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The Mindset of a Holiday Impulse Shopper, Explained

Bethany Johnson, Writer

This article is part of Square’s definitive guide on eCommerce best practices during the holidays. Explore the guide to learn how to curate a festive and stress-free shopping experience for your customers and stay competitive.

Some holiday shoppers march into specified stores with a plan in hand. Other consumers take a more relaxed approach, browsing window displays and trusting the “perfect gift” to stand out. And when it does, these shoppers snatch it up.

These are impulse shoppers, and they’re just as active during the holiday season as they are throughout the year. In fact, one in three purchases are made on impulse — including in-store purchases — during this time, according to Google.

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According to a CreditCards.com poll of U.S. adults, 44% made an impulse buy online in the past three months. The average American consumer spends $5,400 on impulse purchases per year, according to a survey by Slickdeals.net. An impulse buy is one that’s not premeditated. When a shopper sees something and buys it to solve for a want or need (stocking stuffers, more tinsel, or extra eggnog, for example), that is considered impulsive.

But impulse shoppers aren’t frivolous consumers (at least not all the time). They’re more easily swayed than other types of shoppers because they’re open to nabbing goods or services that they didn’t specifically have in mind. Knowing the difference can enhance your ability to catch their interest.

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 CreditCards.com 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 Slickdeals.net 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.

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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 holiday-themed game or quiz to determine the type of holiday discount or other promotion they’ll receive when they buy right away. This seasonal content allows you to get the attention of deal-seeking splurgers. Gamifying visitors’ shopping experience 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 holiday 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.

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. Post a clear return policy on your site to get ahead of any doubts impulse shoppers might have.

How to catch their eye

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.

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. Valentine’s Day, late winter birthdays, anniversaries, and spring holidays are fast approaching, and you should be top of mind when they need the perfect, quick solution.

Small sellers have the perfect opportunity to create a customer experience that impulse shoppers can’t resist. By tapping into the energy of the holidays 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, they will remember you as a trustworthy resource the next time they need quality gift ideas on the fly.

The holidays can be the busiest time of year for businesses. From helping shoppers find the perfect gift to keeping up with your inventory, sellers need to wear multiple hats. Square is here to help. We have all the tools you need to start, run, and grow your business, whether you’re selling in person, online, or both. And we’ve made all our tools to work together as one system, saving you time and money — and making decisions easier. So you, too, can enjoy the most wonderful time of the year. See how Square works.

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