Shopping Companions Matter!

Shopping is often considered a social activity, so shopping companions often influence purchase choices. This is especially true for impulse purchases, which form a significant part of retail grocery sales. Certain shopping companions can encourage impulse buying more, and the impact of personal characteristics on impulse buying also varies based on companions. So, retailers can modify their target marketing practices to include the right companions to boost impulse purchases.



Impulse purchases (buying something on a whim and without deliberate evaluation) are a significant driver of retail sales. It is responsible for up to 62% of supermarket sales and up to

80% of sales in specific categories. So, retailers are always looking for ways to encourage impulse purchases. They use packaging, display, store design, promotions, and payment methods to encourage shoppers to buy on impulse. One factor, however, is not much considered, and that is the social nature of shopping. Most shoppers go to supermarkets or other large format stores with one or more companions. A study looks at this social interaction aspect of shopping to answer the question: Do shopping companions affect impulse purchasing?


The study found that parents and spouses have the biggest impact on impulse purchases.

Their influence works because of the very nature of impulse shopping. Purchasing on impulse requires the shopper to ignore financial consequences, whereas parents and spouses, who have a stake in those consequences, can make the shopper consider the financial implications of a purchase. So, when they suggest purchasing something, shoppers are more likely to listen. 62% of respondents in the study showed a strong inclination to buy based on spouses’ suggestions, while 45% showed a strong preference to buy based on parents’ suggestions.


Friends, children, and significant others (besides spouses) have less impact on impulse

purchases. Colleagues and other shoppers have the least impact. Moreover, the social distance between the shopper and the companion also affects impulse shopping. Social distance refers to how close to the companion the shopper is. Therefore, the closer the shopper is to the companion (whether parents, spouses, children, friends, or others), the more the companion will influence impulse shopping.


Finally, the study also found that the impact of individual factors like age, gender, income,

education, impulsivity, and emotional susceptibility (which are the primary factors leading to impulse shopping) varies based on the type of shopping companion. For example, shoppers with multiple children are more likely to respond to impulsive suggestions of children, but less likely to respond to suggestions of significant others. Similarly, shoppers who are impulsive are more likely to respond to suggestions of parents than to suggestions of spouses. And shoppers who are more emotionally susceptible are more influenced by parents’ suggestions than by children’s.


[List of high impact and low impact companions by personal characteristics. Source: Impulsive purchasing in grocery shopping: Do the shopping companions matter? by Xuqi Chen, Bachir Kassas, and Zhifeng Gao.]


This study has significant implications for grocery retailers who want to encourage impulse purchases. They can extend their target marketing practices to include shopping

companions and not just primary shoppers. These target marketing practices can be customised based on the product category and the target market. For example, if the target market is expecting mothers, retailers could appeal to both the shoppers and their spouses to increase the chances of impulse shopping of new-born baby products. However, retailers also need to be careful not to appeal to the wrong companions. For example, when targeting male shoppers, appealing to children will not be beneficial. Using the insights of the study to carefully design promotions and other marketing strategies can give retailers a big boost through impulse purchases.

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