Americans are shopping more impulsively online

Discussion
Photo: @mermaidmermaid via Twenty20
May 13, 2020
George Anderson

People confined to their homes during a time of pandemic react in many different ways. Recently released research shows that many people who stay at home for extended periods of time increase the amount of money they spend on impulse purchases online.

A poll conducted in January by OnePoll for Slickdeals, a crowdsourced shopping platform, found that the 2,000 Americans it surveyed spent an average of $155.03 on impulse purchases. In a new poll taken last month, the average spent on impulse purchases rose to $182.98, an 18 percent gain.

For 72 percent of those surveyed, impulse purchases are a form of retail therapy that helps lift their moods at a time when many are concerned about what the future holds for themselves and those they love.

While it’s common to think of impulse purchasing as adding a sweet treat to a shopping cart at a store’s checkout or buying clothing or shoes for a future unknown event, many are spending extra money on everyday items that have been in short supply since the novel coronavirus outbreak began in the U.S., according to the research.

Cleaning supplies are the number one category of goods being purchased on impulse (42 percent), according to the survey. Hand sanitizer (38 percent), toilet paper (35 percent), hand soap (32 percent), canned food (31 percent) and dish detergent (30 percent) follow.

Treats are not completely off the table, however, with 21 percent buying items that they’ve been thinking about purchasing for a while and have put off until now. Twenty-two percent report having bought clothing, 18 percent have spent money on home improvement and 17 percent having impulsively purchased a new video game console.

Buying impulsively does not mean that consumers are spending indiscriminately. Fifty-two percent of those surveyed said that they take advantage of special deals when making impulse purchases.

“While someone may not plan to buy laundry detergent or groceries on a given day, stocking up on these everyday items when there’s a great deal available can help your budget,” said Slickdeals CEO Josh Meyers in a statement.As such, impulse spending can be associated with saving money in the long-run as opposed to being wasteful.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Have you seen in your professional and/or personal life evidence that impulse buying is on the rise since the coronavirus outbreak began? Do you expect that the type of impulse buying described in the article will increase, level off or decrease as restrictions are lifted?

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Braintrust
"Buying supplies for our household makes us feel better because there is at least SOMETHING we can do in a world upended. "
"So where else would a housebound, consumeristic society turn to try and fill that hole but to online retail?"
"Pandemic-related shopping patterns are giving retailers a great deal of new data to parse."

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17 Comments on "Americans are shopping more impulsively online"


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Ben Ball
BrainTrust

Professionally, I have no evidence. In my personal life — oh H*LL yeah! Seriously, how can anyone sit in front of a screen all day where temptation is just a mouse click away and not go astray once in a while — every day. And this issue is far from gender specific. While it’s true my spouse now has more walking shoes than places to walk, it is also true that my stock of sporting goods and wooodworking supplies has grown substantially.

One word about the items mentioned in George’s article though — there is a subtle difference between impulse buying and buying impulsively. Grabbing toilet paper and hand sanitizer when available seems to me more the latter. There is already a perceived unmet need there (“I don’t think I have enough toilet paper.”) Which is a different purchase than “that’s a really cool shirt” — BUY NOW button!

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

I agree with you Ben – it is way too easy now and sometimes I have to curb my desire to buy online as a lot of retailers are having deals too good to pass up. And yes I agree on the toilet paper and sanitizer thing but since stock is low to empty on those items online mostly, that is not a big issue right now.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

A lot of this is down to the fact that physical shops have been closed. Some of the impulse purchasing that would have happened there has been transferred online. As stores reopen and people resume shopping (whenever that might be) online impulse buying will drop back a bit. On a psychological level, a lot of our surveys have found people buying little treats online to make themselves feel better. They get a good feeling when they order and also when the product arrives. However, I do wonder what return rates will look like when we emerge from this crisis!

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

This reminds me of the home shopping excess purchasing of woo-woos that TV shows like to lampoon. Except now it’s wider spread, and instead of buying ceramic cat statues we’re buying household goods. That make sense because we are afraid those necessities will run out.

But buying something you want, instead of something you need, online doesn’t have the instant gratification you get shopping in a physical store – nothing can beat that. You feel good when you tap send and then you have to wait for the item to show up, during a pandemic that could be weeks. That’s not as much fun.

I think people will flock to stores once the mandate to stay home is lifted. We are all going a little stir crazy confined to our homes, the requisite 400 daily Zoom meetings don’t help. I have not personally succumbed to impulse shopping yet, but if people need a little retail release and can afford it, I say go for it.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

In talking with my contacts in the food industry, I believe impulse purchases are going to stay strong as long as we are remaining in the home. “It just makes them feel good to go after those non-essentials, and online makes it very quick and easy,” they say. I would guess that when we all get out and wander the aisles of our favorite grocer once again, and seem to have more time to lift and look at impulse items, impulse shopping may slow.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

As more people are at home for longer periods during the pandemic, it is no surprise that online shopping is on fire. As more people return to work (those who will not work from home forever), online shopping will dip a bit — however the long-term effect will be a much stronger propensity toward online than was seen in pre-pandemic trends.

Michael La Kier
BrainTrust

With so much out of our hands, it’s quite reasonable to feel confused, bothered, frustrated, and for many depressed. Behavioral science tells us that when people lack overall control, they often seek to find something smaller they CAN control. Buying supplies for our household makes us feel better because there is at least SOMETHING we can do in a world upended. Impulse buying of this type will likely continue for some time until restrictions are fully lifted (if ever).

Meaghan Brophy
BrainTrust

Personally, my impulse buying has absolutely increased over the past weeks. When placing grocery orders for pick-up, I’m sneaking in sweet treats and snacks that I normally don’t purchase, as well as a few extra cleaning supplies.

I’ve also splurged on some items that, while they aren’t essential, make staying at home more comfortable, like a new set of pajamas and a few houseplants. However I’ve made most of these purchases through small businesses and independent sellers.

I think online impulse spending will remain at heightened levels while we’re stuck at home. Once restrictions are lifted, that impulse spending will shift to in-person spending at restaurants and shops.

Michael Terpkosh
BrainTrust

I question the definition of “impulse purchasing.” If a consumer can’t get an item somewhere, or it is in limited supply, then the online purchase is not necessarily an impulse so much as it is taking advantage of the opportunity to stay in-stock at home. As other RetailWire members have stated, if you can’t get an item or a service because businesses are closed, you don’t have another choice but to buy online. For my family, we have made some true impulse purchases online, but we are also buying products that in the past we have not needed but now need. For example, dog clippers. We have two dogs in need of their summer cut and all the local grooming shops are closed. Wish me luck, I will be the canine barber this weekend.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust
I am a bit confused by the definitions. “Cleaning supplies are the number one category of goods being purchased on impulse (42 percent), according to the survey. Hand sanitizer (38 percent), toilet paper (35 percent), hand soap (32 percent), canned food (31 percent) and dish detergent (30 percent) follow.” How are any of these “impulse buying”? Maybe we shop differently here. We get low on hand sanitizer, we go to Amazon and put it in the cart. We need certain canned food, we go to Fresh Direct or Whole Foods and put it in the cart. I don’t call that “impulse buying.” Even snacks. I like cookies and I like Haagen-Dazs ice cream. When we are low, we put them in the cart. That isn’t “impulse buying.” I asked my wife, who is the real online shopper and who often does do impulse buying online. She said she has actually stopped surfing the shopping websites as buying a new shirt, skirt, or athletic shoes just doesn’t feel very important anymore. She has not bought one… Read more »
Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Good points, Gene. I don’t consider anything I buy from a grocer to be an impulse purchase. I am an impulse shopper when it comes to clothing and home decor, but like your wife, I have stopped looking because those things just aren’t as important right now.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

I have to agree, Gene. What exactly is an online impulse buy when stores are closed and I can’t go to one to buy non-essential goods anyway? I can’t point to nay professional data, but my anecdotal personal data is that our household credit card bills have NEVER been as low as they are during this pandemic. Our level of spending has dramatically gone down, despite being one click away from buying anything online. Not saying that’s a scientific proof point, but what exactly does that say about impulse buying?

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

I found little data supporting or denying this phenomenon other than this study. The pandemic introduces risks to purchase in the store and the nature of online still allows buying impulsively. Without a doubt, those who can afford it will probably indulge some of the time. The inherent obstacles of getting in your car, driving to a store, parking and engaging in the store environment with the products in front of you as a form of retail therapy are just not there online – and effectively, product recommendations are replacing the retail therapy (at least temporarily) that customers acquired from their store impulse buying experience. Personally, I believe this is definitely a way to at least pretend that we’ve gone on a shopping trip.

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

The new impulse in my shopping habits — shopping predominately for groceries — has relieved me from spending time in-store to price compare. Grab and go. Layering grab and go upon twice-monthly shopping trips and bam … $500 plus in the shopping cart. Personally, things are leveling off for me after my earlier efforts to keep my family well-stocked for all possible events. Now I focus on finding my new cachet of disinfecting wipes which is impossible at this point in time.

Kathy Kimple
BrainTrust

Pandemic-related shopping patterns are giving retailers a great deal of new data to parse. What they learn about impulse buying and other trends should inform their marketing through the holiday season.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Impulse buying of — hand sanitizer. I’m not sure whether to be appalled, thrilled or just amazed.

Anyway, with people spending more time online, it would hardly be surprising if online impulse buying is rising. OTOH, people are sequestered, so there’s less in-person impulse buying (everything from the checkout-line “National Enquirer” to a second beer after work). Add it all up and I would expect it to be a wash … actually, make that a slight decline: many are out-of-work and saving their pennies (I hope!).

Shikha Jain
BrainTrust
Americans are presently deprived of many of the things that bring them fulfillment and a sense of purpose: gathering together, participating in events, even the ability to run normal errands and feel like an active, productive member of society. So where else would a housebound, consumeristic society turn to try and fill that hole but to online retail? On one hand, people have more time on their hands to invest in hobbies or projects they’ve been putting off, try new products, or just browse their favorite sites. On the other hand, impulse buying “useful” household items is even more justifiable — people feel good about themselves for snagging that discount and thinking ahead. Online shopping is one of the few things that can hold consumers’ attention right now, but that will soon change as restrictions are gradually lifted, particularly with the warm summer months ahead. They won’t feel the same need for those items they were purchasing for. Their time and energy will slowly shift back to the more fulfilling activities of normal life, and… Read more »
wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Buying supplies for our household makes us feel better because there is at least SOMETHING we can do in a world upended. "
"So where else would a housebound, consumeristic society turn to try and fill that hole but to online retail?"
"Pandemic-related shopping patterns are giving retailers a great deal of new data to parse."

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