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Why are we Impulse Shoppers? The Answer is in The Brain.

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Activity in the brain

Activity in the brain

Why are we Impulse Shoppers? The Answer is in The Brain.

Succeed Research releases new brain studies on persuasion and sales!

By Douglas Vermeeren

Each day we make hundreds, if not thousands of decisions. Often these decisions involve purchasing products or services that are presented to us on TV, the radio, the internet, in magazines, in the super markets and through individuals we have direct contact with. If you are like me you have purchased from each of these venues in the past and you have also declined to purchase too.

So what was it that really made the difference? The quickest answer would be to rationalize that the stuff you bought was stuff you needed or wanted. But if we were honest about much of what we have bought in the past we would recognize that a lot of these items we really didn’t need or want. Much of what I currently own I wouldn’t miss if it were to suddenly disappear. Most of that stuff I bought on an impulse. My bet is that a lot of the things in your life would fall into a similar category. So what made us buy this stuff?

While there are many reasons to buy that we talk about in our live trainings, based on several research findings we have recorded, for the purposes of this article I want to talk about a recent study on the human brain that may offer some interesting insights specifically on impulse purchasing.  These findings will be particularly useful to you as a salesperson. When you implement these two findings in your sales presentations you will notice a change in your results.

In a 2010 survey conducted by the Succeed Research Center of more than 1,500 consumers (male and female) it was determined that an average of 80% of purchases in a household were considered an impulse buy. 1. That means that only 20% of things that you currently own are purchases that you have thought about. Based on further evaluations with this test group we determined that out of that 20%  approximately 15% of those purchases were considered necessities. Out of the 80% that were impulse buys less than 3% were considered purchases that were related to necessities.  That means that 18% of the purchases made by the average person were connected to actual needs.

Lesson one: People don’t generally buy what they need or think about. Selling to them with logic and needs in mind is not the best approach. Their primary reasons to purchases are different.

The majority (82%) of purchases made directly corresponded to wants, perceived wants or impulse wants rather than needs.

Now please don’t get worried that I am going to start writing about frugality, thrift and rethinking our wants. While those are important principles to a self reliant life, my purpose here is to talk about the ‘why’ behind this purchasing behavior and to gently remind that most purchases are made out of impulse.

The high percentage of impulse buys also means your greatest chances for a sale are on the first visits with a prospect, not the second, third and so forth.

There are really two major reasons why customers buy immediately that can be attributed to the brain. It comes down to reactions in the brain related to gratification and scarcity conditioning.

Instant gratification is something that is becoming more and more prevalent in our society. We have been conditioned to expect it.  Drive-thru fast food delivers instantly to our car windows. The internet gives answers to any question instantly at the click of a button. Video games and movie entertainment allow us to participate in almost any activity imaginable through proxy participation. Just flick on the TV, and there’s no waiting either, you can find anything you want any time of the day or night. This is just the world we live in. And if you can’t deliver this kind of instant response you may just get left behind.

Not too long ago I was speaking with a Police officer friend of mine. We were chatting about the trends of crimes in the community, especially among the youth. He attributed most of the violent and sex crimes to peoples inability to subdue the need for gratification. “Our youth are becoming program to feel they are entitled to things instantly. They are learning to take what they want and pay later if at all.”

The same can be said of consumers. We see consumer credit card debt reaching all time highs and the mentality of entitlement appearing everywhere.

I don’t share these thoughts to be negative. I share them to demonstrate just how important immediate gratification is to people. They will really get themselves into trouble just to satisfy this one need.

At the Princeton University a group of psychologists conducted an interesting study on gratification. 2. The test was simple.

They selected a group of students to make a choice between two Amazon gift certificates. They could either have a $15 gift certificate instantly or wait two weeks and get a $20 gift certificate. While faced with this decision the psychologists measured the brain activity of the students.

The brain scans demonstrated that both of the gift card options triggered significant activity in the lateral prefrontal cortex areas of the brain. This area of the brain is responsible for generating emotional  feedback.

But the $15 gift card available now triggered something unique. The immediate card ignited the limbic areas of the brain and sent it into an emotional frenzy of activity.

The message: The more an individual becomes emotionally excited about the possibility of immediate gratification, the more intense the brain activity became.

A similar study has been repeated by the Succeed Research Center, which found that the possibility of immediate gratification also increased sales of several different products ranging from books to insurance policies. This same study confirmed that immediate sensory arousal, giving the prospect a sample that could be experienced in the senses, also highly activated the emotional states of the prospect.3.

When a product becomes available immediately the chances are that it will be bought rise dramatically.

The second consideration when it comes to impulse buying is something called ‘The Scarcity Effect.’

Evolutionists believe that ‘The Scarcity Effect’ stems from our early days as hunters and gatherers, but we don’t have to go back to prehistoric times.

As recent as a few hundred years ago many of us were still responsible for finding our own food.  We grew it or hunted it. We knew that if our prey got away, or the crops were damaged we would go hungry and so would our families. We became very protective and very cautious about our food supplies. Thank goodness for shopping markets that make life a lot easier today, but the instinct of not letting our prize get away continues.

Retailers know this and thus call out to us in the mall with signs crying out:  Limited time sale, limited time offers or last chance sales opportunities. If a prospect can see a deadline quickly approaching or a supply that is about to disappear or that is extremely limited their interest levels go up.  This is the premise that our diamond industry of today is built on. (But this is a subject for another discussion.)

Our brains release excitatory chemicals when we feel like we have beat out the competition and they we coming home with something rare indeed.

If you want to see your numbers go up consider developing a few of your products to be immediately deliverable and a little more scarce. To find out more about how you can incorporate these principles and other research we have conducted on increasing your sales please contact the Succeed Research Center ( or the Sales Success Academy (

If you are a financial Planner, Real Estate Agent, Insurance agent or Mortgage broker we have some really interesting insights for you in our workshop, “7 truths about the brain that can make you a dynamic seller.” for more information call 1.877.393.9496

About the Author:

Douglas Vermeeren is the director of the SUCCEED Research Center which is dedicated to sharing research on the systems that top achievers use to create lasting success. Over the last decade Vermeeren has interviewed more than 400 of the world’s top achievers, including business leaders, celebrities and professional or Olympic athletes. Douglas Vermeeren is the author of Guerrilla Achiever (With Jay Levinson) and the creator of The Opus (with Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Dr. Joe Vitale, Dr. John Demartini, Dr. Sue Morter, Marci Shimoff, Bill Bartmann, Bob Doyle and Morris Goodman.) Currently Doug is completing another film entitled, How Thoughts Become Things. This film will explore the process of how our thoughts become manifest in our lives as reality.  For more on this film go to: For more on Douglas Vermeeren go to: Douglas Vermeeren can be reached for speaking engagements and training at 1.877.393.9496.
1. Succeed Research Center – Study on Purchasing patterns, 2010

2.Martin Lindstrom, Buyology, P.27

3.Succeed Research Center, – Study on Impulse buying and gratification, 2010