Planned vs. Impulse Purchase Behavior

Research Basics

Planned Versus Impulse Purchase Behavior

People make purchasing decisions for a variety of reasons. But, by and large, the behavior involved in any purchase usually falls under one of two different behavioural types – logical (planned) or impulse-driven. For marketers, it is important to understand which type of buyer behavior you should be targeting because the difference is substantial.

What is Impulse Purchase Behavior?

Intuitively, an impulse purchase is one that is not planned. More specifically, it is an immediate act to purchase a product or service and more often driven by an emotion or previously unrecognised desire. In other words, this is a purchasing decision that is based entirely on “want” and not on “need”. Depending on the product or service in question, impulse purchases can drive greater revenue with a lower cost in effort.

While we’ve all likely experienced an impulse purchase ourselves here’s a simple example: a consumer walks into a grocery store, sees a store display for chocolate chip cookies, and purchases them, despite the fact that the cookies are not included on the consumer’s pre-written shopping list. The cookies are very clearly an impulse buy, but everything else on the list is classified as a planned purchase.  

What is Planned Purchase Behavior?

Planned purchase behavior is more often exhibited by a consumer that carefully weighs the necessity of the item being purchased before buying it. Planned purchases are more common in super-premium product categories or repurchased products. Examples of the most common planned purchases include homes, cars, and electronics.

When a consumer spends a substantial amount of time researching something before they make the purchase, they are exhibiting planned purchase behavior. Researching for a planned purchase can include a variety of outlets. Consumers usually discuss their thoughts with trusted friends, family, and colleagues, search out reviews and ratings online and in magazines or visit multiple locations to compare options. Because these types of decisions usually involve a lot of money, the purchasing decision takes much longer to solidify and the consumer will seek out internal and external validation before making a decision. 

Internal and External Factors of Impulse Purchases

There are several internal and external factors that attribute to a consumer’s impulsive decision to buy something. The internal factors deal with the unique personal attributes of the consumer. Some of the different internal characteristics that can affect one’s impulsive buying behavior include, but are not limited to:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Mood
  • Income level
  • Culture

Influential external factors involve the physical environment in which the consumer is shopping. Stores that focus on strategic displays while presenting a clean, pleasant, and enjoyable atmosphere do much better at generating impulse buys than stores that don’t. If the shopper feels inconvenienced or frustrated by a poorly designed store, the opportunity for impulse purchases plummets. When a customer is uplifted emotionally, it makes a significant difference in how much they spend.

In-store promotional incentives can also act as stimuli for emotional shoppers. In-store advertising and seasonal promotional deals are highly successful in enticing impulse purchases. While the overall physical environment sets the right mood for an impulse purchase, enticing materials like posters, banners, stickers, and product displays drive the attraction which can ultimately result in an impulse purchase. 

How Marketing Attracts Impulse Buyers

Because impulse purchases are primarily based on emotion, advertisements can have a big impact on these buying decisions. Most often the commercials you see aired on television are produced in such a way as to create an emotional response and spur an impulse thought or purchase at the time you may be watching, or more likely to stay with you and re-emerge as your shopping. 

Impulse purchase behavior is built on a consumer's desires and aspirations. As a result, marketers should strive to evoke emotions relevant to those desires if they’re aiming for impulse buyers. Think of an outdoor gear or clothing brand commercial that evokes the desire for adventure and a sense of freedom or belonging in the world. The next time a consumer is shopping in-store or online, they may recall that brand's message and believe if they buy that brand, they will get that experience. Whether that’s true or not doesn’t matter, they’re purchasing it based on the promise. 

The more emotionally relevant a promotion is to a consumer, the more likely they are to retain the message and the more likely it will come back in the form of an impulse purchase. Why? Impulse purchases require less thought. So if you can establish a place in the consumer's mind, and they’re already aware of you, it makes it easier to choose your brand over an unknown brand during an impulse buy far more likely. 

Want More Impulsive Customers?

If you’re trying to attract more customers with impulse purchase behavior, then you need to understand your target customer not only demographically but behaviourally as well. What are they interested in? What do they care about? Where do they go? What do they do there? 

Ask the right questions.

If You Don´t Ask, You Won´t Grow

Look to market research as your greatest ally when it comes to increasing impulse purchases. There are two aspects of market research that can enrich the view of the consumer and their behavior, particularly during those impulse situations. Consumer insights is one aspect that’s ideal for drilling down to the emotional appeal your consumer may have towards your brand or product. If you can identify that, you can translate it into messaging, packaging, or branding to entice consumers.

Shopper insights is the other aspect that will allow you to assess the consumer environment. Understanding behaviors by channel, retailer, time of day, in-store placement and so on will help you optimize each experience.  Using those insights to create the right in-store or online shopping experience and to generate the right emotional appeal to translate across your brand and marketing will help drive impulse purchases. Market research makes it possible to identify the things you need to promote to make an impulse buy as easy as possible for consumers.


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