Three Reasons Why Impulse Purchasing Is Changing

Impulse purchases at the point-of-sale are critical for many foodservice operators and for the companies that create the products shelved there. Just think about how much revenue is generated in gum sales at your local grocery store. But impulse purchases are changing for a variety of reasons, and it’s important to understand why from both an operator’s perspective and from a designer’s perspective.

Let’s start by looking at gum again. As mentioned in The Chicago Tribune, there’s a “transition zone” that grocers set up in the 1960s. It’s a place where consumers can refresh (gum, mints), reward (chocolate, candy), and remind (batteries, lip balm). According to studies, purchases here account for one percent of all supermarket sales, totaling more than $5.5 billion. This zone is the area of impulse, but it’s changing, and it will impact much more than just the grocery business.

Whether you’re a gelato shop owner, a bakery, a deli, or a designer who creates these spaces, everyone should consider these three reasons why impulse purchasing is changing.


In decades past, people would look around when checking out, when waiting in line at the deli counter, or when the baker was wrapping up the cookies. Today, we look at our phones. In an article in Priceonomics, they examined the presence of cell phones and how they divert attention away from impulse buys, and their conclusion was that operators will need to be more innovative in the future.


For our purposes here, we mean technology provided inside the actual store that impacts the way customers interact and buy. In big box grocery stores, the advent of self-checkout has reduced space (and attention spans) required for impulse buys. Grabbing a ticket at the deli counter can be replaced with touch screen ordering, and in coffee shops or bakeries, technology can allow baristas to upsell with talking points on complimentary items.


This one is obviously the most impactful, as it prohibits customers from getting to a physical point-of-sale all together. By making everything an impulse buy, not just a few select items strategically placed, the entire retail world could be turned on its head.


A Close Look at the Different Types of Impulse Purchases


There is a lineage of behavioral scientists who reviewed impulse shopping patterns. Over the years, their findings evolved into a basic set of categories described by Dr. David Lewis, a neuroscientist and founder of the research form Mindlab International, as the following:

(1) Pure impulse buying: is a novelty or escape purchase which breaks a normal buying pattern.

(2) Reminder impulse buying: occurs when a shopper sees an item or recalls an advertisement or other information and remembers that the stock at home is low or exhausted.

(3) Suggestion impulse buying: is triggered when a shopper sees a product for the first time and visualizes a need for it.

(4) Planned impulse buying: takes place when the shopper makes specific purchase decisions on the basis of price specials, coupon offers and so forth.

OTL ORION 365 Refrigerated Display CaseWhat this means is visibility and presentation are extremely important, and based on the trends listed in the beginning of this article, they will become even more important in the future. In many cases, impulse buys can be encouraged using foodservice display techniques that will increase sales, and the units in which items are displayed are critical, as well. Lighting, style, visibility, storage conditions, and other properties provided by a refrigerated display case will impact sales, as well.

[Discover ORION by Clabo’s 365 display case to see how style and visibility can maximize the potential for impulse purchases]

Whether it’s staging a display or selecting the right display case to fit with an operation or design, how items are perceived is crucial to how often they are purchased. See a full range of options in the new ORION by Clabo Designer Guide.

OTL Designer Book Foodservice Display Case