Change the channel on impulse

With so many of us now shopping online, buying in bulk and staying at home, how might our new routines redefine impulse buying and snacking? Before lockdown, impulse snacking meant picking up a chocolate bar or a packet of crisps on your way to the till or popping into a shop because you just fancied a little something. With fewer customers needing on-the-go snacks and frankly just fewer of us in store, here at TVE we can’t help but wonder what the new channel for impulse snacking, and more broadly impulse buying, might be? 

Smart Recommendations – the need for inspiration at home 

Online shopping recommendations is an obvious first step. Whilst online grocery ordering is a relatively clunky process – you have to actively search for what you want – there are signs that things are getting a little more sophisticated. I was surprised to see Sainsbury’s offering me Bonne Maman jam to go with the crusty loaf I was contemplating. As I proceeded to check-out I was prompted again to scroll through a page of suggestions for things I might have missed or just might want to add. Whilst I didn’t buy the jam (or the loaf), I was tempted to add yet another item to my order right before paying. So one way retailers can encourage impulse shopping is through smart recommendations – “if you like this, you might like that”, or “this would go really well with that”, and “we know you like this and it’s on offer”!  

But is there room for grocery shopping to be a little less functional – if Spotify can give me music recommendations based on my mood, why can’t my supermarket do the same? I’ve definitely strolled around supermarkets letting my hunger or desire for inspiration dictate what makes it into my basket. Whilst food shopping in a Covid-19 world is still being dictated by the ‘essentials’ and an ongoing battle for delivery slots, consumers are still looking for inspiration and a source of novelty. 

Is your brand providing inspiration? How can you be more creative in driving an impulse buy? 

Impulsive shopping – the need to alleviate boredom 

Let’s face it, life indoors can be pretty repetitive. Most of us are searching for even the smallest element of novelty in our daily lives – anything to make today different to yesterday. This is leading to interesting divergences in behaviour with some impulse buys becoming more instant and immediate, and others occurring over much longer timeframes with delayed or extended gratification. 

If the original leader in impulse snacking was the ice cream van – the familiar chimes prompting me to want a snack I hadn’t previously been considering – who’s leading the next big shift? With more Deliveroo and UberEats riders on the roads and also waiting outside food outlets, is there potential for a roaming snack operation? With location technology, apps could prompt when a driver is nearby and offer a variety of snacks that can be delivered within minutes. It might also be a way for delivery riders to utilise otherwise dead time. So, who can be the next ice cream van and lead impulse snacking in this broadening delivery channel? 

Those of us at TVE know that a little online retail therapy goes a long way in cheering us up. Our impulse buys are no longer limited to food though – whilst we’ve bought cheese from Instagram, received pasta gifts in the post and signed up to veg subscription boxes, we’ve also been buying flowers and signing up for online gym classes.  

There’s something deeply satisfying about the anticipation involved in online ordering – the online checkout gives us an instant mood boost, there’s the surprise of when might it arrive and then the pleasure of unwrapping it and using it when it does eventually come.  

It might seem counterintuitive in our digital and ‘I want it now!’ culture but lockdown has forced a change in pace and for some of us, the return to a slower life with smaller milestones and potentially more meaningful sources of gratification is a welcome change. Satisfying an impulse is not just how can I feel better right now, but how can I ensure I might feel better in the futureIn a post-lockdown world, it will be interesting to see how long consumers are prepared to wait for their impulse buys and whether those smaller daily/weekly purchases will go back to seeming frivolous.  

How might your brand drive extended gratification for consumers? Can you address an immediate need to alleviate boredom? 

Impulse Gifting – the need to connect with others  

Finally, there’s a series of shifts in consumer behaviour when it comes to gifting. Given that physical presence is almost impossible and our interactions are increasingly virtual, there’s a need to send something a little more tangible to the people we love. From the more traditional gift of flowers to the more unconventional like CBD sweets, albeit over in the US, there are plenty of brands offering a solution to the problem. Clearly there is significant demand for something sweet, as Cadbury’s gifting website have paused new orders! 

Not only are we more likely to think about gifting, we are more likely to do it more frequently, to consider a broader range of people and to do it outside of the conventional occasions like birthdays and anniversaries. Celebratory milestones in lockdown operate on an entirely new calendar – every hour, every shift, every week warrants something we might want to mark. Gifting in lockdown is a more spontaneous way to connect us physically and is just as likely to be driven by our mood and on impulse, as it is by forward planning. 

Is your brand resolving this need for connection? What impulse gift could you offer? 

So whilst this time of crisis might remove traditional channels for impulse snacking, it poses an interesting opportunity to reframe a snack as a source of inspiration, a treat for me or a gift for someone else. More broadly, lockdown is redefining what an impulse buy even is, when we might want it, how we might get it, who we might buy it for and over what period might this need be satisfied. As consumer needs keep shifting, so too can your brand’s response.  

Call The Value Engineers to discuss how we could help you change the channel on impulse. 

By: Caroline Camm

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