Impulsive Buying

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 1 November 2016

Impulsive Buying

Impulsive consumer behavior is widely recognized nowadays. Impulse buying accounts for almost 80% of purchases in some product categories and shopping is a major leisure and lifestyle activity in many countries (Kacen & Lee 2002). Impulsive buying generates over $4 billion of annual sales in the United States. Impulsive consumer buying behavior is regarded as a hedonically complex purchase behavior in which the thoughtful, deliberate consideration of all information and choice alternatives is precluded. It has been suggested that purchases of new products result more and more from impulsive buying rather than planned purchases. Furthermore, the globalization in the expression of technologies, telemarketing and the internet increases the consumer impulsive buying opportunities.

Impulse buying is a pervasive and distinctive aspect of the consumer’s lifestyle and is also a focal point for considerable marketing management activity. A study conducted some decades ago found that between 27 and 62 percent of consumer’s department store purchases fell into the impulse category. Also the century we live in and the marketing innovations such as credit cards, ‘instant credit’, 24-hour retailing, telemarketing and online shopping make it now easier than ever for the consumers to purchase things on impulse.

The attempts by researchers to find a clear definition of a phenomenon that cannot be solely described as unplanned behavior and the opportunity to examine the factors that intervene in its expression was the motivation for this thesis. Furthermore, the history of associating impulsiveness with human weakness and the psychologists and economists’ focus on the ‘irrational’ aspects of such behavior sparks the interest into the topic and uncovers the potential for further research in the field. It is also interesting that the factors that are linked to impulsive buying are also likely to be influenced by culture.

Theoretical Framework

The understanding of the concept was greatly improved by Stern (1962). Pure impulse purchasing occurs when consumers experience truly impulsive buying, the novelty or escape purchase which breaks a normal buying pattern. His conceptualization was based on the premise that impulsive buying can be pure, planned, reminder and suggestion, and is linked to consumer’s exposure to stimulus. Kollat and Willet (1969) interchangeably used “unplanned” and “impulsive” purchasing. Rook and Hoch (1985) focused attention on the cognitive and emotional aspect of consumer’s involvement in impulsive purchasing. The construction of the phenomenon’s definition was resting on consumers’ descriptions of thoughts and emotions experienced during impulse purchasing situations. They came up with 5 distinctive elements that draw the difference between impulsive and planned purchases: (1) feeling a “sudden and spontaneous desire to act”; (2) being in a “state of psychological disequilibrium”; (3) experiencing a “psychological conflict and struggle”; (4) reducing “cognitive evaluation”; (5) consuming “without regard for the consequences”.

Summarizing the five dimensions, Rook (1987) identified impulsive purchasing as a “sudden, often powerful and persistent urge to buy something immediately. It is a hedonically complex and emotionally conflicting behavior which is prone to occur with diminished regard for its consequences.” As it can be seen, a shift in the elements comprising the definitions can be observed. Piron (1991) offers a new definition as an answer to his critique of the previous attempt for definition: impulse purchasing is (1) unplanned, (2) the result of an exposure to a stimulus, (3) decided “on the spot”. Kacen and Lee (2002) define the concept as “unplanned purchase” that is characterized by (1) relatively rapid decision-making, and (2) a subjective bias in favor of immediate possession.

They further contributed with their work by investigating how cultural factors affect impulsive buying which gains better insights about understanding the phenomenon. The authors’ research makes a contribution in recognizing that understanding impulse buying solely on a Western point of view is incomplete. The Western-individualist emphasis on the self, individual needs and desires, and hedonistic pleasures encourages impulsive buying behavior. The Eastern-collectivist notions of the self, the interdependence, emotional control, emphasis on group needs and desires would discourage impulsive buying.


Emotions being the main driver of impulsive buying behavior have been the subject of debates in terms of terminology. Scientists use the term affect as a general category that encompasses emotions, moods and attitudes. The mental state of readiness that arises from cognitive appraisals of events or thoughts is what characterizes emotions. The line between emotions and mood is difficult to be drawn. It is often said that mood is longer lasting and lower in intensity than an emotion. Other researches add to this that emotions are typically intentional while mood is generally non-intentional and global. Attitudes are often considered instances of affect. Some authors define them as evaluative judgments rather than emotional states. Others make no distinction between evaluative judgments and affect. Still others propose that attitudes have two components: cognitive and affective dimensions. To sum up, the terms emotions, affect, attitudes, moods are all used inconsistently in the literature.

Rather than focusing on exploring the definitions of impulsive buying behavior, the contribution of this thesis will be to examine the emotional arousal behind the phenomenon and factors moderating people’s inclination to such a type of behavior. This will include interpersonal influence and the presence or lack of self-control. Early research concluded that susceptibility to interpersonal influence is a general trait that varies across persons and occurrences. Further, susceptibility to influence by others is related to personal characteristics. Cox and Bauer (1964) pointed out that people with low self-esteem comply with others’ suggestions in order to avoid social disapproval. Berkowitz & Lundy (1957) also found out that persons who score low in interpersonal confidence ratings are most susceptible to peer influence.

Problem statement and research goal

Previous research has numerous attempts for giving a clear definition of impulsive buying but somehow the definitions capture different aspects of the phenomenon and fail to address a complete and exact definition. Much of the work on impulsive buying inherently implies negative attributes to the concept. However, once consumers buy products for fun, fantasy, social or emotional gratification, impulsive buying may be viewed as a valued pastime rather than a simple acquisition of goods (Hausman, 2000). Researchers have shown that many factors influence impulsive buying such as consumer’s mood, trait buying impulsiveness, demographic factors, and culture. This study aims at discussing emotions, interpersonal influence and self-control as factors expected t have a substantial influence on consumer’s impulsive purchases.

Feelings do predict behavior. So if you are feeling hurt, threatened or bored, what are you likely to do? What about if you are happy or interested? Would you go to the movies, go out with friends or go shopping? What about buying things not intended? To assess how well people control their impulses, regulate emotions, manage performances, maintain self-discipline, and break out of bad habits, is a difficult task. The consumption experience is replete with emotion, often of a high degree of intensity. What has been overlooked is the social aspect of emotions, while most of the research done is concerned with the individual conceptualization of emotions. Emotions are not simply internal events but are communicative acts and are also addressed in the consumption environment of an individual (Parkinson 1996, Bearden 1989).

A matter of discussion is how the emotional state of an individual influences his impulsive buying behavior. Whether positive or negative emotions, the two extremes of the emotional state, have a stronger effect has been a matter of debate for a long time among researchers and is still argued. Furthermore, does shopping with others have an impact on impulsive purchases (Luo 2005)? If emotions are social and are expressed in a stronger way when being with a friend or family member, then it can be expected that the tendency to indulge in impulsive purchases will increase. However, another factor also plays a major role in the buyer behavior – self-control. Every individual has a different ability for self-control and self-control failure may be the reason for impulsive purchasing. Can we control our behavior and emotions when we are depressed or when we are happy? Will the presence or lack of self-control evolve into impulsive purchases?

The main problem investigated is:

* How does the emotional state (positive VS negative emotions) influence impulsive buying behavior?

Statement of the Hypothesis

H1: More positive emotional state (strong positive emotions and weak negative emotions) can lead to higher impulsive buying behavior.

Since emotional experience is taken to be mainly private, emotion communication is seen to depend on prior account on individual emotions. Often, a person’s relationships with others are a central concern of emotions. Given the obvious importance of interpersonal relations that cause emotions, it might seem surprising that psychological research has focused mainly on non-social manipulations in which a single individual is presented with his/her emotional range. Many of the things that get people emotional about relate to other people (Parkinson, 1996). Emotions can feed into the ongoing interpersonal process and cause similar or contrasting emotions in others.

H2: The presence of others at the time of purchase has a positive effect on impulsive buying behavior.

Shoppers could be often heard to say “I really shouldn’t”. The prices are high, the budget is tight, and an item is not desperately needed so it seems that a reasonable behavior for the buyer would be not to purchase the item. But there come the alliance of wants, impulses and emotions that all serve to convince the shopper that the item will bring happiness, at least for a while. Thus, the decision in this situation is dependable on the conflict between strengths of self-control and desire. Self-control refers to the self’s capacity to alter its own states and responses (Baumeister, 2002).

The ability to maintain self-control and successfully implement long-run decisions depends on the relative strength of the opposing forces of desire and willpower. In psychoanalytic theory, the conflict of desire and willpower is presented as a fluctuation between primary process thinking which is impulse driven, irrational and seeks immediate gratification at any cost, and secondary process thinking which is patient, logical and has the will to postpone gratification for future long-run goals (Loewenstein & Hoch, 1991).

State of the Art
Related Literature

For over fifty years, consumer researchers have strived to form a better definition of impulse buying. Early studies on impulse buying stemmed from managerial and retailer interests. Research in this vein placed its emphasis on the taxonomic approach to classifying products into impulse and non-impulse items in order to facilitate marketing strategies such as point-of-purchase advertising, merchandising, or in-store promotions. This approach is limited by a definitional myopia, which simply equates impulse buying to unplanned purchasing (Bellenger, Robertson, and Hirschman 1978; Kollat and Willet 1967; Stern 1962).

Impulse buying generates over $4 billion in annual sales volume in the United States. With the growth of e-commerce and television shopping channels, consumers have easy access to impulse purchasing opportunities, but little is known about this sudden, compelling, hedonically complex purchasing behavior in non-Western cultures. Yet cultural factors moderate many aspects of consumer’s impulsive buying behavior, including self-identity, normative influences, the suppression of emotion, and the postponement of instant gratification.

From a multi-country survey of consumers in Australia, United States, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia, our analyses show that both regional level factors (individualism–collectivism) and individual cultural difference factors (independent –interdependent self-concept) systematically influence impulsive purchasing behavior. (Julie Anne Lee, Department of Marketing, University of Hawaii–Manoa)

According to Jacqueline J. Kacen, Department of Business Administration, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Impulsive consumer buying behavior is a widely recognized phenomenon in the United States.It accountsfor up to 80% of all purchases in certain product categories (Abrahams, 1997;Smith, 1996), and it has been suggested that purchases of new products result more from impulse purchasing than from prior planning (Sfiligoj, 1996). A 1997 study found that an estimated $4.2 billion annual store volume was generated by impulse sales of items such as candy and magazines (Mogelonsky, 1998). Paco Underhill, author of Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping (1999), affirms that many purchases are being made on the premises of stores themselves as customers give in to their impulses.

Furthermore, technologies such as television shopping channels and the Internet expand consumers’ impulse purchasing opportunities, increasing both the accessibility to products and services and the ease with which impulse purchases can be made.Impulsive buying behavior is a sudden, compelling,hedonically complex purchasing behavior in which the rapidity of the impulse purchase decision process precludes thoughtful, deliberate consideration of all information and choice alternatives (Bayley & Nancorrow, 1998; Rook 1987;Thompson, Locander, & Pollio, 1990;Weinberg &Gottwald,1982). This description is largely based on interviews and surveys of Westerners.


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  • University/College: University of Arkansas System

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 1 November 2016

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