A Comparison of Emotional Reactions Experienced By Planned, Unplanned and Impulse Purchasers

Francis Piron, University of Alaska Anchorage
[ to cite ]:
Francis Piron (1993) ,"A Comparison of Emotional Reactions Experienced By Planned, Unplanned and Impulse Purchasers", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, eds. Leigh McAlister and Michael L. Rothschild, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 341-344.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, 1993      Pages 341-344


Francis Piron, University of Alaska Anchorage

Purchasing behaviors, and more specifically purchasing outcomes are important aspects of consumer research. Recently, efforts have been made to better understand impulse purchasing (Piron 1990; Rook 1987; Rook and Hoch 1985), unplanned purchasing (Iyer 1989), and unrealized purchasing (i.e., Iyer and Ahlawat's 1986 shortfalls). In response to this renewal of interest, and following the adoption of an existing definition of unplanned purchasing and the formulation of a definition of planned and of impulse purchasing, a study was undertaken 1) to measure emotional reactions experienced by consumers who made a planned, unplanned or impulse purchase, and 2) to compare these emotional reactions among the three types of purchases.


Unplanned Purchasing

Earlier definitions of unplanned purchasing offered in the consumer research literature simply define the phenomenon as a purchase made unexpectedly (Clover 1950; DuPont Studies 1945, 1949, 1959, 1965; West 1951). Other and somewhat more recent conceptualizations such as Engel, Kollat and Blackwell's (1978) enrich the earlier core definition and "situate" unplanned purchasing with respect to a problem (i.e., the purchase was not made "in response to a previously recognized problem") or to the location where the purchasing decision was made (i.e., the purchase was made with "no buying intentions formed prior to entering the store").

Engel et al.'s (1978) widely recognized definition of unplanned purchasing prevails in most consumer behavior textbooks and is the one to be used in this study. Specifically, Engel et al. (1978) define unplanned purchasing as:

a buying action undertaken without a problem having been previously recognized or a buying intention formed prior to entering the store (p.483).

Planned Purchasing

An exhaustive search through the commonly available consumer behavior textbooks failed to uncover an existing definition of planned purchasing. It is interesting to note that such a pervasive phenomenon apparently remains undefined. Given the above definition and the fact that planned purchasing is the exact contrary of unplanned purchasing, planned purchasing is then conceptualized as:

a buying action undertaken with a problem having been previously recognized or a buying intention formed prior to entering the store.

The ease of defining planned purchasing as the inverse of unplanned purchasing is complemented by the fact that the set of definitions exhaust all purchasing situations along the planned/unplanned dichotomy without overlap.

Impulse Purchasing

For over forty years, marketing and consumer researchers have strived to capture an apparently pervasive phenomenon referred to as "impulse purchasing." Unfortunately most earlier definitions suffered from "definitional myopia" and simply equated impulse to unplanned purchasing without further considerations (Clover 1951; DuPont Studies 1945, 1949, 1959, 1965; West 1951). More recently (Rook 1987; Rook and Hoch 1985), conceptualizations of impulse purchasing rested almost exclusively on the consumer's psychological and emotional reactions. Lately, Piron (1990) reviewed the existing definitions and proposed that impulse purchases be defined as unplanned purchases, caused by an exposure to a stimulus, and decided on-the-spot. In sum, while impulse purchases differ are unplanned purchases, unplanned purchases are not all made on impulse. The difference between unplanned and impulse purchases is that the latter are decided on-the-spot, where the consumer first sees the product, while the former are decided at a later time and possibly away from the product stimulus.

Finally, Piron (1990) proposed that all purchases, be they planned, unplanned or made on impulse can be experiential (i.e., accompanied by emotional and/or cognitive reactions) or non-experiential. In fact, it is not uncommon for a car buyer to experience a lot of excitement as s/he goes to the dealership to finalize, with a purchase order, lengthy and involved negotiations. Also, many unplanned purchases, while made after elaboration and/or hesitations are accompanied by joy or nagging doubts.

The next section offers an outline of the methodology used to develop a set of statements intended to tap the emotional reactions that accompany experiential purchases. Following a description of the data collection method, the paper will then focus on a comparison of the intensity with which the tapped emotions were experienced by the three groups of shoppers.

Items Relevant to the Emotion Dimension

Rook (1987) and Rook and Hoch (1985) provided a new thrust in the study of impulse purchasing with a focus on the emotional and cognitive reactions that may accompany such a purchase. The understanding that consumer researchers have of the emotional elements of impulse purchasing is primarily limited to these two studies. A careful review of these two articles helped identify the following traits within the emotion dimension: (1) a sudden and imperative desire to purchase, (2) a feeling of helplessness, (3) feeling good or bad, (4) purchasing in response to moods, and (5) feeling guilty. Items measuring the five emotion-based traits identified in Rook (1987), and Rook and Hoch (1985), were generated from personal descriptions given by their subjects. The items are either under the form of direct quotes such as "I know I went out of control" or as paraphrases of expressed feelings such as "I can say that I purchased it to change my moods." One of the items relevant to mood states was formulated from a statement given by one of the undergraduate respondents who had been asked to define impulse purchasing in their own terms. In his description, the subject specifically mentioned that the purchase had been made "to fight the blues."

Originally, a pool of 52 statements had been compiled. These 52 statements were intended to tap the dimensions identified by Rook (1987) and Rook and Hoch (1985). The statements had been selected from two sources: from Rook (1987) and Rook and Hoch's (1985) respondents, and from the undergraduate and graduate students who had been asked to define impulse purchasing in their own terms. Specifically, 29 statements tapped the emotion dimension of an experiential purchase. One question investigated whether the respondent had felt any emotion while purchasing, 7 statements were intended to tap the strength and urgency of the purchasing desire, while 4 considered the feeling of helplessness, 8 focused on "feeling good, bad," and 3 were chosen to represent the "feeling guilty"-trait and 6 statements referred to purchases caused by mood states.



All of the statements were then given to five experts (3 doctoral students and 2 faculty members) whose task was to assign each statement to one of the five categories mentioned above. In the first round of evaluation, any item miscategorized by one of the three doctoral students was discarded. The pool of "surviving" items was then presented to the 2 faculty members who eventually settled on a final set of 9 items. Each of the traits is measured by two items but for guilt feeling, where only one item could be generated due to the uniqueness of the trait. Finally, the 9 emotion statements were organized in two sections reflecting two stages of the purchase decision process: (1) a pre-decisional stage, and (2) a post-purchase stage (see Table 1).


Shoppers at two malls in the Southeastern United States were asked whether they had purchased clothing items, and if so were asked to participate in a survey. Interviewers had been trained to administer the preliminary section of the questionnaire and the nature of the purchase (i.e., planned, unplanned or impulse) was determined according to the respondents' answer concerning the length of time separating the first exposure to the product and the purchasing decision. The researchers had decided that a span of 5 seconds or less between the first exposure to the product and the decision to purchase the product would qualify the purchasing decision as having been made on the pot, while a period longer than 5 seconds would disqualify such purchasing decision as having been made on the spot. The second part of the survey was self-administered as it was felt that consumers would express themselves more freely. Three hundred and sixty one questionnaires were collected, indicating a total of 163 planned purchase, 53 unplanned purchases, and 145 impulse purchases.


The principal objective of this research is to explore differences in the experience of emotional reactions between planned, unplanned and impulse purchasers. Through canonical discriminant analysis, the set of predictor variables (i.e., emotional reactions) was to be tested for its ability to significantly differentiate between respondents making planned, unplanned and impulse purchase decisions. Canonical discriminant analysis is appropriate because when, as in this study:

[g]iven two or more groups of observations with measurements on several quantitative variables, canonical discriminant analysis derives a linear combination of the variables that has the highest possible multiple correlation with the groups. (SAS Institute, 1985, p.156).

In sum, a canonical discriminant analysis provides the results necessary to respond to the objective of this research: can planned, unplanned, and impulse purchases be differentiated along the emotional reactions experienced by consumers?

Emotional Reactions

Five dimensions make up the emotion reactions that have been identified as differentiating impulse purchasing from other types of purchasing (Rook 1987; Rook and Hoch 1985): a "Sudden and Imperative Desire to Purchase," a "Feeling of Helplessness", "Feeling Good", purchasing "In Response to Moods," and "Feeling Guilty". As indicated earlier, in all dimensions but one (i.e., feeling guilty), two items were created for each dimension.

As illustrated in Table 2, impulse purchasers' responses on paired items correlate better than planned and unplanned shoppers' responses, but for one exception: unplanned purchasers' responses to the pair of items measuring whether the purchasing was done "in response to mood," correlates better (r=.67) than other shoppers' responses.

It is not totally clear why impulse purchasers' responses on paired items correlated better than planned or unplanned purchasers' responses. However, the following argument, while speculative, may account for this finding. For instance, a "sudden and imperative desire to purchase" is an emotion that is assumed to be experienced only by impulse purchasers. Planned and unplanned purchasers' intra-pair inter-item coefficients of correlation on this dimension are respectively .37 and .47. This possibly indicates that consumers who make planned or unplanned purchases may fail to see the relevance of, or may even perceive as non-sensical, statements inquiring whether their purchase was due to a "sudden and imperative desire to purchase."

Similarly, statements inquiring whether the purchase was made "in response to moods" generated responses that correlated far less (r=.33) for consumers who made planned purchases than for consumers who made unplanned (r=.67) or impulse purchases (r=.53). Again, while there is no evidence, it is merely suggested that shoppers who are not expected to experience a particular emotion may give unrelated answers to a pair of items measuring the same dimension.





Significant Differences between Planned, Unplanned and Impulse Purchasing

Nine items make up the "Emotional Reactions Model," and account for five separate dimensions. Both canonical function are highly significant (F= 5.56, p,.01; F= 3.93, p<.0002). As a total, the nine items differentiate significantly (Wilk's Lambda=.769, p<.01) between planned, unplanned and impulse purchasing.

Differences between Planned and Unplanned Purchasing. Shoppers who planned their purchases differ significantly from shoppers who made unplanned purchases on several emotional reactions (see Table 3). Compared to shoppers who made unplanned purchases, planned purchasers agreed less that they felt a "sudden desire to purchase" (Emo1A), and "guilty" (Emo5A) about their purchase. These findings are not surprising. Since the purchasing decision had been made prior to entering the mall, planned purchasers can be expected to agree less than unplanned purchasers when asked whether they experienced the emotional reactions mentioned above.

Planned purchasers further differed from unplanned purchasers on Emo2A ("I could not do anything but buy [the product]"), and Emo1B ("imperative desire to purchase"). However, planned purchasers' mean response to item Emo1B (X=3.95, see Table 3) is not significantly different from 4.00 ("Neither Agree nor Disagree", see Table 3), while unplanned purchasers' mean response points toward a slight disagreement with the statement (X=3.09). In general, it should be noted that planned purchasers may not know how to respond to such a question, possibly finding it non-sensical, since their purchasing decision has already been made. Finally, planned purchasers differed, tending to agree more, from unplanned purchasers in their "feeling pleased" (Emo3A) and "feeling good" (Emo3B) about having purchased the product.

In summary, the results from this study indicate that some emotional reactions are experienced differently by planned and unplanned purchasers. Most of the differences may be due to the fact that, as opposed to unplanned purchasers, planned purchasers's decisions to buy are made prior to being at the point-of-purchase. It follows that the emotional reactions experienced during the decision making process by unplanned purchasers may have been experienced earlier by planned purchasers, but are not expected to recur. However, post-purchase emotional reactions such as feeling good or pleased may be experienced by either planned or unplanned purchasers.

Differences between Planned and Impulse Purchasing. Consumers who made planned purchases differed significantly from consumers who made impulse purchases on only on five of the nine emotional reactions investigated in this study (see Table 3). Rook (1987), and Rook and Hoch (1985) propose that a "sudden and imperative desire to purchase" (Emo1A and Emo1B), and a "feeling of helplessness" (Emo2A and Emo2B) characterize impulse purchasing. The analysis of the respondents' answers indicates a significant difference (a=.05) on Emo1A and Emo1B, and on Emo2A and Emo2B where impulse purchasers agreed more that they experienced these four emotional reactions than planned purchasers (see Table 3). In other words, the results from this study point out that a "sudden and imperative desire to purchase," and a "feeling of helplessness" are emotional reactions that separate impulse from planned purchasers.

The difference between planned and impulse purchasers is further illustrated as impulse purchasers agreed more that they bought the product to "fight the blues" (Emo3B, see Table 3). In other words, impulse purchasers tend to differ from planned purchasers as they apparently attempt to assign the responsibility for the purchase to sources which are not really a part of themselves (i.e., to "fight the blues,"). In summary, as suggested by Rook (1987) and Rook and Hoch (1985), impulse purchasing is characterized by a "sudden and imperative desire to purchase," accompanied with a "feeling of helplessness." Experiencing these two reactions may lead impulse purchasers to try and blame sources besides themselves.

Differences between Unplanned and Impulse Purchasing. Few emotional reactions significantly discriminate (a=.05) unplanned from impulse purchasing (see Table 3). In fact, only three emotional reactions (Emo1B, Emo2B, and Emo3A, see Table 3) are experienced differently by the two groups where impulse purchasers' agreement with experiencing the reactions was higher than for unplanned purchasers (see Table 3). A somewhat speculative explanation for the difference in "feeling good" (Emo3A) experienced by impulse and unplanned purchasers may be attributed to the unplanned purchasers's experiencing of an "imperative desire to purchase" (Emo1B) and an "overwhelming purchasing urge" (Emo2A) less strongly than impulse purchasers. It may be that the additional time and amount of deliberations accompanying the decision to make an unplanned purchase may take away from what Rook (1987) refers to as the "extraordinary and exciting" (p.191) elements of an impulse purchase, leaving unplanned purchasers with a less positive feeling than impulse purchasers.


As indicated in Table 3, and with respect to the emotional reactions investigated in this study, more significant differences were found between planned and unplanned purchasing (N=10) than between planned and impulse purchasing (N=8), and than between unplanned and impulse purchasing (N=4). In only one instance (Emo1B, "[a]s I was deciding to purchase the product, I felt like I had to have it from the first time I saw it") did planned, unplanned and impulse purchasing differ significantly. These results bring some support to earlier contentions (Rook 1987); Rook and Hoch 1985) that shoppers who make impulsive purchases can be differentiated from shoppers who make planned and unplanned purchases on the basis of their experiencing emotional reactions.


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