Impulse vs The Consumer

Impulsive buying is a subject that has not been thoroughly researched however after utilizing the resources available I have been able to draw conclusions regarding the impact that sales and marketing tactic have on consumers.

According to Herb Sorensen, consumers collectively spend twenty million seconds inside of a supermarket each week, which from a selling perspective means that every second is an opportunity to reel consumers in to make a purchase.

When looking specifically into the business of supermarkets, it has been revealed that there is an exact art and science behind the way they persuade consumers to buy products for their store. In fact there is even a name businesses use called “splurchases.”

Between the United States and the United Kingdom it has been estimate that shoppers are currently spending $35 billion dollars a year on impulse purchases which is around 50% of sales in a supermarket and 80% of the sale of luxury goods.

So with the information presented, why are consumers still subject to impulsive decisions? This has been an ongoing debate between retailers and psychologists for years. During this time a lot has been discovered that suggest the reason that shoppers develop this habit is due to at lease one of four reasons

  • A purchase for pleasure
  • Purchase due to seeing an advertisement
  • New product purchase
  • Panned impulse purchase


The reason I bring these four impulse decisions into play is because they play a major role in the way products are marketed. After thinking about these four situations it should be clear to visualize the specific ways that stores craft their advertising to accommodate each of these impulses.

In the past psychologist have viewed the act of impulsive buying as a negative action mainly due to fact that consumers in these situations lose their sense of control and preceded to buy whatever the impulse may be. However shoppers see the complete opposite. Speaking for the majority, impulse buying from the opinion of shoppers is not viewed as “wrong.” and it is uncommon for shoppers to feel any type of regret.

This information led me to wonder if consumers who buy on impulse are aware of the retailer’s tactics that are crafted to encourage this type of behavior. It is clear that retailer, who is often times described as “massive cathedrals of consumerism,” have become increasing sneakier than the original high street grocery store, think Wal-Mart. Upon entry to a store the main goal according the director of Digital Democracy, Jeff Chester, the sole purpose is as follows: “to supply consumers with their necessities and do everything possible to stimulate their desires.” He continues to go as far as referring to it as a marketing technological arms race.

Believe it or not everything we see, hear, taste, or touch is the outcome of extensive consumer research and planning. The sophistication of the modern way or marketing has become so advanced that it is sometimes even hard to know when a person has become a “victim” of a stores marketing tactic.

After taking in this information, I decided to take a look into the way the human brain works in order to see if the marketing tactics are actually proven successful. As unfortunate as brain injuries are, they have played a key role in discovering the knowledge that we now have regarding impulse. Research of the brain has that the left hemisphere of the brain, which controls the right side of the body is associated with positive emotions while the right hemisphere of the brain contrastingly controls the left hand and is associated with a rather negative sense of emotion. So taking this into consideration when making a purchase, if a person is right handed and reaches for something with their right hand it is more than likely due to impulse. Shoppers also tend to walk down aisles on the right side, which may derive from driving rules however retailers also take note of this same situation.

Retailers are very much aware of this information and use it to their advantage. Take airports for example, when headed toward the departure gate it is common to find food vendors on the right side while finding things like gift shops on the left.

In the big scheme of things, impulse purchases are definably not self-inflicted. After analyzing several studies it is clear that there is another party involved without knowledge of the consumer. However, this is just the way business works and something that consumers should be aware of, especially with Black Friday approaching.

Lewis, D. (2013). Impulse: Why we do what we do without knowing why we do it.

Kalla, S., & Arora, A. P. (January 01, 2011). Impulse Buying. Global Business Review,12, 1, 145-157.





2 thoughts on “Impulse vs The Consumer

  1. katelynzander says:

    I really enjoyed this topic. It correlates a lot with my final research paper. Your paper focuses on the environment that companies used to tap into our subconscious while mine focuses on how companies use music to help them profit. I enjoy hearing of these different marketing tactics that companies have perfectly over the year. I really enjoyed the part you found about gift shops and food vendors being on particular sides of the airport hallways. It seems like whatever would just go into whatever open space there is but instead it is much deeper than that. They are tapping into our subconscious by speaking to different sides of our brain which respond to different “goods” (impulse v.s needs)

    I found online that, up to 20% of the average household’s grocery bill comes from items that were purchased on impulse alone. Also feelings of anger, guilt, or boredom drive impulse buying behavior. I found these facts to be interesting because the impulse to buy is so emotion driven. I wonder if any studies have been done to see if a shopping trip filled with impulses is therapeutic. I seems like women tend to shopping when they are in an emotional therapy. I have heard the phrase “retail therapy” before and it makes me wonder since impulse buying is such an emotional act if it affects us positively or negatively. Nice job picking a topic that interested you out of this chapter. I can maybe integrate this idea of how stores set their stores up for impulse buying as a way of mental manipulation on consumers much like how they can use music.


  2. bsejdiu942 says:

    Hey Anna,

    I found your research to be an interesting read! I find it amazing that people go through such lengths of psychological tactics to make sure their product ends up in your home. On the one hand it is understandable from a marketing tactic, but on the other it almost seems devious. Should these people be allowed to take advantage of people in such a way? I found the part about the left-handed versus right handed to be interesting, as I am left-handed, would the research mean the same for those who are or do people generally grab products with their right hand? I’ve been trying to watch this when I go shopping now but I can never recall which hand is used.

    With all these statistics about consumerism and how much we spend on impulse buying, should be cut back on this and reduce our consumption? How would we go about doing this if these organizations are taking advantage of aspects of the human mind that are in our nature? Or are we forever trapped in this cycle of buying things. I wonder if you could extend this research towards how website design actually facilitates purchases and what the statistics are for online shopping in the US. From taking several design courses, I can say first hand that the layout of a page is key to keeping your viewers’ attention to click through and interact with the site. Overall I think this research would dive in deeply to the study of the brain, gestalt theory(figure-background), the way humans perceive the environment and how that leads to behavioral tendencies that modern day shopping centers are using against us like a fly on a spider’s web.



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