Whether you’re a security-driven or pleasure-seeking person, you will succumb to the dangers of impulse buying sooner or later, suggested a team of researchers based at the Julius-Maximilians-Universität (JMU) Würzburg in Germany (1). However, the team found that different people respond to impulse buying with different cognitive processes controlling these purchases.
How many times have you said that you’ll stick to the shopping list but end up buying items that you didn’t really need? Studying the buying patterns of around 250 participants in this study, the team found that sometimes people buy things just out of curiosity or as a treat. It could be a new computer game they’ve never tried before or a nice bar of chocolate. Curiously, some people can suppress the feeling of a guilty conscience – because money is tight or they’re on a diet – and still buy the item they want.
According to the team, there are two types of people: those who focus on pleasure and instant gratification and those who focus on security. Not surprisingly, those that seek pleasure are more spontaneous and quickly reach for items that promise even more satisfaction.
For them, once they buy one item like a new pair of jeans, they’re much more likely to continue buying. This is known as a promotion focus. “Let’s say they had ice cream shortly before, so they’re attending to rewards and pleasure anyway, and use the chance to get even more pleasure,” explained Anand Krishna, lead author in this study.
In contrast, if the previous experience was not a pleasurable one, like looking at their bank statement or jumping on the scales, the dangers of impulse buying can suppress their urge to buy. In this case, they can easily walk away from a new phone or a packet of sweets without needing much time for reflection. Even a small sign is enough for them to stop themselves. “This can be, for example, a small note in the wallet that says ‘Stop!’ or something similar,” said the JMU researcher.
On the other hand, for security-driven people, just because they don’t focus on pleasure, it doesn’t mean they’re immune to impulse buying. If they are in the right frame of mind, they’re just as likely to feel tempted to treat themselves as those who focus on pleasure, but they will always take longer to act. This group of people need time to make decisions, and even impulse buying is often not that impulsive.
For this group, researchers suggest that a small warning to prevent impulse buying would not be enough once they have made the decision to buy. Security-driven people may need much stronger signs throughout the shop warning about this kind of behaviour even before they even decide to buy anything. For this reason, it’s still difficult to predict how they will react if they have no time to think about it, like at checkout, but they feel the urge to buy a chocolate bar. The JMU team suggest more experiments are needed to clarify this.
These results are vital not only for marketing purposes but also to develop ways to protect all consumers from unwanted impulse buying. “The latter because impulse buying can be a problematic and undesirable behaviour for many people,” concluded Krishna.
(1) Krishna A, Ried S, Meixner M (2021) State-trait interactions in regulatory focus determine impulse buying behavior. PLoS ONE 16(7): e0253634. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0253634