Impulse Buying in Social Commerce: Fact or Fiction?

Ruth Peters
July 27, 2022

Impulse can be a powerful motivator –– it’s why there’s candy at grocery store checkouts and why low-cost products are stocked by the registers in stores. Humans are susceptible to temptation, and retailers know just how to cash in. 

Very few people have avoided impulse buying entirely; never having given in to a whim, buying something out of the blue. But as the world shifts from in-store to online shopping, and social commerce becomes the norm across all generations, will this have an impact on the psychology of impulse shopping?

Dig deeper > 3-minute read

Understanding impulse

Before we can understand the role impulse buying plays — or doesn’t play — in social commerce, we need to understand the different types of impulse buying that customers exhibit.
These are:

  • Pure impulse purchasing - Also known as ‘escape impulse’ this describes the ‘grab a bar of candy at the checkout’ type of purchase. Buyers are driven by a strong, emotional reaction and can even decide to purchase an item that’s well outside of their typical buying behavior.

  • Suggestion impulse purchasing - Another impulse purchase of something the shopper doesn’t ‘need’, suggestion impulse is driven more by rationale than emotion. Consider, for example, that you’re ordering after-work drinks and instead of having your usual glass of red, you switch to vodka and tonic because you hear it’s lower in calories.

  • Reminder impulse purchasing - Here, the customer wasn’t in a position to purchase the product at all, but the way that item was merchandised or presented to them triggered the desire to stock up — usually on something they’ve purchased before.
  • Planned impulse purchasing - Discounts and promotions play a big role here, persuading the shopper to purchase something they didn’t intend to. Planned impulse can be inspired by scarcity, too, leading the customer to purchase more of a product than they actually need.

Is impulse buying on the rise in a digital world?

Certain datasets suggest that impulse purchasing and digital retail go hand in hand. A 2017 Neilsen survey found that impulsive purchases are 5% more likely online than offline, a number which has increased along with the prevalence of eCommerce and social shopping

The pandemic certainly boosted impulse buying figures. too. In January 2020 the average US consumer spent $155 on impulse buys monthly. Just four months later that number had surged by 18% to $183, largely owing to the fact that shoppers had nowhere else to go to feed their need for retail.

So what is it about the digital shopping space that encourages impulse purchasing? There’s the ability to target consumers directly and individually, for one, carrying the potential to increase conversions by 161%. Add in easy, one-click checkout (to secure the 70% of customers who’ll drop off without a one-click experience), discount codes, and powerful forms of social proof, and brands have multiple ways to motivate online shoppers.

Impulse purchasing and social commerce: it’s not as simple as you’d think

Removing as much friction as possible from the edge shopping experience is essential if you want to boost conversions. However, contrary to what many might believe, this doesn’t mean keeping the entire social commerce experience within the social platform.

Despite what Instagram’s Shopping feature might suggest, just 11% of social media users make an online purchase immediately after discovering a product. 

“The probability of a new visitor making a so-called impulse purchase is just 0.25%. We’ve seen across years of research that shoppers very rarely go from product discovery to conversion right away, instead 90% make multiple visits back across multiple sessions before finally converting.” — Charles Nicholls, SimplicityDX Chief Strategy Officer. 

Our State of Social Commerce research report corroborates this insight: while 61% of social shoppers first thought about a recent purchase while using Facebook, and almost half of users think that social is a great place to learn about new brands, the overwhelming majority (71%) want to purchase through the brand’s website — perhaps at a later date.

Retailers, take note: the majority of customers do not want to check out immediately on social. Using your social commerce strategy to redirect traffic to your eCommerce store should be your main goal. 

Brands need to optimize the transition from social to brand site, then focus on encouraging impulse buying with warm leads

Supporting ‘planned’ impulse purchasing in your social commerce strategy

Remember those four types of impulse purchasing we outlined earlier? Brands need to be realistic about the impulsive behavior we can expect customers to make when shopping at the edge. 

Planned impulse purchases can be encouraged in social commerce; using those same retargeting and user experience optimizations mentioned above. Let’s unpack those in a bit more detail.

Retarget with ads and remarket with emails

The practices of retargeting and remarketing are often used interchangeably, but the two tactics are quite different, offering separate benefits within the social commerce space. 

Retargeting ads can recapture a shopper’s attention, presenting them with the product(s) they engaged with at an earlier date. Brands can pull products from a shopper’s cart or wishlist to do so — just one of the reasons why brands should store cart items for at least 90 days. 

Regular email remarketing can convert the 69.82% of shoppers who leave abandoned carts, offering up motivating discount codes and/or creating a feeling of scarcity to nudge shoppers towards that planned impulse purchase.

Both of these strategies become even more important in the context of social commerce. Faced with ever-changing algorithms, social platforms can make it nearly impossible for shoppers to find an ad or sponsored post again.

Collect data

To retarget and remarket effectively, you need accurate data. But when a customer makes a purchase through the Instagram Shopping tab, all the data goes to Meta… not to the retailer brand. By redirecting customers to complete a sale on your site, you’ll be getting valuable information that can help you convert.

This data is also central to ongoing optimization. If your aim is to give customers what they need for a seamless and pain-free shopping experience, you can’t just set up the process and forget about it. Use purchaser data and feedback forms to ensure that you’re giving consumers the best possible sales journey. 

And if you consider the fact that 53% of shoppers don’t trust social networks with their data, then you’re making a customer-centric decision as well.

Pay close attention to your landing page

We talked about the need for a friction-free experience, and of the biggest mistakes a brand can make is directing shoppers to a broken product landing page. If users want to make a planned impulse purchase following remarketing and retargeting activity, then there’s a high chance they’ll abandon the idea as soon as they hit that wall. 

Broken landing pages are more common than you’d think –– 8 out of 10 respondents in our survey reported issues with poor landing experiences which impacted their shopping journey. This can be a massive revenue leak — as much as 14%, according to our research — and is an easy fix that can boost your bottom line. 

Monitor inventory levels of promoted products

Lastly, if you’re going to motivate impulse sales, you need to have the stock available. Customers have an expectation that advertised products will be available, and are unlikely to return to a brand after getting hit with an out-of-stock notice. 

In a previous blog, we explained that 98% of shoppers have experienced a stock-out or availability issue in the last 90 days. It’s a huge issue when shopping at the edge — one that brands need to address or face the revenue consequences.

SimplicityDX makes social commerce work. Its SimplicityDX Edge Experience Platform enables brands to optimize social commerce experiences by simplifying the buying process between journeys started at the edge and the brand’s eCommerce e- site. Founded by a team of industry veterans in May 2021 and privately funded, SimplicityDX operates in the U.S. and U.K. markets. 

Visit or connect with us on LinkedIn.

And for more information on social commerce, be sure to check out SimplicityDX's State of Social Commerce report.


What are the 4 types of impulse buying?

The 4 types of impulse buying are: pure impulse (like buying candy at the check out), suggestion impulse, reminder impulse, and planned impulse. For social commerce, suggestion impulse, reminder impulse, and planned impulse can all be triggered to convert a sale.

What are 3 impulse buying traps?

The 3 impulse buying traps are: confusing wants and needs, being swayed by advertising, and believing in quick fixes.

What is the psychology behind impulse buying?

From a psychological perspective, impulse purchasing can be described as a sudden and strong emotional desire that causes an individual to react (purchase) to a certain stimulus (a promotion, marketing display, etc.)

Read our other insights on eCommerce.

Impulse Buying in Social Commerce: Fact or Fiction?

7 Ways to Improve the Customer Experience of your Shopify Store

eCommerce Profitability is Driven by Digital Customer Experience

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What is omnichannel eCommerce?

Product News: Alert! Get notified when your eCommerce customers are struggling

eCommerce checkout best practice: 3 checkout UX tips to secure your sales

Download The State of eCommerce 2021: how much do you know about your retail rivals?

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