Five ways to put a stop to online impulse shopping

Do you need a shopping intervention? Use these savvy tips to avoid impulse purchases on the Web.

Sharon Profis Vice President of Content
Sharon Profis is a vice president of content.
Sharon Profis
3 min read

Pin It

Men outspend women online (on things that aren't real)
Adam Balatoni/iStockPhoto

Without a doubt, one of the Internet's most gracious gifts is instant gratification. Its magic is everywhere--it happens when you google a topic, post a status on Facebook, and (worst of all) purchase a product online.

For the most part, the instant gratification is beneficial, but when its crack-like qualities start taking a toll on your wallet, it may be time for an intervention.

If "Add to cart" is an all-too-familiar phrase, and you're getting a bit too popular with the mailman, you might be an impulsive online shopper. That is, you don't consider your purchases thoroughly before mindlessly offering up your credit card digits.

First, admit you have a problem. And now, follow these tips:

1. Never store your credit cards on Web sites
Do not make the mistake of opting-in to save your credit card information on a retailer's Web site. They offer this "For your convenience!" and "Faster check-outs!" Well, duh.

Instead, choose to enter your credit card and billing information each time you make a purchase. The extra time required to take your credit card out of your wallet and manually enter the information will add some mindfulness to the purchase process.

Take a few minutes now to remove your credit card info from your most frequented sites.

Tip: Tape a sticky note to your credit card with something like "Sleep on it." Or, check out Scott Gamm's useful 3 questions to ask yourself before making a purchase and write those down instead.

2. Commit to researching
Take the dollar amount of an item you want to purchase and spend that number in minutes researching the product. So, if it's a $60 keyboard, spend 60 minutes digging up information. (Take this with a grain of salt--you certainly don't need to spend 25 hours researching a $1,500 TV.)

Read customer reviews (especially the bad ones), expert reviews, search for comparable products, and ask friends if they've had any experience with the product or Web site. Use services like Decide and Google Shopping to find out if now is the best time to purchase the item and if there's a better price out there.

Do this for any product. I mean it--a blouse, universal remote, phone case, anything. By the time you finish doing so, you might find a cheaper price, better product, or realize you no longer want it.

3. Unsubscribe to tempting daily deals and mailing lists
"TODAY ONLY! 30% off + free shipping!"

Retailers will do anything to make you feel like right now, this second, is the only time you will ever get a good price on an item. And the sad part is, we often fall for it.

Why? Because these advertisements create desires for products you never considered by making you feel like you'll miss out if you pass on the deal.

The proof is in the pudding. A study by Yipit found that 15 percent of Groupons sold are never redeemed.

Don't fall for it. Better yet, avoid being put in those situations to begin with by unsubscribing to all mailing lists, including retailers and daily deal sites likes Groupon and Living Social.

Tip: Use Lifehacker's trick to unsubscribing from a bunch of mailing lists at once.

4. Limit time spent on shopping sites with StayFocusd
Maybe your impulse shopping woes are simply the result of obsessive (online) window shopping.

Even if you head to a Web site like Amazon with the intention of checking out one product, related items and advertisements can keep you on the Web site for a long time before you realize there are eight things in your shopping cart.

In this case, you need a free tool called StayFocusd. The Chrome extension lets you set limits to time spent on any given Web site. Figure out which ones you frequent the most and set a modest time limit, like 10-15 minutes daily.

5. Add wanted items to a universal wish list
When you see an item you want, resist purchasing it right away by adding it to a wish list. Let it hang out there for several days, then revisit it and decide if it's something you actually need, or if perhaps there's something else on your wish list that's more important.

Check out our quick tip on creating a universal wish list that lets you collect items from any e-commerce Web site and manage them in one list.