How Prime Day Encourages Impulse Buying

Maybe you should keep those receipts

Key Takeaways

  • Sales during this year’s Prime Day are expected to total $6.17 billion.
  • Most consumers fall victim to impulse purchases, experts say.
  • The limited-time nature of Prime Day makes it catnip for impulse buyers.
Surprised young woman lying on couch with adding machine and shopping bags
hundreddays / Getty Images

While millions of people eagerly await the delivery of items they bought during this week’s Amazon Prime Day, quite a few will come to regret their purchases, experts say.

In the US alone, sales during this year’s Prime Day are expected to total $6.17 billion. Shoppers snapped up everything from the possibly reasonable, like discounted TVs, to the more questionable, such as bitter apricot seeds. Not everything arriving in mailboxes will turn out to be a great bargain, observers say.

"As someone with a closet full of items I’ve used once or not at all, I consider myself a reformed impulse buyer," Cheryl Wagemann, a retail analyst, and editor at the shopping comparison site Finder, confessed in an email interview. "I’ve rashly purchased everything from designer flannels I could have borrowed from my husband’s closet to gaming consoles because I wanted to play one game on that system."

The Lure of Deals

Wagemann is one of many people who were lured into buying things when they were better off just putting their credit cards away, Gina Pomponi, President, Media at Bluewater Media, said in an email interview. Her firm estimates that 88.6% of American adults have impulsively shopped to the tune of $81.75 per shopping spree, she said. 

"Prime Day is one such event that creates an urgency in consumers to make a purchase to take advantage of the perceived higher value," she added. "With impulse purchases, many times comes buyer’s remorse."

"I’ll add an item to my cart while I browse on my downtime, and then revisit a couple days later."

The numbers bear out the theory that many people regret their Prime purchases, Pomponi said. Bluewater evaluated their client’s Amazon sales and returns for the previous Prime Day sales event versus the surrounding weeks indicates a jump in returns from about 4% on an average day to 5.5% for products purchased during Prime Days. 

Among the Prime Day sale items that might inspire regret include the Amazon Echo Dot + The Child stand ($38.94) that begs the question "as to why this abomination of a product exists." Thumbs down also for the BigOtters Slot Machine Toy ($7.59), because there’s really "no reason why a human would want to buy this." A big, nein, likewise, for the Victorinox Boston-Style Oyster Knife ($14.53), of which one reviewer said "I don’t trust myself with it."

Concept of online shopping with shopping bags, hand bags and wallets purchased using smart phone.
jayk7 / Getty Images

Wagemann says a cell phone was the worst impulse purchase she’s ever made. 

"At the time, I was swayed by what its camera features could do for my personal blog photography," she added. "I ended up paying too much for a model that was quickly outpaced by the next generation. I should have researched what camera aspects make a difference in photo quality, rather than impulsively buying into the brand’s clever marketing."

The Mind of An Impulse Buyer

The limited-time nature of Prime Day makes it catnip for impulse buyers, says Ross Steinman, a consumer psychologist, and professor of psychology at Widener University. The strategically placed countdown clock on Amazon’s Prime Day website highlights the importance of buying as much as possible, as quickly as possible, to secure the deals while they last, he pointed out. 

"This catapults many individuals into fragmented and disorganized consumer decision making processes, often leading them to purchase much more than intended," Steinman said in an email interview.

"From a psychological perspective," he continued, "the overall Amazon Prime Day-branded marketing environment is a stimulus that has the potential to increase consumers’ self-reward focus and thereby lead them to exhibit less self-control and more indulgent consumer behavior."

 "With impulse purchases, many times comes buyer’s remorse."

The pandemic can make things worse for shoppers who are too quick to spend. Spending a lot of time in front of a computer doesn’t help. Also, in these dark times, "buying something online can give someone that little boost in happiness that’s welcomed while balancing home and work life in the confines of quarantine and social distancing," Wagemann said.

Wagemann’s recommendation for those considering an ill-advised purchase? Give it time.

"I’ll add an item to my cart while I browse on my downtime, and then revisit a couple days later," she said. "Most of the time, I realize I can live without it. And for larger tech purchases, I now compare different models and give the specs sheet a long, hard look to make sure it ticks all the boxes."

If you didn’t heed Wagemann’s advice during this year’s Prime Day, take heart. Amazon has an excellent return policy for most things.