Impulse Ecommerce: Applying Real World Principles Online

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Impulse buying can be described as a spur of the moment or unplanned decision to buy, made just before a purchase. Researcher suggest that emotions and feelings play a huge role in purchasing, triggered by seeing the product or upon exposure to a well crafted promotional message. Such purchases ranges from small (food items, clothing, magazines) to substantially large (jewelry, vehicle, work of art).

Marketers have relied on impulse purchasing techniques for decades now, thus promoting their products and thus generating last-minute sales, but since e-commerce has taken over considerably, (statisticsreport up to 9% of income spent online), marketers and sellers faced the need to transition from offline to online techniques of manipulation in regard with our behavior during online shopping, and the phenomena of impulse e-commerce will be discussed in detail in the following article.

State of e-commerce & Impulse Buying

Ecommerce graphic
As of now, e-commerce has already become a part of our online agenda, mainly because of how easy and hassle-free it is to go shopping online. Advanced payment processors and 1-minute checkouts with no-doubts have influenced the simplicity of the process, thus making it easy for everyone to purchase and sell things. The ease of use, however, can easily turn into an abuse that lies on a psychological level of customer’s mind, perceiving the idea of easiness as the necessity to overuse it making them irrational purchasers.

“Encouraging shoppers to snatch up those extra items is key for retailers, said Kantar Retail’s Anne Zybowski particularly as the industry becomes synonymous with price slashing. As such, companies are investing in strategies that encourage shoppers to spend more each time they visit,” a CNBC article reported.

Impulse e-commerce is a manipulation technique, meaning that it relies on a customer’s mind to show off his potential irrational buyer behaviour and apply it in real-life. The logical sequence of the consumers' actions is replaced with an irrational moment of self gratification. Impulse items appeal to the emotional side of consumers.

Online impulse buying is similar by idea, but is different by core, because the methods marketers use to present their product offline is different and can no longer be applied online. As per offline techniques, the online ones also rely on opinion and decision manipulation and involving in customer’s natural purchasing habitat, but nowadays this is nothing uncommon or unexpected.


Social Media

Social media sources for impulse e-commerce purchases is likely to be the most efficient way of promoting impulse purchasing when it is done right. It is thought that an easy process of check-out, which doesn’t require many complicated steps will influence the stimuli therefore will promote a purchase with barely any research behind it, due to the complicated nature of performing such a research on a mobile phone or a tablet. We can consider that social media is directly tied with friends and acquaintances’ suggestions and the principle of “word-of-mouth” is applied, which can be specifically related to impulse purchasing.

Brand Recognition

Brand recognition is a pretty vague, but still highly effective technique of triggering purchases by impulse. It is to be stated that impulse purchases are highly dependant on an uninformed buyer, who is likely to buy something not of necessity but because of a spontaneous decision, thus brand recognition plays a great role in this. Purchasing out of the spontaneous decision is very unlikely to be triggered by products and brands you might not be aware of, or in a case of comparison, a recognized brand has higher chances of being chosen amongst the big pool of products. The subconscious is responsible for recognizing names of companies and products, and influencing it is not a simple job, which is why this method is only available for highly marked items that are backed up by much advertising and recognition.

Ease of Use (checkout process)

Checkout image

This is the most important method in regard with e-commerce in general on all portable devices. Ease of use has always been a requirement for basically anything it is supposed to be targeted to an end user, but when it comes to generating revenue, your income is proportional to how much effort you put into easing your target’s life, and especially when he’s on the spot for purchasing some goods. The general rule would be to make it as easy as possible on the front-end, as few forms as possible, beautiful UI & UX and convenient ways of payment.


This technique is broadly used by internet marketers and most of the time will be applied on the internet, it being rarely met offline. It consists of selling a main product and then offering an additional one that is often of a greater value than the initial purchase, thus the desire and existence of purchasing from upsell pages. This technique can been seen on shops with various niches, but it is probably most effective with web products because only this type of products can provide with the necessity of upsell products that would be of a bigger value than the initial ones, e.g: a belt cannot provide more value than the pair of jeans recently purchased while a huge set of icons holds more value than a set of 3 badges. Upsells, pretty much like any impulse-bought products, are not necessarily products that you need (even if they are shown as such) which is why some proper research can and should be done before purchasing any of those goods.

Impulse Purchasing Analysis

Based on statistics and activity monitoring, it has been that there are several features which are characteristic to an online purchasing activity:


Each Product has its specifics and principles of promotion one over might not be suitable for another, which is why i broke it down to 3 general categories that are specific in the way each of these can be promoted.


The least impulsive items in the analysed by studies were highly functional or instrumental goods. Since clothing is at the top of the list of items most likely to be bought on impulse, we can expect they will be bought even more impulsively for highly involved consumers. Computers and technology items are considered “functional” products, therefore they are expected to be bought less on impulse. Impulse buying may be low for consumers of computer products- even those who have a greater tendency to buy impulsively with no reason, which is why targeting this category for an impulse purchase might not be worth the effort.


Studies show that clothing items are the most likely candidates for impulse buying, since clothing goods are thought to be “consumer goods which appear to have potential for self-presentation, self-expression, mood adjustment, diversion and entertainment.” Clothing in particular is a product type that often needs to be felt, touched, and subjected to closer inspection. Hence, the perceived risk involved in a purchasing decision for clothing is quite high online compared to an in-store purchase which is why it is suggested that manipulating the decisional factor of an online impulse purchase of a clothing item is not as successful as it would be it an “offline environment”.

Web Products

Web products are a fairly different niche which is totally different, therefore it can not be compared to previous 2 categories. The specifics of impulse purchases of web products were not studied which is why thorough information cannot be provide, yet are tightly related with the “Upsell” technique, mentioned above.

2014 Global E-commerce statistics

Aside from insight details in regard with impulse e-commerce techniques, there’s also an infographic that displays the amount purchased in e-commerce goods in the last year, which could serve you well when considering if it is worth taking the e-commerce path, or how much attention you have got to provide it if you have already pursued that endeavor.

Global ecommerce sales in 2014 infographic

Further Reading: Statistics

Exploring Impulse Buying on Internet

This is a thorough and detailed study that speaks in details about the behaviour of the internet user shopper and then presents a detailed review of the differences between offline and internet customers and presents advanced data gatherings in regard with customer research.

Impulse factor, more present in-store than online

This review, shows us the other side of the coin. As supposed, everything has it’s downsides, and the problem with online e-commerce and specifically impulse buying is that not everyone has transitioned to online shopping, thus the rate of effectiveness of impulse buying online is less than it is offline.

Feature image curtsey of Gustavo Zambelli

Comments 1 Response

  1. Stores try to speak to an impulse to buy, which is called an impulse purchase or buy. Impulse purchases are provoked by either seeing the product or by being exposed to a well-crafted promotional message. Let’s just say for arguments sake this was possible, this would definitely create the perfect environment for impulse purchases. Maybe you create a loyal subset of customers whom you trust to pay later or bill at the end of the month.

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