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Impulse purchasing: a qualitative exploration of the phenomenon

Geoff Bayley and Clive Nancarrow

Background
Most studies have concentrated on impulse buying and other forms of unplanned purchases in a retail context even though such behaviour is also likely to occur in the new shopping arenas of direct marketing (television shopping channels, catalogues, telemarketing and the WWW). Interestingly, Cobb and Hoyer (1986) have reported an underlying upward trend in unplanned purchasing and Welles (1986) reports most shoppers at least occasionally buy on impulse. The increased tendency to shop in supermarkets and hyperstores may partly explain the upward trend. Shopping is much easier with products highly visible and store environments acting as prompt lists, allowing customers to defer decision-making until they are in-store (Bowlbey, 1997; Stern, 1962). This and the increase in onestop shopping mean there is less need for shoppers to plan their excursions so meticulously. However, it is not clear how the increase in direct marketing, and catalogue shopping in particular, may have affected unplanned and impulse shopping. The ease with which goods can be returned might encourage impulse purchasing or possibly remove some of the excitement of a purchase – less risk! Dittmar et al. (1996) observe that in more developed countries the consumption of products is a modern or post-modern means of acquiring and expressing a sense of selfidentity. Shopping has become “a major leisure and lifestyle activity”. This may explain the increase in “unplanned, nonnecessity purchases”. Marketers need to understand such consumer behaviour in order to formulate appropriate marketing strategy, allocate marketing budget below-the-line and design effective marketing tactics. Interestingly, Narasimhan et al. (1996), for instance, did not find a statistically significant relationship between the “promotional elasticity” of a product category and impulse buying – on the basis of which the authors conclude that price-related promotions might not always be the answer to high impulse categories. Finally, both retailers and direct marketers need to know how best to attract a significant share of unplanned and impulse purchases. 99

The authors Geoff Bayley is Research Director at RDS Open Mind, London, UK. Clive Nancarrow is Principal Lecturer at Bristol Business School, the University of the West of England, Bristol, UK. Abstract This paper reviews the literature on unplanned purchasing and impulse purchasing in particular. Various definitions and explanations of the phenomena are examined. Because impulse purchasing may often be deemed socially undesirable, it is argued that a qualitative research approach is particularly appropriate in order to gain maximum insight. A study employing enabling techniques (including self-scripts, laddering and pyramiding) demonstrated that interviewees were remarkably consistent in their descriptions of the impulse purchase experience. There were, however, variations of the behaviour which might form the basis of a classification scheme. Most studies have only focused on retail impulse buying. This study explored the subject across both retail and direct buying contexts.

Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal Volume 1 · Number 2 · 1998 · pp. 99–114 © MCB University Press · ISSN 1352-2752

defects of the will. Given that a need is not recognised until in-store. These reactions could be rooted in the morality of frugality in the Protestant ethic of western cultures and its increasing conflict with post-modernist 100 . Rook and Fisher argue impulsive behaviour is sometimes associated with “being bad” and “with negative consequences”. Rook and Fisher (1995) note “Impulsive behaviour has a long history of being associated with immaturity. but relies on the shopping environment to provide stimulation. This description suggests emotion overpowering a more cautious and considered approach to a purchase. but make the important point that consumer research also needs to focus on point-of-sale interaction with the shopper – an often neglected area: …intent to purchase is far from fixed and can continue to be modified right up to the point of purchase. factors that may intervene in its expression and models to explain the phenomenon. • general need not recognised. or has several different and even contradictory meanings (Bateman and Holmes. lower intelligence. and infantile life in which the laws of time and space and the distinction between opposites do not apply: the distinction between past. In doing so we discuss the emotional and perceived “irrational” nature of impulse buying. the act may still be rational. foolishness. In the field of consumption. 1995). In Freudian psychoanalytical theory this might be explained in terms of the influence of the Id and primary thought processes – reflecting the “devil” in us! Primary process thinking is typical of dreaming. • product category decided. Cobb and Hoyer (1986) use the classification scheme shown in Table I which demonstrates that an impulse purchase occurs when there was neither intent to buy a specific brand nor even from the category prior to entering the store. and so is not truly impulsive in nature. • product class decided. (5). Levels of planning and intent Engel and Blackwell (1982) define an impulse purchase as “a buying action undertaken without a problem previously having been consciously recognised or a buying intention formed prior to entering the store”. one symbol may represent a number of different objects. even euphoria. present and future no longer holds and different events may occur simultaneously and in the same place. • feelings of excitement. • a general need recognised. • an intense feeling of having to buy the product immediately. We briefly review key definitions and descriptions of the impulse buying and attempt to distinguish it from other forms of unplanned purchases. when it culminates in a purchase. Philipps and Bradshaw (1993) do not distinguish between unplanned and impulse purchases. • ignoring of any negative consequences from the purchase. • the conflict between control and indulgence.Impulse purchasing: a qualitative exploration of the phenomenon Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal Volume 1 · Number 2 · 1998 · 99–114 Geoff Bayley and Clive Nancarrow Definitions and models The literature reveals a number of attempts to define the phenomena of unplanned and impulse purchasing. the unexpectedness of the environment offering a solution to an unconscious or unarticulated need or want may induce a shock of sorts that disturbs the shopper’s emotional state of equilibrium for a while. For example. primitivism. shopping for a gift or for something different to wear might fall into this category. but Table I Cobb and Hoyer (1986) classification scheme to demonstrate impulse purchasing Intent to buy the category Yes No Intent to buy the brand Yes No Planner Partial planner – Impulse purchaser Bateman and Holmes’ description of the primary process seems to have some resonance with Rook’s list of characteristics. and even social deviance and criminality”. Kollat and Willett (1967) proposed a typology of pre-purchase planning (also based on degree of planning or intent before entering a store): • product and brand decided. We also examine impulsiveness as a trait. The fourth category (a general need recognised) could mean a shopper has not decided on a product category nor brand. Characteristics of an impulse purchase Rook (1987) describes impulse buying as exhibiting a number of characteristics: • the feeling of an overwhelming force from the product. may be regarded as a pure impulse purchase. fantasy. The last type.

but not always an easy relationship to articulate. An important point to note is that the scale is designed to measure a general trait – and is not linked to any specific categories. Typically experienced by participants as giving control to the captivating product. Again. At the moment. the act of impulse buying is a means of not being controlled by certain life-world expectations (Thompson et al. this should not be read as suggesting it is irrational. A case of the cognitive or emotional fit between shopper and product being good. 1990).e. 1996). Thompson et al. In his exposition of “embodied cognition” he offers the following description of an impulse purchase: …the usual and natural mode of processing is automatic. seemingly “rational”) conceptualization. Cobb and Hoyer (1986) raise the spectre of “social desirability bias” in impulse purchase research. Given the history of associating impulsiveness with various forms of human weakness (Rook and Fisher. In such instances the acts may be normatively positive and leave the shopper feeling good (angelic rather than devilish!). immediately and kinetically”. the tendency not to regret past decisions. strong positive affect for the product and captivation. Indirect questioning and projective techniques in qualitative research may be one way of getting beneath social posturing. which seems to have some resonance with Malter’s theory. unreflectively. Psycho-analysts might explain the self-indulgent behaviour as driven by a primitive and unreasoned instinct or force. On this basis the act is reasonable rather than irrational. Examples they give are buying a gift for a sick friend or suddenly deciding to pick up the tab for a meal. but this switches post-purchase with consequent feelings of regret. have argued that an impulse purchase is not necessarily irrational. therefore.. This potential rewriting of a past script may. lead shoppers to perceive the decision as rational in retrospect. projectable properties from the environment mesh perfectly with patterns of action from memory. The literature on post-purchase dissonance and psychoanalytical defence mechanisms would seem relevant to this line of thinking. He notes the behaviour is often seen to be negative and so he coins the phrase a “dark side variable”. The need for analytical evaluation “is obviated because the product’s rightness is experienced directly”. Rook and Fisher point out that some impulsive purchases can be motivated by generosity. 1995). The researchers argue that those with a high score on this scale are more likely 101 . In this sense. economists argue that at the time of purchase the value of the impulse buy outweighs its perceived cost. apply an existential-phenomenological approach to the study of impulse buying and as one might expect. Malter (1996) argues that while impulse buying appears to be highly irrational behaviour – “spontaneous and seemingly choiceless”.. Thompson et al. Mick (1996) discusses the nature of the potential bias (socially desirable responding – SDR) and how this might confound research on impulsive behaviour. Impulse as a trait Rook and Fisher (1995) define the buying impulsiveness trait as “a consumer’s tendency to buy spontaneously. producing an extremely coherent (i. Other authors. These authors’ carefully developed measure of impulsiveness is based on a self-description battery of nine scales (see Appendix). Paulhus (1984) notes the unconscious capacity for humans to see themselves in a positive light – for instance. Irrational or rational act? Some market researchers have tended to regard “impulse” as synonymous with “unplanned” while psychologists and economists have focused on the “irrational” aspects of pure impulse purchasing (Dittmar et al. Malter argues that it takes effort to draw back from the situation (“consciously suppress the contribution of the environment and effortfully constructing counter-arguments”). (1990) argue that while impulse buying is an emotional rather than rational experience.Impulse purchasing: a qualitative exploration of the phenomenon Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal Volume 1 · Number 2 · 1998 · 99–114 Geoff Bayley and Clive Nancarrow capitalism with its inducements to consume. respondents in a research situation may be reticent (modest) about such behaviour and qualitative research techniques might be more productive. For instance. in which the current conceptualization is dominated by the external environment (especially by the target object). impulse buying allows them to adhere to their desires rather than to external constraints. the existentialist analysis involves the concept of freedom: … impulse buying may be viewed as an act of freedom occurring within a restricted situation. it can be seen to be “rational” by the consumer (and the cognitive psychologist!). The net effect may be a confused and guiltridden consumer. it is no surprise that some market research respondents may be reluctant to divulge fully on the subject. however.

Phillips and Bradshaw (1993) discuss the physical and psychological influences in a shop and the need to study consumers in this environment to help develop strategies and tactics that cater for the impulse purchaser. This brief review of some of the literature has already suggested a number of different 102 . telemarketing) and the associated anonymity may encourage impulse purchasing. In the latter case the shopper goes out with. casinos and car boot sales. prompted by physical proximity to a desired product. The influence of others – present and “absent” Rook and Fisher (1995) argue that “normative evaluations” can influence whether or not an impulse purchase takes place and two studies they carried out seemed to support this hypothesis. In addition. It is a “normative evaluation” quite specifically relating to impulsive behaviour and therefore will also be influenced by the visibility of this behaviour. Interestingly. though they acknowledge there are other strategies for rectifying the discrepancy. those accompanying the shopper. The portability of the product. 1996) have locked their measure of impulsive purchasing onto specific product categories. Dittmar et al. Rook and Fisher note that some buying situations are recognised and accepted as encouraging impulsive behaviour and consequently there is little negative evaluation by others of impulsive behaviour in such contexts where it is the norm – for example – fun fairs. or those who are absent but important in the shopper’s life. a lack of time or financial resources may inhibit an impulse purchase. desirable and stands out from “a grey and indifferent mass”. while their “normative evaluation” refers specifically to situations where intent is not relevant. and absorbed by the promise of immediate gratification. basic kitchen equipment. A purchase which breaks the normal buying pattern”. For instance. wrapped in the anonymity of a self-service environment. location of the shop.Impulse purchasing: a qualitative exploration of the phenomenon Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal Volume 1 · Number 2 · 1998 · 99–114 Geoff Bayley and Clive Nancarrow to “experience spontaneous buying stimuli. clothes are more likely to be impulse bought than. by direct mail. Also their thinking is likely to be unreflective. A propensity to impulse buy will be at its strongest when there is a perceived selfdiscrepancy between the actual self and the ideal self on the most important attributes to that person. On a similar theme. These researchers define impulse for their respondents (“on a whim”/“when the urge strikes me”) but interestingly do not use the word “impulse” in the statements. a longing to come across something that is unexpected or new.” Other researchers (for instance Narasimhan et al. Statement 1: I often buy this product on a whim when I pass by it in the store. say. Dittmar et al. (1996) also regard “pure impulse buying” as “ a novelty or escape. transport and weather may also be factors. Lehhtonen and Mäenpäˇ a (1997) discuss the different types of shopping excursions in a mall in the suburbs of Helsinki and the roles they play beyond the simple acquisition of goods – namely social bonding. their shopping lists are more ‘open’ and receptive to sudden buying ideas. (1996) developed a social psychological model. This raises the question of whether these researchers were concerned with the possible ambiguity of the term or the potential research bias associated with a dark side variable. as an end in itself. In addition. inhibit or encourage the behaviour – “normative evaluations”. (1995) argue that some consumers impulse buy goods that offer them “material symbols of personal and social identity”. These authors touch on shopping and consumption as a means of selfbuilding. WWW. Social constructionist model Dittmar et al. dominated by emotional attraction to it.. Symbolic consumption or materialism are the compensatory mechanisms the authors focus on in their paper. shoppers can try on new things and styles and fantasise. Statement 2: I typically like to buy this product when the urge strikes me. Interestingly their research also indicated that the impact of an impulse purchase on a person’s mood was a significant factor and the notion of some impulse purchases being carried out simply to lift mood is a possibility. Hence. and play. They distinguish their normative evaluations model from Fishbein’s extended model by arguing that Fishbein’s “subjective norm” is mediated through behavioural intention. Rook and Fisher note that circumstances may intervene and prevent an impulse being acted on. norming of tastes and preferences. their model seems to suggest that less public shopping (catalogue.

as Dittmar et al. Cobb and Hoyer argued that little attention had been paid to the personal characteristics of the impulse buyer. So while considerable focus had been placed on predicting which types of products led to impulse purchasing. perhaps.Impulse purchasing: a qualitative exploration of the phenomenon Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal Volume 1 · Number 2 · 1998 · 99–114 Geoff Bayley and Clive Nancarrow perspectives on what drives an impulse purchase: • immediate gratification – the victory of basic instincts over reason (Freudian). • irrational/dysfunctional decision-making (economic man model). • cognitive simplified meshing of requirements and solution (“new” cognitive). (3) mass distribution. then commit to the list. An alternative procedure to this “pre-post” design is the “post only” design. On the other hand. This method may suffer from respondents over-reporting what they regard as a socially desirable (rational) planning behaviour and so might under-read unplanned purchases and impulse. Elliot. This suggests products that are more expensive and require more time and effort (high involvement purchases) are less likely to be bought on impulse. One of these methods checks what shoppers intend to buy before entering a store and then re-interviews them on exit. 1994). This method has been criticised by Pollay (1968) as likely to prompt shoppers to formulate their mental shopping list and. The need for a qualitative research approach Many authors have adopted positivist research approaches to the study of the phenomenon in that they set out to measure 103 . • self image compensation (social constructionist). Kollat and Willett’s (1967) research suggested that impulse purchasing was more likely to occur on a larger grocery trip and a major shop rather than an interim top-up. Both these methods. general shopping behaviour. (2) marginal need for the product/brand. • a mood change (cf. (6) prominent store display. (4) self-service. (8) small size. Stern (1962) identified nine product-related factors that might be influential: (1) low price. Shoppers were given a self-completion questionnaire to determine shopping lifestyle. (7) short product life. Measuring the incidence of the phenomena Two commonly used methods to measure the incidence of such purchases involve stopping shoppers at the time of a store visit and checking which purchases were planned and which were not. though they concede that Kollat and Willet’s research did also examine this aspect of the phenomenon. resulting in an over-read of unplanned purchases at the “exit” interview. but which do not seem to be examples of what some authors may have in mind as impulse buys. (9) ease of storage. (5) mass advertising. Methodologies A number of different research methodologies have been used to study different aspects of impulse buying in particular determining its incidence as well as the motivational and situational aspects of the phenomenon. (1996) suggest. seem likely to lump together quite different types of purchases in the unplanned category. personality and demographics. Shoppers are interrogated about what they bought as they leave a shop and for each item they are asked whether the decision to buy an item was made before or while they were in store. but with few statistically significant findings. Their investigation was limited by the sample size of the “impulse purchaser” group. memory failure and a desire to shorten the “before” interview may lead to the list of planned purchases being reported only partially. Situational and personal predictors of impulse purchasing Cobb and Hoyer (1986) noted that not only had researchers experienced problems in operationalising the concept of impulse purchasing but also had not been too successful in identifying predictors of the phenomenon. Table II lists four kinds of purchase that might be categorised as totally unplanned. Cobb and Hoyer carried out a study on 542 shoppers who bought either bathroom tissue and/or coffee in-store. Cobb and Hoyer concluded that impulse purchasers do very little “in-store information processing” and value quality almost as much as do planners. • a break from the constraints of the world (existentialist).

jewellery. Given this approach. non-impulsive purchases The oversight … not on a mental or written shopping list but needed. Thompson et al. Many studies have been positivist or quantitative in format. and concerns associated with buying on impulse. Cobb and Hoyer (1986) state that it would be particularly interesting to examine motivational factors underlying partial planning versus impulse purchasing. gifts) • impulse purchasing defined by the interviewee (many studies define the behaviour for the respondent). A qualitative approach with the following unique combination of features may yield a different. this seemed a useful line of investigation. 1996. 1994). This would seem to be an argument for qualitative research which would be more appropriate to explore what motivates and influences impulse buying. We were interested in what styles of shopping and product areas they would include under the banner of “an impulse shop”. Cobb and Hoyer have argued for research into the motivation of the behaviour and given the various explanations of what drives the behaviour. Most studies have selected specific categories of retail products for study – often for very good reasons. a well oiled routine allowing shops to act as shopping prompt list The unplanned is demanded … certain categories of products sometimes require an unplanned purchase. It may be more productive to let the shopper define what they mean by an impulse purchase which might therefore include direct purchases and so provide valuable insights by comparison and contrast. While the level of unplanned and/or impulse purchasing across different product categories has attracted most attention. 1995). A shopper does not want to buy the same as before (for example. richer and more meaningful perspective: Research objectives The objective in this study was to understand how respondents perceive and account for “impulse shopping” for themselves. Accompanied shopping. test hypotheses (Cobb and Hoyer. clothes. • the focus on benefits. simply through the presence of one or two participants who may act in a judgmental manner. there has also been some interest in other predictors of the phenomenon. Shop display reminds the shopper and activates the need state The deferred decision … decide to wait until in-store where a more informed decision can be made The shop as prompt … no need to plan. in some instances. (1990) did carry out a small scale phenomenological study but unfortunately impulse purchasing was not the main focus of their study. Group discussions with eight or so participants who are strangers to each other might encourage disclosure (Krueger. However. it is clear there is still much to be resolved. • a broadening of the focus of the study to include direct marketing and so open up the possibility of greater insight (by comparison and contrast). Methodology We were concerned not to pre-empt the content of the research and we wanted to facilitate respondents’ ability to be reflective and open in expressing their feelings and emotions without self-censure or inhibition about how others may perceive them (minimising SDR). costs. Rook and Fisher. We wished to promote a more private 104 . benefits. We wanted to determine the range of motives. atomistic and have ignored the problem of SDR. The first two techniques seemed likely to encourage posturing and post-rationalisation respectively as it would be difficult and/or time consuming to build up the necessary rapport and trust to overcome such behaviours. shop exit interviews. motivations and emotions associated with the behaviour.Impulse purchasing: a qualitative exploration of the phenomenon Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal Volume 1 · Number 2 · 1998 · 99–114 Geoff Bayley and Clive Nancarrow Table II Unplanned. We also wished to explore the rational-emotional nature of the phenomenon. group discussions and depth interviews were considered and ruled out. • attempts to neutralise SDR and encourage full disclosure. 1986.. rewards. Despite considerable research on the impulse buying. various aspects of the behaviour and. Dittmar et al. a holistic impression of the phenomenon might be formed and the basis of a model developed that will be both useful to practitioners as well as stimulate new lines of investigation. Letting the shopper choose the categories may also help the respondent to describe the salient features of the experience. though the presence of six to eight people might still bring about SDR.

• acting resourcefully.g. What. we explored the concept of “impulsiveness” outside the specific context of shopping and more in relation to values and attitudes to life in general. The playful aspect of the exercises helps to build rapport. 1994). motivations. in a way that cannot occur when you constrain discussion into the area of immediate relevance to the project. Two of the researchers adopted a grounded orientation to the analysis while the third researcher. is the opposite of impulsive? (This question can be repeatedly asked for each suggestion given until an agreed opposite is arrived at. both of which we have used across a variety of projects in recent years. A succession of opposites. what physical behaviours or signs would denote this? An example of an impulse shop pyramid would be as in Figure 1. the friendship pair retains some of the spontaneity and surprising twists and turns that lead to insight in group discussions. however. Specifically what would you be doing. Why is it important to you to be impulsive? This creates a “ladder” of values. serves to open up a fertile range of ideas around the core concept. Which do you prefer “impulsive” or “predictable”? We then work on both “poles” separately by again asking repeatedly: Q.Impulse purchasing: a qualitative exploration of the phenomenon Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal Volume 1 · Number 2 · 1998 · 99–114 Geoff Bayley and Clive Nancarrow and secure focus to encourage full disclosure on impulse purchases but depth interviews seemed inappropriate as they can lack the necessary level of psychological support for the respondent to disclose fully. encouraging and pursuing comparisons and contrasts between them. 1994). (2) Laddering: Q. These are powerful in uncovering the personal definition and value of core and secondary constructs of 105 a person. Q. (unimpulsive) are disallowed). The approach allows in-depth probing of personal feelings to an extent not achievable in groups. Figure 1 Impulse shop pyramid ‘Impulsive’ Quick On my own Not thinking about the price Ignore any distractions Excited Pupils dilated Lots of carrier bags Same item in different colours . We opted for two innovative research techniques. A team of three researchers. satisfactions and anxieties. e. familiar with the academic literature. In the sessions we worked for some of the time with friends’ individual responses. used this as a framework for interviewing and analysis. “Laddering” and “Pyramiding” (see Tindall. namely “Opposites”. all experienced in these approaches. To give an illustration from the starting point of the word “impulsive”: (1) Opposites: Q. Negative prefixes. trust and willingness to disclose as well as to suspend the urge to rationalise. It avoids the self-consciousness and concern to give the interviewer the “right” response that interviewees can experience in individual depth interviews. Friendship pairs Respondents are recruited as very close friends. worked on this project and crosschecking of outcomes and hypotheses across the team served as an important control. using dimensions uncovered as new starting points. How would an observer know that you were being/had been “impulsive”? Repeat for each answer. In order to go “off the subject” we adapted questioning approaches used by George Kelly. This provided the basis for fruitful discussion and triangulation (Tindall. • self-respect. Compared to an individual depth interview. A. • personal pride. for you. Their familiarity with each other gives them the confidence to openly explore and challenge both their own and each other’s behaviours. (For example) The opposite is predictability. or in the case of marketing the personal meanings associated with different behaviours. • make the most of opportunities. (3) Pyramiding: Q. ladders and pyramids. friendship pair interviews and selfscripts. This “off the subject” exploration of personal values can throw fresh insight back on to the topic of specific enquiry. For part of the interviews.

in this case “impulse shopping”. respondents free themselves from self-consciousness and a degree of self-censorship. 16 were recruited for follow up friendship pairs (see Table IV). 1996. Thompson et al. demonstrating “freedom” . The technique does not require respondents to have anything more than basic literacy and works successfully across the social spectrum. We have used this on several projects as a pre-task for friendship pairs or group discussions. although.. “the shop as prompt” and “the unplanned is demanded” (see Table II). the Midlands and the North of England. e. They are asked to let their thoughts flow freely. “respondents” are not directly accountable to anybody but themselves and the technique is specifically chosen to minimise self-censorship. Once started. a “must-have” feeling takes over. “deferred decisions”. Table III Demographic stages of respondents Pre-family Family. “at first it feels strange”. • the purchase is satisfying at the time and often raises self-esteem and/or mood (even “naughtiness” is read as “rebellious”. By writing in the third person. 1996. limits (amount likely to be spent. Respondents enjoy the experience of writing self-scripts. “a buzz”. Stepping outside of themselves and reflecting on their behaviour and feelings serves to reveal embedded thoughts and emotions. life-stage based and covered men and women as shown in Table III. “as if a principal character in a play/film” but. Dittmar et al.g. the sample was BC1C2.Impulse purchasing: a qualitative exploration of the phenomenon Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal Volume 1 · Number 2 · 1998 · 99–114 Geoff Bayley and Clive Nancarrow Self-scripts The self-scripts approach has similarly been adapted from Kelly’s technique of self-characterisations. “from the standpoint of somebody who knows them really well”. Sample differences Across the self-scripts common tendencies in impulsive shopping behaviour were more observable than differences by variables such as gender or life stage. These elements (object fixation > urgency > adrenalin rush > lift to self-esteem/ mood > guilt) are characteristic of impulse buying 106 Sample A total of eight friendship pairs (one-and-ahalf hour interviews) and 46 self-scripts were completed for this project during September/October 1997 in London. Additionally. the writing gathers its own momentum and a level of self-discovery does occur. 1990): • the “object” becomes “irresistible”. criteria for purchase. Where such differences did occur they reinforce previous literature. a “once and only” opportunity. Friendship pairs/self-scripts (16) From the sample of 46 self-script respondents. The accounts given by respondents indicate a common set of subjective feelings around a typical impulse purchase and many of these are in line with observations in previous papers (Rook and Fisher. Respondents are asked to write about themselves in relation to the topic/product area in the third person. Self-scripts involve no questions save for the title of the area for consideration. • the purchase creates a magnified sense of self-awareness and excitement. with children under 5 Family. a break from life’s constraints). Though in the latter case where the shopper is looking for “something different”.. where appropriate. we used this as an independent source of data. • there is an urgency about the decision to buy. “feel the adrenalin”. with children 14-20 Empty nesters 10 respondents 10 respondents 10 respondents 8 respondents 8 respondents . • guilt may tinge the purchase (either at the time or later) though a number of mechanisms can preserve a sense of “rightness” about the deed. Impulse purchasing – consumer defined Examples of impulse purchases given by respondents excluded the following unplanned purchases: “oversights”. number of items to be purchased. for this project. not to prepare what they write and to write as little or as much as they like. Demographically. with children 6-14 Family. Interpretation of the data The presentation of our interpretation of the qualitative data will. It is a private process. make reference to the earlier literature review. “something (clothing) for the winter”) are set and if the purchase goes “beyond” these then the purchase becomes classified as “impulse”.

the captivation with the object usually remains intact. This self-selected referral to a rationalemotional dichotomy about impulse purchasing is limiting and fails to account for the complex experience of shopping. describe impulse purchasing as a constant and significant part of their shopping behaviour and this includes repeated discretionary purchases. It is clear that the concept of “impulse buying” implies a contrast to the perceived “normal” shopping state of mind that is controlled and considered. personal items such as clothes or cosmetics. In the case of mail-order. 1995). It best describes the experience of physically (retail) shopping for goods. Respondents’ accounts suggest “rational” describes “normal” shopping and “emotional” describes impulse shopping. It is in fact neither sporadic nor an aberration. This process occurs irrespective of material value or product category. 107 . catalogue purchasing and “shopping channels”. the merely representational contact with the product and the time lapse between buying and receiving does threaten to disrupt the usual process of the impulse purchase. 4. Such references to guilty feelings need to be understood at two levels. the personal and the public. bulk buying of food products in supermarkets is described as temporarily losing control in terms of actual needs. even cars and houses. Respondents describe experiencing this mix of feelings when buying “two for one” grocery items. Pre-married/partnered Pre-married/partnered Married Married Married Married Married Empty nesters No kids No kids Kids under 5 Kids under 5 Kids 6-14 Kids 14-20 Kids 6-14 – Female Male Female Female Female Female Male M/F C1C2 C1C2 BC1 C2 C1C2 C1C2 C1C2 C1 22-28 22-28 25-35 25-35 25-35 30-45 30-45 60-65 London London Leeds London Manchester Leeds London Manchester across a range of product categories. Rook and Fisher.) Many “sellers” appear to have recognised the importance of injecting a sense of urgency and “once and for only” opportunity in terms of availability or price to optimise impulsiveness in these media. Variations in impulse purchasing within our sample tended to occur by frequency of buying within personal discretionary areas rather than by impulsiveness generally. Comments such as “She didn’t really need it” or “He’s managed without up to now” are common. The intensity of the accompanying feelings can vary across product categories. Impulsiveness is seen to be surrendering to emotion even where the product is seen to fulfil a necessary function and the purchase achieves some financial advantage. While expressing varying degrees of “regret” about acting on impulse respondents are always quick to excuse themselves. The satisfactions associated with the purchase are a greater influence on future behaviour. 6. however. jewellery. from the necessary to the discretionary. Nevertheless. plastic kitchenware. 8. respondents’ selfscripts indicate a sense of confession and feelings of guilt. less aroused and urgent. Guilt and rationality Alongside the enjoyment of the impulse purchase. 3. There is little indication of any conviction to curtail their impulsive shopping. respondents derive significant benefit from making the purchase while upholding a public norm that this is “inappropriate” behaviour open to perceived public censure (“normative evaluations”. References to regret are most commonly about the expenditure. The most significant feature of the self-scripts is that purchases of all kinds engender a similar process of captivation with the object and a boost to self-esteem through making the purchase. alongside judgements that “She ought not to have done it”. from the necessary to the discretionary and from high to low involvement. especially where the object purchased is a “discretionary” one. 2. They also. 7. Simultaneously. For instance. 5.Impulse purchasing: a qualitative exploration of the phenomenon Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal Volume 1 · Number 2 · 1998 · 99–114 Geoff Bayley and Clive Nancarrow Table IV Friendship pairs 1. Respondents described impulse buying as a sporadic aberration. (Though the fact you can return goods so easily does encourage “trial” purchases.

1990). often purchased to bolster the “good manager” self-esteem and a 108 . • a conscious plan to buy. It is an important finding that respondents do include under their perceptions of impulsive behaviour purchases that fulfil functional/good manager needs and benefits.Impulse purchasing: a qualitative exploration of the phenomenon Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal Volume 1 · Number 2 · 1998 · 99–114 Geoff Bayley and Clive Nancarrow it is significant to shoppers. It exists as a “safetyvalve”.. Perhaps to do so lays us open to more compulsive behaviour?. on his camera equipment” so it is fair that I spend some on myself. Such a functional stereotype serves a requirement to be a responsible and solvent economic manager. The functional stereotype of shopping is characterised by: • objective recognition of needs and wants. One consequence of this private-public dichotomy is that respondents have developed behavioural strategies that serve to rationalise or suspend feelings of guilt. • its accessibility has enabled it to remain prevalent. a survey by the Wall Street Journal published in 1997 described Generation X (under 35s) credit card debt as averaging £890 and the source of much of this was ascribed to “impulse purchasing of holidays. • Comparative expenditure: competing to consume resources at the level of your partner or peer. • Over-buying: the possibility of taking it (one of them) back or of buying three and keeping two. free from obligations to others and given roles. The elevation of a rational ideal for shopping in the consumer’s mind fails to acknowledge the more general need for “impulsiveness” in our lives. • Hidden owning: leave it in the carrier bag/ box/hide it in the wardrobe – subjectively not bought. “he spends his money on his bike. While “impulsiveness” engenders guilt. • a fit with physical money transactions rather than credit ones? As an illustration of behaviour at odds with this norm. These also maintain the prevailing “public” stereotype of the norm of the rational shopper. its simplicity makes it accessible. Respondents describe trolleys half full of “impulse items”. perhaps suggests: • the rational behaviour-guilt model suited shopping norms in less consumerist times? It is more central to an age when thrift was a moral virtue and debt a personal disgrace. “I got carried away with emotion” has become an excuse. Before considering the content of their impulsive “shopping behaviour”. or a reward for other tasks. suggesting failing to live up to expectations. Respondents’ explanations of some impulse purchases could. be interpreted in terms of the interaction. and judgement primarily at an ideal or ritual level. which defers the expenditure reckoning. The functional/needs fulfilment model of shopping behaviour perhaps protects us from recognising our social and psychological dependency on shopping. • the matching of outlay to resources. mountain bikes and cars”. conflict and reconciliation of the Id and super-ego and use of defence mechanisms. working long hours! In our laddering exercises “impulsiveness” was fairly consistently a creative and “liberating” force existing as a foil to “conformity” and “greyness” (some resonance with the existentialist viewpoint expounded by Thompson et al. However. What needs are served by impulse shopping? Functional versus socio-psychological models of shopping functional Underlying respondents’ accounts about their impulse purchases is a functional stereotype about shopping which is in effect a restatement of what we have already described as a rational-guilt model. • A self gift: a deserved self-indulgence. of course. we need to consider why they are shopping beyond “functional” needs. • goods chosen with “good value”/functional performance criteria as the prime criteria for choice. not all impulse purchases seem to be driven by self-interest (Id driven) and so the psycho-analysis model clearly has shortcomings. in terms of personal relevance. down the pub. the weekly shop. and we still have an unwillingness to fully recognise the latter. The continued existence of the “rational ideal” at this removed level. “I should behave rationally” has become a publicly acknowledged ideal! In contrast. caring for children. it does not correspond to respondents’ feelings about acting impulsively at the point of purchase or lead them to curtail their behaviour. a way of investing in and nurturing a sense of an independent and experimental self.

• family/household. Acquiring the “object” is not just a financial transaction but also at some level is also a cultural and/or personal endorsement. They choose to shop with a level of openness to making snap decisions in the shop environment. alongside their functional value. It can also vary by type and style of shopping occasion: • weekly grocery task. the electronic gadgets or DIY equipment never used/rarely used). 1978. The public norm of rational/functional purchasing continues to prevail in the passive state away from the immediacy of the Figure 2 Functional versus socio-psychological reasons for shopping Setting out In the shops Heightened Economic/function Socio-psych Subdued Socio-psych. experimenting with your individual identity. This process can be summarised in a schematic diagram (Figure 2). benefit. two children). They value being open to “the shop” experience because important social and psychological benefits are only obtainable through this openness.Impulse purchasing: a qualitative exploration of the phenomenon Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal Volume 1 · Number 2 · 1998 · 99–114 Geoff Bayley and Clive Nancarrow resultant feeling of pride in obtaining “bargains”. • significance of “materialism” as a measure of self-esteem for the person. it is clear that most respondents do not shop with a specific plan or list of items to buy and that to do so is to deny themselves part of the pleasure and satisfaction of shopping. • there is both a personal and a family/ household responsibility to avoid being disadvantaged by being left behind. besides the self-esteem derived from being a good economic manager. urgency. our data suggest that the socio-psychological benefits occur across the wide range of shopping trips. Economic/function Back home Economic/function Socio-psych. Even the mundane.. To return home empty handed is to experience a sense of loss of selfesteem (imagination. Significantly. Dittmar et al. 1996). Storey. Other models for shopping do exist alongside the functional one. socio-cultural benefits: • shops are a medium of information exchange about what is new/different in the contemporary scene. (cf. developing. and other benefits are derived from impulse shopping. • both looking and purchasing are ways of securing your belonging in the contemporary scene. adrenalin and pride of the impulse buy. decisiveness) and a weakening of your ability to stay apace of contemporary society. Psychological benefits are: • affirming. Given this variation. This seemed to vary in degrees across factors such as: • gender. Objects are bought for their symbolic role in terms of cultural meaning and psychological wellbeing. The socio-psychological value can become a dominant driver for an impulse purchase in the shopping environment. the physical experience of shopping is capable of inverting our priorities as functional reasons to buy lose out to more psychological or sociological benefits excited by the objects on view. Douglas and Isherwood. Regular supermarket shoppers often describe (the idea) of “the family shop” as an irksome repetitive task … but this rarely represents their total mindset when they are in shops. the unplayed/rarely played CDs. For example. From the standpoint of viewing shopping as a necessary surveillance exercise we can go on to consider impulse purchasing as something with a purpose and value that goes way beyond the sense of a sporadic aberration that is suggested by the functional model. necessary household items can be the source of meaning. Socio-psychological At a pragmatic level. • personality style. irrespective of the final bill. If I was to come home from town without having bought anything I would feel like going straight to the gin bottle (female 35-45. Shopping becomes an activity that involves imagination and decisiveness. 1994). ensuring you have kept apace/ not been left behind. It makes up a significant part of the irresistibility. the unread books on the shelves. 109 . • protecting and boosting your self esteem (cf. of a burst of adrenalin or shopping buzz. • personal. • life-stage. and sometimes independently of any functional value (witness from our sample: unopened bags and boxes in the wardrobe. however.

Self-willed impulse. accurately. Mail-order and catalogue impulse purchases also appear to represent this more conscious “self-willed” openness to impulsiveness. The experience of shopping is about a dialogue between the individual psyche and the product. satisfying. Individual “semi-consciously” directs impulse towards the purchase versus • Captivated impulse. • four different styles of motive and reward in relation to impulse purchases. Four styles of impulse shopping Respondents’ self-scripts and research findings from the friendship pairs suggest four principal categories of impulse purchases.. they ignore any plans/partial plans such as shopping lists. social and psychological benefits are desired. differentiated in terms of the experience of the purchase and in terms of rewards and benefits desired. lipstick. 110 .g. “in” product categories – olive oil. bottled lager. e. Two styles of openness The research findings indicate two differing styles of openness that correspond to our sense of either consciously going along with an impulse purchase or being totally overwhelmed by an impulse: • Self-willed impulse. the result of which is a reward or self-affirmation for the shopper. In summary these are: (1) Accelerator impulse (self-confirmation role) – stockpiling/advance purchase to fulfil perceived future needs (Narasinhan et al. One tendency in “self-willed” impulse. is a step-by-step sequence whereby the individual takes a number of unintentional or “unconsciously intentional” decisions which inevitably lead to a purchase: I’d been to the iron-mongers and had about half an hour until I pick the kids up. The socio-psychological requirement for openness takes over for the activity of shopping. I found myself driving past Reedmans and noticed I could park. 1996 used the term “accelerator”). They are consciously acting in line with the functional ideal but also. Dittmar et al. In some shopping situations respondents are aware of themselves as good economic managers and as a consequence can feel that an impulse purchase is to some extent self-willed. 1996).. Self-esteem can be reinforced and/or boosted in three areas. (2) Compensatory impulse (self-compensation role) – could be a reward for completing an onerous task. and across different purchases in one shopping trip these different styles of benefit can be achieved. expenditure limits. I popped in and I came out with two jumpers. a compensation for “failure” to secure purchases elsewhere or addresses a self-esteem (cf. It becomes irresistible. In any one purchase. Individual submits to the passion of the impulse and enjoys a feeling of being totally out of control. This sense of a “self-willed” impulse is also observable in purchase areas where more personal. This can be fulfilled through a range of levels of functionality of the goods bought. adrenalin inducing. Confirms image of good shopper/ housewife. (3) as an individual (psychological). This is more in line with the existing literature on impulse purchasing where the shoppers’ motives are at a level that lacks any degree of self-awareness. describe this experience as an impulsive one. This can involve high expenditure and be life changing.Impulse purchasing: a qualitative exploration of the phenomenon Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal Volume 1 · Number 2 · 1998 · 99–114 Geoff Bayley and Clive Nancarrow shopping experience. Types of impulse shopping Analysis of our research findings leads us to suggest: • two different styles of openness to the shop experience. or the state of current stock. buying a car on impulse occurred in a few self-scripts. Openness to this dialogue enables the shopper to fulfil the desire for a boost in self-esteem. (2) as a member of community/society (social). buy two get one free offers. In responding to these offers. (3) Breakthrough impulse (self-redefining role) – a sudden reaction to act now usually triggered by a desire to resolve a longstanding “unconscious” discontent or conflict. either discretely or in interaction with each other: (1) as a good economic manager. shoes. Captivated impulse. e. 30-35 years old). Often it can have functional as well as socio/psychological benefits.g. e.g.g. mood elevator. e. unisex fragrances. An example of this is reacting to offers that encourage bulk purchasing. clothes. I hadn’t thought about them at all (mother of three.

especially from female respondents. there remains a level of self-awareness and consciousness throughout the shopping experience. The sense of self-esteem derived is related to being a “good economic manager”. even though she hasn’t got it. (pre-married)). It is behaviour that reinforces an existing positive self-perception. or even. home. houses. The purchase outcome is not consciously anticipated as a possibility. It is an enduring behaviour which gives them a significant buzz and which they do not want to give up. cars. Sue is a single parent living on a budget but sometimes when she goes shopping she forgets this. bad bargains occur the guilt that this engenders is rationalised as “merely” a side-effect of pursuing a legitimate “bargain”. Another style of compensation maybe more broadly related to moods. Respondents may also create a “partial plan” to purchase other items but have failed to find the right style. To return home empty handed not only feels like a wasted shopping trip but also undermines the very self-esteem and connectedness that shopping as a behaviour is meant to deliver. she already had six in the cupboard at home but she still bought another six and paid for four (age: 25-35). shoes or personal cosmetics that are not objectively needed but may address a self-esteem deficit. these are one-offs. There is a sense of “rightness”/ completeness. It was summer and not the football season but Steve knew that come September he would have to buy some new boots as his old ones were broken (age: 33). At the same time many of these purchases are also primarily functional.Impulse purchasing: a qualitative exploration of the phenomenon Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal Volume 1 · Number 2 · 1998 · 99–114 Geoff Bayley and Clive Nancarrow (4) Blind impulse (dysfunctional) – a sense of being overwhelmed by the product. a way of lifting an emotional down. irrespective of any function or cost constraint. symbolic markers of our place in the community. Many see themselves as close to compulsive behaviour and rows with partners and problems with debt had been experienced. Her husband liked meatballs in the can. Sometimes it is a way of rewarding oneself for completing other tasks that have been irksome or arduous. Such “errors of judgement” rarely have any impact on modifying this behaviour in the future. If mistakes. I can’t go home empty-handed … her real weakness is shoes (age: 25. wasted purchases. Breakthrough impulse Breakthrough purchases are often high expenditure items including jewellery. private persona and escaping the usual restraints and responsibilities of job. Compensatory buying strategies appear to be repeated and become a characteristic behaviour of the respondent. They tend to have a higher than usual level of social-status. the acceptable size. to seek it out. an exotic tropical fruit. she could buy 2lb of eating apples for the same price but that would be boring (age: 45-55. she’s got wardrobes full of clothes she’s never worn and shoes bursting out of cupboards still in their boxes. Some impulse buys of Rosalind’s are inexpensive. In this section he saw a pair of football boots in a sale. furniture. The accelerator impulse is not a compensatory response to a feeling of lack of self-esteem. 111 . Nevertheless. They have a sense of liberating their more illicit. subconsciously. (divorced)). Shoes are one of Kath’s impulse buys and on one shopping trip she came home with two pairs (age: 45. they did not set out with a predisposition to be open to such an occurrence. but the adrenalin kicks in and she thinks why not. Linda’s a shopaholic. At other times it may be “getting-yourown” back on a partner or ensuring that your discretionary expenditure is not being out paced by your partners/peers. Events unfold in an unpredictable and unrepeatable way. art. Accelerator impulse An impulsive purchase that is motivated by a sudden desire to stock-up for a future need. Kath’s been feeling a bit down lately and when she feels like that she wants to spend money. Compensatory impulse The idea of impulsively buying something as a compensation and reward features strongly in the self-scripts. She sees something and thinks do I really need it. selfish. or family. She doesn’t smoke or drink and shopping seems to be a release from the real world. She went into M&S and bought three pair of trousers with every intention of taking two back … she couldn’t decide between them and ended up keeping two out of three (age: 35-45 (with children)). It makes life a little more exciting. The prospect of failure militates against conscious planning or even partial planning and fosters a desire to be open and reactive. Accounts suggest that respondents feel taken by surprise in their decision to buy. (empty-nester)). One common behaviour is the buying of clothes. you “have to have it” immediately. There is a component of self-willing the impulse in the way in which they talk about or describe this.

Although an intention to buy only comes into focus at the moment of seeing the product. The classification of impulse shopping can be summarised in a classic two dimensional map as shown in Figure 3 (though with some purchases the location may be a case of emphasis): Conclusions The literature examined definitions and explanations of unplanned and impulse purchasing. there is an underlying predisposition to put themselves into the situation where this impulse can be triggered. dysfunctional captivation with an idea or aesthetic aspect of the product. The phenomenon of impulse Figure 3 Two-dimensional map illustrating impulse shopping High Functional Benefit Accelerator Breakthrough SelfWilled Openness Compensatory (Blind) Captivated High Symbolic Benefit 112 . He put an offer on it there and then and went back to tell his wife the good news (age: 35. The object shares the characteristics of being irresistible. empty-nester). symbolising a significant step/change in life. They may also be simply a transient. a sink tidy and a knife and fork thing … it wasn’t much and we both bought one but when we got home we had to laugh ‘cos we’d got no use for any of it (pair aged 35-45. Usually she’s not all that impulsive (age: 60-65. We went to Woolworth’s where a plastic special kitchen set caught our eye. He knew that he had to make the decision there and then. He paid the shop a deposit for the painting. Once she bought a cast iron fireplace for £25 and didn’t know why or what to do with it. There was a slight difficulty he didn’t have enough money on him. Often the purchase can be seen as resolving an underlying conflict and moving the individual forward. former flat-dweller). It had to be that one. both mums of kids 5-15). social or psychological nature. There are however odd examples of “brainstorm” purchases that appear to fall outside of explanation. For breakthrough purchases there is a deep and significant sense of redefining yourself in response to a perceived change in status or phase of one’s life. Blind impulse The categories of accelerator. urgent. There was a selection of paintings at the rear of the shop. a “self-willed” openness to “consciously” seek out and go along with the impulse. That painting now hangs on the wall of his dining room (age: 40. empty-nester). Summary of impulse styles With accelerator and compensatory impulse purchases there seems to be a higher frequency of occurrence and it is often an established and repeated behaviour. He drove past a house for sale and something made him stop. seemingly as “sudden” and best explained in terms of a dysfunctional captivation. Breakthrough and blind impulse purchases tend to occur less often. a bowl. compensatory and breakthrough all suggest that impulsive behaviour does have an underlying purpose and that it fulfils needs of either a functional. They may relate to aspects of the purchaser’s desire to experiment with identity or social-status but they are not obviously markers of self-esteem. Blind purchases are also less frequent. Such purchases are symbols of a change in status and the need for selfredefinition. After a row with the wife he jumped in the car to drive around and to cool down. exciting but in retrospect their purchase is likely to be more dysfunctional than functional. The infrequency of such changes means the psychological process is less well recognised and the purchase behaviour seems to “come out of the blue” – from a deeper level of subconsciousness. Knowing his own mind John realised that if he left he would not come back. A few years ago Winnie went out to buy a spare set of car keys and signed up for a new car. Then one of the paintings seemed to leap out at John. the decision was made. single). that was probably her most embarrassing impulse buy (age: 46.Impulse purchasing: a qualitative exploration of the phenomenon Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal Volume 1 · Number 2 · 1998 · 99–114 Geoff Bayley and Clive Nancarrow Post-purchase rationales can be interpreted as indicating an underlying desire or need.

this is a subjective judgement (Gabriel. (1994). The Shopping Experience. and Hoyer. Winter. Allen Lane. pp. Vol. Marketers may need to provide the “supporting rationalisation” in other instances (where this is morally justifiable) though shoppers have a number of mechanisms to minimise feelings of guilt impulse purchasing in direct buying situations is noted and the implications for marketers are high-lighted. in a shopping environment (or its simulation). “Planned versus impulse purchase behaviour”. and Campbell C. As expected. (1997). “the deferred decision”. The four main types of impulse purchase described were accelerator. Beattie. however. CA. Given the increased tendency for shoppers not to plan and the potential socio-psychological benefits of shopping and impulse purchasing. 113 . J. (1994). London. P. Kollatt. and Willett. shoppers think impulse purchasing is often seen by others in a negative light. (Eds). A typology of impulse purchases is proposed that might provide a basis for future research as well as indicate appropriate marketing tactics. Newbury Park. and Friese. Elliot. London. J. habitual task. in Falk. “Customer impulse purchasing behaviour”. decision considerations and self-image in men’s and women’s impulse purchases”. Journal of Consumer Policy. References Bateman.A. (1982). H. Douglas. 62 No. and Holmes. pp.e. A. Gabriel. we concur with the school of consumer research that argues for more marketing research to be carried out in context.. 21-3. “Addictive consumption: function and fragmentation in postmodernity”. “Supermarket futures”. 4 February. though. Bowlbey. C. C. 507-19. CA.-K. Sage. Consumer Behaviour. Chicago. is likely to be partially deflated as the functional/economic “model” kicks in once back home. W. “Shopping in the East Centre Mall”. T. R. London. and Mäenpää. Engel. future research on impulse buying should consider how to handle potential SDR. (1990). M. Vol. The qualitative approach and combination of enabling techniques in this study seemed to encourage disclosure and minimise SDR. J. pp. Routledge. The findings support the view that many impulse purchases arise from the fact that shoppers are psychologically pre-disposed to obtain a level of self-expression and social ties through shopping of all kinds and they are reluctant to reduce any shopping experience to an automatic. (1978). so. An impulse purchase typically consists of a number phases: object fixation> urgency> adrenalin rush>lift to self-esteem/or mood> (guilt?).D. 1990). (1997). Journal of the Market Research Society. This would enable us to understand better how various stages of consumer readiness towards a category or brand are or might be transformed at point-of-sale. Vol. The Shopping Experience. R.Impulse purchasing: a qualitative exploration of the phenomenon Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal Volume 1 · Number 2 · 1998 · 99–114 Geoff Bayley and Clive Nancarrow purchasing has principally been researched from a positivist perspective with the risk that the dependence on this approach coupled with potential SDR bias may have limited insights into the subject. 17. D. IL. and Blackwell. Lehhtonen. and Campbell. Krueger. R. (1996). These were mapped in terms of their functional versus socio-psychological need fulfilment and in terms of degree of being perceived to be self-willed or truly captivated. Sage.. 93. J. Dryden Press. (1995). Journal of Retailing. Cobb. The qualitative research demonstrated that shoppers perceive impulse purchasing as a quite distinctive form of unplanned purchase. marketers cannot afford to ignore this stage of buying behaviour. Vol. It seems therefore to qualify as a “dark side” variable and. compensatory. in Falk. “Objects. (1967). and Isherwood. 4. Finally. B. not only “Do I really need another pair of shoes?” but also “Why have I stocked up on another six cans of meatballs or eight packs of pasta ?” The latter may be easier to rationalise or justify in terms of the economic/functional model than the former. R. Some researchers have not differentiated unplanned from impulse purchases and this study would suggest that to not do so may confound attempts to study this phenomenon. The elation that accompanies the “impulse buy”. “The validity of qualitative research”. S. “shop as prompt” and “unplanned is demanded” types of purchase. 4. breakthrough and blind impulse. Focus Groups: A Practical Guide for Applied Research. a qualitative research approach employing a number of enabling techniques was carried out. To understand and explain impulse purchasing in more depth.C. 32 No. (1986). P. Towards an Anthropology of Consumption. Newbury Park. R. as is so often the case with consumer research. Journal of Marketing Research. Sage. Dittmar. Introduction to Psychoanalysis. It is differentiated from the straightforward “oversight”. P. 159-79. Acta Psychologica. i.

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