Online Buying, Impulse Control, and

Recently, I listened to a story on NPR (for the life of me, I can’t find a link to it on their website) where developers at were discussing their goal in shaving seconds off of the time it takes for a person to come to their site with a desire in their head and to have purchased that item. For them, the goal is thirty seconds.

Think about that for a second. Thirty seconds.

Amazon has a huge array of consumer goods available on their site. You can go there and type in just about anything, from Bob’s Red Mill oatmeal to baseball cards, from a new hard drive to a new shirt, from a magazine subscription to a new record for your record player.

In other words, Amazon is an impulse buyer’s dream world. If you have a sudden impulse to buy something, you can go to Amazon and quickly find it.

They know this, of course, and that’s why they’re trying to get the speed of a transaction down to about thirty seconds. In other words, in roughly the length of time it’s taken you to read this much of this article, you could have bought an item off of Amazon.

Here’s the painful truth, though. The longer you have to wait to fulfill your impulse, the less likely you are to just buy something to scratch that itch.

It’s the same philosophy as to why grocery stores stock the checkout aisle with impulse purchases. It only takes a second or two to grab something, toss it on the conveyor belt, and have the checker scan the item and put it in your bag.

With other items, you have a lot of time to rethink the impulsiveness of the purchase. When you’re out in the store, you have all the time you want to make up your mind about an item. Even after you put it in your cart, you can rethink the purchase – you have plenty of time. There’s even another window to re-think a purchase when you put the item up on the conveyor belt to have it scanned.

Amazon is trying very hard to move from the “shopping cart” model to the “impulse buy at the checkout” model. Why? It means that you spend less time thinking about and reconsidering your purchases.

(This does not make Amazon “evil” or a bad company in any way. It just makes them a smart retailer.)

So, what can you do as a consumer to fight back against this? Here are a few steps I’ve taken with my Amazon account.

First, I don’t store my credit card information on the site. I force myself to have to re-type in that info each time I make a purchase. Yes, it’s a hassle, but it makes me re-think that purchase with each of those digits that I type in. It adds another minute or so to the purchase cycle and brings the fact that I’m actually paying for this item to the front and center.

Second, I turned off my own address from the “one-click” settings. This means I can’t just order an item to my home address with one click. It’s easy to do – just head to their address page and change the settings for your home address.

Finally, I regularly clear out my browsing history. The items you look at help Amazon to suggest better and better item recommendations for you when you’re browsing through the site. If you delete your browsing history, the recommendations get much worse, cutting down on the impulsive temptation. All you have to do is head to Your Amazon Browsing History and start deleting items. I do this regularly.

Those three steps will go a long way toward making shopping at Amazon a less impulse-driven – and less expensive – experience.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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