The Perils of Drinking and Shopping

Who among us has not regretted a purchase? The idea that shopping can be driven by compulsive instincts is not new, but relatively few of us have ended up in a gigantic shopping mall, completely drunk and armed with an array of superfluous (but assuredly amazing) items we cannot afford or do not really need. Sip-and-spend, or the phenomenon of shopping under the influence (SUI), was not much of an issue before the advent of the Internet. But in a country where, according to the ONS, e-commerce sales hit £114 billion in 2015 with double digit growth year-on-year, drinking is becoming a factor in consumer behaviour.

The rise of sip-and-click

For obvious reasons, reliable data are hard to come by. Retailers have observed the trend, however, by conducting research into website traffic patterns. According to a study by the online marketplace Flubit, one in twenty people admitted to buying goods online after consuming alcohol. The most popular time for late-night purchases is the early hours of Sunday, with the peak between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. Style and shopping website Racked reported that the platform Lyst gets 48% more orders at 2 a.m. after midnight on Friday than the same time post-Monday night.

The reasons for the sip-and-click boom are easy to guess. People browse for items online mostly during the evening when they are back from work, more relaxed, more prone to targeted advertisements and inclined to pour a glass of wine. (Increasing use of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication may be in the mix here, too.) The result is lowered inhibitions and a more sensitive trigger finger. The Huffington Post cites the straightforward findings of a retail intelligence survey: people who shop online when inebriated usually spend more than they would have done if sober and are more likely to regret their purchases.

What it means for retailers

If the impact of alcohol on shopping is a phenomenon with staying power, and we might surmise that it is, then that goes some way to explaining why online commerce professionals are taking it seriously. The New York Times reports on retailers offering limited-time sales to target tipsy customers after closing time. User experience experts suggest making the checkout process fast and simple to leave less room for the, well, alcohol-encouraged to give up their spending propositions.

A clear return policy would seem fair in these circumstances and would serve to make customers feel more comfortable and more prone to purchase at the same time: they will deal with their purchases the next day, thank you, along with the hangover.

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