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The Psychology Behind Impulse Buying


Find PBMIF on TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube for useful tips and facts in consumer and fashion psychology.

Dear my Converse Something... Something... Something (whatever your name was, it was long, I can't remember it), I am writing to let you know that I don’t miss you at all. I'm sat in Greggs, reflecting on why I sent you to the Post Office a week ago. I remember it so well like it was yesterday. I put you back in your box and stuck the return label on. When the cashier handed me my proof of postage, the sun disappeared behind the clouds. You were meant to be my shoe for the summer – but instead you are no more. Now you can be with someone else who deserves you. You broke my heart-

My shopping list. I wanted to make a pizza that day.

Just kidding. I recently purchased a sick pair of Chuck 70s from the Converse online store. As the proud owner of 16 pairs of Converse, I was in no need to purchase a new pair, yet that didn't stop me from accidentally ending up on the Converse website during a convenient midseason sale. They were beautiful, they were calling me... Psssst. I got them in the post a week later and was bummed. They didn't fit me well so I sent them back. I was debating whether to keep them because, you know? Why not? Buying on impulse... What’s the deal with it?

What is impulse buying?

Impulse buying is a term used to describe unplanned immediate purchases upon exposure to impulse stimuli (Bandyopadhyay et al., 2021). The causes of impulsive behaviour are “triggered by an irresistible force to buy and an inability to evaluate its consequences. Despite being aware of the negative effects of buying, there is an enormous desire to immediately satisfy your most pressing needs” (Meena, 2018).

"...An enormous desire to immediately satisfy your most pressing needs."

Impulse buying is profitable

Because impulse buying is profitable, marketers want to induce impulse buying. In a study, Bandyopadhyay et al. (2021) found that immediate promotions, financial (e.g., price discounts) or not (e.g., bonus pack) resulted in consumers having higher urges to buy impulsively.

Impulse buying is linked to immediate gratification

The tendency to buy thoughtlessly, and without reflection, can be explained by the immediate gratification it provides consumers (Pradhan et al., 2018).

Not for me | Converse Utility Chuck 70 in White/Egret/Black.

Impulse buying triggers

Impulse buying can be triggered by the store environment, life satisfaction, self-esteem, and the emotional state of the consumer at the time before purchase (Gogoi & Shillong, 2020). According to Iyer et al. (2019), traits (e.g., sensation-seeking), motives (e.g., hedonic), resources (e.g., time, money), and marketing stimuli are key triggers of impulse buying. Positive emotions increase impulse buying. In a study by Park et al. (2006), it was found that fashion involvement and positive emotion had positive effects on consumers' fashion-oriented impulse buying behaviour with fashion involvement having the greatest effect. Hedonic consumption tendency is an important mediator in determining fashion-oriented impulse buying.

Online impulse buying

Have you ever seen, “ONLY ONE LEFT IN STOCK!” or a countdown (e.g., “SALE ENDS IN X HOURS X MINUTES”) on online clothing websites? Online promotional activities with restrictive conditions (i.e., time-limits) pressure consumers to make decisions in a short amount of time. It creates a sense of urgency in which consumers should act on buying a product or service as soon as possible, or they’ll miss out. According to Luo et al. (2021), this causes psychological oppression, where consumers are the victim. Time-limited promotional activities increase consumers’ perceived risk of opportunity loss. It is suggested that the longer time-limited promotional activities last, consumers’ impulse purchase intentions decrease.

Have you ever seen, “ONLY ONE LEFT IN STOCK!” or a countdown (e.g., “SALE ENDS IN X HOURS X MINUTES”) on online retail websites?

Experiences of impulse buying

Sundström et al. (2019) interviewed young consumers to explore their impulse fashion buying behaviours when shopping online. Participants’ impulse purchases are motivated by boredom; bored participants were likely to be enticed by price and free delivery. The researchers suggest that impulse buying acts like a coping mechanism to overcome boredom. Boredom is replaced by feelings of pleasure when participants click on ‘buy now’. Low price was a key trigger for all participants, they like to browse through offers and sales. Participants made note that scarcity was a factor in making an impulse purchase (as mentioned above). Scarcity is one of the six principles of persuasion according to Cialdini (2015), who wrote a book called, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”. People value things more when they are scarce. What is more, participants stated that they were influenced to shop online because of advertisements. Interestingly, many participants had little or no intentions to return items that they weren’t keen on. In addition, participants preferred to shop in the evening, perhaps not to get distracted.

Hopefully you’ve learned a little (at least one thing) about impulse buying?


Bandyopadhyay, N., Sivakumaran, B., Patro, S. K., & Kumar, R. S. (2021). Immediate or delayed! Whether various types of consumer sales promotions drive impulse buying?: An empirical investigation. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 61.

Cialdini, R. (2015). Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Harper Collins.

Gogoi, B. & Shillong, I. (2020). Do impulsive buying influence compulsive buying? Academy of Marketing Studies Journal, 24(4), 1-15.

Iyer, G. R., Blut, M., Xiao, S. H. & Grewal, D. (2019). Impulse buying: a meta-analytic review. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 48, 384-404.

Luo, H., Cheng, S., Zhou, W., Song, W., Yu, S., & Lin, X. (2021). Research on the Impact of Online Promotions on Consumers’ Impulsive Online Shopping Intentions. Journal of Theoretical and Applied Electronic Commerce Research, 16(6), 2386-2404.

Meena, S. (2018). Consumer psychology and marketing. International Journal of Research and Analytical Reviews, 218-222.

Park, J. E., Kim, Y. E., & Forney, C. J. (2006). A structural model of fashion‐oriented impulse buying behavior. Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management, 10(4), 433-446.

Pradhan, D., Israel, D., & Jena, A. (2018). Materialism and compulsive buying behaviour: the role of consumer credit card use and impulse buying. Asia Pacific Journal of Marketing and Logistics, 30, 1355-5855.

Sundström, M., Hjelm-Lidholm, S., & Radón, A. (2019). Clicking the boredom away – Exploring impulse fashion buying behavior online. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 47, 150-156.


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