the increase in impulse buys

Living on campus, I’ve made many trips to the mail room in my first few weeks back at BC. It’s amazing how many boxes are back there and the main reason for this…is online shopping. Especially on a college campus, where so many students don’t have access to cars, students rely heavily on Amazon among other online outlets for all their basic needs. Amazon locks you in the minute you receive your .edu email and can register for 6 months of free prime.

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It’s amazing how we can simply look a couple images online, read a couple product details, and make a purchase instantly– and with Prime barely 48 hours later and the product is in our hands. After interning at a software startup this summer, I learned all the effort that brands and retailers have to go through to keep this information consistent and updated. For example, we expect certain information when we search for a product online, but different sites might have different images or details for the same product. As a consumer this can lead to us preferring certain sites simply because of the additional information they provide us with before we make the purchase.

See below comparing buying the same pair of Nike’s on Nordstrom and Bloomingdales:

On the left we see that Nordstrom’s offers a high quality image of the shoe, but that’s it… only one image. Whereas Bloomingdale’s shows us many different angles of the shoe that consumers may want to view before deciding to buy it.

The most interesting thing about this is that if both websites are offering the same exact product then I can research it on one site and buy it on the other. Although I would argue Nordstrom’s has the weaker product information, they are offering the shoe at 25% and free shipping… so I may find the item on Bloomingdale’s, but decide to buy it on Nordstrom because of these perks. This means that there’s more pressure on retailers to offer incentives for you to purchase the product right then, before you have time to snoop around on competitors websites to ultimately buy the product. This urgency for you to convert before looking elsewhere has led sellers to try to find ways to capture you in your weak, impulsive moment. giphy11

A feature that has become increasingly popular among online outlets is offering free shipping and free returns. This feeds into our likelihood of impulse buying something. If all you have to do is click a button to make a purchase and the company is telling you if you don’t like it you can put it in the mail for free— then what’s the harm in clicking?


All in all it seems like between one click purchasing, 2 day shipping, and free returns the impulse buy is rising in popularity. Making purchases has become so easy and convenient for consumers in a large part because of the amount of detail we can instantly learn about a product. As this content continues to improve and shipping times continue to decrease it’ll be amazing how the online shopping experience will change.


  1. fernanfu89 · ·

    Really interesting article! Its interesting to see so much competition on the online landscape, that’s it hard to believe that all companies are making money. Worst for companies is the fact that Amazon from the start had really good perks like 2 day shipping among others (incurring high cost), so now to enter and be successful online you have to incur these high expenses.

  2. sherricheng5 · ·

    Great post! The convenience of online shopping definitely makes me more inclined to purchase something. I wonder how interactive online shopping will get in the future. I think companies will try to make the customer shopping experience more hands-on with improving technology. It seems like companies like Amazon are all about taking risks and making breakthroughs- excited to see how online shopping changes in the coming years!

  3. This blog put into words something I had always registered in the back of my mind, but never really consciously thought about. That you go to certain sites to shop first because of the content you are provided about the products. You get used to a certain level of detail/information, and I find myself frustrated when a site doesn’t provide me with the insight I am looking for. I never thought about how this is a competitive advantage for a company, and, as you stated, the effort it takes to maintain this edge, especially with giants like Amazon in the field. Great blog!

  4. mattwardbc · ·

    Free Shipping and Free returns is the most dangerous part of online shopping, especially when considering smaller purchases which are less likely to be returned due to their lower value. I definitely have been taking advantage of Amazon Prime lately especially with books due to the massive savings you can realize compared to the bookstore. There is such a large opportunity for Amazon to corner the Consumer goods market that we may never have to run to Target again.

  5. alyssacasale4 · ·

    Great blog post! I definitetly have relied on websites such as Amazon Prime and Target over the past few weeks at school. Having snacks delivered to my dorm is significantly cheaper and more efficient than ubering to Wegmans or Star Market. I wonder how the growth of online shopping is affecting retail stores, and whether shopping malls will soon become a thing of the past since almost everything is now available online.

  6. kaitlinardiff · ·

    Great post! It’s definitely true that we use the Internet to research the products, and then can select the site that we want to buy from by comparing shipping options, etc. Another interesting thing to note is that Amazon is really capitalizing on the consumers need to “have it now.” Not only does Amazon offer free 2-day shipping with Prime, but in many metropolitan areas they now offer “Amazon Locker”. This allows for same-day receipt, as long as a consumer is willing to go get the package at a predetermined location and forego the convenience of having it delivered. It’ll be interesting to see what consumes value more as Locker continues to debut: the convenience of delivery or the convenience of time?

    1. Hilary_Gould · ·

      Another thing I learned a lot about was the rise of the “pick up in store” option which is similar to the Amazon locker option! It just depends where the consumers loyalty falls!

  7. Nice post. Retailers have long wrestled with how to compete with online presences through which customers can comparison shop. I think the more interesting angle is how retailers are trying to compete against this. There was a nice NYT article on how Best Buy was actually starting to do that successfully.

  8. s_courtney18 · ·

    I am one of the best comparison online shoppers out of my family and friends, and free shipping/free returns hook me in like nobody else! One of my roommates recently got the latest MacBook, which allows her to simply scan her fingerprint to access saved credit cards on her laptop and instantly buy different things online. These types of technology feed impulse buying, and the easier it is to press a button or save a card will help online retail giants significantly in the end.

  9. andrewmanginelli · ·

    The one click buying/48 hour delivery definitely adds to Amazon’s dominance in this space. When I’m running low on something that I know I have enough of for the next two days, say toothpaste, I can just order it on Amazon rather than running out to the store when I actually have none left. This makes buying products like this super convenient – like you mentioned, it eliminates my need of having to find a friend’s car to borrow and then also finding the time to physically drive to the store.

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