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Epos Now | The Anatomy of An Impulse Buy

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The Anatomy of an Impulse Buy

Online shopping hasn’t killed brick and mortar. The retail industry can lament all it wants, but the fact is, brick and mortar stores have one big thing going for them: they still command impulse shoppers.

It’s such a popular phenomenon it even has its own name, the Target Effect.

The average consumer spends over $5,000 a year on impulse buys alone, and 80% of all impulse buys are made at brick and mortar stores.

It’s important for retail merchants and convenience store owners to understand the psychology behind these purchases so they’re not leaving that money on the table. In fact, as hard as it is to compete with ecommerce stores in the digital age, why not empower small brick and mortar stores to increase revenue purely on impulse buys alone?

What is an Impulse Buy?

Impulse buys are the unplanned decision to purchase something just before a sale. They usually have a few factors in common:

Why Do People Impulse Buy?

A lot of factors go into why customers make an impulse buy, but there are a few obvious drivers to consider in order to properly capitalize on this trend.


It seems simple. If it’s rainy, you’ll sell more umbrellas. If it’s cold, the sale of warm drinks will peak. But rather than observing and predicting these weather-related behaviours in retail, merchants need to work to drive them, making strategic decisions in order to capitalize on weather events and seasonality.

According to the British Retail Consortium, the weather has the biggest effect on consumer behaviour second to the economy. Weather-driven purchases can make a big impact if merchant’s use the power behind them to drive stock management and product placement decisions.

This isn’t to say owners should check the weather and scramble to adjust on a daily basis. But stocking, prominently displaying and promoting items that are directly related to the season can drive purchases through the roof.

For example...

Making ponchos and umbrellas visible during rainy seasons, and perhaps even raising the price of these products is an obvious example. Stocking lip-care products near the counter in cold, dry weather is another one.

Retail merchants can properly capitalize on this trend with the right tools in place. If your point of sale system can track sales analytics, looking at weather predictions and stock orders in unison, then you’re ahead of the game.


Triggering an emotional response is the dirty little secret of driving impulse purchases–and there’s nothing more emotional than fear and loss. Combine those together and you get FOMO: fear of missing out.

Consumers are super vulnerable to the fear of missing out or “loss aversion” as it’s coined by behavioural psychologists.

Here are a few ways to spur FOMO in your customers:

Successful retail stores will have scheduled promotions automatically set up and built into their POS systems, so staff don't have to manually remember things if there are multiple promotions running at once.

They’ll also have the ability to track their promotions and sales to determine how impulse buys are performing and impacting their margins. There’s no use continuing a promotion that’s not performing–and it would be silly to stop running one that’s driving revenue. Those decisions are easy with the right point of sale software for analytics and tracking.


This may seem laughable or even extreme, but a lot of impulse buys are related to physical need. Hunger pangs and thirst are serious drivers of impulse purchases, and merchants should make sure they leverage this knowledge and make items available (and visible) to solve customers’ most basic needs.

Cravings can also fall under this category. Cue the loads of candy and cigarettes straddling check out counters at any given moment in gas stations and convenience stores.

And it’s not only convenience stores, quick marts and gas stations that can capitalize on this need. Walk into any department store, and you’re likely to see gourmet chocolate bars lining the checkout stations, ready to be added to a sale at the last minute.

Savvy retailers will make sure items related to hunger, thirst and cravings are available at the point of sale area and other hot spots in their stores. And business-minded merchants will make sure to track the sale of those items through reporting and analytics on their POS system in order to always keep top sellers in stock and avoid non-selling items that turn into dead inventory.

Tips to Encourage Impulse Buys

When you're not relying on natural events, FOMO tactics and the errors of the human condition to make impulse sales, there are other ways. Try the methods below.

Suggestive Selling: A straightforward example of this is when a buyer picks up a pack of cigarettes and the person at the cash register points out the lighters before closing out the sale. When a customer is converting to a sale, never miss the opportunity to point out a similar, related item before it's all said and done.

Ease of Purchase: The prototypical impulse purchase is small and inexpensive. Keep this in mind when you’re placing products near the checkout. Items should be easy to pick up and cheap enough that they’re considered an easy, “why not?” purchase.

Novelty: Impulse buys are often bright, cute, colourful and fun. Many impulse buys are feel-good items picked up at the last minute for friends, co-workers and family members. This is especially true around holidays and special events. Adding an element of seasonality to this tactic can help spur sales. Like having Valentine’s Day or Christmas-themed impulse purchases available in the appropriate seasons.

Make Impulse Buys Work for Your Bottom Line

With the average person shelling out thousands per year on impulse purchases alone, smart retailers are arming their checkout lines and shelves with items that fit the bill.

Follow the tips above to capitalize on the impulse buy phenomenon, and make sure you have the business intelligence tool of dynamic point of sale software to make strategic decisions about what to stock next and when.

Ready to level-up your point of sale? Contact us for a free 15-minute demo of our versatile and affordable point of sale solution.


Epos Now

The 46th fastest growing company in the U.K., Epos Now is an award-winning POS company trusted by over 30,000 businesses in 109 countries worldwide.The mission of Epos Now is to provide affordable, robust and scalable POS solutions in a user-friendly platform that integrates seamlessly with hundreds of the world’s best third-party solutions, delivering next-level hospitality and retail management for small businesses.

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