Maximizing Impulse Sales

Follow these eight steps to effectively capture revenue-generating impulse sales in your store.


Merchandising is a critical marketing strategy that focuses on displaying products to intrigue customers and increase sales. Effective merchandising encourages shoppers to buy more, return often and share their experiences, bringing new customers into the store.

Impulse merchandising positions products to influence customers to make unplanned purchases. These items add significantly to total sales. Over the course of a year, impulse purchases have a huge impact on a pet store’s sales and profit.

Impulse purchases are usually driven by some sort of emotional response to a product or display. Effective impulse displays:

• Remind a customer of something she needs but forgot about. As a result, she feels relieved to buy the product now, rather than stress over it later.

• Trigger doubt about what consumable products the customer has at home. The customer may not be sure if the item is needed now, but it will be used eventually—so she picks it up now, just in case.

• Promote a special price. Customers feel good about saving money, so they are more likely to stock up on basics or try new products.

• Suggest a regularly priced item is a better value than a comparable product, making customers feel that the purchase is the practical thing to do.

• Warn about limited opportunities, encouraging the customer to purchase popular products that are in high demand and difficult to keep in stock, seasonal items that are available only for a short time, or merchandise that has been discontinued.

• Intrigue the customer. Shoppers in independent pet stores expect to see unique products; displays can introduce customers to new or one-of-a-kind products they just have to have.

A defined strategy is necessary to maximize impulse purchases in a pet store. For best results, think about impulse zones as a separate department, which must be actively managed like any other department in the store. With this in mind, the following steps should be followed:

Step 1: Put Someone in Charge
Impulse merchandising is too important to leave to chance. It is a good idea to put someone in charge of overseeing the implementation of a store’s impulse merchandising plan. Whether that is the owner, a trusted manager or a promising sales associate, the right person for this job must:

• Actively look for continuous improvement.

• Creatively display merchandise in appealing ways.

• Use good judgment in selecting merchandise.

• Solicit ideas from others in the store.

• Stay organized and on top of details.

Step 2: Create an Impulse Planning Map
Before retailers develop a plan, it makes sense to document the store’s current displays. To create an impulse planning map:

• Draw the store’s layout, including entrances, windows, checkout counters and any architectural features, such as pillars and interior walls.

• Add the store’s current impulse displays.

• Assign location numbers to each display fixture to help plan, stock and track results. Use a consistent numbering scheme. For example, display tables can be labeled DT1, DT2, DT3, etc.

• Take photos of each display and label each picture with the display’s assigned location number.

• Identify impulse zones in the store and draw a box around them on the map, using a different color for each zone. Important impulse zones in every pet store include the store entrance, the main customer path, and the checkout.

Step 3: Conduct an Impulse Audit
The next step is to conduct an impulse audit to assess the store’s strengths and weaknesses. Look at the impulse planning map and photos and ask:

• Are you optimizing the space in every impulse zone?

• Do your impulse displays include the right products?

• Are you using the right display for each product?

• Are you merchandising each display effectively?

If you answer “no” to any of these questions, there are opportunities to increase impulse sales.

Step 4: Identify Improvement Opportunities
Once you’ve identified problem areas, it’s time to fix them. To address the issues identified in your store audit, consider:

• Changing out a product or fixture.

• Relocating or moving a display.

• Adding additional displays.

• Removing a display to reduce clutter.

When done correctly, impulse merchandising enhances your store’s overall merchandising, improving the shopping experience for customers, and increasing sales and profits. Impulse merchandising that creates additional store clutter will not achieve the desired results.

Step 5: Select Impulse Products & Create a Plan
The next step to implementing impulse merchandising is to create an action plan. For each impulse zone in the store, identify which products you will promote based on season, holidays, scheduled promotions and target themes. Look at sales history and last year’s notes to identify best sellers, poor sellers and quantities sold.

Merchandising experts recommend that you plan four to 12 months ahead to give you time to:

• Plan out seasonal displays.

• Order inventory.

• Take advantage of suppliers’ special promotions and terms.

• Order any needed fixtures or signs.

• Coordinate advertising and other marketing.

Take time to think about how you will display impulse items. According to research by the Russell R. Mueller Retail Hardware Research Foundation, displaying products on an impulse fixture instead of a shelf can increase sales by 25 percent to over 425 percent.

Dump bins, buckets and baskets, rolling racks, mass stacks, counter and checkout displays, and other impulse fixtures draw customers’ attention and encourage unplanned purchases.

Step 6: Order Product & Execute the Plan
It is important to rotate impulse displays often to keep the store fresh and interesting. Use an online or printed calendar to plan the following activities for your impulse merchandising campaign:

• Order inventory and receive products.

• Set and reset displays.

• Evaluate results.

Your schedule should allow plenty of time to order and receive inventory. Deals and promotions offered by suppliers often have long lead times due to advertising and scheduling requirements.

Step 7: Get Your Team on Board
Like any other merchandising display, impulse displays must look their best to sell the most. Make sure your team members understands their role in executing the plan. Fundamentals include:

• Restocking and recovery to keep displays looking full and fresh.

• Monitoring expiration dates on perishable items, such as food, treats and supplements.

• Providing sales support by telling customers about the sale and taking advantage of upselling opportunities.

Step 8: Measure Results & Adjust the Plan
Ultimately, what matters about your impulse merchandising plan is what works and what doesn’t. In other words, which displays and strategies produce the best sales results?

The only way to know for sure is to track sales performance for each display. Depending upon your point-of-sale (POS) system, you may be able to pull sophisticated reports that track impulse sales and their impact on department or category sales. Stores with less-sophisticated systems may need to use a manual tracking log.

No matter what system you use, be sure to take detailed notes and photograph displays. These will be an invaluable reference when you begin to work on next year’s plan.

Stephanie A. Kaplan is the director of online education for the Pet Industry Distributors Association. She manages PIDA’s free online training program, Pet Store Pro. Since it was first launched in 2008, over 4,800 retailers have turned to Pet Store Pro for brand-neutral training on critical skills for associates, managers and owners. Pet Store Pro is free to qualified retailers; visit to register and begin using the program.

This article was adapted from “Advanced Merchandising,” one of 25 chapters available as part of Pet Store Pro’s online training. Lessons cover exterior and interior visual merchandising, common visual merchandising errors, and implementing an impulse merchandising plan. The chapter also includes downloadable worksheets to conduct an impulse merchandising audit and develop an action plan.

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