Let’s be honest, we’ve all succumbed – or at least, most of us have – to the guilty pleasure that is impulse buying. However, maybe it’s time to reclassify this tendency, moving it from the sin step to the virtue vault. After all, if a pleasure doesn’t harm anyone and makes us all feel good, why should we feel guilty about it? For retailers, impulse buying can mean the difference between just breaking even and making a profit.

Let’s think of it as a win-win practice – the customer benefits from a pleasing surprise, and the retailer benefits from the unplanned spend. Shopping with conscious intent can be dull when it’s relentless. Impulse buying interrupts the tedium and delivers a pleasing high. The question is, can win-win impulse buying be, well, “facilitated”, in the sense of made easier? The answer is: most definitely.

Don’t underestimate effective retail display systems

Retailers have been relying on impulse buying for decades. Today, they can harness the attention-focusing attributes of subtly arresting retail display systems to enhance the attraction to products. Well-placed, attractively designed point-of-sales systems boost impulse sales not only by pointing customers directly to, say, a special offer but also indirectly. A striking point-of-sales system might draw a customer’s attention to a specific product – say, tennis shoes – but a carefully positioned related product nearby (such as sports socks) can encourage a spontaneous-but-related additional buy.

The art of product placement

Product placement needs careful thought. What do your core customers need and want? If you’re, say, specialising in meeting the needs of customers that buy cosmetics, why not experiment with a range of sample-sized products en route to the checkout?

Bear in mind that if the incidental item you’re hoping to sell to an impulse buyer needs further explanation or won’t fit easily in a shopping basket, it’s probably not going to leave your store. The best products for impulse purchases are inexpensive, feature in most homes and are frequently bought. Often it’s only when customers see products on display they remember they need a particular item. We’d suggest beginning with items priced at under £10. Keep a close eye on how they sell to work out where the pricing sweet spot lies.

Make your point-of-sales system messages relevant

If you’re using retail display systems, it’s worth doing some homework about the message you’re trying to convey. For example, you might need to complement one message addressed to customers who are “toward” people, who like to realise goals, with another point-of-sales system display addressing “away from” people, who are motivated more by the wish to avoid problems. If you’re selling ready meals, for example, an effective message to a “toward” customer would be: “Why not try this sumptuous supper with your family tonight?” For an “away from” customer, a better message might be: “Spend more time with your friends and family, not the cooker.”

Capitalise on your store’s “hot zones”

Finally, know your sales and foot-traffic hotspots. If you place your impulse items in these zones, if you’re wise about what you choose you will drive up sales.