Why You Buy on Impulse

When Florida resident Amy Barr went to high-end furniture store Norfolk (now known as Luxe) just to browse, she unexpectedly spotted a pair of beautiful black end tables that she couldn’t resist. 

“I fell in love with [them] and ended up purchasing all the other furniture around those nesting tables,” Barr tells MainStreet. She ultimately spent $20,000 at the store, despite the fact that she knew the purchase was somewhat impractical.

“We have two boys, a dog and five cats,” Barr says. “The furniture was ruined before it was paid off,” she adds.

Things got more complicated when she totaled her car a week later in an accident that, on top of her new furniture payments, left her with a monthly car payment and a big “I-told-you-so” from her husband.

We may be inclined to classify a purchase as an impulse buy the second it is proven to be frivolous, but what exactly should be considered one?

“By definition, impulse buying is any purchase made without any preconceived plans,” Michael McCall, professor and chair of Ithaca College’s Department of Marketing and Law, explains. This means that an impulse buy can include buying a pack of gum while in line at grocery store or purchasing a Rolls Royce while out window shopping. 

To capitalize on consumers’ general unpredictability, stores are always looking for ways to get you to make additional or more expensive purchases. Interestingly, the tactics differ dramatically depending on the price of the item. Retailers typically get consumers to pick up small items by overloading their check-out areas and carefully organizing in-store displays.

“They create an environment where we are driving on autopilot,” McCall says, citing the fact that McDonald’s often asks customers to donate to charity while they are waiting for their food. “It’s convenient and it seems like a good idea at the time.”  

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