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Knowledge @Wharton offers research suggesting that the truism saying that 60-70 percent of all supermarket purchases are unplanned and impulse-driven may, in fact, be incorrect – and that the number is probably closer to 20 percent.

According to the story, the “research does not indicate that in-store marketing is unimportant, but that retailers may need to rethink strategies for it. The researchers found that certain traits of shoppers, including age, income and their particular shopping style, have a greater effect on making unplanned purchases than does the store or environment.”

The story goes on, “What the researchers found missing in the previous studies was ‘appropriate and robust’ data from actual purchases that would indicate what shoppers' intentions were when they went to a store. The previous studies also did not clearly define ‘unplanned purchases’ … Does it mean switching brands of detergent from what a shopper usually buys, or buying any product from a category not on a shopping list? And if a shopping list included detergent but not a brand or size, is the final purchase planned or unplanned?”

As for conclusions, “The most basic information the research revealed is that no unplanned buying was done on slightly more than 60% of all shopping trips. On the rest of the trips, the shoppers made an average of three unplanned purchases -- far fewer than previous research indicated.

“The amount of unplanned buying goes up with the total number of categories in which shoppers make purchases, such as bread or milk. But because a smaller percentage of shoppers are doing much of the impulse buying, the average number of unplanned purchases stays low.”

KC's View:
Regardless of whether previous estimates about impulse shopping is accurate, it seems to me that there will be changes taking place in how people make decisions while in the store…and, as a result, changes in how in-store marketing functions in order to be efficient and effective. It seems likely that cash-strapped consumers, dealing with recession’s impact on their lives, may be less susceptible to in-store marketing. It seems likely that the “new info” shopper written about above would be less likely to succumb to an impulse purchase. And almost certainly things will change as brick-and-mortar stores give up some market share to online retailers.

Again, the “new normal” at work.