How To Sell To Impulse Buyers

How To Sell To Impulse Buyers

Raise your hand if you’ve ever made an impulse purchase.

I can relate (and the stack of random junk in my room can attest to that). If we’re not alone in this behavior, then clearly there’s a market of impulse buyers. In fact, UIE found impulse purchases represent almost 40% of all the money spent on e-commerce.

The question is, how do you make it easier for them to make an impulse buy?

What Type of Person Makes Impulse Purchases?

Drunk people.

Just kidding (sort of – someone actually developed an app to text you purchase ideas when you’re intoxicated). There are a cluster of traits (according to the Big Five) that correlate with impulse purchasing.

Bryan Eisenberg has also developed Buyer Modalities to offer an explanation of different buying behaviors based on personalities. Impulse buyers, here, are known as “spontaneous”:

They make decisions fast and they use their emotions to do so.

This is a deliberately simple framework to help you develop a diversified strategy for your customer profiles, but know that these categories are fluid. Everyone uses both logic and emotions to make decisions (and it’s not totally understood in what proportions). In addition, one’s purchasing behavior could swing into any of these quadrants depending on the day.

Jeremy Smith listed the common traits of “spontaneous buyers” as the following:

  • They are driven by emotion.
  • They will take risks.
  • They are gregarious, upbeat and positive.
  • They are competitive.
  • They defy logic.
  • They respond visually.
  • They insist on instant gratification.

Ian Zimmerman Ph.D., who feels that impulse buying is a bad thing (though I’d disagree and raise my Spoonk acupressure mat as counter-evidence), says some people possess a personality trait known as “an impulse buying tendency.”

According to him, this impulse buying trait is not entirely innocent, because along with this trait:

  • Impulse buyers are more social, status-conscious, and image-concerned. They may buy to make others think they are awesome.
  • Impulse buyers tend to experience more anxiety and difficulty controlling their emotions.
  • Impulse buyers tend to experience less happiness, which Zimmerman theorizes is partly what leads them to buy – as a method to improve their mood.
  • Impulse buyers are less likely to consider the consequences of their spending.

Did you notice there are a lot of broad generalities about impulse buyers, yet not all of the broad generalities are aligned? That’s because there is no such person that embodies perfectly an “impulse buyer,” yet for frameworks to be valuable and understandable, they need to attempt to homogenize the inputs.

So perhaps the information out there on WHOM makes impulse purchases is misaligned – or at least incomplete. The models out there don’t fully explain nor predict impulse buyers. Which is fine.

The best option for you, as you’ll see, is to assume a portion of your customers will be more impulsive than others, and then make the experience conducive to both approaches. All we know is that impulse buyers convert faster than more methodical buyers:

How To Facilitate Impulse Buying

Websites that are usable, persuasive, useful, etc. are good for everyone – impulse buyers or neurotic product researchers and everyone in between. If you make it easy for an impulse buyer to purchase, you likely make it easier for someone who deliberates longer to purchase as well (and impulse buyers tend to post-purchase rationalize anyway).

But what makes a site conducive to impulse buyers?

According to our research, the website qualities that most influence online impulse purchases are (in descending importance):

  • Ease of use
  • Usefulness
  • Entertainment

Ease of Use

Ease of use is the leading influence of impulse buying decisions. Defined as “an intuitive understanding of how a website works and flows,” you can see why that would be a good thing for every persona you serve. An easy to use website requires minimal cognitive effort.

Ease of use is also something that isn’t usually noticed (by you or your customers). If it works, it works. The problem comes, then, when something is broken or hard to use.

There’s the vast field of usability you can dive into to improve your site (and there are always ways to improve), but start with a few of these suggestions:

  • Perform user tests. Ask your subjects to perform a broad task (find a pair of pants you like) and a specific one (find a pair of straight leg dark-washed blue jeans size 33×32). Have them go through the checkout, and look for patterns in how people use the site. Are there bottlenecks? Where? What frustrates them?
  • Improve your internal site search. Here’s an article on how to do that.
  • Use triggered surveys to find issues on certain pages. What information are people looking for that they can’t find? What fears and doubts do they have about the product? Here’s an article to get you primed on on-site surveys.

At the very least, your site should load quickly and should not be broken on any browsers or devices. These are low hanging fruits that can make the experience better for all buyers.

Anyway, for an example of a site that is easy-to-use, of course I have to bring out the king:

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First, their recommendation engine always knows what business and philosophy books I’d be interested in, so it’s easy to find new stuff:

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But even if I were looking for something specific, the site’s search works impeccably and they have everything on Amazon.

Once I find the right Nietzsche paperback, I can buy with only one click (plus, with Prime, that thing is gonna be at my apartment in 2 days for free):

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Another note: you can measure usability on a more micro-level than end-goal conversions. Here’s an article on measuring usability and satisfaction.

Conversion Sciences also recommends reducing perceptions of risk to increase impulse buying behavior. You can do that in many ways, the point is to make your site more credible and trustworthy. They recommend:

  • Money-back guarantees
  • Warranties
  • Trust symbols, such as the BBB logo
  • Ratings and reviews
  • Free shipping offers
  • Low-price guarantees

UIE found, too, that most impulse purchases are made via category links (as opposed to search). Site navigation and design, according to the research, was as important if not more important than pricing. How do you get customers to focus on category links? Here’s what they recommend:

“First you need to design category links that meet user expectations…You can look at your search logs, for example, to learn the descriptive words that your customers use, then incorporate these words into your category names.”

Don’t Forget Mobile Usability

Mobile conversions still lag behind desktop, but that’s probably because we neglect the mobile experience (and assume responsiveness equals optimized).

And mobile is the perfect domain to optimize for impulse. According to eConsultancy, almost 1/5th of consumers believe their mobile devices increase their impulse purchases.

There’s been much written on mobile optimization, but point is, don’t neglect it. In fact, test mobile and desktop separately and create experiences conducive to the environments in which they occur.


Usefulness is the second strongest influencer. A useful website provides tailored communication (like live chat), speedy response time, and effective, relevant information.

There’s no ‘out-of-the-box’ solution to making your site useful. First, of course, you need to have a valuable product (you can’t growth hack your way out of a crappy product). But after that, there are a few strategies to make your website more useful for targeted customers.

The first is something we’ve written about before: live chat.

Implementing a live chat tool allows you to address customers’ objections in real time. Consumers prefer communicating via live chat (especially younger demographics). In fact, eConsultancy found that live chat has the highest satisfaction levels of any customer service channel, with 73%, compared with 61% for email and 44% for phone.

Does live chat always convert better? Is it always more efficient to implement live chat? No, but a smiling chat rep at the bottom of your screen could help aid impulse buying decisions.

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Usefulness, for the most part, depends on the product. If your product is deemed as useful at the highest point of customer motivation, it’s easier to justify the purchase. For example, I impulse buy a lot of apps and health/fitness products, because I believe (in the moment at least) that they are useful.

An example of this might be Sleep Cycle, which I believed would be an immediate benefit to my life (it was):

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Another tactic that is fundamentally useful to the customer is a short-term sale. It’s useful, clearly, because the customer saves money. If they were planning on purchasing a pair of Bonobos jeans anyway, then a sale is pretty much money in their pocket.

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UIE data backs this up. They found that found that offering conditional free shipping and running sales are two effective motivators of online impulse buying. Of course, these are both urgency triggers.

How many times have you been on a site with, say, $93 worth of items in your cart, and you needed $100 to get free shipping? I bet you went for the extra item to get free shipping.

Macbeth is one of many sites using a shipping threshold to increase order value:

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Finally, entertainment is the third strongest influencer of impulse buying, and it encompasses visual and emotional appeals.

Entertainment is, of course, incredibly subjective. But it tends to include engaging copy, striking images, fun branding, and sometimes an interactive experience.

I can only speak from personal experience, but here are some examples of entertaining sites (note: sites on which I’ve actually made impulse purchases).

DrunkMall is a thoroughly entertaining experience. Of course, they’re specifically designed and curated to feature items that are funny, spontaneous, and more desirable when intoxicated. But their copy is phenomenal as well:

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Another example is Chubbies Shorts. I frequently showcase them for their great marketing, but at its heart, their strategy is based on entertainment and engagement. It’s fun to spend time on their site (or social media channels). Check out the copy for their ‘Merica shorts:

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Even their Manifesto page is entertaining (and how many About Us pages can you say that about?):

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I’m also of the opinion that anything involving customization is incredibly entertaining. It’s interactive, and being involved the creation of your product is just fun. Companies like Trunk Club do this well. You get to fill out a survey for your preferences, meet with a stylist, and choose your method of shopping:

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Another example, and this is in-person but no less conducive to impulse purchases, is Bonobos’ Guideshops. Basically, you can walk in, grab a beer, chat with the friendly staff, and try on whatever you want. Then you can order right there in the shop (you don’t walk away with the product, they help you order online). I think the beer while shopping aids the impulsivity.

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We’ve all fallen for an impulse purchase (some of us falling prey more often than others). So the question for you, the optimizer, is how you can facilitate the purchase path of someone who is prone to making an impulse buy.

While it’s going to be heavily based on the consumer profile, time of year (holidays, etc.), and other things you can’t necessarily control, you can do three things to make it easier for impulse buyers to convert:

  • Make your site easier to use. This, as an optimizer, should be your biggest focus.
  • Make your site useful. Provide quick feedback and support, answers to questions, and have a product that is useful (and convey that offer well).
  • Make your site entertaining. Not all brands can be entertaining, but if you have a product conducive to impulse purchases (clothing, toys, novelties), then you can most certainly make your user experience more fun. How? That’s where you have to get creative.

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Join the conversation Add your comment

  1. Yes, I agree that as long as impulse buying doesn’t lead to debt or unhappiness it’s not really a problem. However, I think in a lot of cases impulse purchases must be made in moderation to avoid debt or unhappiness.

    1. Avatar photo

      Totally. It’s more about making your site easier for people like me, who impulse buy quite frequently :)

  2. wow Really it is a very nice indeed a great article. I enjoyed reading each and every line of your post. Very informative article which contains bunch of information.thanks for sharing it

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How To Sell To Impulse Buyers