Impulse Merchandising: Why Selling a Toaster on the Checkout Line Won’t Fly

By Keith Carpentier, senior business development manager, Tensator
The days of the mega big box are over, retail is shrinking and store footprints are getting smaller. Gondolas, shelving systems and displays need to be extra space efficient in small footprints to make the most use of revenue per square foot. Impulse merchandising is a great way to maximize smaller footprints while capturing shopper interest and boosting incremental revenue especially as customers wait in line for checkout. The problem is, too many retailers try and stick large and pricey items like a toaster or a microwave on a checkout line shelving system or display thinking that because of where it is placed — it is now an impulse item.
So are there some types of products that work better for impulse merchandising?  The answer is a resounding, yes. Impulse items are just that – items that don’t require a whole lot of consideration, don’t mean comparison shopping or “show rooming,” isn’t priced too highly — usually at a price point no higher than $9.99 — and evokes an emotional response, has an element of fun or immediate gratification.
Impulse merchandise items are those a customer can easily visualize themselves using or consuming in the near term. And the product should be well-known locally. In recent tests where newer unknown healthy snack items were introduced at checkout, shoppers were delayed in making impulse decisions as they started to read ingredients, comparing sodium, fat and sugar content, completely changing the buyer dynamics and causing delays and unwanted frustration at checkout.
Unfamiliarity is definitely counter to impulse dynamics and negatively affects the psychology behind impulse purchasing. In addition to regional familiarity, savvy consumers are also taking into consideration when making impulse buys brands/companies that the purchase items foster their connection with acceptable social practices – sustainability, locally grown/made.
It’s important to keep in mind that the reason people do impulse buy is because they are in a relaxed, non-confrontational browsing state of mind. This means that they aren’t on high alert — looking out for when they will be attended to next on the checkout line or worrying that the item is going to significantly impact their budget, or that they aren’t being treated fairly and are in defense mode thinking they are going to be cut in overcrowded lines. Keeping this in mind create a frame of reference that will genuinely help retailers place the items they can successfully merchandise at checkout.
Holistically speaking, for impulse merchandising to work there needs to be an underlying retailer commitment to ensuring the customer has a good overall in-store experience. This means that from the moment the customer enters the store, they are delighted, impressed and even more knowledgeable about new solutions or offers than when they first entered the store.

It also means that their service needs are met and that they are ensured an orderly and friendly checkout service, and that the impulse merchandise is seasonal and enticing, not leftovers that have been picked through or random products placed there to create confusion and disarray.  With so many omnichannel options for shoppers, it is important to look at the whole in-store customer experience even create a draw with interactive experiential demos, and when considering the best impulse merchandise – make sure the products are carefully displayed, priced sensibly and have familiarity and appeal to your customers’ emotions. Positioned correctly these items will pique customers and help ensure the whole store is making the absolute most and best use of every square retail inch.
Keith Carpentier is senior business development manager of Tensator, a leader in queue management and customer journey solutions. The company offers a large range of digital media platforms, electronic and virtual queue management, display and signage products, crowd and access control solutions, in-queue merchandising, self-service systems, and the Tensabarrier, one of the most respected barrier in the world. He can be contacted at

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