By Will Braithwaite
You stack your last grocery on the conveyor belt at the checkout line when something catches your eye — a bag of M&Ms. M&Ms weren’t on your grocery list but you figure, “Eh, why not?” Before you know it, you’ve added two bags of M&Ms, three packs of gum and a Milky Way to your cart.
Impulse purchases of candy, gum, mints and other items made at the checkout have fallen dramatically in the past year as more people move to online grocery shopping.
Last May, U.S. sales of mints were down 30% year over year, while gum sales fell down 28%, according to Nielsen. And it’s not just brands that are suffering; grocery stores miss impulse purchases too. Pre-pandemic, impulse sales accounted for up to 20% of in-store purchases.
The massive groundswell in the online grocery shopping movement has been a win for many. Startups like Instacart and FreshDirect keep consumers happy with easy ordering and contactless pickup, while grocery stores continue to profit off wary consumers avoiding in-store shopping. Yet a huge opportunity is left sitting at the checkout line. Online grocery platforms need to recognize this blind spot and recreate the impulse buy experience for digital shoppers.
Humans are notoriously bad with self-restraint. Even armed with a precise grocery list, most in-store shoppers will end up with dozens of impulse-buy items by the time they hit the checkout. But online grocery platforms could do a better job fueling the impulse purchase fire in shoppers. Only one-third of digital grocery shoppers say they make an unplanned purchase every time they shop online or with an app, according to a survey by Advantage Solutions and Suzy Inc.
A potential goldmine awaits online grocery platforms that motivate more impulse buys using innovative new features and technology. And cashing in on this goldmine wouldn’t only benefit the retailers; 62% of consumers say they miss discovering items not on their list while shopping online.
The key to successfully harnessing a shopper’s impulses is all about spontaneity. The 90-second checkout window is the prime time to capitalize on last-minute purchases.
Take Kroger, for example. Kroger’s site displays a list of “top picks” at checkout, highlighting seasonal items and sale items meant to drive impulse purchases. Instacart has a message pop up right before a shopper clicks “place your order” that asks, “Is there anything you’re missing?” before offering its top recommendations.
But there are plenty of retailers ignoring the impulse buy. The checkout screen for one large U.S. grocery banner recommended nothing to me. Same with its sister banner. Where was the gum? Where was the recommended hummus to go with my lonely pita chips?
Checkout isn’t the only time to capitalize on impulse buys. The brief window after a customer has completed a purchase is an excellent opportunity to trigger an impulse buy. Amazon is an expert at this post-checkout tactic, popping up multiple “Recommended Items” features and the infamous “Frequently Bought Together” column. This is an advantage online grocery platforms have over their in-store counterparts — in-store customers will rarely loop back in and reenter the store, while an online customer can easily create a new cart and check out within minutes.
Online grocery shopping purchases are more than triple what they were at the end of 2019. Even as the vaccine is rolled out, many shoppers will stick with their new online grocery habit — 81% of consumers say they plan to continue buying groceries online. The platforms that innovate checkout flow to capitalize on the impulse buy will significantly improve revenue for everyone in the value chain.
The online grocery surge is a call to arms for these platforms to fuel spontaneity and impulse — and let human behavior take it from there.