Most of us do not deliberate for too long on most items we buy. We tend to purchase based on factors that aren’t as rational as we’d like. Sometimes we purchase based on what our friends or loved ones have owned. We assume big name brands are better than unknown ones. We also assume the more expensive an item is the better it must be.
All this forms a basis for why impulse buying happens. It’s reinforced by various cognitive biases everyone has.
For example, the confirmation bias hugely affects our behaviour by focusing on positive responses. As io9 points out, confirmation bias is “the often unconscious act of referencing only those perspectives that fuel our pre-existing views, while at the same time ignoring or dismissing opinions — no matter how valid — that threaten our world view.”
How biases affect impulse buying
It simply cannot be the case that impulse buying is always a good decision. Yet, as Philip Graves, who studies consumer behaviour, points out, impulse buying is driven by confirmation bias. Graves writes:
“the feel-good buzz that comes from spontaneously buying something that turns out to be a great buy leaves a much greater impression in our memories than the product that was bought in the same way but never used.”
People are getting to a point of sale location, finding an item they possibly had not considered before and purchasing it on the spot. No research has gone into the product’s efficacy. If the product ends up being a dud, the consumer’s bias will render this invisible. Instead, all the other positive purchases will be more prominent (note, this is even the case if the negative outweighs the positive, since the bias is about remembering, not factual balancing).
Business and consumer responses
Impulse buying was not concocted or forced on by businesses. It’s the consumer’s own behaviour and their response to a situation. This does not negate businesses obviously want to find ways to extend their profits.
Impulse buying does remove the stress of deliberation. It means not spending enormous amounts of time pondering every intricate detail of a product. We certainly don’t need to do a thorough background check for dishwashing liquid, for example.
Psychologist Ian Zimmerman offers a suggestion to consumers, if they really want to help set up barriers to impulse buying: “An easy way to tell if a purchase is impulsive is to ask ‘Did I plan to buy this, or did I get the urge to buy it just now?’”
How businesses respond to this behaviour, however, will also influence how consumers spend.