What e-commerce websites can do to encourage impulse buying - it's tricky but possible.
18th December 2012

This post is inspired from a discussion on the FB group Digital Marketing Ideas. The question asked was - 'Can we trigger impulse buying through digital marketing?'. And it got me thinking about the times when I purchased online on impulse, and the answer came to me - Amazon, of course. To the chagrin of my wife, I keep downloading books on my kindle app (lightening my bank account considerably).

So the question is, how would an e-commerce customer go about creating systems to encourage impulse buying.

The myth of the discount - going against conventional wisdom

Many members of the group were of the opinion that impulse buying can be triggered by discounts. I tend to disagree. Impulse buying by its very nature tends to be an urge to purchase in spite of the cost.Its a momentary lapse of judgment. Its definitely not triggered by a price in which case the rational mind would come into the picture and the impulse would be subdued. The beauty of impulse buying is you sell with a good margin, not discounts.

So if not price that triggers the impulse than what else? Lets take a look at some other factors.

Impulse buying hinges on two important factors - the perception of risk and the ease of purchase.

The perception of risk as someone rightly pointed out in the group is very important. Note that we are using the word 'perception' - what we mean is that you might have the most secure site in the world but if you don't create the perception of risk free you lose the purchase.

When I was with we used to place very low cost items on the homepage to lure first time and impulse shoppers. The low cost items created the illusion of risk free in the mind of the shoppers and coupled with the Rediff name it sold liked hot cakes. Many of these small ticket item buyers went on to buy very costly items later on. A good strategy based on creating a risk free perception in the mind of the visitor.

Ease of purchase - an important but very difficult factor to achieve, especially in India.

You have got to hand it to Amazon with their one click purchase - it does not get any easier. But this involves the secure storage of the customers credit card and other personal details which might not be possible for smaller e-commerce players. We tend to rely on third party credit card gateways which do not allow us to store card details. Customers need to enter card details over and over killing the impulse decision and allowing enough time for buyer's remorse to set in.

Unfortunately in India we are yet to get any kind of sophisticated payment solutions that will allow our customers to securely store card details which can be triggered by us. Would be fantastic if possible. But for now we have to make the customer enter card details over and over and over.

Buy now, pay later - a model for triggering impulse purchases.

Let's just say for arguments sake this was possible, this would definitely create the perfect environment for impulse purchases. Maybe you create a loyal subset of customers whom you trust to pay later or bill at the end of the month. Somehow you find a way to allow customers to skip a tedious payment process and like Paris Hilton in a Versace store you allow customers to pick up whatever they like whenever they like. Hmm?possible? Maybe.

Does nature of the product have anything to do with impulse buying?

Common sense says that lower the value of the product more likely it is to trigger impulse buying. After all we rarely agonize over those small purchases like a magazine subscription or a lipstick (for the ladies). But can impulse buying be triggered for higher value products? Yes, provided the conditions are right.

Conditions such as previous history of safe purchases (risk perception), ease of purchase (pay later) and enough desirability of the product (a Jaguar XJ for instance, as someone in the group rightly pointed out).

Dealing with buyer's remorse and managing expectations after the sale.

Buyer's remorse is natural after an impulse purchase. Its the guilt that sets in when we make an unplanned purchase. Giving customers a way out by having a great return's policy is important. Having a way out, greatly encourages impulse decisions and most times the items are kept.

Human beings can justify anything - even the most outrageous purchase - if you give enough reasons.

We can rationalize and explain anything, especially to ourselves. But to do so we need reasons, good reasons. Its the job of the e-commerce website to help the customer find those reasons. ? Great follow through and product information allows us customer to defend the purchase to himself and to his spouse (very important!).

That;s my two cents on impuse purchases in the online world. A special thanks to Ranabir Pal, Arun Agrawal, Amitabh Jha, Abhishek Rungta, Saurabh Dhanukha, Joy Mukherjee, Tara Sundaram and Amit Ghosh from the group for thier candid views.


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