We’ve all done it – reached for the chocolate bar as we’ve headed through the checkout, or scooped up the discounted blouse (or two) when all we went into the clothing store for was an essential pair of shorts. Or perhaps we’ve clicked on a pop-up ad on our screen, and before you know it, we’ve also clicked on the ‘buy now’ tab. What we’re doing in cases like this is ‘impulse buying.’
Impulse buying is just that – purchasing items in the heat of the moment – items we hadn’t planned to buy, and which, if we’d thought about it beforehand, would never have chosen to take home (or have couriered to us). So, if we never needed (or even wanted) these purchases in the first place, just what drives us to hand over our hard-earned cash? Part of the answer, is in the way goods are marketed.
Small items, costing very little, are often placed right where we see them at times when we’re at our lowest ebb (after all, few can resist a candy bar sugar hit at the end of an exhausting weekly grocery shop). Or there may be a time limit on how long an item is available (this helps encourage an element of panic, even in discerning buyers, and panic throws us off course like nothing else). Then there are the ‘bonuses’ – “Buy one and get one free,” appealing to our sense of saving. If these tricks don’t see us reaching for our credit card – there are always others.
Loyalty programmes encourage us to buy more items than we actually need, in order to get a bonus of some sort (such as a ‘free’ gift or discounted fuel). Or we may get sucked into buying a product because a TV promotion is so slickly presented it has us believing the product will achieve the same results in our own hands. Often, retailers team two marketing plans together (the slick video presentation, and the ‘limited time’ offer, for instance), and then the impulse to buy is even harder to resist.
So, given what the average consumer is up against, how do we save ourselves from impulse buying, and the regrets that go with it? The first thing to do, is to acknowledge marketing really can have power over our minds – a power that can, for some of us, be extremely difficult to resist. Once we accept the affect marketing can have on our minds, we can take action to physically remove the temptation.
This can mean carrying healthy treats to nibble on while we’re waiting at the supermarket check-out, or doing the grocery shop after we’ve eaten dinner or rested, so we’re not feeling hungry or fractious and in need of a sugar hit. When heading home, tired or stressed from work or family commitments, we can choose to take the route that bypasses the shops rather than having their window displays accost us. Instead of leaving the TV running in the background so infomercials can have their say, we can switch it on to watch our favourite programme, and switch it off again when its finished. We can have the remote handy to mute the adverts, or pick up a book or our knitting until the programme resumes. We can learn how to turn off pop-up ads on our web browsers, and how to manage our social media settings so we don’t receive ads that are tempting. When we’re at a low ebb, we can keep away from screens, and look for other forms of entertainment (a book, for instance, trying out a new recipe, going for a walk, continuing with a jigsaw puzzle, or picking up a craft project).
The impulse to buy is unlikely to disappear of its own accord. Marketers are too clever to let that happen. The way to outsmart them, is to dodge the temptation in the first place. And if you do find yourself about to relapse, have a buddy in the wings whom you can call. Chatting to them for a few minutes about the problem, will go a long way toward de-escalating your urge to buy.
Don’t let bullying marketing tactics rob you of your hard earned cash. Shopping can be enjoyable – but only when it’s on your terms.