sale, or because it’s super cheap.

Or maybe we just want to try out a product. Whatever the reason, it’s important to know when our consumer buying behavior becomes compulsive buying behavior

The most obvious example of an impulse buy is buying things online without planning ahead. This happens a lot, especially during flash market sales. When retailers offer deep discounts, people feel compelled to buy immediately.

Another common form of impulsive shopping is purchasing items based on price alone. We often fall resort to this when we see something we want, but it costs too much. Then we overspend.

Finally, some people shop impulsively simply because they don’t have enough information to make a good decision. Will they fit? Does it match? Do I need it? Too bad, I’ll get it anyway.

Psychology of Impulse Buying

While impulse purchases may seem like they’re just a harmless splurge, there is actually a lot of psychology behind them. And as it turns out, impulse purchases can have a big impact on our physiology.

When we see something we want, our brain releases a dopamine chemical. Dopamine is often referred to as the “reward chemical” because it is associated with pleasurable experiences. This dopamine release causes us to feel that sense of desire when we see something we want.

As we continue to think about the object of our desire, the dopamine release becomes stronger and stronger. Eventually, this can lead to an impulse purchase. Once we’ve made the purchase, our brain gets another dopamine hit, reinforcing the behavior and making us more likely to do it again in the future.

So what does all of this have to do with physiology? Well, it turns out that impulse purchases can actually harm our health. Studies have shown that they can lead to increased stress and anxiety levels. And in some cases, they can even trigger a fight-or-flight response.

Increased susceptibility of impulse purchasing online

When it comes to shopping online, we are all susceptible to impulse purchases. Whether we’re buying something on a whim or because we think it’s a great deal, our physiology plays a role in our decision-making process.

Our brains are wired to respond to certain triggers that can lead to impulsive behavior. For example, the anticipation of a sale or the fear of missing out on a deal can cause us to make snap decisions that we may later regret.

Certain retailers are aware of these triggers and use them to their advantage. They may use countdown timers or limited-time offers to create a sense of urgency that compels us to buy now.

In fact, spending money on things we don’t need leads to feelings of guilt, stress, anxiety, frustration, and even depression.

The Ease of Online Purchases

Impulsive behavior is very common among online consumers.

According to one study, previous research suggested that impulsive purchases are 5% more likely online than offline (Nielsen, 2017)

Stores reduce friction in order to make impulse shopping easier

You see something you like, and before you know it, you’ve bought it – even though you didn’t really need it in the first place. It’s a tough thing to resist, but why does it happen?

Well, it turns out that stores are actually designed to make impulse buying easier. By reducing the amount of friction involved in buying something, they make it more likely that we’ll give in to our impulses.

For example, have you ever noticed how most stores have checkouts near the front? That’s because they want to make it as easy as possible for us to buy something. They know that if we have to walk all the way to the back of the store, we’re more likely to change our minds.

Similarly, many stores will put items they want us to buy on display near the front. This is because they know we’re more likely to see them and be tempted to buy them.

Online retailers have also made it easier to impulse buy

Regarding online retailers, stores always look for ways to reduce friction and make impulse shopping easier. After all, the easier it is to buy something, the more likely we will do it.

One of the ways that stores reduce friction is by offering free shipping. By eliminating the need to pay for shipping, stores make it much easier for us to buy something on a whim. And we all know how easy it is to impulse buy when we don’t have to worry about shipping costs.

Another way that stores reduce friction is by offering free returns. This means that if we’re unhappy with a purchase, we can simply return it without paying anything. This makes it much less risky for us to buy something since we know we can always return it if it’s not what we wanted.

Finally, stores also reduce friction by making it easy to pay. They offer a variety of payment options, so we can choose the one that’s best for us. And they often offer discounts or coupons if we pay with a certain method, which makes it even more enticing to buy something on the spot.

The Role of Buy Now, Pay Later Programs Making it Easier to Impulse Shop Online

Buy now, pay later programs like Afterpay and Zip Pay have made it easier than ever to impulse shop. And while it might feel good in the moment to get that new outfit or gadget without having to pay for it right away, you could end up paying a lot more in the long run.

Here’s why you should avoid buy now, pay later programs:

1. You could end up paying more for your purchase.

2. The interest rates on these programs can be high, so you could end up paying a lot more in the long run if you don’t pay off your balance quickly.

3. It’s easy to get sucked into a cycle of debt with these programs, which can be damaging to your financial health.

4. You may not be able to use your credit card or other forms of credit if you have a balance on a buy now, pay later program, which can limit your options in an emergency.

5. There’s also the potential for late fees and other penalties if you miss a payment, which can further damage your financial health.

Overall, buy now, pay later programs can be tempting, but they can also be dangerous. So next time you’re considering an impulse purchase, remember that stores are doing everything they can to make it easy for you to buy including offering Buy Now Pay Later programs.

How influencers can impact your impulse purchases

Influencers can have a big impact on your spending habits, especially if you’re susceptible to impulsive purchases. If you find yourself constantly being tempted by new products you see on social media, it’s important to be aware of these people’s influence on your spending patterns.

Of course, not all influencers are created equal. Some may be more subtle in their approach, while others are more overt. But either way, it’s important to be aware of how they might be affecting your spending habits.

A woman is in front of a microphone with headphones on, caught in mid-speech. The overlaid text reads Side hustles, how influencers make so much money. The read now button links to the article How Influencers Make Money.

Online shopping is easy, seductive, and gratifying. However, many people don’t realize just how damaging those impulsive purchases can be to their financial health.

If you want to avoid impulse purchases, here are some tips to help you control your impulses.

1) Know what you want

If you know exactly what you want, you’ll be able to better judge whether you really need something.

For example, if you see a pair of shoes online that looks great, but you don’t think you could ever wear them, chances are you won’t actually use them.

2) Be realistic

Don’t let yourself be swayed by advertising. You can easily fall into the trap of believing that a product is “perfect” for you even though it doesn’t fit your lifestyle. This is especially true when you see a picture of someone wearing the item you’ve been eyeing.

3) Make a plan

Before you head out to shop, think about your budget, your needs, and your wants. Then write down everything you need to remember. This way, you won’t miss important things, such as return policies, shipping costs, and sales tax rates.

4) Shop around

There are plenty of ways to compare prices across different retailers. One option is price comparison sites. These sites allow you to type in keywords related to the products you’re looking at to see the best deals available.

5) Know yourself

Learn to recognize your impulsive buying behavior, the external factors that trigger your recklessness, and your real purchase intentions.

6) Be brave

Lay out your credit card and debit card collections. Reduce your collection. Better yet, cut the collection down to just one single card. Don’t fall into credit card debt.

The Negative Financial Impacts of Impulse Purchases Online

Impulse buying behavior can lead people into financial difficulties. A recent study found that nearly half of Americans find themselves struggling with impulsive spending patterns.

Some of the other negative financial impacts that impulse shoppers can experience:

  • Spending more money than originally planned to.
  • Purchasing items that they don’t really need or want, leading to clutter and wasted space.
  • Buyer’s remorse, feeling regretful and disappointed with their purchase.
  • Increased financial stress and long-term debt.

Is It Possible To Stop Impulse Buying?

Most people don’t realize how much money they actually spend on impulse purchases. In fact, according to a recent study, Americans spent $8 billion on products we didn’t even know we wanted.

When we do something impulsively, we tend to put it out of our minds immediately afterward.

But there’s no reason to feel like you can’t do anything about it. You can take charge of your impulsive buying behavior and stop impulse buying.

Ways to Put a Stop to Online Impulse Shopping

Online shopping is convenient and fast but it can also lead to costly shopping mistakes. Here are a few things to consider before you log on.

1. Know your limits

Before you start shopping online, make sure you understand how much you can afford

2. Shop around

When you go online, compare prices across multiple retailers. Some stores offer discounts or promotions that others don’t. And some products are sold at different price points depending on whether you purchase them online or in person.

3. Stick to your budget

If you’re still struggling to figure out how much you can spend, you might need to revisit your budget and your motivation. Ask yourself why you want the product. Is there another one you could buy instead? Or could use the money for that item on something else.

Stop Impulse purchases by practicing money mindfulness

Money mindfulness is about being aware of money and how it affects you. If you are mindful, you can make better decisions about how you use money.

You know your tendency to overspend because you’re stressed out, bored, hungry, or feeling some other emotion. It’s possible to use money mindfulness to help you change your financial situation.

Imagine an app that could measure and integrate money, mindfulness, and spending data. That could help you visualize your buying habits, control your spending pattern, and manage your finances. Well, there is one. Visit Nav.it and change your life today.

Image of a puzzle in the shape of a human head. One central piece is colored as a hundred dollar bill. The text on the right side of the image reads Money Mindfulness Explained. The read now button links to What is Money Mindfulness.


In conclusion, if you find yourself shopping impulsively when you go online, here are another five super sharp ways to apply the brakes when you’re shopping.

  • First, avoid checking your email right before you shop.
  • Second, don’t buy anything unless you have the cash available.
  • Third, use your credit card only for necessary purchases.
  • Fourth, always read the fine print.
  • And fifth, (this one is from my grandmother) freeze your credit card in a block of ice at the end of every shopping stress.

When you suddenly need it again, the time it takes to thaw the ice will cool your frenzy and hopefully preserve your funds (for the next spree).

Learn more button links to Nav.it for employees page.
We’re here to help you break free from the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle and navigate your financial journey, one day at a time. Nav.it At Work gives you the tools to take control of your financial future.


Get it on Google Play button links to Nav.it At Work on the Google store on android.
Get it on Apple Store button links to Nav.it At Work on the Apple Store.

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

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