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You stack your last grocery on the conveyor belt at the checkout line when something catches your eye – a bag of M&Ms. M&Ms weren’t on your grocery list but you figure, eh why not? Before you know it, you’ve added 2 bags of M&Ms, 3 packs of gum, and a Milky Way to your cart. 

Impulse purchases – candy, gum, mints, and snack bars added to your cart last-minute as you check out in a grocery store – have fallen dramatically in the past year as more people move to online grocery shopping and curbside pick-up. 

Last May, US sales of mints were down 30% year over year, while gum sales fell 28%, according to Nielsen. And it’s not just brands that are suffering; grocery stores miss impulse purchases too. Pre-pandemic, impulse sales accounted for around 20% of in-store purchases.

The massive groundswell in the online grocery shopping movement has been a win-win so far: start-ups like Instacart and FreshDirect keep consumers happy with easy ordering and contactless pick-up, while grocery stores continue to profit off wary consumers avoiding in-store shopping. Yet a huge opportunity is left sitting on the checkout line. Online grocery platforms need to recognize this blind spot and re-create the impulse buy experience for consumers. 

Humans are notoriously bad with self restraint – even armed with a precise grocery list, most shoppers will end up with dozens of “impulse buy” items by the time they hit check out. Online grocery platforms simply aren’t built to fuel the impulse purchase fire in shoppers – according to data from Advantage Solutions, only one-third of digital grocery shoppers say they make an unplanned purchase every time they shop online or with an app. 

This gap is a potential goldmine for online grocery platforms to motivate more impulse buys using innovative new features and technology. And cashing in on this goldmine wouldn’t only benefit the retailers – 62% of consumers say they miss discovering items not on their list while shopping online. 

The key to successfully harnessing a shopper’s impulses is all about spontaneity. The 90-second checkout window is the prime time to capitalize on last-minute purchases. 

Take Kroger, for example. Kroger’s site displays a list of “top picks” at checkout, highlighting seasonal items and sale items meant to drive impulse purchases. Instacart has a message pop up right before you click “place your order” that asks “is there anything you’re missing?” before offering you their top recommendations. But there are plenty of retailers ignoring the impulse buy. The check-out screen for one US grocery store recommended me… nothing. Same with its sister store. Where was the gum? Where was the recommended hummus to go with my lonely pita chips? 

Checkout isn’t the only time to capitalize on impulse buys. The brief window after a customer has completed a purchase is an excellent opportunity to trigger an impulse buy. Amazon is an expert at this post-check-out tactic, popping up multiple Recommended Items features as well as the infamous “Frequently Bought Together” column. This is an advantage online grocery platforms have over their in-store counterparts – in-store customers will rarely loop back in and re-enter the store while an online customer can easily create a new cart and check out within minutes. 

Online grocery purchases have jumped to 10% of the $1 trillion industry, more than triple what they were at the end of 2019. Even as the vaccine is rolled out, many shoppers will stick with their new online grocery habit – 81% of consumers say they plan to continue buying groceries online. The platforms that innovate their check out flow to capitalize on the impulse buy will significantly improve revenue for everyone in the value chain. The online grocery surge is a call-to-arms for these platforms to fuel spontaneity and impulse, and let human behavior take it from there.