Impulsive Consumer Behavior

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Impulsive consumer behavior is widely recognized nowadays. Impulse buying accounts for almost 80% of purchases in some product categories and shopping is a major leisure and lifestyle activity in many countries (Kacen & Lee 2002). Impulsive buying generates over $4 billion of annual sales in the United States. Impulsive consumer buying behavior is regarded as a hedonically complex purchase behavior in which the thoughtful, deliberate consideration of all information and choice alternatives is precluded. It has been suggested that purchases of new products result more and more from impulsive buying rather than planned purchases. Furthermore, the globalization in the expression of technologies, telemarketing and the internet increases the consumer impulsive buying opportunities.

Impulse buying is a pervasive and distinctive aspect of the consumer’s lifestyle and is also a focal point for considerable marketing management activity. A study conducted some decades ago found that between 27 and 62 percent of consumer’s department store purchases fell into the impulse category. Also the century we live in and the marketing innovations such as credit cards, ‘instant credit’, 24-hour retailing, telemarketing and online shopping make it now easier than ever for the consumers to purchase things on impulse.

The attempts by researchers to find a clear definition of a phenomenon that cannot be solely described as unplanned behavior and the opportunity to examine the factors that intervene in its expression was the motivation for this thesis. Furthermore, the history of associating impulsiveness with human weakness and the psychologists and economists’ focus on the ‘irrational’ aspects of such behavior sparks the interest into the topic and uncovers the potential for further research in the field. It is also interesting that the factors that are linked to impulsive buying are also likely to be influenced by culture.

Theoretical Framework

The understanding of the concept was greatly improved by Stern (1962). Pure impulse purchasing occurs when consumers experience truly impulsive buying, the novelty or escape purchase which breaks a normal buying pattern. His conceptualization was based on the premise that impulsive buying can be pure, planned, reminder and suggestion, and is linked to consumer’s exposure to stimulus. Kollat and Willet (1969) interchangeably used “unplanned” and “impulsive” purchasing. Rook and Hoch (1985) focused attention on the cognitive and emotional aspect of consumer’s involvement in impulsive purchasing. The construction of the phenomenon’s definition was resting on consumers’ descriptions of thoughts and emotions experienced during impulse purchasing situations. They came up with 5 distinctive elements that draw the difference between impulsive and planned purchases: (1) feeling a “sudden and spontaneous desire to act”; (2) being in a “state of psychological disequilibrium”; (3) experiencing a “psychological conflict and struggle”; (4) reducing “cognitive evaluation”; (5) consuming “without regard for the consequences”.

Summarizing the five dimensions, Rook (1987) identified impulsive purchasing as a “sudden, often powerful and persistent urge to buy something immediately. It is a hedonically complex and emotionally conflicting behavior which is prone to occur with diminished regard for its consequences.” As it can be seen, a shift in the elements comprising the definitions can be observed. Piron (1991) offers a new definition as an answer to his critique of the previous attempt for definition: impulse purchasing is (1) unplanned, (2) the result of an exposure to a stimulus, (3) decided “on the spot”. Kacen and Lee (2002) define the concept as “unplanned purchase” that is characterized by (1) relatively rapid decision-making, and (2) a subjective bias in favor of immediate possession. They further contributed with their work by investigating how cultural factors affect impulsive...
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