Matt Scotton
Jul 23, 2020

How the best-laid purchase plans are becoming impulse buys

Advances in technology are making it easier for consumers to impulsively purchase products that would traditionally have taken months or even years to work their way through the sales funnel.

WeChat influencer Becky Li's campaign for Mini
WeChat influencer Becky Li's campaign for Mini

In August 2017, Chinese influencer Becky Li collaborated with carmaker Mini to promote its limited-edition Caribbean Aqua-colored car. Becky Li, widely known for her huge WeChat following, ‘Becky’s Fantasy’, managed to persuade her fans to buy all 100 special editions of the car in less than four minutes.

Priced at 285,000 Yuan (US$40,200) the Mini wasn’t exactly a product you’d typically associate with an impulse purchase. Toilet roll, a chocolate bar or a can of cola, sure, but cars? Most marketers wouldn’t dream of it.

It’s easy to assume that consumers’ purchases fit neatly into one of two categories: ‘planned’ and ‘impulsive’. A planned purchase is one that is mulled over for months, every pro and con carefully considered and researched. Cars, holidays and houses fit into this category, while sweets, fast food, and a bottle of wine after work on a Friday fall squarely into the ‘impulse’ bracket.

However, this is a false dichotomy. Planning and impulse purchases aren’t mutually exclusive, because advances in technology are making it all too easy to impulsively purchase those products that would traditionally have taken months or even years to work their way through the sales funnel.

Gone are the days when discovery of new products was watching Jordan in his new kicks on the TV and waiting in a line at Footlocker. Now a vast melting pot of online culture is bringing inspiration a swipe away from purchase. This is evolving the role of social platforms like Instagram to become cultural discovery engines, linking directly to sales. In fact, 81% of Instagram users said they use the platform to research products and services, while 80% said it helps them decide whether to buy a product or service, according to research conducted by Boston Consulting Group.

Shoppable ads are a big part of this shift. From increasingly sophisticated Google ad formats to shoppable video and even shoppable broadcast TV, even traditional forms of media are starting to understand the power of a frictionless online purchase.

Progressive brands are experimenting with connecting cultural inspiration with shopping to accelerate the path to purchase. EasyJet launched a world-first image recognition platform that identifies the location of an Instagram picture and matches the photo to over 1000 European destinations. The app then pre-populates booking forms with flight details to the nearest airport; allowing users to turn Instagram daydreams into bookings in just a few taps.

Black & Abroad, an American travel brand serving members of the Black community, reclaimed the term “Go back to Africa”, effectively turning it into an empowering call-to-action, merchandising African destinations to its target. With a spurring compilation of footage from Africa and images of Black travelers scraped from social alongside links to plan and buy a trip, the campaign drove re-appraisal and travel booking, by reclaiming the language of oppression.

Kaja Cosmetics, a Korean Cosmetics brand, signed hot KPOP group (G)I-DLE and launched new music video’s which are shoppable, where consumers could simply pause the video on a look they love, swipe and buy.

For the release of their Captur SUV, Renault in Japan turned Instagram stories into a direct sales channel. Through their campaign 'Tokyo stories’ they seamlessly connected blended Manga cartoons, car specs and live chat bots, encouraging millennials to find out about the car and allowing them to buy in-app. The special edition range sold out in less than 30 days.

Further afield in a spectacular blend of O2O commerce and street culture Nike's famed campaign ‘Graffiti Stores’ in Sao Paolo launched the new Air Max lines by engaging graffiti artists to paint scannable graffiti murals featuring the most coveted Air Max models. Fans could obtain the shoes by visiting the walls and unlocking purchase at Nike.com using geolocation.

To overcome the obvious challenge of purchasing physical products online that you need to see or feel, RayBan have invested in AR tools—including Instagram’s new ‘try on’ ad type, where people can open their camera and virtually try on the shades, helping to ‘bridge the gap’ between the online and the offline worlds.

The likes, desires, trends and cultural moments of the online world are constantly persuading consumers to buy, but the traditional sales funnel doesn’t help when it comes to understanding this new narrative. What might look like an impulse buy might have had years of branding and marketing world subconsciously behind it; but in the moment, it feels like the decision took mere seconds. When customer experience is truly frictionless, the only thing getting in the way of a sale is how good a brand’s marketing is. In the case of Mini, the brand has had a vast legacy of smart marketing decisions for decades, all leading up to the moment where 100 cars could be sold on social media in four minutes. Some might call it an impulse purchase, others might call it years in the making.

What’s certain is the connection of cultural inspiration and technology is enabling more impulsive behavior across all categories, and the brands that design for this, will win the next decade.


Matt Scotton is the chief strategy officer APAC at Initiative 

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