Survey Reveals Top Reasons Gen Zers and Millennials Make Impulse Purchases

Gen Z And Millennial Impulse Purchases

Have you ever bought something you probably didn’t need without planning to? As it turns out, many of us have.

According to the results of our latest survey, 90.42% of Gen Z and millennials impulse buy. This suggests that either people have money to burn or they simply can’t control themselves when it comes to their spending.

But what drives people to impulse buy? And would we try to cool it if we understood our triggers?

We questioned 1,002 U.S. consumers aged between 18 and 43 to find out not so much whether they impulse buy but why they do it. We learned that the most common reason was that people felt upset and/or depressed, with 40.82% of respondents citing this as a reason for their spontaneous spending.

Join us as we dive into the rest of the results and uncover why Americans continue to let compulsion rule their credit cards.

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Key Takeaways

  • 90.42% of Americans admitted to making impulse purchases, driven either by emotional motives (63.07%) or social influence (37.92%).
  • 41% of people buy based on mood swings, with women (46%) more likely to impulse buy when upset than men (32%).
  • 33.8% of Gen Zers are influenced by social media to make purchases, while only 16.33% of millennials feel the same way.
  • Gen Zers (46%) are more influenced by social factors to impulse buy than millennials (29.88%), except during holidays. During holidays, millennials are more likely to overspend due to stress and gift-giving (35.26%) compared to Gen Zers (30.80%).
  • 15.57% of respondents engage in revenge buying after arguments or fights, making it the sixth most common reason for impulse shopping.
  • When feeling hopeless about issues like the political climate and global warming, which they can’t control, 13.6% of Gen Z and 11.75% of Millennials cope by engaging in “doom spending.”
  • Women make more impulsive purchases due to emotions (66.1%) compared to men (57.58%). Surprisingly, men are slightly more influenced by social media (38.2%) than women (37.77%), though the difference is small. Despite stereotypes, women might consider this a win.

Emotional Buying Outweighs Social Pressure 

When we created our survey, we divided our answers into two main categories: emotional buying and social influence.

Then, we broke down each category into further segments, including social media, revenge buying, and doom spending, to get at the heart of why people spend spontaneously.

What’s clear is that emotional buying is the biggest cause of impulse buying overall, with 63.07% of respondents saying they rush into a purchase when experiencing heightened emotions, such as stress, hurt, or anger.

Why Gen Z and Millennials impulse buy graphic

Social influence, which includes social media and peer pressure, came in second, with 37.92% of respondents saying that some kind of social pressure often nudges them toward a spending spree. This suggests that, while social influence can cause us to overspend, there is at least some level of resistance there.

Let’s break down the segments to see exactly what it is that triggers impulse spending in Gen Z and millennial shoppers.

Mood Swings: The Biggest Cause of Impulse Buying 

Of those people who took our survey, 40.82% said they impulse buy when they’re experiencing a mood swing, such as seasonal depression, a breakdown in their mental health, or hormonal shifts. 

In short, they hit the shops when they feel upset.

If we break these numbers down according to the two specific age groups we targeted, 43.80% of 18-26-year-olds (Gen Z) said they impulse buy when they feel upset, while 37.85% of 27-43-year-olds (millennials) said the same thing. 

Mood swings impact graphic

Feeling upset is the number one reason that millennials gave for their compulsive shopping habits, while Gen Zers ranked feeling upset as the second most common reason for compulsive shopping.

This suggests that Gen Zershave a slight tendency to impulse buy more than millennials, although both groups clearly show that emotional buying is the prime driver. 

Female consumers impulse buy considerably more frequently than male consumers when feeling upset , with 45.67% of all women who took our survey citing mood swings as their number one reason for compulsive shopping. This compares with 32.02% of all male survey respondents.

35.73% Say Stress is a Big Factor When Hitting the Shops 

It’s common knowledge that stress triggers a number of negative reactions, including overeating. According to our survey, it also causes American consumers to overspend without thinking rationally, with 35.73% of all those who took our survey saying that stress is a major component when it comes to impulse spending.

This could include work-related stress, home-related stress, and financial-related stress.

The results are almost level for Gen Z and millennials, with 37.40% of 18-to-26-year-olds citing stress as a factor for their overspending and 34.06% of 27-to-43-year-olds saying the same thing.

Stress-induced impulse buying graphic

When we compare the results according to gender, slightly more female respondents (37.62%) said they impulse buy when stressed, while 32.30% of male respondents said they do the same thing.

Overall, this means that stress is the second biggest factor for impulse buying for males and the third for females in the survey.

There’s barely any difference when we compare Gen Z males (31.65%) with millennial males (32.83%). However, there’s a sharper difference when we compared Gen Z females (40.06%) with millennial females (34.87%), which ultimately demonstrates that Gen Z females turn to shopping more easily than Gen Z males when feeling anxious.

Gen Zers are More Influenced by Social Media

Social media impacts various parts of our lives, with both Gen Zers and millennials largely growing up with social platforms like Facebook and Instagram. 

According to the results of our survey, social media’s influence on impulse buying is far stronger among Gen Zers than it is among millennials. 

While only 16.33% of 27-to-43-year-olds said they rush into a purchase after seeing something in their newsfeed that either endorsed or promoted a particular product, a whopping 33.80% of Gen Zers gave the same response. 

What Drives Impulse Buyng Graphic

This represents a big divide in how easily a younger person may be persuaded to buy something off the back of a celebrity endorsement, compared to an older person who finds it easier to resist social media influence. 

The numbers are balanced when we compare the data according to gender, with 24.16% of male respondents citing social media as a reason for impulse buying and 25.54% of females citing the same thing. This demonstrates that, while there’s an age gap when it comes to how heavily influenced people are by social media, there isn’t a gender gap. 

In terms of overall social influence, 10.58% of respondents said peer pressure often compels them to make impulsive purchases. Again, Gen Z leads the way on this one (12.80%), with only 8.37% of millennial respondents citing peer pressure as a reason.

35.26% of People Lose Control During the Holidays 

One of the least surprising results from our survey was that 33.03% of overall respondents said they were compelled to spend impulsively during holidays. This could be Christmas, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or even Mother’s Day, with people saying they felt under pressure to cover all the bases with their gifts.

And when they’re starting to wonder if they’ve done all they can with their gifts, all it takes is an eye-catching ad to compel them to make another impulsive purchase. 

Holiday impulse buying graphic

The holiday season is often a time of great stress for people who must balance budget limitations with the need to buy gifts for their friends and family. As we’ve already seen, stress is the number one reason for impulse spending. When combined with the holiday season, it’s a dangerous cocktail and can lead to overspending. 

Not surprisingly, “holidays” was the fourth most common reason for impulse spending when we combined Gen Zers and millennials into one cohort. But millennial respondents (35.26%) said they were more driven to impulse spending during the holidays than Gen Zers (30.80%), perhaps because millennials have more spending power or a wider group of people to spend on, including in-laws. 

More women (34.21%) than men (30.90%) overall said they were likely to shop until they drop during holiday seasons, but it’s clear that both sexes and both age groups find it hard to stay in control of their spending during major holidays.

12.67% Engage in Doom Spending

Doom spending is a term used to refer to spending money on nice things to make ourselves feel better whenever we feel helpless about the things we can’t control. This might include a declining political climate, global warming, or it could be something more personal, such as medical issues, either our own or someone else’s who’s close to us. 

In short, doom spending is a consumer coping mechanism that can be really hard to break out of simply because it releases dopamine hits that suddenly make a helpless situation seem a bit brighter.

According to our survey, 12.67% of respondents said they spend money on things they don’t really need when they start to feel hopeless about things outside their control. 

Doom spending findings graphic

Among survey respondents, 13.60% of Gen Zers said they doom spend, as did 11.75% of millennials. Overall, doom spending is ranked quite low for both demographics, suggesting that, while doom spending is a thing, spending money impulsively isn’t always the first thing we think of when we start to feel a loss of control. This intimates that, while we can’t control external events, we can at least control how we spend our money. 

More men (15.17%) said they doom spend than women (11.30%), but it’s male millennials (16.67%) who doom spend more than anyone else, with only 8.55% of female millennials citing it as a cause of their impulse spending. 

This shows that women are better at staying in control of their spending in the face of uncontrollable events, while men have a bigger tendency to resort to splurging the cash when they feel out of control.

Revenge Buying is a Thing, With 15.57% of People Surveyed Saying They Make Purchases After a Fight 

While there are a few different definitions of revenge buying, for the purpose of our survey we framed it as making an impulsive purchase after getting into an argument/fight with someone close to us, be it a friend, a family member or a colleague. 

It can also include being trolled on social media. In short, revenge buying is making a purchase when we’ve been left to feel ill-treated and seek to cheer ourselves up by going shopping.

Revenge buying findings graphic

When taken as a whole, 15.57% of survey respondents said they indulged in revenge buying and it was an argument or fight that caused them to splash the cash. This makes revenge buying the sixth most common reason for impulse shopping overall.

Gen Zers are more inclined to revenge buy than millennials, with 16.20% of 18-to-26-year-olds listing this as a reason for their compulsive shopping, compared with 14.94% of 27-to-43-year-olds.

The numbers are almost identical when we broke the results down by gender, with 16.57% of male respondents reporting they went on a spree after an argument and 15.02% of female respondents reporting doing the same thing.

17.86% Impulse Buy After a Life-Changing Event 

Life-changing events — which include getting a divorce, having a child, or experiencing a death — can shake us to our core, causing us to momentarily lose our emotional footing. 

Of those who replied to our survey, 17.86% said that a life-changing event often causes them to head to the shops, even if they hadn’t planned to.

Overall, this reason for impulse buying ranked fairly low. What’s more, 18% of Gen Z respondents identified life-changing events as a trigger for impulse shopping compared with 17.73% of millennial respondents who said the same.

Life-changing event findings graphic

Female respondents (18.42%) were more prone to impulse buying after a life-changing event than men (16.85%), which perhaps makes sense when you consider that women lead the way when it comes to impulse buying during the holidays and at times of stress. 

But what’s perhaps more interesting is that significantly more Gen Z female respondents (19.01%) than millennial female respondents  (17.76%) said they impulse buy, despite the latter having more life experience. 

Final Thoughts 

After surveying 1,002 U.S. consumers aged between 18 and 43, we learned that over 90% of people in the survey impulse buy. The biggest driver by far is emotion-related factors, which include stress-related situations, mood swings, and even revenge buying when we’re feeling angry. 

Gen Z respondents were far more likely to make a compulsive purchase than millennials off the back of social media influence, and indeed, Gen Zers surveyed lead the way on most causes of impulse buying. 

“It is extremely important to acknowledge how and why you spend your money. As the study clearly shows, people often shop based on their emotions — and it’s not always a rational decision,” said Finance Expert Erica Sandberg. “However, it is possible to reign that spending in when you make pausing for a moment a habit and question whether or not what you want to buy makes sense.”

“Moderation is key,” Sandberg continued. “In most cases, you can satisfy your desire to splurge with a small purchase that wasn’t within your budget.”

A greater number of millennials than Gen Z respondents said they were resistant to impulse shopping altogether. While 9.58% of overall respondents said they resist impulse buying full stop, 12.55% of millennials ticked off this answer, while only 6.60% of Gen Zers said nothing could cause them to make spontaneous purchases. 

Survey Methodology

Our aim was to find out why people impulse guy. We questioned 1,002 U.S. consumers aged between 18 and 43, asking them, “ In which scenario, if any, are you likely to be driven to make impulsive purchases?”.

Our survey employed a multiple-choice format, allowing respondents to select any and all options that applied to them.

The data was then segmented by gender and location to identify patterns and differences in user experiences.