Beware the impulse to buy impulsively

As consumers and the retailers gird for the holiday shopping season, one industry group is sounding a warning: Lots of us are suckers when it comes to impulse purchases.

A new phone survey of 1,000 adult Americans by CreditCards.com asked consumers about impulse purchases, defined as "unplanned or unnecessary decisions to buy a product just before the purchase was made."

The results were quite revealing. Three out of four respondents said they had made impulse purchases. Some were quite expensive, with 16 percent of respondents saying they had spent $500 or more during an impulse buy, and 10 percent admitting to spending $1,000 or more on a whim.

The consumer's emotional state was an important factor. Nearly half of those surveyed said they had made impulse purchases while excited, compared to 30 percent who were bored, 22 percent who were sad and 9 percent who were angry.

And then there was BWI -- buying while intoxicated. Nine percent of respondents said they had made an impulse purchase while in that condition. A little deeper digging into that statistic found 13 percent of men admitted to BWI, compared to 5 percent of women. Men were also more likely to spend greater amounts on an impulse purchase than women.

A large number of college graduates, 86 percent, said they had shopped impulsively, compared to 64 percent of respondents who hadn't attended college.

The results also found some generational differences. About 40 percent of people age 65 and older said they never made impulse purchases, compared to just 10 percent of Millennials, age 18 to 29.

Surprisingly, there was minimal difference between rural and urban respondents when it came to impulse purchases: It appears everyone does it, no matter where you live.

Analysts note that retailers are quite aware of the inclination to make impulse purchases, and they're more than willing to oblige potential customers.

"That's why the end-cap displays and checkout lanes are so enticing," Gail Cunningham, vice president and spokeswoman for the National Foundation for Consumer Credit, said in a statement.

"We don't realize that we need that magazine or candy bar until we are only minutes away from paying, yet they often make it into our shopping carts."

Here's another statistic that emerged from the CreditCards.com survey: Nearly half of those polled said they had buyer's remorse after making an impulse purchase.

Said Cunningham: "The cold reality of the bills arriving has canceled out many happy holiday memories."