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Nonfood

Here Are the Top General Merchandise Impulse Buy Categories

Brick-and-mortar retailers can stay competitive with e-tailers by encouraging last-minute buys
Photograph: Shutterstock

Books, barbecue gadgets and trial-sized items are prompting impulse buys and driving growth in brick-and-mortar retail stores, which can be a key advantage in competition with online retailers, according to new research from GMDC, the nonfood trade association.

GMDC officials said the study implies retailers should narrow down nonfood offerings to fit the categories that are in highest demand and lend themselves to impulse buys. 

Mark Mechelse, VP of insights and communications for GMDC, said online retailers often underperform when it comes to impulse categories as most online shoppers plan their purchases. 

“Most, if not all, online shopping is highly focused on price and value, and cannot deliver the immersive experience as that of a store and its associates," he said. "This is key for brick-and-mortar retailers to understand as impulse purchases generally hold higher profit margins among all store merchandise."

According to the research, the three top categories that beat total store growth at the physical retail level are books, trial and travel, and grilling.

Grilling has experienced a surge in popularity in recent years, with 63% of grillers reporting grilling occasions throughout the year in 2015 and off-season growth accounting for 97% of total category sales growth. Additionally, grilling-related items are often difficult to ship when purchased online.

Between 65% and 85% of general merchandisers' book sales are considered impulse-driven, and e-book sales are declining with a move back toward traditional books, GMDC said. 

The rise of hospitality services such as Airbnb is believed to be contributing to the uptick in travel products such as trial-size soaps as hosts purchase these items for their guests. Other contributing factors are consumers' desire to test out brands before making a full spend commitment and professionals squeezing exercise into their work day.

“As organizations strive to reinvent their strategies and tactics in the face of disruption, retailers and their partners need to know that data are not insights, although data is fundamental,” said Patrick Spear, president and CEO of GMDC. “Leveraging data, layered with consumer understanding and shopper knowledge, leads to a process of converting information into action, which drives greater sales. This report demonstrates how simple and transforming that can be."

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