Why Do People Shop Impulsively?

impulsive shopping

What can explain a person’s tendency to shop impulsively? Personality, gender, age, and sensitivity to reward may explain it, research shows.

A study by Bratko and colleagues (2013) examined the relationship between personality and impulsive shopping. The study shows that personality can explain at least some of the difference in impulsive shopping behaviour. Impulsive shopping was found to be modestly associated with the personality traits: impulsivity, neuroticism, and extraversion.

Females were found to be more likely to shop impulsively. Age was found to increase conscientiousness which, in turn, reduced the tendency to shop impulsively.

Personality traits, age, and sex explained 25% of the difference in impulsive shopping behaviour in this study. This means that 75% of people’s tendency to shop impulsively could not be explained by any of the above-mentioned factors, and we should keep this in mind.

All kinds of products have the potential to be bought impulsively, so to speak. Rook and Hoch (1987) stated that: “It is the individual, not the products, who experience the impulse to consume.“.

Earlier research (Verplanken & Herabadi, 2001) found extraversion to be positively associated with impulsive shopping, and conscientiousness, and autonomy to be negatively associated.

The reason why extraversion might be positively correlated is that it is linked to both cognitive and affective components, and I think that very often affective states contribute to impulsive shopping, whereas conscientiousness is only, per definition, driven by rational thoughts, and for this reason, conscientiousness will restrain impulsivity.

Another study (Youn & Faber, 2000) found the personality trait lack of control to be the strongest predictor for impulsive shopping. Stress reaction and absorption (openness to experience) were modest predictors as well.

Yet another study (Ramanathan & Menon, 2006) found that sensitivity to reward was significantly associated with impulsive shopping, which implies that the neurotransmitter dopamine might be involved, since it is involved in the brain’s reward system and reinforcement mechanisms.

Reinforcement refers to any stimulus that strengthens or increases the probability of a specific response. In the case of shopping, to buy certain products provides a sense of pleasure, and for this reason, we are likely to buy products again.

Photo: wolfgangfoto