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Boredom Buying: Why Impulse Shopping Is Becoming the New Norm

Customers see the candy bars, the sewing kits, the candle lighters and the pens at the front register. Even though they have minimal interest in hemming their clothing, don’t have enough candles to justify buying a multi-pack of lighters and already have a collection of pens on their desks, they buy these checkout counter items anyway. These handy items are arm’s distance away in the checkout line, and consumers have already grown bored standing in line anyway.

Retailers can profit from boredom. That doesn’t mean companies want to go as far as making the lines so long that they develop a poor customer service relationship. But it’s not a secret that today’s consumer has become almost fanatical about multitasking during any waiting time. They’re talking on their phones, texting, reading magazines and responding to work emails even if it’s only one person in line before them. It’s the fear of missing out (FOMO) that may be making them feel like they must be doing something instead of enjoying that time to breathe, stand and wait.

And that multi-tasking and FOMO behavior has traveled into online purchases, too, at all hours.


The online ‘checkout counter’ buyer is up late nights

Women are twice as likely to shop between midnight and 6 a.m., reports John Lewis & Partners. The company, which operates 50 shops across the United Kingdom, also confirmed that men tended to spend more than women during these hours. The top-10, late-night purchases were duvet covers; televisions; laptops; smartphones; freezers; headphones; sofas and sofa beds; wallpaper; beds; and cameras.

Of course, John Lewis & Partners is but one of many companies. In Sweden (via Klarna), men are three times more likely to make online purchases during traditional work hours. However, purchases on smartphones increased during late-night hours. (Credit card payments declined from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m.)

Workarea, which compiled e-commerce trends from 25 mid-market fashion and apparel retailers, reports that evening hours are also notable. According to their results, Mondays are the highest days for online purchases; desktops are preferred to mobile devices (except on weekends); and 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. are peak purchase times.


Why are micro-moments so significant in retail?

A micro-moment—the time when people turn to a device such as a smartphone with an urgent need to know, watch or buy something—happens often in the world of technology. We live in a world of Amazon Prime buyers who want their purchases the same day (or the next day). The Brandless days of waiting 7-14 days for a purchase are dwindling fast.

According to Think With Google, 82 percent of smartphone users consult their hand-held devices while they’re standing in a store waiting to buy something and 10 percent purchase a different product than they originally planned to. Timing is significant as well, being that 69 percent of online consumers agreed that the quality, time and relevance of a company’s message can influence the brand’s perception.

Unlike in a brick-and-mortar store where a sales representative or manager can do damage control, online consumers focus on what can be seen in front of them. And the way those products (or that brand) are presented at the exact moment in which they plan to purchase a product matters a great deal.


Why should TDP matter to online retailers?

The time, date and place (TDP) that online consumers purchase products is significant for a number of reasons. Even if online retailers have a consistent web design throughout the day, housekeeping rules should matter. First, if updates are going to be made to the site, make sure they are always at unusual times when online purchases are high. For some online merchants, it may be just fine to shut sites down for updates at 2 a.m. For others, whose customers are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at night, this is a bad idea.

Second, some websites too often overlook a certain group of people: third-shift workers, who are also online consumers. Underestimating the grave-yard shift consumer who sleeps during the day, or night owls in general, can potentially lose a segment of customers. Online retailers who are unsure of popular log-in and purchase times from their customers may want to investigate their marketing and sales trends.

Third, after doing that internal review, pay attention to how well big sales and clearances do during daytime hours versus night hours. If Black Friday has taught online and brick-and-mortar retailers anything, it’s that customers will make themselves available if they know a big discount is coming their way. The same rules apply for Cyber Monday and Cyber Week. But if limited-time sales don’t earn the intended profits, it may not be that the customer is uninterested. It could be as simple as an inconvenient time to purchase on the website (ex. consumers are at work and distracted, cannot access certain websites during work hours, website crashes from too many people logging in all at the same time).

Even the consumer who is most likely to participate in an impulse buy has to be able to do so. If online retailers have planned sales ahead of time, it could be easier for consumers to follow through with purchases. There’s a reason Black Friday and Cyber Monday are once a year; online and brick-and-mortar retailers realize that consumers cannot make themselves available at a moment’s notice (and in long lines) on a consistent basis. Online retailers should pay attention to the times of their sales instead of just profit and loss. They may find that their best sale dates aren’t just on a calendar, they’re on the alarm clock, too.