Look around your house; how long does it take you to spot something you bought on an impulse? For most of us, it doesn’t take more than a few seconds. Impulse buys are any type of unplanned purchase, and it’s more common than you think.
The average American impulse spends an average of $183 every month. That’s about $6 a day or $2,190 a year! It adds up. Imagine if you invested that money in the stock market at an average return of 10%, after ten years, you’d have almost $35,000! Behold, the power of compound interest. Even though it’s eye-opening to see how unplanned spending adds up, not all impulse buying is bad.
Money Can Buy Happiness (Sometimes)
New research offers compelling evidence that some material purchases have a genuine impact on our happiness, especially when specific buying criteria are met. According to a study in the Sage Journals, people were happier when they spent money on things that were in line with their personality. For example, extroverted people loved spending money on others, but more introverted folks enjoyed spending their money on books and hobbies.
Researchers found that people were happier with their purchases if they:
- Spent money on things that matched their personality
- Bought things for other people
- Bought objects that facilitated a lasting or meaningful experience
Anecdotal evidence also shows that buying can make you happier if you:
- Spend money on things that improve your quality of life
- Buy things within your means
- Buy something you saved up for
- Buy something that you thought about for a long time
4 Reason for Social Media Impulse Buys
Emotional spending occurs when you buy something you don’t need and, in some cases, don’t even really want, as a result of feeling sad, anxious, bored or distracted. We even spend when we’re happy. For instance, what did you buy yourself the last time you got a raise?
Vanessa of Fashion and Style Lab admits to making impulse purchases a few times a week or more if she feels lonely, sad or bored. Her primary source of temptation: Instagram.
“It seems like most of the shops are operating on a similar strategy: show a bunch of beautifully curated product photos and run promotions that make you feel like you must buy right now.”
Even though Vanessa loves cute and inexpensive purchases, she regrets falling for targeted ads and promotions after a recent purchase. She says the decision was negative for her because she felt coerced into wanting something she probably didn’t need.
“I was also feeling a bit of FOMO at the time because I know all of my Instagram friends were liking and commenting on other shops selling similar items and I felt like I was missing out.”
Andrew from Millennial Homeowner doesn’t usually engage in retail therapy, but that changed during the pandemic lockdown.
“Being bored has led to several purchases of products that I’ve seen others using on social media. Someone was showing their therapy massage gun, and I was bored and could see a use for it, so I bought it. Looking back, I was clearly needing something to look forward to in the form of a package arriving at my doorstep!”
Does he regret the purchase? Not really. He’s happy he bought it but noted that he had already forgotten buying it by the time it arrived.
Targeted Ads and Loss Aversion
If we thoughtfully examined every shopping decision, compared prices, and looked at reviews for everything we buy, we’d get lost in too much information. Instead, we use heuristics—unconsciously held rules of thumb—that help us make quick decisions that we’ve learned generally work out well. Targeted ads rely on our buying instincts and convince us to make decisions based on a desire to avoid missing out on deals.
Rose of One Single Rose recently took on several DIY projects and found that targeted ads for things she needed playing into her desire for good deals.
After googling things for her projects, Rose says, “as soon as I returned to social media sites, ads popped up with exactly what I browsed for with coupons #winning! I would have appreciated those ads popping up before I spent hours browsing online, though.”
Rose has no regrets about any of the items she purchased. “I found some great deals and my walls look amazing.”
She adds, “after the midnight hour is when I’ve found the best deals. Early bird gets the worm, right? However, when I’m not in the mood to shop, I make sure to clear my browsing history, so I’m not tempted to impulse buy.”
Shopping is fun! Whether in person or online, finding something you didn’t know you needed is exciting. People also tend to shop more if they grew up in households where regular, non-essential spending was normalized. Treating yourself can be fun, even if you aren’t in the habit of making impulse purchases.
Jennifer, Editor at Etia.com, found herself turning to social media as a pleasant escape during the pandemic lockdown.
“I impulsively bought a pastel sundress after seeing it on Twitter. At the time, I was feeling pretty bored and distracted.”
Though she’s not a regular impulse buyer, she enjoyed the experience, “it was great because the product that I purchased was pretty satisfying.” She is sure the post just gave her the boost she needed to buy something that was already in the back of her mind.
FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is often cited as a motivating factor for all sorts of social media-related decisions. Impulse buys among them. When we see other people with things that we would enjoy having, we let our guard down and are more likely to make impulsive purchases, so we feel included.
Julie from Adaptable Mama is not a frequent impulse buyer, but a desire to give her three-year-old the very best.
“I was following a lot of moms on Instagram who had these beautiful playrooms and fancy toys for their kids. I was interested in all these toys that supposedly help make kids more creative and smarter. Admittedly, I was a little bit jealous of those moms.”
At the time, she was only looking at one toy or two toys for a birthday gift but was bombarded by suggested ads on her Instagram with unbelievably low prices.
“I ended up buying seven toys for her! I regretted buying at least half of the toys, as my kid wasn’t keen on playing with them!”
Tips to Avoid Social Media Impulse Buys
Not all impulse buys are mistakes, but if you aim to reduce the influence of social media and targeted ads on your spending, the following tips can help.
- Clear your browsing history regularly
- Browse online in an incognito window
- Avoid social media apps during high boredom times
- Use a waiting period rule to let the impulse cool-off
If you are OK giving in to an occasional impulse buy, protect yourself from online scams or changes of heart by following these guidelines before buying.
- Check the return policy and don’t buy anything you can’t return
- Search for the company name + “scam” or “complaint”
- Read reviews to look for red flags