How to Encourage Impulse Buys and Unplanned Purchases in Your Retail Store

Francesca Nicasio, Vend By March 27, 2018 December 14th, 2023 No Comments
How to Encourage Impulse Buys and Unplanned Purchases in Your Retail Store

Impulse purchases account for a significant chunk of the consumer spending pie. According to a study by Marketing Support, Inc. and Leo J. Shapiro and Associates, about one-third of all consumers make a sizeable impulse buy every week, with a median purchase of $30.

The numbers look even better if you’re a brick-and-mortar retailer because shoppers are more inclined to make unplanned purchases at physical stores compared with e-commerce sites. Research by A.T. Kearney indicates that “40 percent of consumers spend more money than they had planned in stores, while only 25 percent reported online impulse shopping.”

This is because brick-and-mortar stores have more control over customers’ shopping experiences compared with e-tailers. You can make better layout and staffing decisions, not to mention you have more opportunities to engage people’s senses and to influence customers’ purchasing decisions.

Yep, as a brick-and-mortar store, you have a lot of things going for you in the impulse buy department. The question is, are you using your powers and resources wisely? If not, here are few pointers:

Increase visibility

As Specialty Retail put it, “Seeing is buying.” Donald R. Lichtenstein, a professor of marketing and associate dean at the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business, told the publication that getting customers to see your product is “the first and most important step in impulse buying.”

“Being in their faces and placing the focus clearly on what you’re selling so that they can make a quick selection sums up what a kiosk operator (or in our case retail store owner) needs to do,” stated Lichtenstein in an interview with Specialty Retail.

How can you get shoppers to see your impulse products? One effective tactic is using signage. Get the merchandise noticed by using eye-catching signs.

Also, be sure to pick your color palette wisely. Hues such as red and yellow have proven to draw attention, but feel free to test out other colors depending on your product and audience.

Check out what Forever 21 is doing. To encourage impulse purchases, the retailer uses big red signs to promote its low-priced items.


Bath & Body Works is doing something similar by placing impulse products together with a sign promoting that day’s deal on the checkout counter. But instead of using the usual eye-catching hues (i.e., red or yellow), it stays true to its brand colors by opting for blue and white.

Be strategic with positioning

Part of increasing visibility (and sales) with impulse purchases entails placing the merchandise where customers are sure to see it. In retail stores, the two most effective ways to pull this off would be positioning impulse products at the checkout area and placing them near your bestsellers.

Increasing impulse buys at the point of sale

Placing products at the checkout zone is a common and highly effective tactic. Shoppers who are at the point-of-sale area are likely already in the mood to buy, so the chances of them making additional purchases are relatively higher.

You generally have two options when it comes to having impulse items near your POS. The first is putting them on or in front of your checkout counter. Have a look at the photo below. In it, the retailer has products nicely arranged on top of the counter, but they also have a display right in front of it.

See if you can do something similar in your store.

Another option is to have those items near the checkout queue.

Victoria’s Secret executes this quite well. In most of its stores, it has attractive displays and fixtures containing inexpensive lip glosses, trial size fragrances, and other novel items near the checkout counter. These products typically come with a promotion (i.e., Buy two get two free) to further entice customers.

Having impulse items near your top-sellers

Position your products near your store’s prominent sellers. What parts of your store do customers frequently head to? What are the items that customers usually go for? Strategically place merchandise near these areas or products to increase their visibility.

Also, see to it that the merchandise you want to promote complements the bestsellers. For example, a pet store can strategically place dog-grooming accessories such as brushes near its top-selling brands of shampoo to encourage impulse buys for the accessories.

Choose impulse products wisely

The best impulse products are the ones that are easy to grasp—both physically and mentally. Keep them simple. As business consultant Lynn Switanowski told ABC News, “Such products don’t need a lot of explaining. It sells itself (because) you understand what it does.”

Ideally, impulse products should be small and inexpensive. These are items that people can pick up and easily add to their baskets or hand to the cashier.

Going back to Victoria’s Secret example, the retailer chose to place trial size products near the checkout area precisely because these items meet the criteria above: they’re uncomplicated, handy, and economical.

Keep these principles in mind when you’re deciding on which impulse items to display.

Hit the right psychological triggers

Make your impulse buys more noticeable and enticing by pushing the right consumer buttons. Here are some suggestions:

  • Urgency – Trigger people’s sense of urgency through limited-time promos. Consider the Bath & Body Works example above. It included a “Today Only” description in its signage to make the impulse buy more compelling.
  • Value – Make people see that they’re getting a good deal with generous offers. Victoria’s Secret for instance runs “Buy two, get two” promos with its impulse products to further encourage shoppers to buy.
  • Excitement or Novelty – You don’t always have to throw in an offer with your impulse products. Often, if a product looks fresh or novel enough, people will notice them. If you have new and original items in your store and they fit the above-mentioned criteria (i.e., handy and low cost), then consider testing them out as impulse buys to see how customers react.

Use online and mobile technology

A study on shopping behavior found that social media, mobile apps, and SMS marketing can drive unplanned visits or purchases.

Mobile Commerce Daily cited that “21 percent of respondents say they make more unplanned purchases because of shopping apps, 20 percent do the same because of retailer texts and 22 percent for retailer social media. These were the highest scoring tools in terms of encouraging shoppers to make more unplanned purchases.”

Be sure to leverage online and mobile tools to increase impulse store visits and purchases. If you’re on social media, make sure your fans are in the loop by posting news about any items or promotions. 

Covet, a jewelry shop in San Francisco, does this really well. Covet keeps their Instagram account updated and they often post pictures encouraging people to stop by the store.

And if you have a mobile app, keep it updated so users can see the latest happenings in your store.

Do the same thing via e-mail and text. Grab the opportunity to bring people into your shop by alerting subscribers whenever you have something happening in your store. (Just don’t overdo it. Keep messages relevant and only alert people who have opted into your list.)

Train your associates in the art of suggestive selling

While impulse buys typically come in the form of those small, handy items near the checkout counter, let’s not forget that you can also encourage impulse buys for moderately-priced or even higher-priced merchandise.

The key is training your associates to practice suggestive selling. When an associate develops a rapport with the shopper, they’ll be in a much better position to recommend unplanned purchases.

Do note though, that suggestive selling will only work if you (or the associate) are able to make a genuine connection with the customer. You also have to remember that the product you’re recommending should truly benefit the customer and that they’re open to buying it. The last thing you want is to push someone to purchase something only for the customer to have buyer’s remorse later.

As we mentioned in our post about suggestive selling, you should only do it after you’ve gotten to know the customer. This will allow you to make more relevant recommendations.

Another great time to engage in suggestive selling? One the shopper is already holding a product.

When they already have something in their hands, suggesting something that is complementary to it could increase add-on sales. Let’s say you sell garden supplies and the customer picks up a pot. From that point, you can recommend soil types or plants that would go well with it. And it’s even better if the suggested item is on sale because they’ll be more likely to buy it if they feel that they’re getting a deal.

Reese Evans, a former retail associate, also recommends using suggestive selling to address objections. “If someone is in your store and saying things like ‘I’m not sure about this…’ or ‘The fit is a little loose…’ retailers should grab the opportunity to suggestive sell.”

“The fact that they’re going through the process of eliminating things that they might not like means they’re seriously considering buying. If they weren’t, then the would’ve walked out of the store already. So let’s say the shopper thinks a particular garment is too loose for her body type; that would be a great opportunity to suggest a belt to go with the product to help make an outfit complete.”