Impulse buying: are stores psyching us out?

Just last week I visited my local shopping centre with a rough idea of what I wanted to buy, but without the knowledge of which store I was going to purchase it from or how much it would cost. I stumbled across an article during the week about impulse buying, but it had never dawned on me at just what lengths stores go to in order to influence consumer behaviour. Over the course of the couple of hours I spent at the shopping centre, I had somewhat of an epiphany. Specifically, I had realised I was one of the many people who was targeted to commit the deadly sin known as “impulse buying”.

“That shirt looks great on you! These shoes would go well too…”

I needed a shirt, I didn’t know what I wanted, but I knew I wanted to spend a maximum of $100 dollars. After entering several different men’s stores, I received the usual greeting/harassment from sales assistants, depending on which way you want to look at it. Long story short, I had been conned into purchasing a shirt that was over $100, and had even purchased an additional pair of shoes. You may ask, why was this? “You could have said no”? Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology that describes the pattern in which human motivation usually moves through.


Source: Iaccobucci (2014)

According to this theory, self-esteem is an important aspect of human motivation, with humans having the need to feel accepted and valued. You will notice sales assistants are never short of a compliment, they need to meet a target and they know what to say in order to facilitate that. By boosting your self-esteem, they are deliberately increasing the chances of you purchasing a product, particularly for those who may be a little low on self-confidence. Studies have indeed shown that increased self-esteem is associated with compulsive buying behaviour.

As a shopper, you tend to trust the “expert” opinion of a sales assistant, so when they suggest a pair of shoes that would work well with the shirt, who are you decline? You feel confident and spiffy in your new clothes, and the assistant is now closer to meeting their quota.

Convenience: what will they think of next?

A somewhat modern trend I also noticed is the emergence of pop-up coffee shops in retail stores. As I ventured into the store ‘Glue’ for a quick browse, to my surprise, there was a coffee shop smack bang in the middle of the store. Some may say, “what is the point when you’re in a shopping centre and there are literally coffee shops everywhere”? The answer is convenience buying, and this is something that has been around FOREVER. It appeals to the hedonistic shopper in all of us, a purchase which grants us immediate satisfaction, even though we don’t need it. You may have even noticed a department store looking a little something like this when you approach the registers:


Make no mistake, these items are there for a reason. Although a very old study, Hawkins Stern published a paper in 1962 relating to impulse buying, which is still relevant in today’s world. In this paper, he discussed the notion of “unplanned purchases”, stating that certain in-store stimuli can trigger an unplanned purchase (Stern, 1962). He came to the conclusion that product placement can influence a person to buy a product, even if they don’t necessarily want them. You can always expect to see chocolate bars, chewing gum and heavily discounted knick knacks in this area, products which will often test your willpower as a consumer.

Stimulating the senses: sensual overload?

Let’s be honest, some stores are guilty of going a little over the top.

eb games

However, visual marketing such as this is common practice in stores all across the world. Some stores are switching to a more modern form of appealing the senses, in the form of in-store DJ’s. Studies have indicated that the right form of music can increase spending. I found myself once again sucked into some effective marketing, hearing some of my favourite tunes being played loudly from a random store. It was a store named ‘Factorie’,  a store I don’t normally shop at, but I ended up making a few purchases solely because I was drawn in by the sound, eventually realising their products were actually in my taste. Factorie have been doing this for some time, perfectly capturing their demographic of teens and young adults. On their website, they even encourage people to contact them about DJ opportunities.

All in all, my shopping trip was a little more expensive than I had planned, which evidently shows that consumer behaviour is being influenced all around us, even if we are unaware!

Written by James Mier – 216177105 (jmier94)

References (2016). PRESS & TALENT. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Aug. 2016].

Iacobucci, D. (2014), Marketing Management (MM), 4th Edition, South-Western, Cenage Learning, Mason.

McLeod, S. (2007) Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Available at: (Accessed: 1 August 2016).

Picchi, A. (2016) The American habit of impulse buying. Available at: (Accessed: 1 August 2016).

The Comparative Analysis of the Impact of Self-Esteem on the Compulsive and Non-Compulsive Buyers in NCR. (2015). Journal of Business Management & Social Sciences Research, 4 (1), pp.78-88.

The Significance of Impulse Buying Today. (1962). Journal of Marketing, [online] 26(2), pp.59-62. Available at: [Accessed 1 Aug. 2016].

Wilson, S. (2003). The Effect of Music on Perceived Atmosphere and Purchase Intentions in a Restaurant. Psychology of Music, 31(1), pp.93-112.



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