The psychology of POS purchasing behaviour

Impulse buying

The psychology of POS purchasing behaviour

The best location for impulse buys is the checkout. There are many reasons why this is the best place for tempting consumers to make unplanned instinct purchases.

The checkout is the final stage in an exhausting process for the brain, as it has been making decisions throughout the shopping experience. At this point in time, the capability to make rational decisions has most likely been exhausted by the often-taxing process of shopping. Therefore, we do not objectively evaluate whether we need a product and this makes it harder to resist, especially if the product is particularly desirable, such as a chocolate bar.

Another impact that may contribute to these impulse buys is the sense of urgency present at the checkout. We have to make quick decisions but also want to avoid losses, and may decide to get an unnecessary product for fear of missing out. 

The checkout

For retailers the checkout represents a significant opportunity, as exposure is unavoidable so we have to notice these items. For certain items, simply noticing them is enough to elicit desire even if we were not intending on buying them. This process then becomes an environmentally led habit, in that it becomes normal to pick things up in the checkout queue.

By stocking items here which are either extremely desirable, such as chocolate, or low-cost consumables with high utilitarian value, such as batteries, this will elicit an unconscious need in consumers that may otherwise have been hidden or forgotten.                   

While point of sale displays are effective for low involvement products, they are rarely used for more expensive items. However with new technology, checkouts can be used in different ways to inspire high cost purchases. For example, showing a video of a great product in action above the checkout will inspire the consumer and drive brand engagement, encouraging a return visit or possibly an online sale.

Additionally, the modern day consumer has a very low attention span so is often bored and searching for entertainment in queues. Providing engaging activities, such as tablets to scroll through new products or the retailer’s Instagram page, will lead to favourable brand impressions. They could also directly lead to sales, when customers can easily send themselves a link to products they have seen, to be purchased later.

In this way, retailers are extending the omnichannel approach right up to the checkout, ensuring the customer feels connected and in control throughout the entire shopping experience.

Digital POS

Digital POS also presents many opportunities for retailers. Purchases no longer have to be made at the checkout. Shoppers can buy goods online via their smartphones, or via staff using tablets for mobile checkout wherever they are in the store. Customers need to be able to easily identify products they see in store using their smartphones, so they can make instant purchases when, for example, the store does not have their size. With staff POS devices, customers can make quicker purchase decisions and more impulse buys as they browse the store, rather than waiting until they reach the checkout, calculating their total and abandoning unnecessary items.

While this instant gratification and convenience benefits customers as they avoid queues, it may also lead to more total purchases, and solves the issue of ‘showrooming’ where customers browse in store then purchase online. Digital POS solutions also enable a more personalised experience, with the shopper feeling better cared for by one-on-one service. 

Incorporating personal data

Lastly, retailers can improve their POS opportunities by incorporating personal data to offer more targeted personalised marketing. Online supermarkets have mastered this through the ‘Have you missed this offer?’ and ‘Would you like to add this item?’ questions during the final checkout process, which are based on absent items from previous orders and remind consumers that they could be losing out.

Using traditional checkouts it would be virtually impossible to personalise POS displays for each customer, but again technology shows promising signs of improving this. Such a process could be incorporated into physical stores by presenting tailored offers to customers via beacon devices on their mobiles when they enter the store, or allowing staff to access purchase history via tablets and make personalised recommendations.

Ultimately, modern consumers are looking for a rich level of interaction and distraction, and want to feel that they are important. By engaging with them in the checkout queue and within the store, a retailer can both meet these needs and encourage purchases the shopper may not have made, given more time to ponder.