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Boost Profits With Impulse Buys

Here’s how to get your fair share of this profitable slice of the retailing pie.


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How would you like to make a sale for which gross profit equals net profit? That’s what happens when a customer adds an impulse buy to a regular sale in your store. The customer’s planned sale pays its share of your payroll and overhead expense; the item bought on impulse adds virtually no expense to the original transaction except the cost of the item. Thus, gross profit on the impulse item virtually equals net profit.

The good news is that every customer who walks into your store is an impulse sales opportunity. And this is where brick-and-mortar stores have a decided edge over e-retailers.

According to research by management consulting firm A.T. Kearney, 40 percent of consumers spend more money than they had planned in brick-and-mortar stores, while only 25 percent reported online impulse shopping.

Of course, impulse buys don’t happen by accident. Here are proven ways to hitch a ride on that profitable bandwagon:

Take advantage of the Brick-and-Mortar Edge

The ability to generate impulse buys is one of the few ways in which brick-and-mortar stores have a decided edge over the online behemoths. Your store provides much more opportunity for unplanned sales than typical e-tailers. Because successful retailing depends on utilizing every possible advantage, it’s important to design and conduct an ongoing program for maximizing profitable impulse buying.

Choose Impulse Products Carefully

The best impulse items are simple; they need no explanation, so they need no selling. If the customer has to ask what the item is for or how to use it, it has no place on the impulse display.

In addition, impulse items should be inexpensive; no need to ask, “Can I afford it?” Keep in mind that, by definition, impulse items are bought on impulse. The average person isn’t going to decide to buy an expensive product without first giving some thought to the decision. On the other hand, your average customer isn’t going to spend much time debating a $4 or $5 purchase. That’s why it’s best to target products on the lower end of the price scale when deciding on products for your impulse displays.

And think small. If shoppers spot an item that fits easily into a pocket or shopping basket, they’re more likely to feel the urge to buy.

Use Strategic Positioning

Increasing impulse buys calls for increased visibility. Ideally, every customer who makes a purchase in your store will see your display of impulse items. The best way to ensure that they do is to position displays prominently in the checkout area.

Perhaps the most convincing example of increased visibility is how grocery stores load their checkout areas with candy, gum, magazines, gift cards and other impulse candidates.

As customers wait in line staring at these inexpensive products, they’re tempted to toss one or two into their shopping carts without thinking much about it. However, if grocery stores were to keep those same items at the back of the store, customers would be much less likely to pick them up in the middle of a hectic shopping trip. In other words, it’s all about placement. Shoppers who have already made a purchase are obviously in a buying frame of mind, so the addition of a relatively inexpensive item should be an easy step in the transaction.

Another effective positioning strategy is to strategically cross-merchandise impulse items near best-selling items. Placing products in these areas increases their visibility.

Using in-store Signage to Increase Impulse Sales

Physical signage is always an effective method of in-store advertising, and there are many ways to tempt customers into making that inexpensive—but profitable—last-minute purchase. An engaging photo of a happy dog getting a shampoo next to the shampoo display at the checkout counter will be an eye-catcher.

Of course, it’s important to think about the space you have to work with in an already crowded pet store and what you want your message to be. Are you trying to educate the customer or simply draw attention to the product?

“Oftentimes, the promotional strategy you use will have a direct impact on the number of impulse purchases you get,” said Will Godfrey of The Godfrey Group, a provider of creative services for trade shows and retailers. “It’s worth spending some time thinking about what sort of signage you want to use.”

New technology has made very effective digital signage and streaming video relatively inexpensive. This type of signage is hard to ignore, and it greatly increases the number of messages delivered. According to Donald R. Lichtenstein, professor of marketing and associate dean at the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business, getting customers to see your product is the first and most important step in impulse buying.

Keep Tuned into Those Emotional Triggers

You may have noticed that banks, corporations and even government agencies are using our emotions to nudge us into taking actions. The technique they use to accomplish this has come to be known as behavioral economics. This relatively new science is based on the observation that we humans are not the objective, unemotional decision-makers we would like to believe we are. On the contrary, we often allow our emotions to overrule any attempt at logic to control our decision-making.

Emotions also play a big part in our shopping habits. Arguably, there are few shopping environments that are more subject to the power of emotions than a pet store. That’s why it’s so important to hit the right emotional buttons in impulse sales campaigns.

One of the most compelling emotional triggers in the sales arsenal is urgency. We all have faced moments when taking some sort of action was urgently required. One example would be the need to slam on the brakes in order to avoid an automobile collision. While the sense of urgency in a selling environment is not that dramatic, it’s still a deep-seated emotion waiting to be awakened in all of us. That’s why you see so many limited-time and today-only sales promotions. Consider appealing to your customers’ sense of urgency by offering limited-time offers in your impulse displays. Some retailers inject a sense of urgency into their impulse displays by putting out only a limited number of the item, suggesting that if consumers don’t act now, it might be too late.

Also consider the satisfaction of obtaining a bargain. Regardless of their financial situation, almost everyone gains a feeling of satisfaction when they come away from a sales transaction feeling that they gained high value for their money. The Walmart organization has built a gigantic business based on that simple premise. With that in mind, consider “buy one, get one free” or similar bargain promotions in your impulse program.

However, impulse products don’t always have to offer a financial or urgency motivation. If you’ve ever bought something that was relatively new or novel, you probably took pleasure in showing it to others. If you have new or original products that fit the other criteria such as small and low cost, consider testing them as impulse items.

If you’re looking to increase impulse buying in your store, it’s essential that you take the time to implement the right merchandising strategies, including those mentioned here. Of course, as with any marketing strategy, implementing a successful impulse program will put further demands on your already strained time. However, if done properly, it can add significantly to your bottom line.

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