Is it ethical to encourage impulse or unplanned purchases?

Retail atmospherics

In the marketing world, there is a debate about whether encouraging impulse purchases is ethical or unethical. Retailers use five different approaches to persuade unplanned or impulse purchases: 1.) Merchandise complementary products together, 2.) Encourage “add-on” purchases, 3.) Create an emotionally charged atmosphere, 4.) Make things easy to buy, and 5.) Provide a discount. As a marketer and a consumer, I believe that encouraging impulse purchases with these five marketing tools is ethical.

Often times, consumers do not remember exactly what they need to buy at a store. Marketing tools such as complementary and add-on purchases trigger a consumer’s memory to buy the products and services that they need as well as enjoy. Furthermore, complementary purchases might help a consumer in his or her original purchase decision by adding value. For example, a consumer who is throwing a barbecue party might not need potato chips or condiments to go with hot dogs and hamburgers, but it is a likely side guests might expect. Likewise, retailers and store owners can often get consumers to spend more money by providing a relaxing or exciting atmosphere. As long as consumers are enjoying their time in these establishments, I see no reason why marketers can’t use tools such as atmospherics and discounts to get consumers to stay longer and thus spend more money. Recently, I visited a Mexican restaurant with my family. We had arrived fairly late (around 10:00PM) and saw some of the servers already closing up sections of the restaurant. Although it was late and the workers probably wanted to go home, everyone treated us extremely nice and allowed us to take our time in eating our meal. I also noticed that the work crew had dimmed the lights to a reddish glow, and I read somewhere that red light prompts hunger in the human body. I used to believe that restaurants were either very dark or extremely well-lit by coincidence, but I now know that these types of environmental changes instill some sort of reaction in the consumer; whether it is to stay longer and order dessert or to eat quickly so that the next guest may have a table.

Do you believe encouraging impulse or unplanned purchases is unethical? Write your opinion in the comments below! Tune-in next week to catch the latest discussion in marketing and advertising trends.


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