Beneath the Trend: Using AI Qualitative Moderation to Discover Insights about Online Impulse Shopping

We’ve all made an impulse purchase at one time or the other, buying a bag of chips we didn’t really need, a pair of shoes that weren’t in the plan for another six months, or a bobble-head that served absolutely no purpose whatsoever.

We’ve gone Beneath the Trend to learn why people engage in online impulse purchasing and deep-dive into the triggers for unplanned purchases. Leveraging our artificial intelligence-backed moderator, we conducted 15-minute qualitative conversations with 160+ people yielding more than 24,000 words for analysis, all to understand why people make impulse online purchases, what triggered the impulse, and how they felt about all of it.

We screened for people who were shopping online with a plan and ultimately made an unplanned purchase – they “impulse” purchased a different or additional item. The study included customized probing, in-depth language review, quantified qualitative analysis, and language analysis.

What were those impulse purchases and where did they take place?

Well, 61% of the purchases were apparel. In the category of least shocking news ever, 36% of those purchases took place on Amazon, while 3 to 7% took place at each of Walmart, eBay, Kohl’s, Macy’s, and Target.

The other 39% of impulse purchases were groceries. Again, Amazon was the clear winner taking 42% of those purchases followed by Walmart with 28% of the purchases.

Why do people impulse buy?

More importantly, we wanted to learn why people impulse buy. This research identified a consistent rationalization process. People determined that they really like the items, that the price was good (a deal, discounted, free shipping), or that they needed it anyway so they might as well buy it. It’s an interesting scenario to see that 30% of people discussed the purchase as a need, particularly when it wasn’t something they were planning to buy!

What about the emotional aspect?

No one running a business wants to hear that consumers have low-grade emotions about their products. Happy, good, and satisfied may be positive emotions but they don’t ignite the soul and create loyalty or increase the chance of a revisit.

We didn’t expect to see such emotional intensity but it became clear that emotions related to impulse buying aren’t muted or dull. Among these shoppers:

  • 25% felt guilt and regret: The negative consequences of spending
  • 29% felt smart: People felt that they’d accomplished something worthwhile, particularly if they saved money or found a deal
  • 18% felt a “rush”: Their language showed intense excitement, a “thrill” or “exhilaration”
  • 17% felt rewarded: People treated themselves with a self-gift or “Christmas” moment
  • 13% felt inspired: People felt “empowered” or “freedom” from making a purchase they loved, some saying it was “like I have my life together”

So what are the triggers?

We also discovered four considerations that trigger online impulse buying.

  • Consider the Hunt for the Deal: Deals are a big deal. Even the slightest hint of a bargain (especially limited ones) could trigger the smart shopper impulse. People like to hunt for a deal, even if it’s the slightest hint of a bargain or a limited-time offer.
  • Consider the Cart: Specifically, the role of deals within the cart – a key differentiator for online
  • Consider the Language: Labeling suggested items as “Do you also need” may trigger the impulse rationalization loop.
  • Consider the Display: In apparel, “Other people looked at” offering coordinating items (along with variants of what you’re shopping for) may trigger an impulse, turning an item purchase into an outfit purchase.

There’s so much more to discover about online impulse shopping. Download the full Beneath the Trend: Online impulse buying report here or check out the infographic created by SoapboxSample here. Enjoy!


We’re obsessively curious about consumer and marketing trends so we joined forces with SoapBoxSample to launch Beneath the Trend. Using QuickQUEST, our state of the art AI interview moderation methodology, we quickly deliver rich, qualitative insights about a current trend. We’d love to hear your suggestions for the next BTT!


  • Quester

    Quester is an award-winning consumer intelligence firm that harnesses the power of human conversation, artificial intelligence technology, and expert marketing research design to yield superior understanding of consumers for clients.

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