You’re waiting in line to make a quick, small purchase at a grocery store. Products are strategically placed in the immediate checkout area to specifically taunt you.You continue to wait in line tormented by the additional temptation of salacious magazine headlines, indulgent candy bars and bubble gum, chilled sodas in the miniature refrigerator manipulating you into believing you are thirsty, and of course lip balm. The attentive cashier asks “Will that be all?” Without thought, your urges compel you to grab something, and once again you are duped by the impulse buy.

It’s no secret that this is a tactic used by grocery stores to up sell you at any moment, and it is one that is often successful and profitable. However, the evolving presence of grocerskeypoints2 is changing and these immense changes are challenging in-store tactics such as the impulse buy. Grocers are expanding from shelves to the World Wide Web in the form of ecommerce. As a result, bypassing brick and mortar facilities for electronic groceries is quickly becoming a mainstream activity for many of today’s time-strapped consumers. The convenience of “click-n-get” shopping is helping consumers feel less burdened by the sometimes daunting chore of driving to the store, looking for parking, shopping for groceries and bringing it all back home. Ecommerce is a natural brand extension, but is this “click for convenience” option hurting grocers in the end, as it leaves little to no room for the classically positioned up sell?
The Science Behind Impulse Buys

Human psychology plays a major factor in the decision to impulse buy. Feelings of anxiety, unhappiness and image consciousness can manipulate us into making spontaneous purchases in an attempt to improve our moods. The secondary motivator encouraging impulse buys is the connection between consumers and products. According to “Sold,” an article published on psychology.com, there are three types of connections and variations of how they are formed, including:

  • Physical – being able to touch the product
  • Temporal – the ability to purchase a product immediately
  • Social – comparing ourselves to another person we’ve seen using the product we want

Grocers benefit greatly from these impulsive characteristics, investing abundant amounts of time into their floor plan to exact a feeling of “I-gotta-have-that” from shoppers. “The Psychology of Impulse Buying,” published by specialtyretail.com, reports that two-thirds of the entire economy is impulse buying. So with the benefit of psychological impulses and the certainty of an obese bottom line, why would grocers jeopardize these advantages with the offer of online shopping services?
Shoppers vs. Clickers

It’s common knowledge that pleasing everyone is almost impossible, but that’s the ultimate goal of today’s food industry. Multiple categories of food and drink are developing various programs to appeal to the masses from loyalty programs to online shopping services.
The HuffingtonPost.com article “The Pros and Cons of Online Grocery Shopping” shares that even though online shopping is accommodating, there is still a strong audience that enjoys the physical experience of shopping and choosing produce, meats, etc. over the “click and buy” method. There are pros and cons for both parties including the in-store shopper’s ability to compare brands and pay with cash or a check, versus the online shopper who has an easier time finding products via website but is burdened with having to wait for delivery.
Numerous reports state that online grocery shopping has drastically reduced the amount of impulse buys from people purchasing food items. The article, “Online Shopping Effects on the Impulse Buy,” posted by saleswrap.com, chimes in on this claim that ecommerce contributes to declined up sells. So, what is the continued draw for grocers to offer online shopping services? Convenience. When Walmart began testing online grocery delivery service, it was to create a more convenient way for their customer to buy from the store. And in a press release published by Harris Teeter, their online ordering and home delivery service was part of the company’s plan to offer customers maximum convenience.
Regarding customers who prefer to utilize the e-shopping method, Chef Phillip Harrington of Harris Teeter states, “They do miss out on the in-store shopping experience, but for many that is an attraction. Amenities such as this offer customers a shopping experience and save them valuable time.”
As reported by uxmag.com in “Convenience: The Third Essential of a Customer-Centric Business,” a one-click purchasing system such as the one Amazon.com patented in 1999 is worth it, as a customer’s general preference for convenient goods and services has a major impact on buying decisions. Moreover, studies have revealed that convenience is the most relevant factor in the use of mobile devices for Internet shopping.
Perhaps the most compelling answer to the contemplation of whether online shopping is a help or hindrance to grocers is this: consumers are urged to engage more with a convenient service which, in turn, reduces the cost to serve. Therefore, convenience balances out tradition. It can also be argued that delivery fees level the costs of impulse buys through providing similar revenues, just in a different way.
A Solution Exists for All

Online grocery shopping is rapidly becoming a major staple in the industry. But brick and mortar establishments are necessary to serve the population with a preference to pick out their own lettuce, while the convenience of a click is more appealing to others. The fact remains, grocers are accommodating both parties. As the industry continues to evolve to one that’s more electronically oriented, retailers can begin to consider positioning standard products and impulse buys on their sites in an effort to boost sales, because there’s always going to be a shopper who gets excited over impulse products, whether it’s tangible or just a click away.