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How Is Inflation Affecting Impulse Buys?

Ipsos report looks at purchase behavior and retail opportunities
Emily Crowe, Progressive Grocer
Fewer Promotions Help Increase Food Retail Bills
Higher grocery prices due to inflation are causing some shoppers to rethink impulse buys.

Inflation is having an overarching effect on consumer behavior, and a new report from market research company Ipsos is taking a look at today’s shopper sentiment toward impulse buying. While Ipsos found that more than half of U.S. consumers say they’re making fewer impulse purchases in-store due to higher prices, about one-third says they’ve made an impulse purchase within the past week.

According to the latest numbers from Numerator, grocery prices are continuing to rise and set new records. After leveling off in early July, prices again climbed at the end of the month, up 15.4% from the previous year for the four-week period ending July 31. Inflation rates for snacks and beverages have more than doubled since the start of 2022, but Numerator also found that overall spending increased in July, up 26% over the previous year, driven primarily by higher spending per trip. 

The direct correlation between rising grocery prices and fewer impulsive purchases is not surprising, but according to Ipsos, understanding the psychology behind impulse buying is important to stimulating the behavior both online and at brick-and-mortar stores.

“Impulse purchases are made spontaneously; this is something that happens in the moment and is always unplanned — which, in part, contributes to the gap we see between actual impulse buying behaviors and claimed impulse buying behaviors,” said Jesse Itzkowitz, chief behavior scientist at Ipsos, which is headquartered in Paris. “Whether it’s the purchase made or the behavior to consume, it all has the feeling of it happening in the moment.”

Itzkowitz also explains that impulse purchasing is immediately gratifying and evenly driven by emotion and function. Some 47% of Gen Z members said their last online impulse purchase was made as a way to treat themselves, making them more emotionally driven than other generations across all channels.

[Read more: "Sampling Effective in Influencing Gen Z Purchases"]

The Ipsos report explains that more than half of in-store impulse purchases are made where the item is normally found, and the same thinking carries over to online shopping. “Creating these natural, intuitive, and organic moments without disrupting the expected or typical shopper journey will help stimulate food and beverage impulse buying,” the report found.

Additionally, the two top drivers of impulse buying are being priced too good to pass up and meeting the desire for the consumer to treat themselves. The report urges retailers to price items in a way that the reward felt isn’t diminished, while also positioning the reward where the price is an added benefit stimulating the purchase.

“This blended approach will help consumers through the natural tension they may experience between the negative perceptions of impulse buying where they may feel a sense of lower self-control and the positive perceptions of impulse buying where they have done something good for themselves,” the report stated.

A few other tips from Ipsos include:

  • Strive to satisfy both functional and emotional needs. Give shop­pers permission to treat them­selves and lean into categories that naturally provide both.
  • Imbed cues that fit intuitively in the shopper journey — and don’t disrupt the journey. For instance, candy is often purchased in-store at checkout; in an online shopping journey, prompt for a candy purchase at checkout as well.
  • Personalized, micro-targeted messaging works to spur impulse purchasing.
  • Provide stimulus that simulates consumption, appealing to the senses in ways that are up-close and personal.
  • In digital environments, optimize the experience for touchscreens where impulse purchasing is likely to occur.
  • Take advantage of in-the-moment advertising to engage Gen Z in impulse purchasing, especially online and in restaurants.
  • Measure the efficacy of your efforts through geo-location intercepts, meeting people in the moment to better understand what was purchased versus what was planned in your stores.
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