check out lane at grocery store

How to Influence Impulse Buying Behavior in the New Normal

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed our shopping behaviors dramatically particularly while checking out of a store. This is causing a decline in front end impulse buying. A recent study by Explorer found shoppers’ mindsets are shifting while checking out:

46% feel stressed
43% are sticking to their list & trying to save money
40% don’t want to touch or pick up a product at the front end
48% want to exit the checkout as quickly as possible


To start, the definition of a buying impulse is a sudden urge to buy something without any planning or forethought. I’ve found that once a consumer experiences a buying impulse, a couple of factors come into play. 

The first factor social psychologists call “consonant factors” which is a fancy name to say the impulse purchase is in line with what you desire, your budget, and how you feel at that time.  This factor is sometimes offset by environmental factors (dissonant factors) that make you feel buying something could have a negative impact on you, so you try and exert some control over yourself to try and stifle it.

So pre-Covid-19, most shoppers felt OK to buy a snack impulsively as many feel they’ve “earned it” at the end of a trip and they can afford it. They were “harmonious” with their consonant factors. Today however, our research shows shoppers are feeling “less safe” due to the dissonant factors surrounding the check-out experience and products within it and are impulse buying far less as a result.


impulse purchase items at Walmart checkout

  1. TRIGGER IMPULSE EARLIER: 48% of shoppers’ impulse purchases are triggered “before” they actually enter a check lane. With many stores curating the checkout process by instructing shoppers which lane to check out, this trigger gets interrupted. To circumvent this, consider adding a large impulse zone before shoppers enter the front aisle to better capitalize on this impulse trigger.
  2. SIMPLIFY ASSORTMENT: Our research has also found impulsivity is highest in the first third of the check out lane. We also have identified simplifying assortment and focusing on the best-selling SKUs drives higher conversion.  This is never more relevant than with anxious shoppers during the pandemic.  Simplifying SKUs – particularly in the first third of checkout to high selling items eases navigation and shopper stress to help drive impulsivity.
  3. RETHINK PACKAGING: Shopper trust around front end product safety has declined. Rethinking packaging for immediate consumption products by adding more safety features should help reduce product safety fears with shoppers. A simple IC multipack can be a possible solution that uses a clear protective overwrap.
  4. ENHANCED MESSAGE FRAMING: Our behavioral science learning has identified during the pandemic that it’s important to give people a feeling of control. Communicating positively, reinforcing the feeling of belonging and community, and demonstrating empathy by recognizing virus preventing efforts made during these trying times will resonate with shoppers and reduce those dissonant feelings they are experiencing. So here are a couple of examples of the type of messaging that leverage behavioral science learnings to drive impulse in today’s market:

    1. Emotional Rewards: “You deserve a reward, especially right now”

    Reciprocity: “Your family has been keeping themselves and others safe by quarantining . . . they deserve a thank you.”

Our takeaway message is you need to test and learn to better formulate strategies in this new environment because the impulse playbook is not as effective. We can help you do this efficiently & effectively with our online Virtual Reality Front End Builder. If interested, please reach out and we would be happy to discuss. 

screen shot of Explorer Virtual Reality Front End Builder
Explorer Front End Builder

This article was written by Marc Inkol, President of Explorer Research with contributions by  Lucy Raia, Vice President of Immersive Qualitative Testing. 

  • Filter by Topic

  • Subscribe to our insider monthly email.

  • Recent Posts

  • How can we help your business?

    • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.