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‘Can I have that candy bar?’ More than anyone, kids influence our impulse buying

Mommy, Daddy, I want that candy bar. Can we get it? Please?

As a parent, you might acquiesce when your child suddenly asks you to buy an item or two at the supermarket. If you’re an impulse buyer, you’re likely to be swayed by those around you. That probability goes up if your parents or children accompany you to the store, new University of Florida research shows.

This new finding might give us a clue as to why we buy items we don’t necessarily need. It also helps grocery stores market their products more effectively, said Zhifeng Gao, a UF/IFAS professor of food and resource economics.

Prior research has shown that people who are important in our lives influence our impulse-buying at grocery stores. But the new UF/IFAS study actually ranks the importance of those groups of people – and parents and children came out on top. They carry more weight than spouses, significant others and close friends. The study also shows the role of demographics on impulse buying.

For consumers, Gao said, the main message is this: “If a person is surrounded by others while shopping and receives purchasing suggestions, they are more likely to act on those suggestions and increase their expenditure.”

But there’s a different takeaway for those managing grocery stores.

“Products marketed for married couples and households with children could significantly benefit from appealing to children since shoppers in these households are more likely to respond to their children’s shopping suggestions,” Gao said.

Using an internet survey of 791 people nationwide, Gao and his research colleagues found some interesting tidbits regarding demographics. Here are a few examples from the study:

  • Males are more likely to buy on impulse if they get suggestions from parents.
  • Compared to women, men are more likely to buy on an impulse if they get suggestions from parents and colleagues.
  • On other other hand, men are less likely to make such a purchase if the suggestions come from their children and significant others.

“Knowing that female shoppers are more likely to be influenced by their children and close friends, while male shoppers are more likely to be affected by their parents and colleagues provides valuable insights on utilizing marketing campaigns for products intended for each gender,” said Gao.

The economist sees several takeaways from his study, depending on the target audience. For consumers, the data tell us why we buy items based on a sudden need or urge.

“This can help us process different purchasing suggestions more objectively because they come from different types of shopping companions,” he said. “This will enable consumers to evaluate different purchasing decisions better, therefore only making reasonable purchases based on needs.”

For grocery stores and marketers, the data can give them tips on consumers’ purchasing decision process.

“That in turn will enable them to advertise their products more effectively by engaging the types of people who are more likely to induce impulsive purchases. They can also focus on strategies that encourage family shopping or shopping with close friends,” Gao said.

Co-authors on the study are Bachir Kassas, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of food and resource economics and Xuqi Chen, an assistant professor of agricultural and resource economics at the University of Tennessee.

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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.

ifas.ufl.edu  @UF_IFAS