July 19


Impulse Buying Psychology: Fulfilling Basic Needs and Desires

By Hanson Cheng

July 19, 2023

  • minute read
  • Last Updated on July 19, 2023 by Hanson Cheng

    Impulse buying refers to the sudden urge to purchase items that were not previously planned for. Whether it’s a new pair of shoes or the latest gadget, most of us have succumbed to the temptation of impulse buying at some point in our lives. But what drives this behavior, and why is resisting so difficult? This is where the psychology of impulse buying comes in.

    What is Impulse Buying?

    Impulse buying can be defined as a sudden and unplanned decision to purchase a product or service. It is an act of purchasing goods without adequate planning or consideration and often occurs in response to emotional triggers such as excitement, boredom, or stress. A desire for immediate gratification often drives impulse buying, and consumers often engage in it to fulfill their basic needs and desires.

    A variety of factors, including advertising, product displays, pricing, and social influence, can influence this behavior. Individuals who engage in impulse buying may experience feelings of regret or guilt after the purchase and may find that the item does not actually satisfy their needs or desires in the long term. Understanding the psychology of impulse buying is important for marketers and retailers looking to influence consumer behavior and can help individuals better understand their own spending habits.

    Basic Needs and Desires

    The psychology of impulse buying is rooted in fulfilling basic needs and desires. These needs include physiological, safety, social, esteem, and self-actualization needs. Physiological needs such as hunger, thirst, and sleep drive individuals to impulsively purchase food, drinks, or bedding materials. Safety needs such as avoiding danger or protecting oneself stimulate people to buy insurance policies or security gadgets. Social needs such as love, affection, and a sense of belonging generate impulsive buying of gifts, clothing, and accessories.

    Impulse buying motivated by basic needs and desires can be influenced by factors such as marketing, advertising, brand loyalty, or product scarcity. Marketers can manipulate consumers’ basic needs and desires by using targeted advertisements, product placement, and psychological pricing strategies. Brand loyalty and product scarcity create a sense of urgency and exclusivity, which can lead to impulsive buying.

    Factors that Influence Impulse Buying

    Emotional Triggers

    Emotional triggers play an essential role in impulse buying by influencing consumer behavior. These triggers are a complex mix of psychological, physiological, and social factors that drive people to make purchasing decisions on an emotional level. Studies have shown that common emotional triggers include fear of missing out (FOMO), social proof, scarcity, and exclusivity. FOMO triggers the fear of not being included or missing out on something desirable, which compels consumers to act impulsively.

    Social proof is the psychological phenomenon where people follow the behavior of others in an attempt to conform to social norms. Scarcity creates a sense of urgency by creating the impression that a product is in limited supply. Finally, exclusivity appeals to people’s desire for uniqueness and status, and higher prices can make a product seem more valuable and exclusive.

    Marketers can deliberately utilize emotional triggers to increase sales and foster brand loyalty. For instance, marketers may use social media or influencer marketing to create user-generated content that feeds into the FOMO phenomenon. Social proof can be created through testimonials and reviews, while scarcity can be created through time-limited sales or limited-time offers. Exclusivity can be established by creating VIP programs or premium product lines. The key to using emotional triggers effectively is to appeal to the consumer’s core values and emotional needs.

    While emotional triggers can lead to impulse buying, there are also potential negative consequences. People may regret their purchase later, especially if it was made solely on an emotional level. They may also experience a sense of guilt or shame for going against their better judgment. Moreover, marketers who overuse emotional triggers may come across as manipulative or lacking in transparency, which can damage their reputation and brand loyalty. It is essential for marketers to strike a delicate balance and use emotional triggers responsibly and ethically.

    Social Influences

    Social influences play a crucial role in impulse buying. People are often susceptible to the influences of those around them, such as friends, family, and even strangers. One prime example of the social influence on impulse buying is the use of social proof. When individuals see that many others are purchasing a particular product, they may feel more inclined to buy it as well, assuming that the product is popular and, therefore, worth buying.

    Additionally, social norms may also contribute to impulse buying behavior. When a person perceives that others are buying certain items or acting in a particular way, they may feel pressure to conform to those expectations and engage in similar behavior. This phenomenon is especially evident in online shopping, where social media and review sites can heavily influence consumer purchasing decisions. The influence of authority figures like celebrities, politicians, and even experts in a particular field can also play a vital role in impulse buying behavior.

    If an authority figure endorses a product, it can create a sense of trust and credibility for the consumer and make them more likely to make a purchase. Peer pressure is another aspect of social influence that can lead to impulse buying. Individuals may purchase items to fit in with a particular group or to avoid being left out, even if they do not have a genuine desire or need to own the product.

    As such, marketers often use social influence strategies such as testimonials, celebrity endorsements, and targeted advertising to exploit these tendencies in consumer behavior. Effective marketers understand the appeal of social influence and use it to their advantage in crafting marketing campaigns that resonate with their target audiences.

    Marketing Strategies

    Marketing strategies play a critical role in influencing impulse buying behaviors. Companies use various tactics to create emotional triggers and fulfill consumers’ basic needs and desires. One effective marketing strategy is the use of limited-time offers and discounts. Creating a sense of urgency pushes consumers to make a purchase immediately to avoid missing out on the deal. Another strategy is the use of upselling and cross-selling techniques.

    Offering complementary or upgraded products at the point of sale can enhance the shopping experience and create a feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment. Companies also use influencers and celebrities to promote their products. Consumers tend to trust and admire these individuals, which can increase the perceived value of the products they endorse. Finally, creating a sense of exclusivity and scarcity can also motivate impulse buying.

    The Psychology of Impulse Buying

    Instant Gratification

    The desire for immediate gratification is a powerful motivator for impulse buying. Consumers often experience a rush of pleasure or excitement when they buy something on a whim, without planning or forethought. This feeling of instant gratification is tied to basic human needs and desires, such as the need for novelty, excitement, and pleasure. For some people, impulse buying provides a temporary escape from stress or boredom; for others, it’s a way to satisfy their desire for social status or self-expression.

    Cognitive Dissonance

    When individuals engage in impulse buying, they often experience a state of cognitive dissonance in which their actions contradict their beliefs or values. Cognitive dissonance refers to the psychological discomfort or tension that arises when an individual holds two or more inconsistent beliefs, attitudes, or values, or when their behavior clashes with their beliefs. In the context of impulse buying, individuals may experience cognitive dissonance if they value saving money or avoiding wastefulness but make impulsive purchases that go against those values.

    To reduce this discomfort, individuals may rationalize their behavior or change their beliefs to align with their actions. For example, they may convince themselves that the purchase was necessary or that the item was a good deal, even if that is not objectively true. Over time, this process of rationalization may lead to the development of new attitudes or beliefs that are more aligned with the behavior, further reinforcing the cycle of impulse buying and cognitive dissonance.


    Self-control is a crucial aspect of consumer behavior, particularly when it comes to avoiding impulsive purchases. Impulsive buying involves making decisions based on desires and emotions rather than rational thought. It is often driven by the need for quick gratification, which can lead to short-term fulfillment but long-term regret. People with high levels of self-control are more likely to resist the temptation of impulsive purchases, as they are able to break the automatic response to desire.

    Studies have shown that self-control can be enhanced through various techniques, such as setting goals, planning, and monitoring behavior. Self-control can also be increased through habit formation, gradually building up resistance to temptations. Furthermore, practicing mindfulness and meditation can help individuals to cope with the underlying emotions that may drive impulsive buying behavior.

    Fulfilling Basic Needs and Desires

    Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

    One of psychology’s most widely recognized theories, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, offers a comprehensive insight into human motivation and behavior. According to this theory, individuals have a set of needs arranged in a hierarchical order, where lower-level needs must be satisfied before moving to higher-level needs. The first set of needs at the bottom of the hierarchy is physiological needs that involve the basic necessities of life, such as food, water, shelter, and sleep. Once these basic needs are met, individuals are motivated to fulfill safety needs, which involve protection from harm, security, and stability.

    The next level in the hierarchy is social needs, which encompasses the basic human need to belong, form relationships, and socialize. Following that is esteem needs, which include the desire for self-respect, status, recognition, and achievement. The final level is self-actualization, which involves personal growth and development, achieving one’s full potential, and fulfilling one’s life purpose. This hierarchy is not rigid, and individuals may have different priorities depending on their circumstances.

    Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has significant implications for consumer behavior as it highlights the importance of understanding the underlying motivations behind purchasing decisions. Consumers may buy products and services to satisfy different sets of needs, some of which may not be explicitly stated. For instance, a person buying a luxury car may do so to fulfill esteem needs, i.e., to enhance their self-esteem and social status, rather than to acquire transportation.

    The hierarchy explains why marketers appeal to consumer needs and desires in their advertisements. Companies often use needs-based segmentation to identify target customers who are more likely to respond to their products and services based on their needs. For instance, a meal delivery service advertisement may appeal to security needs by highlighting the convenience and safety of having fresh, healthy meals delivered to your doorstep.

    Consumer Behavior

    Consumer behavior is the study of how people make purchasing decisions and how they choose to consume products or services. Understanding the psychology of impulse buying is an essential component of consumer behavior. Impulse buying is described as the sudden and unplanned acquisition of a product or service without any prior intention. Several factors, including stress, mood, personality traits, and social factors, can influence impulse-buying tendencies.

    Furthermore, fulfilling basic needs and desires is a fundamental concept of consumer behavior. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, individuals have fundamental needs that must be satisfied before progressing to higher-level needs. These include physiological needs (food, shelter, and clothing), safety needs (security and stability), love and belonging (affection and social interaction), esteem (self-respect, status, and achievement), and self-actualization (self-fulfillment and self-actualization).

    Purchasing decisions are often made to satisfy one or more of these needs. Consumers may be motivated to buy products that offer security, comfort, and well-being or to assert their status and self-esteem. Additionally, satisfaction and happiness play significant roles in consumer behavior. Consumer satisfaction is the measure of how well the product or service meets the consumer’s expectations, while happiness represents the emotional reaction to a particular purchase experience.

    Satisfaction and Happiness

    Satisfaction and happiness are among the most significant outcomes of fulfilling basic needs and desires. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, once the physiological and safety needs are met, an individual aims to achieve higher goals such as love, esteem, and self-actualization. These higher needs are related to emotional and psychological satisfaction as opposed to material satisfaction.

    Psychologists suggest that happiness is subjective and varies between individuals and cultures, but it is primarily related to meeting one’s basic needs and fulfilling desired goals. Fulfilling basic needs can lead to a sense of security and contentment, while achieving higher goals can lead to accomplishment, pride, and happiness.

    Consumer behavior plays a crucial role in understanding how individuals assess their needs and make purchasing decisions. Many factors can affect consumer behavior, including social norms, personal values, and cultural background. Therefore, marketers often use stimuli such as advertisements, discounts, and packaging to influence consumer behavior and drive impulse buying. Impulse buying can provide temporary satisfaction to an individual’s basic needs, but it may not provide long-term happiness and contentment.

    Impulse Buying and Consumer Behavior

    Consumer Decision-Making Process

    The consumer decision-making process is the series of steps a consumer goes through when purchasing. It includes five stages: problem recognition, information search, evaluation of alternatives, purchase decision, and post-purchase evaluation. In the first stage, problem recognition, a consumer recognizes a need or desire, which could be internally or externally triggered. In the information search stage, consumers search for information to help them make a decision, either through internal sources (such as memory) or external sources (such as advertisements).

    In the evaluation of alternatives stage, consumers compare and evaluate different options based on their preferences, attitudes, and beliefs. In the purchase decision stage, the consumer decides which product or service to buy based on their evaluation of the different alternatives. Finally, in the post-purchase evaluation stage, the consumer evaluates whether they are satisfied with their purchase decision and decides whether to become loyal to the brand or not.

    Consumers are not always rational decision-makers; emotions, habits, and heuristics can influence them. Impulse buying is an example of a buying decision that is not entirely rational. It is a sudden, unplanned purchase that is driven by emotions rather than logic. Impulse buying is often based on factors such as aesthetics, convenience, immediate gratification, and social proof. It can occur at any stage of the decision-making process, depending on the context and the consumer’s mindset.

    Impulse Buying and Brand Loyalty

    The psychology of impulse buying is an interesting area of research that has garnered significant attention from academics and practitioners alike. Among the various factors that influence consumers’ decision-making process, impulse buying and brand loyalty have been the focus of much investigation. Impulse buying refers to the tendency to make an unplanned purchase, often without careful consideration of the consequences.

    This behavior is often driven by a desire to fulfill basic needs and desires, such as the need for pleasure, excitement, or instant gratification. On the other hand, brand loyalty refers to the tendency to favor a particular brand over others, often due to a positive emotional connection that develops over time.

    Despite the apparent differences between impulse buying and brand loyalty, research has shown that these two concepts are closely related. In fact, impulse buying can play a significant role in building brand loyalty, as it can create a positive experience that encourages consumers to return to a particular brand in the future. This is particularly true in the context of online shopping, where consumers have access to an endless array of choices and can easily switch between brands.

    Companies can leverage the relationship between impulse buying and brand loyalty by focusing on creating positive emotional connections with consumers. This can be achieved through a variety of means, such as offering personalized recommendations, creating engaging content, or providing exceptional customer service. By doing so, companies can build a sense of trust and loyalty with consumers, which can encourage them to make repeat purchases and become brand advocates.

    It is important to note that while impulse buying can be beneficial for businesses, it can also have negative consequences for consumers. For instance, it can lead to financial problems if consumers regularly make unplanned purchases that they cannot afford. Additionally, it can create feelings of regret and guilt, undermining the positive emotional connections companies are trying to foster.

    Therefore, it is important for companies to strike a balance between encouraging impulse buying and ensuring that consumers are making informed decisions that align with their needs and finances.

    Impulse Buying and Online Shopping

    Online shopping has transformed the way people shop by giving users the convenience of being able to purchase almost anything from the comfort of their own homes. With just a few clicks, users can buy a wide range of products and services, which has made online shopping an attractive option for consumers. Impulse buying is a common phenomenon in online shopping, and it occurs when a consumer makes an unplanned purchase after being enticed by a product or service. Online retailers use a range of tactics to trigger an impulse buy, such as limited-time offers and free delivery, which appeal to a consumer’s emotions at the point of purchase.

    The psychology behind impulse buying is complex, and many factors influence it. One of the primary reasons consumers may engage in impulse buying online is the perceived ease of the transaction. Online shopping platforms often have a streamlined checkout process, which removes many of the friction points that traditional shopping experiences often have. This ease of purchase can lead to consumers making quick and effortless purchases, even if they may not have intended to buy the product initially.

    Another reason consumers may impulse buy online is the influence of social media. Many online shopping platforms have integrated social media platforms, allowing users to share their purchases with friends and family. Social media influencers can also drive impulse buys through recommendations and sponsored content, which can influence a consumer’s decision-making process.

    The immediacy of gratification is another factor that can influence impulse buying online. E-commerce platforms often offer quick delivery times, which can lead to instant gratification for consumers. This instant satisfaction can be particularly appealing for individuals who may be feeling stressed or anxious, and it can compel them to make an impulse purchase to improve their mood.

    Lastly, consumers may engage in impulse buying online due to the use of personalized recommendations and targeted advertising. Online retailers use data to create personalized experiences for their customers, including product recommendations based on browsing history and past purchases. This targeted advertising can lead to consumers making impulse purchases as they feel that they are receiving personalized attention from the brand.

    Implications for Marketers

    The study of impulses and basic needs is crucial for marketers as it sheds light on why and how consumers make purchasing decisions. Brands that understand the psychological underpinnings of impulse buying can tailor their marketing strategies better to meet consumers’ emotional and social needs. Marketers can tap into consumers’ emotions to increase the likelihood of impulsive purchases by creating a sense of urgency, scarcity, or exclusivity.

    Moreover, incorporating visual and sensory stimuli, such as bright colors, attractive packaging, and alluring scents, has been shown to increase impulse buying. However, it is important to note that the use of manipulative marketing techniques can backfire and damage a brand’s reputation, leading to long-term negative effects on sales. Furthermore, consumer education and awareness campaigns may help the public become more aware of their impulses, leading to more informed purchasing decisions.

    Future Research Directions

    Future research directions in impulse buying and fulfilling basic needs and desires could focus on various areas. Firstly, studies could be conducted to explore the extent to which different age groups and genders engage in impulse buying and how they differ in the types of products they purchase. Furthermore, research could focus on the impact of cultural differences on impulse buying behavior and how it differs across different regions and countries.

    Investigating the role of personality traits such as conscientiousness and impulsivity on impulse buying could also be useful for future research. Additionally, the potential effects of personality traits and cultural background on the relationship between basic needs and impulse buying could be explored.

    Future research in this area could also examine the effect of online shopping in impulse buying behavior. With the rise of e-commerce, consumers are exposed to an enormous number of products and advertisements which could affect impulse buying behavior. Researchers could focus on the type of advertisements, the number of products presented, and how personalized advertisements affect impulse buying.

    Moreover, research could investigate ways to regulate and control impulse buying behavior. The impact of mindfulness interventions and the role of self-control in reducing impulse buying could be studied. In addition, the research could focus on how marketing tactics such as promotions and pricing strategies affect impulse buying behavior. Investigating the ethical concerns related to impulse buying and the role of regulations could also be an important avenue for future research.

    The Psychology of Impulse Buying: FAQs

    1. What is impulse buying?

    Impulse buying refers to spontaneous purchases made by individuals without any prior planning or research. These purchases are often driven by emotional and psychological factors that can override rational decision-making.

    2. What are basic needs and desires?

    Basic needs and desires refer to the fundamental human requirements for survival and well-being, such as food, shelter, safety, love, and self-esteem. These needs and desires can motivate individuals to act in certain ways and make particular choices.

    3. How does impulse buying relate to fulfilling basic needs and desires?

    Impulse buying can satisfy some of our basic needs and desires, such as the need for self-expression, social acceptance, and instant gratification. It can also serve as a coping mechanism for stress and negative emotions, providing a temporary sense of pleasure or distraction.

    4. What psychological factors influence impulse buying?

    Psychological factors that influence impulse buying include emotions like excitement, fear, or pleasure; cognitive biases like confirmation bias or scarcity effect; social influence like peer pressure or advertising; and personal traits like impulsivity or self-control.

    5. How can impulse buying be controlled?

    Impulse buying can be controlled through various strategies, such as setting a budget, making a shopping list, avoiding tempting situations, practicing mindfulness, and seeking professional help in case of addiction or compulsive buying disorder.

    6. Is impulse buying always bad?

    Not necessarily. While impulse buying can have negative consequences, such as debt, clutter, or regret, it can also have some benefits, such as enhancing creativity, boosting mood, or discovering new experiences. The key is to balance impulse buying with thoughtful consideration and moderation.

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    Hanson Cheng

    About the author

    Living in Portugal with my wife and puppies.
    Scaling online businesses and sharing lessons learned on this website and in our email newsletter.

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