7 Ways Retail Stores Can Drive Impulse Buys During the Holidays

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Everywhere you turn you see predictions that shoppers will tighten their belts this holiday season and plan to spend less. Without the burden of driving to the mall, finding the product in aisles and standing in long checkout lines, online buys are said to avoid the “mid-purchase pause” that derails in-store impulse purchases.

Retail stores are strategizing ways to influence customer shopping behavior, to prevent cart abandonment and to drive unplanned, impulse purchases in-store during this time of continued economic uncertainty. Here are some great ways to increase sales through unplanned purchases this holiday season.

1. Demonstrations & Testing

Call it retail theater: Stores hire well trained and bubbly demonstrators to draw you to their products by staging tempting, multi-sensory experiences. The persuasion begins with the overall look and feel of the demo area, with a display that catches the customers eye.

A few recent studies have found that physical stores still do a better job than online competitors inspiring customers to spend more money than planned. According to a recent study from A.T. Kearney, about 40 percent of survey respondents reported spending more money than planned in retail stores, while only 25 percent reporting doing so when shopping online.

With one-click, easy purchasing options online why is this percentage higher when shopping in physical stores?

“This is in part because stores are more likely destinations for what we call ‘occasion trips,’ or time spent browsing, window shopping, treasure hunting, or making impulse purchases,” A.T. Kearney researchers wrote in the report. “Online shopping, in contrast, is more likely to involve ‘mission trips’ for those on a mission to find specific products or services at the lowest possible price.”

Impulse purchases are unplanned, and are made based on an emotionally-driven reason. In-store demonstration and customer testing is the simplest way to invoke that emotionally driven connection with products shoppers didn’t plan to purchase. If customers can put their hands on a product and see how to use it, they are more likely to purchase.

2. Social Media

In 2011, a blogger from Yahoo wrote about how social media killed impulse buying. The theory was that with the ability to read and write reviews quickly, social media took the power away from traditional ad and marketing sources. Consumers pay less attention to advertising from companies, preferring to listen to friends and other users online.

All of those statements hold some truth. Traditional advertisements are no longer as effective as they once were. However, if brands embrace social media not only can they connect with their shopper on a more personal level, but customer advocacy for their products has never been more powerful.

We trust our friends and assume that they either did the thinking before us or that they would let us know if it was a bad product. Or, we want to stay a part of our circle of friends, and we consider buying the same kinds of products and services as a way to hold onto the group identity. In this way, social media has increased impulse buying through peer pressure and trust.

Savvy retail stores will need to rethink how to attract the new impulse shopper. This will require understanding which kind of product or service they are selling — low cost, symbolic, instant — and how the new social media consumer goes about buying that type of product or service. It might not be the same strategy as persuading a shopper to buy on a whim while waiting in the checkout line, but tapping into the unplanned emotionally-driven purchase is still very doable in a social media age.

3. The UpSell

Customers can’t add on items, products or services without knowing them. One of the simplest ways this technique is used is anytime we hear, “Would you like fries with that?”

Store employees should be taught to share information with customers much earlier in the buying process. Rather than simply showing the best merchandise first, associates should begin by asking good questions to determine customer needs, which will lead them to feel understood as well as more inclined to listen to all related options.

This sales technique isn’t effective every time and salespeople have to be trained to carefully offer add-ons by giving details without annoying or pestering the customer. You don’t want to drive customers away from shopping in-store.

4. Mobile

In 2012 a report from Ryan Partnership found that 21 percent of shoppers make more unplanned purchases because of shopping apps, making it a strong driver of incremental sales.

The shift to digital tools is the most important change in shopper behavior that brick & mortar retailers need to recognize and act on immediately, with the momentum toward mobile technologies and in-store use.

In a survey last fall from Rackspace Hosting, the open cloud company, indicated that 48 percent of UK adults who use smartphones or tablets to make purchases online admit to buying items on impulse more frequently now by using their mobile devices.

A mobile shopping app for retail stores can influence purchasing decisions by suggesting items to buy based on what they’ve already browsed, added to their mobile shopping list or placed in their mobile shopping cart. The app can automatically add in discounts, so customers see the deals they’re getting and feel free to spend more. Also, a retail mobile app can provide the retailer with actionable analytics on what customers are responding to that’ll help you engage consumers more effectively and improve the shopping experience.

5. Color-Coordinating Displays

Stores pull together color-coordinated items in matching or complementary hues as part of a thematic display designed to spark impulse purchases and multiple item sales.

A retail store will spotlight a fall-themed bathroom display, for example, grouping brown, yellow and orange shower curtains, bath towels, a rug and bath mat so that customers can see all the products fitting together and motivated to purchase the set.

The display is so nice that a shopper who’s in the department simply to buy some new shower hooks suddenly thinks, “‘It’s time to refresh my bathroom — and I can do it for a good price!’ — and they throw it all in their cart.

6. ‘You’ll Miss Out’-Style Promotions

Retail stores use various sales promotions to spark impulse sales. Such promotions might include BOGO deals, buy two and save 20%, buy three and save 30%, or buy 4 and your life will be perfect forever-type sales.

With marketing and through awesome salespeople, retail stores communicate to shoppers in a way that leads them to think, “the more you buy, the more you save, and the special might be gone tomorrow.” Consumers love these deals. They view them as a reward for making impulsive purchases.

7. Bundled Offers

Do you sell products that could be bundled together into a single unit? For example, bath and body shops frequently bundle soap, shampoo, body spray, and more into a single gift basket. Sell the complete basket at a price that is discounted from what a customer would pay if each item were purchased individually.

Bundling products can not only be easy gift ideas for your shoppers, but also significantly increase the per-customer spending for your business during the holiday season and persuade customers to make unplanned purchases because of the great deal.

Impulse purchases during the holiday can boost your sales dramatically. Take a proactive strategy and make it as easy as possible for your customer to find the products they don’t even know they want… yet.