Impulse shopping is a family/social affair

Photo: RetailWire
Jun 30, 2021

Research has shown that individuals buy more on impulse when they’re with others who are influential in their lives. A new university study finds that the extent of that influence depends on who they go shopping with.

The new research from the University of Florida and the University of Tennessee found that:

  • The closer the relationship with a fellow shopper while shopping, the more likely it is they’ll spend money on something they didn’t mean to buy.
  • Parents and children carry more weight in driving impulse purchases with others while shopping than spouses, significant others and close friends.
  • Female shoppers are more likely to be influenced by their children and close friends.
  • Male shoppers are more likely to be affected by their parents and colleagues.

Zhifeng Gao, a professor of food and resource economics at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), said in a statement that for grocery stores and marketers, the findings should offer insights into how to advertise their products more effectively by engaging the types of people who are more likely to induce impulse purchases.

“They can also focus on strategies that encourage family shopping or shopping with close friends,” he said.

The link between impulse purchasing and shopping with others appears to have only been pursued over the last two decades, with most prior research exploring drivers at the individual level.

Research from the University of Texas from 2005 found the presence of peers while shopping increases the urge to purchase, although having family members along decreases it. Research from Penn State College from 2008 found the friendliness of the shopkeepers and the other consumers included in the social factor can influence the impulse to buy.

In recent years, much attention has been paid to how sharing on social media by friends or influencers encourages impulse buys.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Does it make sense that shopping alongside others can drive impulse buys? How can retailers or brands use this information to drive impulse purchases?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"I think it depends on the shopper’s predisposition."
"Rather than relying solely on personal factors to predict impulse buying, this research explores the interpersonal influences of shopping companions."
"Curious how this study seems to have missed an entire body of research in the marketing world about influencers, affinity and market baskets."

Join the Discussion!

15 Comments on "Impulse shopping is a family/social affair"

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Nikki Baird

I feel like this is deserves some kind of Captain Obvious award. I mean, I’ve seen tech startup pitches aimed at connecting consumers in stores to their friends online to get immediate feedback on whether they should purchase something, which is trying to recreate the totally in-person experience and inherently acknowledges the value of the experience. I guess it is interesting that no one has actually studied that?

Bob Phibbs

#CaptainObviousAward Nice.

Paula Rosenblum

Actually, it doesn’t make a ton a sense to me. Or maybe the better answer is “it depends.” In my case, friends and family would discourage my propensity for impulse buying. I suppose I could see situations where a husband might say to a wife “Oh, didn’t you want [X]?”

So I think it depends on the shopper’s predisposition.

Georganne Bender

There has never been a time when we did not recommend retailers host events and promotions that bring female shoppers together. Women shopping with friends encourage each other to buy. “You look great in that, you need to buy it!”

Impulse buying with children is another topic. We buy things we hadn’t planned to buy for kids because they’re kids. That’s why there are usually toys displayed at the checkout or on merchandise outposts nearby. Sometimes it’s easier to buy the toy than stop the “I want that!” whining. Been there, done that many times.

Liza Amlani

It makes sense that “social” shopping would drive impulse buys as the friends you are shopping with will encourage you to make purchases, especially in fashion, that are outside your comfort zone. Impulse shopping is all about feeling good.

Retailers can leverage social shopping by infusing experiences that encourage groups of shoppers to spend more time in-store. Trunk shows, champagne shopping, and having a stylist present the latest collection to customers and their friends are a few ways that retailers can encourage impulse shopping. It’s about the experience.

Neil Saunders

Yes, I am sure that shopping socially does drive purchases. However is this because of the presence of others or because people are in a different mindset when shopping together? I also find the idea that male shoppers are more likely to be influenced by their parents and colleagues a bit odd. Seriously, when was the last time most men went shopping with either their parents or colleagues?

Melissa Minkow

I think there’s also an element of encouragement to spend that wasn’t fully addressed in the research. When someone makes you feel better about spending money you maybe feel you don’t have, the purchase seems less daunting. To me, it does make sense that shopping alongside others drives impulse, it’s why QVC’s social aspect was so groundbreaking and is now being simulated via livestreaming.

There’s an additional opportunity here for more brands to tap into this science with loyalty programs. Treating loyalty programs more like telco family plans would be a smart way to foster the sense of community that could encourage upsells and repeat purchases.

DeAnn Campbell

We are social animals, influenced by the world around us on where we spend our time, attention and money, so it’s inevitable that when our trusted peers trigger an emotion it would prompt us to buy impulsively. This influence has been getting teenagers into trouble for centuries. What’s interesting to me is that impulse purchases have been severely curtailed by COVID-19 store closures. Retailers have not yet learned how to trigger impulse purchases with online shopping and are feeling the pinch from that lost revenue and are going to need reinstate impulse product merchandising in new ways into BOPIS and into their e-commerce experience.

John Orr

Sure it tends to make sense. Yet conversion and average transaction size increases as more associates with the right training are matched with traffic. Peer buying has an impact but physical coverage of traffic has a greater impact.

Gary Sankary

As a parent I can remember when going through a store with three young kids was an exercise in patience, requiring the careful application of the word “no” and lot of lessons about picking your fights. I would fall back on “OK I caved” as I tried to reconcile ad hoc purchases with the family’s Chief Procurement Officer.

And I can report being influenced by friends’ purchases when strolling through a Cabela’s. The original mission was one item; the final market basket, substantially more than one. Turns out a friend found some items that until the moment I was shown them, I didn’t know were essential for me to own. (That meant another conversation with the CPO.) But to say this is new news or ground breaking research — not so much. Affinity marketing has been a tactic in retail since the very beginning. Curious how this study seems to have missed an entire body of research in the marketing world about influencers, affinity and market baskets.

Rich Kizer

Anything that creates an impulse purchase is money from heaven. It’s a sale that is not expected but is created in a number of ways: obviously from friends, respected associates with a good purchase history of the customer’s business, product placed uniquely in a strike location or zone, and video or talking signs (quoting shoppers who have purchased the product.

Mohamed Amer, PhD

Rather than relying solely on personal factors to predict impulse buying, this research explores the interpersonal influences of shopping companions. The study investigates the interactions between personal and interpersonal influences and how the social distance of shopping companions influences decisions. It certainly makes sense to understand the role and type of companions that impact impulse decisions and the mediating factors. The results can inform better marketing decisions.

Ryan Mathews

Let’s see — will people in a social mood, sharing an event, spend more on impulse items that they point out to each other? DUH! Probably. As to what retailers or branders can do — how about creating more opportunities for social shopping?

Doug Garnett

A key challenge to impulse purchases is our internal critic. When we shop with people we trust, they can help us decide to buy things we need but hadn’t planned ahead of time. Or, they can be heavy influencers of our treating ourselves.

This makes absolute sense. Of course, it won’t be universal. There are individuals where shopping with family will decrease sales. But on average this report looks quite accurate.

It is an error that companies tend to focus on the idea of an analytical, single individual model for understanding shopping. Influence comes from many places.

Venky Ramesh

This is very interesting. Everyone has a tendency to impulse purchase, but I guess each person has their own reason to give in, e.g. pricing/promo/FOMO, attractive packaging, shelf placement, or simply because they are bored or hungry.

There are a few theories I can think of that support the research findings.

  1. I think in a group setting, where the group members have different impulse purchase triggers, there is a higher chance a product meets the group’s impulse purchase criteria;
  2. As a group, people are probably having more fun together- People who like to shop for fun are more likely to buy on impulse;
  3. There is a higher tendency to impress others;
  4. Distracted buyers are more likely to buy on impulse — those who shop with kids will know what I mean.

CPG brands and retailers should pursue this line of thinking to encourage shoppers to shop in a group — they can do that by creating experiences that cater to everyone in the group.

"I think it depends on the shopper’s predisposition."
"Rather than relying solely on personal factors to predict impulse buying, this research explores the interpersonal influences of shopping companions."
"Curious how this study seems to have missed an entire body of research in the marketing world about influencers, affinity and market baskets."

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