Online Impulse Buys Get Lost in Translation

Digital grocery shoppers make far fewer unplanned purchases

Author: Krista Garcia

August 15, 2018

Whether you've bought them or not, everyone knows that the candy, soda and magazines displayed at the cash register are designed as last-minute temptations. Impulse purchases are just a part of the in-store shopping experience. But do these unplanned buys translate online?

Shoppers themselves say they sometimes make impulse purchases when buying online, but not as often as they do in-store.

According to an August 2018 Field Agent survey, 65% of US online grocery buyers said they made fewer impulse purchases online compared with in-store, while 18% said they made more. 

Similarly, in a December 2017 Avionos survey of US internet users, 70% cited in-store as the channel through which they would most likely make an impulse purchase. Desktop (12%) and smartphone (10%) trailed by a large margin. 

The reasons given for not making impulse purchases online were revealing. In the Field Agent survey, more than one-third of respondents said that they follow a shopping list more closely when online shopping (36%), and that impulse buys satisfy an immediate gratification (35%), an itch that isn't scratched digitally. 

But more than one-quarter of the adult US online shoppers surveyed by Field Agent said that online impulse purchases don't really happen because they don't "pass" the goods on the way to checkout. Online retailers could address this "out of sight, out of mind" problem by cross-selling during checkout, displaying complementary items on product pages or taking advantage of omnichannel options and displaying products at the pickup counter. 

Attractive pricing helps, too: When consumers were asked what would spur them to make an impulse purchase online, the leading response was a discount (72%).

Cold beverages and candy bars were the leading impulse items purchased online and in-store, according to Field Agent.