Journal of Consumer Policy

, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 197–210 | Cite as

The Psychology of Impulse Buying: An Integrative Self-Regulation Approach

  • Bas VerplankenEmail author
  • Ayana Sato
Original Paper


Impulsive buying grossly violates the assumptions of homo economicus. A variety of perspectives on impulse buying are presented, which have been put forward in consumer, economic, social, and clinical psychology. These include heuristic information processing, time-inconsistent preferences, personality traits and values, self-identity, emotions, conscious self-control, and compulsive buying. These perspectives may sometimes lead to contradictory or paradoxical findings. For instance, impulse buying is often associated with joy and pleasure but has also been found related to negative emotions and low self-esteem. Our argument is that impulsive buying can be understood in terms of psychological functioning, in particular as a form of self-regulation. Regulatory focus theory is then used to bring the various perspectives together by classifying each as a promotion focus strategy (e.g., seeking pleasure) or a prevention focus strategy (e.g., avoiding feelings of low self-esteem). Finally, the question is discussed whether consumers can and should be protected against impulsivity. Our assertion is that regulation against misleading practices that play on the vulnerabilities of impulsive buyers could be sharpened and that information provision to consumers and retailers aimed at strengthening consumers’ self-regulatory capacities may mitigate adverse consequences of impulse buying.


Impulse buying Compulsive buying Self-regulation Consumer policy 



The authors thank Tara Bailey, Helga Dittmar, Helmut Jungermann, David Mair, Alan Mathios, Jan Trzaskowski, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on an earlier draft.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of BathBathUK

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