5 strategies to inspire impulse purchases
By Katie Kochelek
Many a shopper will visit warehouse retailer Costco to pick up necessities and walk out an hour later with an economy-size bag of Tootsie Roll pops, a jug of raw honey, and a party-size serving of chicken salad. There’s a lot of psychology behind encouraging consumers to go rogue during their shopping trip. Here are five strategies to inspire impulse buys.
The science of discovery
Costco’s “treasure hunt” approach to in-store merchandising involves constantly shuffling staple items to different locations in the store. Rearranging items forces shoppers to walk by tempting triggers in the search for their usual goods. The lack of signage above the aisles at Costco also encourages exploration.
Despite constantly making shoppers jump through hoops to find their favorite products, Costco consistently scores high on the American Customer Satisfaction Index. It boils down to science.
When humans discover unexpected items or experience something new, our brain releases the same chemicals associated with joy and love. In essence, stumbling upon smart lighting solutions on the way to buy diapers makes us feel happy because our brains are programmed that way. And because Costco changes endcap displays in addition to rotating store merchandise, shoppers are always entering the store subconsciously anticipating the thrill of discovery.
Fear of missing out, commonly referred to as FOMO, is another hardwired human trait. In The New Rules of Retail: Competing in the World’s Toughest Marketplace, Robin Lewis and Michael Dart write, “Neuroscientists have proven that the anticipation of rewards—or the potential of not getting what you want—will produce dopamine, which actively drives behavior.”
The authors cite fast-fashion retailer Zara’s strategy of constantly releasing new clothing lines: “Customers visit Zara 17 times per year, compared to only three or four times for traditional retailers, because they are afraid of missing something new and exciting. The connection is so strong that customers are compelled to buy in fear of the item’s being bought by someone else.”
Marketing messages like “Act now!” and “Hurry while supplies last!” trigger knee-jerk decisions because we appease FOMO anxiety and release dopamine when we keep from missing out.
Brand and product stories
Marketers have become hip to how Millennials, now the largest consumer demographic, want to interact with a brand. Because access to product review information, pricing, and more resides at the tap of a finger, they seek authentic experiences to cut through the information overload.
While companies regularly use online platforms like social media and websites to share organic content and brand stories, it’s just as alluring to shoppers when done well in-store.
Merchandising displays and interactive kiosks can help paint a brand picture to customers. A sleek freestanding display with a monitor featuring a video loop of a runner wearing her fitness tracker draws in the person who identifies with that woman. A shoe display with signage detailing how proceeds go to charity gives potential buyers the warm fuzzies. Such details help people feel invested in a brand.
Interactive displays that allow shoppers to test a product are equally effective. Just ask the crowd of children waiting their turn at the video game demo at Best Buy. These displays are magnets, drawing in customers and promoting products while people eagerly test drive them in the store.
The grocery game plan
Grocery stores follow their own set of guidelines to persuade additional purchases. The journey to impulse buying starts before the consumer even steps foot in the door. In a Today.com article, marketing consultant Martin Lindstrom describes an experiment in which doubling the size of a shopping cart resulted in people purchasing 40% more. Grabbing a cart the size of a Cadillac primes the customer to fill it.
Near the entry, grocers like to promote seasonal treats. And if shoppers manage to pass them up there, they’ll see them throughout the store.
Produce often comes next—for good reason. When consumers feel good about buying healthy items, they’re more likely to cave later when faced with junk food temptations.
Staples like milk and eggs that bring consumers to the store in the first place are in the back of the building, forcing shoppers to walk down an aisle or two of enticing food.
Finally, just as shoppers roll to the checkout line, congratulating themselves on avoiding the lure of snack food, they’re left waiting while staring at chocolate bars and candy.
The new hip spot to hang
Retailers have gotten creative to get feet through the door, offering an experience during what would normally be a traditional shopping trip. Many Target stores have Starbucks coffee shops, and Tommy Bahamas offer restaurants within some of its brick-and-mortar stores. Even generous sampling can attract a crowd, as Costco knows all too well.
Brand retailers are taking experiential retail even further. There’s been big buzz around Nike’s Live concept, which not only offers services like style consultations and the ability to try out products, but also curates collections based on where stores are located. Many retailers are finding that engaging with customers and “activating” their shopping experience leads to increased sales.
Katie Kochelek is marketing specialist at Frank Mayer and Associates.