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Buying Behaviour: Impulse vs. unplanned buying

Dr. Shampa Nandi, Faculty, ISME

Philip Kotler (2003) once stated, “Understanding consumer behaviour and knowing consumers are never simple. Consumers may state their needs and wants but act otherwise.” According to Schiffman and Kanuk (2003) “Consumer behaviour” is the behaviour that consumers behave in the form of acquiring, buying, using, evaluating, or consuming product, service and idea to fulfil own need, and be the study of the decision making of consumer in spending resources, both money, time and power for consuming products and services that includes (1) what to buy, (2) why to buy, (3) how to buy, (4) when to buy, (5) where to buy, and (6) how often to buy.
Now let us consider three different scenarios about buying behaviour-
·         After finishing her daylong classes, Tina was bored. Just to lift her spirit, she started browsing a very famous e-commerce site. Surprisingly after one hour, she had bought one pair of earing, one sunglass and a sweet box. She felt immensely better after the shopping.
·         Suman came with his wife for weekend grocery shopping to the retail at the nearest mall. While crossing the grocery section, he picked up a salt packet and a cooking oil. Seeing the products on display, he felt, these products might be required in future.  
·         Sunny accompanied his friend for shopping to a mall. He had no plan to purchase anything, but once he saw in one showroom, buy one get one free in store display for his favourite brand of jeans; he could not resist. He couldn’t pass up this bargain.
All of the above purchase situations have some commonalties- all the buying decisions are made in the store. They are either impulse buying or unplanned buying. Unplanned buying and impulse purchasing are ubiquitous aspects of consumer buying behaviour. Personal traits of shoppers, age, income, number of people accompanied in shopping and situational factors like availability of money and time, purchased items, price of the products have direct or indirect influence on unplanned and impulse purchase.
Unplanned Purchase vs. Impulse purchase
However, unplanned or impulse purchase has been considered a significant and important form of shopping action, yet today researchers continues to uncover different aspects and predictors causing unplanned buying. Engel & Blackwell (1982) have defined impulse buying as a buying action undertaken where neither the need for purchasing is previously recognized nor a buying intention is formed prior to entering the store.  Another definition given by Beatty and Ferrell (1998) stated Impulse buying in a retail context as “A sudden and immediate purchase with no pre-shopping intentions either to buy the specific product category or to fulfil a specific buying task”. Unplanned or deliberate buying is an integral part of contemporary shopping behaviours and hedonic pleasure is strongly associated with impulse purchase.
A large number of research articles are available on impulse buying behaviour based on western countries. In Indian context elaborate studies on impulse, purchase is not that common. This article takes a fresh look at “in store buying decision” with or without some intent to purchase and attempts to distinguish between unplanned buying and impulse buying.
According to a study done by Welles (1986), nine out of ten buyers occasionally shop on impulse. Various researches have reported that a steady growth trend is observed in unplanned buying not only in western countries but also in eastern emerging countries. In emerging economies like China, Brazil or in India impulse-purchasing trend is increasing. Along with the development of Indian economy, a cultural transformation fr
om future oriented to present oriented attitude also play a vital role in the rapid growth of unplanned purchase. Ballenger et al. (1978) have distinguished impulse buying from impulse items. Question arises here, whether there is a difference between unplanned buying and impulse buying. Let us have a close look on the similarities and dissimilarities between them-
·         Both unplanned and in store buying are  familiar form of in-store buying behaviour.
·         Consumer normally make any unplanned purchase because of some store display, which reminds them that this particular product might be required in future. Unplanned purchase normally bought by considering a future need. An impulse purchase is also an unplanned purchase but here the motive might be different. Here the shopper is influenced by some irresistible promotional offers and the motive for purchase is hedonistic pleasure or for gaining immediate self-gratification. 
·         Donovan et al (1994) and Betty and Ferrel (1998) have argued that impulse purchase is an incidental procedure where purchasers are mediated by pleasure, arousal dominance or affect. Situational variables like money availability, time availability have direct influence on impulse purchase intention and as well as on amount of purchase. Unplanned purchase also can be motivated by promotional strategies, especially store display or price offers but here the future need or price sensitivity dominate the purchase motive.
·         A large number of researchers distinguished impulse buying and  unplanned buying, as they mentioned impulse buying as a spontaneous urge to buy whereas unplanned buying is the absence of a decision before the trip of shopping made. (Rook and Fisher (1995) and Beatty and Ferrell (1998), Strack, Werth, and Deutsch (2006); Vohs and Faber (2007)).
·         Both unplanned and impulse purchase occurred when consumers experience a sudden, powerful and persistent urge to buy something immediately. However, mostly the impulse purchase is hedonically complex.
·         Unplanned buying includes more of reminder items that fulfil a planned task, such as buying a gift for someone (Betty and Farewell, 1998). Here some amount of rationality works for buying reminder items. Whereas impulse purchase is characterized by relatively rapid decision making, more emotional decision making than rational decision-making (Bayley and Nancarrow, 1998; Rook 1987; Rook and Hoch 1985).
Technically impulse purchase can be called as a subset of unplanned buying and to be very specific there is not much difference between the two. In fact deliberate unplanned buying has become an integral part of contemporary shopping because of the development of Indian economy. Shopping has become another recreation and people are shopping not just to buy products but also to seek some novelty and have fun.
Another issue related to unplanned and impulse purchasing is to operationalize the definitions. According to Kollat & Willet (1969; 81) there is considerable differences in opinion about what is meant by impulse purchase and how to measure it. One definition said, customers may be questioned about what are items they have in their list or they intend to buy while entering a store and the same customers can be queried again when they come out from the store.  The difference between the intention and actual purchase may be called as unplanned or impulse purchase. The second method is about asking shoppers upon exiting a store about each item they purchased, when they decided to purchase this item- was it before or after entering the store. Both the measurement have some problems associated with them, which make the research on impulse purchase more complex.
Famous psychologist Freud (1956) has explained impulses as the consequences of two competing forces- the pleasure principle and the reality principle. Pleasure principle motivates people for immediate gratification whereas reality principle encourages delayed gratification. Impulse purchase often difficult to resist by a purchaser as it immediately bring the gratification and hedonic pleasure. It also involves enjoyment in a form of sensory stimulation and pampering oneself. Marketer should make store design and in store promotions more engaging, more attractive and more pleasing experience so that customers would indulge more impulse purchasing. Positive situational variables like store attributes and store promotional offers increase amount of impulse purchases. A study done by Geetha and Bharadhwaj (2016), found that in a collective country like India, shoppers might have suppressed their urge for impulse purchases. Retailers should make extra efforts to make store more attractive so that consumers spend extra time at store and they would buy products, which are not there at the shopping list
. Consecutively the retailers would gain extra, as the amount of unplanned and impulse purchase would improve.
·         Bharadhwaj, S. and Geetha, M. (2016), “Impulse buying behaviour in India- an overview”, Asian Journal of Business Research, Vol 6, Issue 1, 49-66
·         Beatty, Sharon E. and M. Elizabeth Ferrell (1998), “Impulse Buying: Modeling Its Precursors,” Journal of Retailing, 74 (2), 169-91.
·         Bellenger, D., D. Robertson and E Hirschman(1978), “Impulse Buying Varies by Product,” Journal of Advertising Research, 18  (December), 15-18
·         Donovan, R J, Rossiter, J R, Marcoolyn G, and Nesdale, A (1994). “Store atmosphere and purchasing behavior,” Journal of Retailing, 70 (3) 283–294.
·         Engel J and R Blackwell (1982), Consumer Behaviour, Chicago: Dryden Press.
·         Freud, Sigmund (1956), “Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning,” in The Standard Edition of the Gomplete Psychological Works of Sigmund Ereud, Vol. 12, J. Strachey andFreud, eds. London: Hogarth.
·         Kollat, David T., and Ronald P. Willett (1967), “Customer Impulse Purchasing behavior,” Journal of Marketing Research, 4 (February), 21-31.
·         Kotler, P., (2003). Marketing Management (11th ed.), NJ: Prentice-Hall, pp.-6
·         Schiffman, L. and L. Kanuk, Consumer Behaviour (8th Ed.). Prentice Hall: New Jersey, 2003.
·         Strack, Fritz, Lioba Werth, and Roland Deutsch (2006) “Reflective and Impulsive Determinants of Consumer Behavior,” Journal of Consumer Psychology, 16 (3), 205-216.
·         Wells, G (1986), “We’re in the habit of impulse buying,” USA Today (May21)

·         Vohs, Kathleen D., and Ronald J. Faber (2007) “Spent Resources: Self-Regulatory Resource Availability Affects Impulse Buying,” Journal of Consumer Research, 33 (March), 537-547.