Impulse Purchases


I was walking home one day when I passed a house clearance shop that had a 1950’s green and black hoop basket chair in the window. I had no free space at home, I did not need another chair, I had no where to store it, and most importantly I also already had one of these chairs in black and ivory, which used to be my Grandma’s, which I treasure.


I walked all the way home with said basket chair on my back like a proud little turtle

Whilst I was looking at the chair, the assistant approached me and said ‘that was the local vicars chair’. There wasn’t much reading between the lines to be done there, but still she continued, going on tell me he passed away recently (I’m not entirely sure that is the best sales tactic)….. SOLD! I bought the chair.

I walked all the way home with said basket chair on my back like a proud little turtle. I then had to ask my Mum if I could store it in her garage (for an indefinite amount of time - but I would have told her it would be a month or two) as I couldn’t carry it back on the train to London with me.

So why did I buy the chair? I already had one - which was beautiful and it had sentimental value. I had no where to put the new chair, no where to store it AND the vicar potentially died in it.

The reason we make purchases goes far beyond the acquisition itself.

I’m no psychologist, but I’m always fascinated in the reasons why we behave how we behave. I did some research into why we make impulse purchases, unsurprisingly the reason we make purchases goes far beyond the acquisition itself.

It seems that impulse buying goes back to our caveman days, if a caveman saw an opportunity to hunt an animal they would hunt it (even if it wasn't required at that moment in time) because the chances are they will need it later, the caveman wouldn’t know where his next meal is coming from as there wasn’t a ‘Little Waitrose’ on every corner back then. It is primarily a survival instinct, the caveman with the most food and fur was the most likely to survive. Perhaps this evolutionary leftover was what made me buy the chair, I felt a impulse to buy it because I believed it was scarce, I thought the chances of ever finding a matching basket chair was so unlikely, that I really believed I needed to purchase it there and then and I must take it back to my cave (my Mum’s house). I had the quick dopamine hit of a successful hunt , then this was shortly followed by a few years of niggling guilt and additional physical and mental clutter because I knew had no intention of housing that bloody chair. These days the Scarcity impulse doesn’t serve us, there are so few things that are actually scarce as we buy items from anywhere in the world at a click of a button.

Is there a way that we can curb our impulse purchases? I usually ask myself …

  • Where will it go?

  • What purpose does it serve?

  • Do I love it?

Ryan Howell an associate professor of psychology at San Francisco State University in California, specialises in the psychology or consumerism and our relationship with money. Howell suggests waiting 24 hours before making any would-be impulse purchases, regardless of if the purchase is big or small. This does require a degree of self awareness and discipline, as you need to be able to recognise when you are potentially about to make a purchase on impulse. If you still want the item the next day, then buy it if you can afford it. But there is a strong likelihood you’ll have forgotten about the item or the intense must-have feelings will have dissipated.

So what did happen to the green and black hoop basket chair? I since sold the chair back to the clearance shop I bought it from (4 years later!) I think they may have even paid more for it than I did … or maybe that’s just the story I tell myself to justify the 4 years of taking up space, unnecessarily!