Study: 5 Out Of 6 US Shoppers Make Impulse Buys

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Five out of six U.S. shoppers shop impulsively.

If there’s one thing shoppers like to do, it’s shop impulsively.

Which is why it should really come as no surprise than that a recent survey from found that five out of six American consumers admit to making an impulse buy at some point in their lives.

And when these customers are shopping impulsively, they are most often doing it in person and spending on themselves.

According to the survey, 54 percent of U.S. consumers say they’ve spent $100 or more on an impulse buy, while 20 percent admitted they’ve spent at least $1,000 or more on an impulse buy.

“We aren’t rational beings; we rationalize our actions — especially with money,” Brad Klontz, cofounder of the Financial Psychology Institute and associate professor of economics and finance at Creighton University, told

The study polled 1,003 U.S. adults about their impulse buying habits, defined as “unplanned or unnecessary decisions to buy a product just before the purchase was made.”

Of those polled, 84 percent admitted to impulse buying, while a whopping 77 percent said they had made an impulse buy in the past three months alone.

And when it comes to impulse shopping, eight out of 10 customers (or 79 percent) admitted to doing so in a brick-and-mortar store. In contrast, mobile only saw an impulse buying rate of 6 percent and 13 percent for online.

“When something is tangible and is right in front of you, it sparks the impulse to buy more than a picture on your phone,” Karen Lee, an author and financial planner, told “For retailers, it’s all about triggering an emotional response that will encourage more spending. They don’t put Scientific American at the checkout for a reason. They place magazines like The National Enquirer and candy. Those things are more likely to make you feel emotions, like jealously, curiosity and desire.”

Online impulse shoppers tend to skew younger. Only 13 percent of those surveyed said they made an impulse buy online, but that number rose to 20 percent for 18- to 29-year-olds.

And when consumers shop impulsively, they shop selfishly, too. Forty-seven percent of those who made impulse buys made them for themselves, but that number rose to 61 percent among those age 18–29; those 30–49 are most likely to impulse buy for their child (at 31 percent); and those 50 or older are most likely to make an impulse buy for their spouse or significant other (20 percent).

But the desire to impulse shop does appear to decrease by age, as 20 percent of seniors said they have never made an impulse buy, compared to only 8 percent of people under the age of 50 who said they never shop impulsively.

“The prefrontal cortex isn’t totally developed until age 24 or 25 for men,” according to Klontz. “And a 21-year-old woman won’t make a decision the same way a 40-year-old woman would. You are more susceptible to having financial problems and control impulses when you are younger.”

Not surprisingly, impulse buying also seems correlated to income, as those who make more tend to spend more, too.

Of those surveyed, 24 percent of U.S. shoppers who make more than $75,000 annually said they’ve spent $100–$500 on an impulse buy in the past three months, while 10 percent of that same demographic admitted to making an impulse buy of more than $1,000 in the past three months.

Consumers who make less are also less likely to make impulse buys, the survey found, as 30 percent of consumers who make less than $30,000 annually said they have not made an impulse purchase over the past three months, compared to 13 percent of all those surveyed.

And seniors are not too impulsive either (probably because they are living on fixed incomes), as 37 percent of those 65 or older said they have not made an impulse buy in the past three months.


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