American Marketer


March Madness and the massive impulse buy

March 29, 2013

Patrick Gall is senior vice president of market and strategy development at SpotTrot


By Patrick Gall

This is the time of year when people who would normally never call themselves sports fans care a lot about college basketball.

March Madness creates a bandwagon bigger than any other sporting event short of the Super Bowl and the Olympics. But unlike those events, these viewers are not just watching for the commercials or the human-interest montages.

In fact, people do not just watch March Madness, they follow, they participate, and they become a part of it.

Game face
Thanks to college allegiance and bracket pools, people who have not watched a basketball game all season suddenly become experts. They develop strong ties with not just their own team, but rivals, underdogs, even random #12 seeds.

For example, after Lehigh upset Duke last year, there were a lot of Lehigh shirts spotted around the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill campus.

These fans, longtime and brand-new alike, become emotionally invested in the outcome of all 68 games. And if our own school happens to be in the running, even if it is a play-in game, especially if it is a play-in game, we are emotionally all in.

It is that same emotion that leads to impulse buying. It is the reason there are dozens of pop-up team gear stands outside the stadium on game day. It is the same reason Amazon patented one-click purchase.

So imagine you are watching your team play an NCAA Tournament Game, maybe with your friends, maybe at your favorite sports bar. And let us say they win. It is a perfect time to consider a new shirt, hat, some kind of permanent link to that emotional high – a huge impulse moment.

You whip out your smartphone, and you punch up your team on a Google search. You get the results, you hit the official team site …

But then you have to spend five minutes trying to navigate through a store that is not optimized for mobile.

Chances are, long before those five minutes are up, you have changed your mind and are back to celebrating with your friends. Or worse, you will make that purchase somewhere else.

What is a massive impulse buy?
Massive impulse buys, those caused by an event related to the product that produces an emotional connection coupled with an opportunity to purchase on the spot, are a rare opportunity for a retail business. Taking full advantage of them can make you, and missing out on them can break you.

This phenomenon is no longer anecdotal.

According to Ben Chung, Google product marketing manager for mobile ads, “We see this immediacy effect with mobile because not only are people potentially closer in physical proximity to a purchase, but they’re also closer to the crucial decision moments.”

Leaving revenue on the table
Consider the Baltimore Ravens, who won the Super Bowl few weeks ago.

As the game ended, television shots followed of Ravens players in brand new official Super Bowl Champion hats and shirts.

Then came an commercial run to a national audience, prompting Ravens fans to buy that same gear they had just seen. Trigger massive impulse buy.

But is not optimized for mobile.

Yes, they probably sold a lot of hats and shirts, but again according to Google:

• 48 percent of users say they feel frustrated and annoyed when they get to a site that is not mobile-friendly.

• 61 percent of users said that if they did not find what they were looking for right away on a mobile site, they would quickly move on to another site.

If you extrapolate those numbers out, with half of all users feeling frustrated and two-thirds of those leaving quickly, likely missed out on hundreds, if not thousands, of orders on Super Bowl Sunday.

By the way, – also not mobile optimized.

Leaving thousands of dollars in merchandise sales on the table may not be make-or-break for the NFL or the NCAA, but for anyone else it is a huge missed opportunity, and a problem that is relatively easy to fix.

Patrick Gall is senior vice president of market and strategy development at SpotTrot, Raleigh, NC. Reach him at