Advice, Lifestyle

Online Impulse Purchases: What they are and how we can salvage our bank accounts this holiday season

“Just buy it! It’ll be good for the economy.”

We’ve all been there. Maybe it’s Zara 10 minutes before closing. Or Victoria’s Secret during one of their (much more frequently than annual) “annual” sales. Or Brandy Melville, in general. Either way, we’ve all experienced retail hell.

Haley Alvarez-Lauto | Graphic Artist

Thankfully, the internet has come a long way, allowing us to brutalize our wallets from the comfort of our own beds. And brands have responded with fast fashion — a whole other beast. Disturbingly well-targeted, invasive advertising and inventions like Afterpay instill this inherent urge to spend.

We never stood a chance. 

With Black Friday around the corner, it’s a good idea to be aware of exactly how brands pressure you into impulse purchases, and exactly how you can try to fight this urge and salvage your bank account. 

The key word here is “try.”

What is impulse buying? 

According to a research study, an impulse purchase is an unplanned, on-the-spot purchase that’s a result of exposure to a stimulus. Approximately 40% of all money spent on e-commerce sites is attributed to impulse buying instead of planned, diligent spending.

What makes you more likely to make an impulse purchase online? 

Some people are genetically predisposed to impulsiveness, and other traits make it more likely as well, like being a college student. Hoorah! 

Being distracted while shopping is also dangerous for your wallet. For example, if you enjoy having “Modern Family,” or a Zoom lecture streaming on one window and a shopping tab in the other, you’re more likely to spend. The same goes for online shopping during lectures or class. Read that sentence again.

The possibility of impulse-buying increases if the website is easy to navigate. The holiday season is when online sales peak, but remember that Black Friday or Cyber Monday sales are rarely as good as they appear.

Using services like Afterpay or Klarna that break up your purchases into multiple installments are also looming over your shoulder. It is much easier to justify paying $25 now than $100, but it makes it harder to realize how much money you’re spending. Remember, these companies make their profit off of people planning their budget incorrectly, letting the charges build up and not being able to pay off their 4 installments. It’s “buy now, think about it later” on a silver platter.

Price-off is also a huge factor for impulse buying! So, if we see something that’s 40% off, that sets off these little angelic alarm bells in our heads that make us more likely to justify buying it. Companies know this so they can adjust their prices accordingly, or advertise “supersales” to make you think you’re getting a good deal when you aren’t.

How can we prevent it? 

According to psychologists, the best thing to do is to set a goal beforehand. Figure out what you want and how much you want to spend. I am a veteran shopper, so I’ve also compiled my tips to prevent myself from obliterating my bank account. 

These are not scientifically backed, but they have worked for me.

You need to know the sale patterns for certain websites. For example, it is always possible to get 20% off at Princess Polly and Revolve by scrounging for promo codes. If you are going to buy something online, find promo codes! 

Honey — a browser extension and website — will automatically search and apply codes for you. However, there are other things you can do. My personal favorite is searching for clothing hauls on YouTube. You can type in the clothing site you want to buy from and look at the descriptions of recent videos for promo codes. Most of the people posting these hauls are sponsored by the company and will have a promo code you can use.

Remember that Black Friday and Cyber Monday “sales” are often deceptive facades. Companies want you to think you’re getting a good deal these days, but that’s not always the case.

Price check across different websites. On some websites, like Amazon, they’ll tell you the price history. This is important, especially on days like Black Friday. Maybe the price was lower earlier, and they recently jacked it up. You would never know.

Think really, really hard before making those purchases. You should ask yourself if you would buy it if it weren’t on sale. Anything that requires you to buy more things should also receive skepticism. For example, “I love this shirt, but I’d need a new skirt to go with it” is not a responsible expenditure. Lastly, you should think about buying something if the company is telling you there are only a few items left in stock — it may be a pressure tactic.  

Disclaimer — the fact that I am writing this article is a stellar example of the blind leading the blind. 

Happy shopping!



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