Think about the last time you saw an offer on social media and couldn’t resist making the purchase.
Or maybe you saw something trending through a click-to-buy ad campaign, and thought it’d be good to buy that product!
Impulse buying has become a lot more common today.
With social storefronts and shoppable content campaigns across all platforms, the number of steps a shopper needs to take to make a purchase are reducing by the day.
They get to the point of making a purchase decision almost instantly.
While this shopping behavior definitely looks like it should be encouraged to get more sales, our research shows the opposite.
Brands are falling into the impulse purchase trap and losing a lot more than they can gain from social shopping.
In this blog, we’re going to walk you through some of the key aspects of impulse buying, what drives this shopping behavior, how brands are encouraging it and why they should move their marketing tactics away from it.
What is impulse buying?
An impulse purchase or impulse buying is an unplanned, instant decision to buy a product or service from a brand. These purchases are driven by a number of factors including social influence, the fear of missing out on good deals and discounts, or the need to catch up with ongoing trends.
Impulse purchases are different from regular purchases in only one way - they are not consciously planned. They are more compulsive in nature and happen in the moment, whether the need for a product exists or not.
What drives impulse buying behavior?
There are several factors that drive impulse purchases on social media. Research has shown that this includes personality traits, buying beliefs and attitudes, sociocultural values and demographic factors, which get further encouraged by the following:
- Fear of missing out - 69% of consumers experience FOMO. And social media is one of their biggest triggers with brands promoting campaigns with messages like ‘last one’, ‘limited stock available’, ‘offer valid for only 24 hours’ and so on. The urgency created around the offer being made is what often leads to impulse buying.
- Social proof - Cialdini’s framework highlights how social proof has a big role to play in the day to day decisions we make - including purchases. Apart from product reviews, ratings and testimonials, social media has added another form of social proof - user generated content, which further shows just how many people own or vouch for something. The need to catch up with everyone is another reason for impulse purchases.
- Authority - Social media has made the world around us more aspirational. With so many creators sharing their lifestyles through content, we have several influences around us. Think about the time Rihanna used her range of cosmetics to touch up her makeup at the Super Bowl and the product instantly went out of stock online and offline.
- Ease of shopping - With social storefronts and social commerce features enabling brands to promote click-to-buy content, shopping has become a lot simpler than having to visit websites, browse through products and go through the entire purchase journey.
Our State of Commerce research also found that 70% of consumers find social media a great place to discover new products.
With people spending an average of 2.5 hours a day on social platforms, we can safely say that each one of us has given into impulse while making online purchases.
Our latest research shows that 50% of 1000 online shoppers that use social media made an impulse purchase in the last 90 days.
How much do we spend on social media impulse purchases?
The answer to this heavily depends on the duration that you are considering.
For instance, pre-pandemic impulse purchases included items like food and groceries, clothing, vehicles, household items, coffee, books and others. But post-pandemic, the list of impulse purchases changed to include items like cleaning products, toilet paper, sanitizers, soaps and others.
Now as the world settles into the new normal, our preferences are changing all over again.
But to quantify impulse purchase value, it was found that an average US consumer spent $155 on impulse buys monthly in January 2020. This number surged to $183 per month in just four months owing to the ease of shopping as eCommerce and social commerce grew.
If you look at the numbers, you may feel that impulse buying is actually a good thing for your eCommerce business.
What if we said that our research has found that 56% of shoppers regret impulse buys from social media - and this negatively impacts their experience with the brand, leading to a rippling effect that hampers their bottom line revenue.
Why do consumers regret impulse purchases?
If you want a detailed breakdown into the reasons why a majority of consumers regret making impulse purchases, download our research here.
But here are some of the common reasons stated by the consumers we surveyed for the research:
1. Product looked different
Brands leverage lifestyle content to promote their products and collections - be it in their marketing and advertising campaigns, or the collaborations with influencers and creators. While their tactic effectively gets consumers to make the purchase, 55% of shoppers reported that the product looked different from what had captured their attention.
2. Product quality and value was subpar
Impulse purchases are usually made in the spur of a moment. Consumers don’t really spend time researching the product or the brand, or looking into the finer details before making the purchase. Our research found that 59% of consumers were unhappy with the impulse purchase due to the value the product offered or its quality.
3. Product returns/ exchanges are a hassle
Our research on returns found that 23% of shoppers are not sure who to contact to arrange for a refund. They also report returning products bought on social media as problematic and time-consuming, which led them to keeping the products.
How do negative impulse purchase experiences impact eCommerce businesses?
Keeping in mind the reasons of regrets around impulse purchases, let’s look at how each impacts the eCommerce business:
1. Lowers brand value perception
Irrespective of whether the consumer chooses to keep the product or return it, the negative experience leads to a much lower brand value perception. The brand gets instantly labeled as someone that does not deliver on the promises they make on social media.
2. Broken customer experiences
While the content on social media is more lifestyle oriented, the product page that a consumer is led to, is often to the point. This creates a difference in how the product ‘looks’ on social media vs the brand site, and instantly breaks the experience you want to offer. Our research has found that the average conversion rate of traffic referred to from social media is a mere 0.5%.
3. Reduces return engagement
On probing the survey respondents, we also found that only 17% of consumers are willing to purchase on social media again after returning a product bought there during impulse shopping. So in times when customer acquisition is getting costlier by the day, getting consumers to return is a constant challenge.
4. Negative word of mouth
Social media platforms naturally encourage consumers to share their experiences with their friends and family. When they experience a negative purchase experience, they are bound to share the same on social media - this creates a negative word of mouth around your product and sometimes the overall brand name. So a channel that is meant to help you reach more customers, becomes the channel that stops buyers from interacting with you.
5. Lack of customer data
Each social media platform is built differently. When a consumer chooses to make an impulse purchase decision, they are focused on a specific product that was being promoted - they are very less likely to explore the other options available to them. And if they use social media to make the purchase, brands further lose a chance to understand their interest, intent or even purchase preferences. This leads to the inability to understand the market or personalize marketing and advertising campaigns.
Can brands really do something about impulse purchases?
Social influences will continue to remain and will only increase over time.
It is important to understand that brands cannot ‘stop’ impulse buying.
As a brand, you do want to encourage sales from those who follow you on social media. And impulse is a trait that is not in your control.
But what you can do is encourage consumers to make at least partly informed impulse purchase decisions.
This requires changing the way online shoppers progress through the social media marketing funnel.
From getting buyers to make purchases on social media platforms itself and directing traffic to the brand site, brands need to make the purchase journey more interactive, engaging and contextual to the interest they have indicated.
Our team of researchers and eCommerce experts also looked into what eCommerce brands can do to prevent falling into the impulse purchase trap.