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Final Report Summary - IPOROSOCIP (Impulse Purchases and Overspending: The Role of Shopping Orientations and Consumer Information Processing)

Buying products spontaneously is a frequent behavior for many consumers. However, engaging too much in impulse purchasing may entail negative consequences, such as overspending and indebtedness. The project addressed impulse purchasing from the perspective of consumer psychology. It had two main research objectives: (1) to advance knowledge on the mechanisms that underlie impulse purchasing; and (2) to provide techniques and strategies to consumers for controlling their purchasing behavior.

The focus of the project was on the role of visual attention in relation to impulse purchasing. In a set of laboratory experiments that used eye tracking, we examined the relationship between buying impulsiveness, visual attention, and shopping orientations. We found that buying impulsiveness influences the breadth of visual attention. In a simulated shopping task, impulsive buyers were more likely to become distracted by task-irrelevant products, compared to non-impulsive shoppers. Further studies indicated that an experiential shopping orientation increases this visual distractibility, whereas a task-focused shopping orientation reduces it. Another study used pupil dilation as an indicator of affective arousal and found that impulsive buyers showed more affective arousal while viewing shopping scenes, compared to non-impulsive shoppers.

Based on these results from the first set of studies, we tested techniques that could modify attentional processes and thereby help consumers shield themselves from distraction. In two eye-tracking studies in the laboratory, we found that two techniques may help consumers to reduce visual distractibility. First, we found that planning (i.e., making a shopping list) helps consumers to focus their visual attention. Second, consumers in our study who formed implementation intentions (a technique from motivational psychology) that established affective arousal as a trigger to control attention were less easily distracted. An additional field study tested the effect of implementation intentions to control attention on actual purchasing behavior. A follow-up measurement after two weeks did not show positive effects of implementation intentions on self-reported shopping behavior. Taken together, the results on interventions imply that techniques such as planning or implementation intentions may help to reduce the visual distractibility of impulsive buyers. In order to establish long-term effects on consumers’ buying behavior, however, these techniques need to be completed by additional intervention strategies or more intensive training.

The results from the project have major implications for research on impulsive buying. They show that buying impulsiveness already operates at the level of visual attention, and that these attentional processes can be modified. The research also has implications for consumer welfare. The knowledge about attentional mechanisms and techniques to control attention may help consumers to increase control over their spending.

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