Millennials Are Biggest Suckers for Selfish Impulse Buys

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Members of Gen Y—the “millennials” born roughly between 1980 and 1995—are perhaps the most studied demographic in history. We know everything from how often they post on Facebook and Twitter, to what degree they really want to be able to wear jeans at work. Here’s one more factoid about this group that retailers are sure to take note of: When shopping, millennials are far likelier than other generations to make unplanned purchases just to pamper themselves.

The most recent issue of “The Checkout,” a monthly report on consumers from the brand-research firm the Integer Group, focuses on impulse buys and shopping lists. The reports are written for retailers, and so in this instance the information is presented in a way to help stores entice consumers into making more unplanned purchases.

(MORE: 16 Easy Ways to Save on Groceries)

First and foremost, the study shows that, no matter the recession and a continued shaky economy, and no matter the age group we’re talking about, the impulse purchase is alive and well. Using a shopping list is often suggested as a strategy to avoid impulse purchases, but the report indicates that nine in 10 shoppers still buy items that aren’t on their lists. And some shoppers do so a lot more than others.

The most common reason cited for going off-list and making an impulse purchase is that a sale or promotion presented itself in the store: Roughly two-thirds of shoppers say they’d done so. Three in 10 consumers, meanwhile, say they buy things not on their lists because they suddenly find a coupon—which, in my book, is more or less the same as a sale or promotion.

(MORE: 7 Smart Bargains From People Who Know Best)

On the other hand, 23% own up to the classic impulse purchase—bought strictly to pamper oneself. More so than any group, millennials are guilty of this practice, according to the survey:

Interestingly, Millennials are 52 percent more likely than any other generation to report making impulse purchases simply to pamper themselves.

Because of this inclination, and because millennials don’t respond as well as other generations to typical ads and marketing techniques, the Integer report offers suggestions aimed at tempting younger consumers into making even more impulse purchases:

Evolve traditional list-making tools to be more relevant to younger audiences.
While Millennials still use traditional shopping tools such as circulars and store advertisements, there is evidence that these media are less relevant to the younger generation. Consider digital solutions for the first generation born into a robust information technology landscape.

For millennials who are tired of living with debt or failing to save enough due to impulse purchases, a little self-awareness, as well as awareness of how retailers operate, can go a long way.

One problem, as a recent USA Today story pointed out, is that too many millennials are financially illiterate. In other words, they’re horrible with money. Another study indicates that college students are clueless when it comes to how credit card fees and interest rates work. If ever there was a way to get on the right track financially, reining in impulse purchases is a good start.

(MORE: Millennials vs. Baby Boomers: Who Would You Rather Hire?)

But again, nearly everyone is guilty of making these purchases. Per the industry publication DrugStoreNews, in a story suggesting how the CVSs and RiteAids of the world can get customers to make more unplanned purchases:

“Our data shows that 61% of off-list shoppers purchase an additional one to three items,” Integer SVP Craig Elston said. “This shows that if you reach a particular shopper at the right moment with the right message, for example — using in-store signage to play into their desire to pamper themselves — it can end with that item being added to their basket.”

Now that you’re aware of how games are being played, hopefully you’ll be a little better able to defend yourself. Perhaps next time your basket will be a little less full, and that’s a good thing.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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