impulse good


An impulse good is essentially what its name implies, a good purchased on impulse or whim, and without any prior thought or planning. Usually, impulse goods are considered to be a sub-segment of convenience goods since they would fit into that classification if they were bought to satisfy ongoing needs, rather than immediate desire.

Generally, impulse goods have been described as goods that are mass marketed, mass advertised, not necessities, small sized, quickly consumed, low priced and easy to store. But recent trends suggest that impulse items no longer need to possess those characteristics although they continue to be primarily convenience goods.

It is also possible that specialty or shopping goods could be bought on impulse, given a consumer’s supply of money, and a conducive set of circumstances. A wealthy shopper may see a display of $200 cameras and buy one on whim. Another shopper looking for a $50 dress may see an attractive one at $300, and buy it on impulse.

In the development of marketing strategy, however, these are exceptions rather than the rule, and do not fall into the impulse goods category.


There are numerous items and products that are routinely purchased on impulse in certain situations. Candy mints at the cashier’s counter in restaurants, drug stores and similar establishments are one example.

Another is the array of candy, gum, magazines, lurid tabloids and other items, often 100 or more, that face consumers in supermarket checkout lines. Most of these items are stocked elsewhere in the store, so if they are bought at the checkout location, the purchase is a pure impulse one.

Other types of “temptation” products that are normally purchased as convenience goods are placed in heavily traveled aisles in a store in order to provide maximum consumer exposure. The candy counter in many department stores is near an entrance in the main aisle so consumers will pass it both entering and leaving.

Also, a consumer may buy a Coca-Cola from a vending machine on impulse, but if the same buyer were to pick up a six-pack of Coke during a regular shopping trip, it would be a convenience item.


The concept of impulse goods has been used by retailers for many years to increase sales of lower-priced items, coercing consumers to spend the small change they have just received from other purchases. But the day when most consumers buy grocery items from a list and ignore other displayed items may be fast disappearing.

More recently, changing lifestyles have brought about a substantial increase in impulse buying, mainly among busy singles.

There are four types of impulse purchases:

  1. Pure Impulse: A purchase with no real basis or benefit except to satisfy a momentary whim. Candy, popcorn or a soft drink are pure impulse examples.
  2. Reminder Impulse: A display reminds a consumer to buy a product. A shopper has not thought about aspirin until he sees a display, which reminds him the supply at home is low. He buys some.
  3. Suggestion Impulse: A display suggests a use for a new item. A shopper sees a display for a new type of milk that can be stored without refrigeration. He thinks it will be just the thing to take on camping trips.
  4. Planned Impulse: A special in-store incentive to buy. A shopper sees a 50-cents-off special on a brand of detergent he does not usually buy. He needs detergent, and buys several boxes at that price.

These are examples of how knowledge of selling and buying techniques for impulse items benefits both retailers and consumers. By recognizing them, and providing different displays and incentives for each type, sales should be stimulated.


Retailers need to understand the basic concepts of the impulse buying process, particularly in today’s marketing environment. Instead of a few items at the cash register, the entire stock of a supermarket, and many items in other stores, may be considered to be impulse goods.

Thus, they should be arranged and displayed so that consumers have maximum exposure to as many items as possible as they move through the store. Location is extremely important. If a shopper wants a bottle of anchovie-stuffed olives, he will seek them out even if they are stocked in a dark corner. But if they are displayed prominently, many shoppers will take a jar, just to try them. But if the buyer does not see them at the right time, the sale may be lost forever.

Supermarkets must have straight aisles for carts to pass easily, so they depend upon end-aisle displays and “special” signs. But many department stores have moved toward the boutique concept where aisles are zig-zagged around displays and sales areas, increasing consumer exposure and impulse purchasing.

Here, the consumer needs to see a product and buy it immediately. If not, the temporarily perceived need will probably disappear. In a supermarket, however, if a shopper needs something for dessert, one impulse item or another will be bought eventually.


The types of items that sell well as impulse goods vary according to the type of store and the economic area in which it is located. In affluent areas, displays of gourmet foods or imported sweaters foster heavy impulse buying.

In other localities, special prices, one-cent sales and coupons stimulate planned impulse purchasing. In evaluating the operation of impulse-oriented strategy, questions such as these should be asked:

  1. Are promotional programs aimed at getting consumers into the stores? E.g., special incentives, loss leaders.
  2. Are special offers or reduced prices highlighted with displays or signs to attract attention?
  3. Are displays for new items prominently placed and their attributes made clear, to attract suggestion impulse buyers?
  4. Are packages designed to catch the shopper’s eye, and self-sell the product?
  5. Are impulse items selected so they are likely to appeal to the specific target market served?


Impulse shopping today involves a much wider variety of goods than it has in the past. Lifestyles of many consumers mitigate against orderly and planned convenience good shopping. Instead, consumers rely more and more on in-store cues.

Rather than shopping specifically for a pot roast, potatoes and green beans, a consumer enters a store looking for “something for dinner” and cruises the aisles until an attractive product triggers an impulse buy.

Thus, impulse goods can include most convenience goods when they are bought to satisfy a strong current need. Intensive distribution is a must, and manufacturers need to assure their displays are well-placed so as to catch the consumer’s eye.

Applications to Small Business

Smaller retailers should use the same techniques as larger ones: displays, price incentives and promotion to bring shoppers into the store. Fast moving items should be located so that consumers must pass displays of impulse-type items in order to get to them.

Smaller manufacturers should concentrate more on packaging and on personal selling direct to retailers. Heavy consumer advertising may not be necessary unless there are several competitive products in the same channels, because consumers are likely to depend upon in-store cues and make impulse purchases.




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