72-Hour Rule: How to Stop Impulse Buying?

A discussion on external triggers that forces us to purchase things that we do not require and tips on how to stop impulse buying.

Impulse buying or impulse purchase is an unplanned decision by a person to buy a product or service. We all are victims of marketing strategies deployed by various companies that force us to buy things that we really do not need. In a digitally connected world where everything is convenience-oriented and immediately available, the pleasure of delayed gratification is essentially eliminated. I personally had the habit of impulse buying stuff online and hoarding stuff in the past. If you check my room you would find all sorts of stuff that I hardly ever use. One small psychological trick that worked for me is the tested and proven method known as the ’72 Hour Rule’. In a nutshell, anytime you feel like purchasing something that is not essential, do not immediately buy it and delay it for 72 hours, before making a purchase decision. In this post, I discuss the importance of the 72-hour rule by listing the external cues that force us to buy products impulsively and later on how to stop impulse buying by certain tricks that you can follow.

The Triggers

Let’s not blame marketers, it is their job to promote products and force us to buy. Over the years marketers have mastered various techniques that force consumers to impulse purchase products. Some techniques have evolved over time as in recent times there was a drastic shift in shopping patterns with the rising popularity of e-commerce sites. But underlying psychology remains the same and today every app that has something to sell is fighting for our attention, forcing us to buy stuff. Before going on to reduce impulse buying in life, it is important to understand the cues around us that are strategically deployed for impulse purchases :

  • Apps make use of FOMO(Fear of missing out) to force consumers to make purchase decisions immediately. This is the reason often there are sale days, discounted prices and tags like ‘Limited Supply’ or ‘Only 1 remaining’.
  • Same-day delivery often marketed by Amazon forces us to buy stuff at uncommon hours. Imagine you are searching for shoes at 2 AM in the morning and if Amazon shows that the shoes can be delivered the same day with a timer, the probability of instant ordering is higher.
  • The Pay later schemes especially in India are getting quite popular. Pay Later lets us buy stuff without any hassle of entering card information or at a time when we don’t actually have money. Often product listings will have cues that will say, ‘Buy Now, Pay Later’, which forces us to buy products immediately.
  • Imagine it’s noon and you are hungry. Suddenly UberEats or Zomato suddenly pings you with a notification with a deal price at your favourite restaurant. The right trigger at times when we are hungry often forces us to order food even though we never intended to.
  • Add-on products or services offered at a discount price also used the FOMO strategy to force us to buy extra things that we do not require.
  • I’m a great fan of ebooks, yet the convenience of ordering an ebook and getting it delivered instantly on my Kindle has caused me to order a lot of books that I didn’t even start.
  • Recommended products are yet another tactic used by marketers to force us to look at products that we never intended to.
  • The age-old tactics of keeping chocolates or gums at the checkout till are a classic example of impulse buying cues.

How to Stop Impulse Buying

After being mindful and conscious about my purchases, here are some ways you can avoid impulse buying:

  • Next time you feel like buying something online or offline, evaluate whether the product is a need or a want.
  • Even if it’s a need or a want unless it’s an emergency, delay the shopping by 72 hours.
  • Do not add the product to the wishlist on Amazon or any other app.
  • After 72 hours, if you still remember about the product, evaluate the pros and cons, make a mental note of why you need the product and then make a purchase decision.
  • Try not to buy anything online using a credit card or buy now pay later schemes.
  • Disable app tracking and suggestions such that apps cannot provide you with a recommended set of products or services.
  • Disable notifications of all apps that are not necessary like food delivery, grocery and other e-commerce apps to reduce external cues.
  • Never fall for deals or discounts or sale days. Just because a sale is happening doesn’t mean that you have to purchase something.

Closing Thoughts

Impulse buying doesn’t matter much if it is a candy or packet of gum. But I had serious problems in the past with impulse buying. Some weird stuff that I ordered but I never used are a belly fat calliper, fine liner pens, stacks of beautiful journals, a GoPro, a streaming card and more. A couple of weeks back I was browsing YouTube and saw a video of a famous productivity YouTuber talking about bullet journaling. I immediately opened Amazon and was so close to ordering a fancy bullet journal as well as some pens for journaling. But somehow I remembered about the 72-hour rule and I never thought of bullet journaling until now when I was writing this article. I think the key to controlling impulse purchases is to identify the external cues and be mindful of how we respond to them.

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