Amazon.com has me right where they want me.
Most of my Kindle books have been purchased because of Amazon’s posts on Facebook that show up in my News Feed. It’s a perfect combination of “new story!” and “low price!” and “delivered instantly!” that makes me click through every time. What drives me to do this when I am an otherwise slow and careful shopper?
What We Buy And Why
Impulse purchases are unplanned, and are made based on an emotionally-driven reason. Impulse purchases can be categorized in three ways:
- Cheap and fun. Gadgets and gizmos that cost just a little and provide a laugh, a gag gift, or just seem too creative to pass up are prime targets for impulse buying. These items have a low-guilt factor, since they didn’t cost much.
- Symbolic and status. Products with brand-name recognition that provide status, or have nostalgic value, directly meet an emotional need. These might be high-ticket items. Price is irrelevant because we’re more concerned about an emotional issue.
- Instant gratification. Wanting something and getting it immediately is very satisfying to impulse shoppers. Most online purchases struggle with this since products are shipped, and we have to wait until they arrive. The exception? Digital content, like music, movies, and those Amazon Kindle books I scoop up regularly.
Social Media Has/Has Not Killed Impulse Buying
According to Yahoo, social media killed impulse buying.
Consumers today are less impulsive in their shopping and take the time to do research before making a decision.
The theory is that with the ability to read and write reviews quickly, social media took the power away from traditional ad and marketing sources. Consumers pay less attention to advertising from companies, preferring to listen to friends and other users online. If time is a factor in impulse buying (buy right now, quickly, don’t think!), then social media has made some negative inroads. Reviews mean research, and research takes time.
However, those same readily available reviews make it easy for us to buy without much thought. We trust our friends and assume that they either did the thinking before us or that they would let us know if it was a bad product. Or, we want to stay a part of our circle of friends, and we consider buying the same kinds of products and services as a way to hold onto the group identity. In this way, social media has increased impulse buying through peer pressure and trust.
Social media has lessened some of the quick impulse buying on certain items, and increased it for others.
Where And How Impulse Buying Happens
Perhaps the most accurate way to look at the matter is not whether impulse buying has been affected, but instead note that the place it happens has changed.
Let’s look at that Yahoo study again.
Consumers still impulse buy, but in a different location and timeframe. They’re moving online, and that’s where social media is.
Let’s say for example that, on an impulse, a consumer decides to get a new TV. He goes online and starts to research and read reviews. He reads, he clicks, he buys. Or, he reads, he goes to the store, and buys. Why did he think he needed a new TV? It might be that old-school TV or magazine ad that put the idea in his head, convincing him that there were better TVs to be had. He didn’t choose the specific model of TV on impulse, but he made the decision to buy one on impulse.
79% of respondents said they complete extensive research for high-ticket items or services. — Milo.com
According to Milo.com, social media has changed the way people impulse buy, but has not changed the reality that they still do.
Increase Or Decrease Your Impulse Buying
Savvy businesses will need to rethink how to attract the new impulse consumer.
This will require understanding which kind of product or service they are selling — low cost, symbolic, instant — and how the new social media consumer goes about buying that type of product or service. Think about the Amazon Kindle books I buy. They fulfill #1 and #3: they don’t cost much, and I don’t have to wait to get them. They have created a way for their product to meet two of the three key reasons we impulse buy, and they are using social media to bring it to my attention. It might not be the same as a consumer buying on a whim while waiting in the checkout line, but tapping into the unplanned emotionally-driven purchase is still very doable in a social media age.
As a business, we want to encourage our customer to buy. As a private consumer, we might want to curb our impulse buying. In an interesting turn of events, Charles Schwab is actually using social media to combat all impulse buying in favor of saving and investing.
Business wants consumers to buy, financial planners want them to save. All happening in the same place: social media.