Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

"Would you like some unnecessary items with that?"

The other day I was at a shop buying a few bits. When I came to the counter, I noticed that they had a few items surrounding the checkout, all of which sported fairly large signs stating such things as “Only £1”, “Now reduced from £3”. As expected, upon arrival at the counter the assistant smiled and said “can we interest you in any of the special deals we have on offer today?”

Now me being the sort of person I am, politely declined, but as I observed just a few minutes after, most of the people that arrived at the checkout after me obliged and bought one of the items, sometimes even more. 

Placing items at the checkout is not an uncommon practice, and many supermarkets use it because it means you’ll see it automatically as you are buying things – you do not need to go searching for it and it’s pretty much being shoved in your face. There are a variety of persuasive techniques happening here, but for the sake of this blog we’ll discuss impulse buying.

Jeffrey and Hodge (2007) conducted a study in which visitors to a site initiate transactions by placing items into a virtual shopping cart. After clicking the checkout button, visitors were shown a summary of their contact information, basket contents and the total amount they were due to pay. While viewing this page, they were then offered the opportunity to buy one of three ‘add-on’ items all of which cost $5 – a mouse pad, eyeglass clips, or a box of chocolate truffles. These items were not offered anywhere else on the site and so were exclusive to this offer.

In addition to this, participants were either assigned to a donation or control condition. Those in the donation condition a saw that a US $1.00 donation to a charity would accompany the purchase of the impulse item, while the other group saw only the items for sale. The price of the item was still $5.00 in the donation condition. To rule out purchasing just for the sake of donation, a separate area on the website was provided which allowed donation separately.

The results found that as the amount previously spent increased, participants were more likely to purchase the additional item. Interestingly, those of a higher SES were less likely to purchase additional items, perhaps because they saw little value in cheap items such as mouse pads. Furthermore, adding an incentive such as donation to add-on items further increased the likelihood of impulse buying.

While this study looked at the effects of impulse buying in an online shopping environment, the results can easily be applied to a live situation such as the one I experienced. By placing cheap items at the checkout, the consumer is more likely buy them, as it will make little difference to the amount they are already spending. Also similar to this study, most items at checkouts are unavailable elsewhere in the store, making it an exclusive item that is only seen when the consumer is already in the process of purchasing items, thus increasing their motivation to buy it; one is unlikely to enter a store and go straight to the checkout just to buy some discounted chocolate.

Although their techniques didn’t work on me, the Point of Sale technique used here is one which is very effective and often results in impulse buying.


Jeffrey, S. A., Hodge, R. (2007). Factors influencing impulse buying during an online Purchase. Electron Commerce Research, 7, 367–379.

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