How to Reach A Holiday Impulse Buyer During COVID-19

How to Reach A Holiday Impulse Buyer During COVID-19
An impulse buyer will follow their instincts when it comes to holiday shopping. Here's how to capture their attention as they head online due to COVID-19.
by Bethany Johnson Oct 15, 2019 — 4 min read
How to Reach A Holiday Impulse Buyer During COVID-19

Some shoppers enter a store or log on to the computer with a specific plan in mind. Other consumers take a more relaxed approach, browsing window displays or multiple websites and trusting the “perfect gift” to stand out. And when it does, these shoppers snatch it up.

This is an impulse buyer. The average American consumer spends $5,400 on impulse purchases per year, according to a 2018 survey by

And spending more time at home (and online) in 2020 has grown this trend. According to an April 2020 poll, the average American consumer’s impulse spending increased by 18 percent during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

An impulse buy is one that’s not premeditated. When a shopper sees something and buys it to solve for a want or need, that is considered impulsive or instinctual. These shoppers are open to purchasing goods or services that they didn’t specifically have in mind. Knowing how to capture their attention can make a big difference in growing your sales this holiday season.

Understanding the impulse shopper

The characteristics of an impulse shopper are primarily related to how easily they purchase items. Product research isn’t going to be top of mind. But the desire to spend, and the potential to save, is.

They’re often young. The age group most likely to impulse buy are older millennials (ages 28–37). According to the same poll, one in five older millennials said they made a spontaneous online purchase in the previous week.

They can’t resist a sale. Eighty-five percent of survey respondents said their impulse purchase involved taking advantage of a deal or discount. And nearly half of holiday consumers say they “can’t resist” buying something when it’s on sale, according to the National Retail Federation.

They’re quick to make a purchase decision. When looking for indicators of impulsive shopping behavior online, consult your website analytics. Ironically, a returning customer’s online behavior appears very similar to a first-time holiday impulse shopper: Look for quick, decisive navigation to items and a short time-to-purchase. The difference is the segmentation of first-time visitors.

How to meet an impulse shopper’s expectations

Making checkout a breeze is the best way to ensure these shoppers simply can’t say no.

Optimize their experience for usability. The most influential website qualities for impulse online purchase decisions are ease of use, usefulness, and entertainment, according to MarMara University. For eCommerce stores, optimizing for ease of use and usefulness translates into product discoverability and a more seamless checkout experience.

Remove obstacles for online shoppers with straightforward product organization, easy-to-find buttons to “add to cart,” and a simple checkout flow. Take it even further by offering payment options that are built for speedy checkout, such as Apple Pay or Google Pay.

Gamify shopping. Incorporate a game or quiz to determine the type of discount or other promotion they’ll receive when they buy right away. This is even easier through eCommerce than in a brick-and-mortar store because it can happen in the form of a newsletter, a pop-up on the website, or a game that appears during checkout. This will get the attention of the impulse buyer. Gamifying visitors’ shopping experiences can also be a way to drive entertainment value and overall customer experience.

Give them a deal. Promote lightning sales, deal-of-the-day specials, and “last chance” discounts to these opportunistic buyers. Keep in mind that nearly half of shoppers plan their shopping around specific sale events like Black Friday, according to the NRF.

Impulse shoppers may still plan when they’re looking to buy, but the surprise is in what they’ll buy, especially if it’s something they perceive to be a good deal. Highlighting your sales, deals, and special buys on social media and through newsletters is a great way to let customers know about bargains.

Nearly half of consumers are spending more time on social media during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent consumer survey by GlobalData, making it an optimal channel to promote these deals.

Offer a great return policy. Contrary to myths, there is no evidence impulsive purchases lead to higher return rates. In fact, a study on return policies by the University of Texas-Dallas found that policies that provide more time for returns and refund a larger percentage of the original cost are the most effective for increasing overall sales.

In the time of COVID-19, this has become more important, because people often don’t get to try something out in person before they buy it. Post a clear return policy on your site to get ahead of any doubts impulse shoppers might have, taking care to highlight any special return policy changes you have implemented during the pandemic.

How to catch the attention of an impulse buyer

Once you’ve appealed to an impulse shopper’s sense of enjoyment and urgency, reassure them by establishing your credibility. Then, begin the process of cultivating a relationship beyond the impulsive sale.

Emphasize self-care. According to the Slickdeals survey about impulse buyer behavior in April 2020, nearly three in four (72 percent) said that buying something impulsively during the pandemic has positively affected their mood. You can catch an impulse buyer’s eye by putting an emphasis on treating themselves during these trying times.

Streamline the purchasing process. Remove friction and build trust for them at this point with the glad tidings of warranties, money-back guarantees, customer ratings, and any other risk-reversal visuals you have. Another way to smooth time-to-purchase at this stage is by offering a guest checkout option, so first-timer shoppers don’t have to create an account with your site.

Go beyond season’s greetings. Once you’ve met and converted a holiday impulse shopper, plan to stay in touch. This usually begins with your transaction confirmation email. “Good choice” or “Your thoughtful gifts are on the way” can bolster buyers who may have second thoughts. Send additional notifications that reinforce post-purchase rationalization and allow them to enjoy the excitement of their seasonal score.

Give great customer care. As customers await their goods, consider sending an email with creative ways other customers have presented your products to gift recipients. Use messaging that affirms them and their choices, not your brand.

You can also remind them of upcoming gift-giving events like Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, and other holidays, and you should be top of mind when they need the perfect, quick solution. With everyone’s attention being pulled in so many different directions lately, reminding customers about your products and what they might be used for can help them feel like you have their back.

Reaching Impulse-Shopper Checklist

Offer sales and specials to make decisions easier. 

Smaller retailers have the perfect opportunity to create a customer experience that impulse shoppers can’t resist. By tapping into their energy and making the purchasing process simple, you can satisfy this shopper’s need for instant gratification, and make it fun. Once you’ve captured their attention and helped raise their spirits, they will remember you as a trustworthy resource the next time they need quality gift ideas on the fly.

Bethany Johnson
Bethany Johnson is a writer covering emerging technology for small businesses, content marketing for enterprise-level practitioners, and consumer trends.


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