Is Paypal making impulse buyers of us all?

by Paul Michael on 26 August 2007 6 comments

I’d like to start this article by pointing out that Paypal is a fabulous resource and I use it often. I feel safe buying items, especially items on eBay, with my Paypal account. But over the past few months I’ve noticed that more and more places accept Paypal and I began to wonder…is this going to create a generation of impulse buyers?


Paypal was founded in December of 1998. It was acquired by eBay in 2002 and quickly became a phenomenon. Now, with over 31 million accounts and growing, it’s a quick, easy way to pay for anything from cheap novelties to new cars.

But is it TOO easy?

“How can anything be too easy,” I hear you all yell at your computer screens. Well, this is something I started thinking about a few months ago. I was mulling around online and found a great little movie prop. However, the store only accepted credit cards and I just didn’t want it enough to drag myself away from my comfy computer chair and go downstairs to get my wallet. The following morning my initial impulse to buy had been overtaken by common sense. I didn’t need it, it was really a waste of $49.99.

A week passed and something else caught my eye; a very nice antique book on advertising. Once again, lethargy set in and I decided I didn’t want to run all the way downstairs and back again and fill out a bunch of forms. The next morning I discovered the same book on another site but at 1/3rd of the price. I was relieved.

I started thinking “hey, how many times have I bought something on impulse because I could just click and pay with Paypal?” I checked my account. Thankfully, not too many times, and 70% of what I had bought I would buy again in a heartbeat. But some items, well, I could really live without.

“Is Paypal my enemy” I started pondering. “Is this wonderful resource actually turning us all into a league of impulse shoppers?”

I asked around at work, emailed friends, and started to get quite a surprising response. Most said that they had bought something on impulse due to the ease of Paypal  and had regretted the purchase later. Well, we all have buyer’s remorse but one fact that everyone had in common was that they said they didn’t even think about the money involved. When they saw the “pay with paypal” button they just clicked on it like Pavlov’s dog. It was only later when they saw their bank accounts did they realize their rash decision.

What am I saying here? Is Paypal the devil? Of course not, it’s a terrific tool and I’ll keep on using it. I’m not about to give up the safety and security of Paypal because I have no willpower (or very little of it anyway). All I’m suggesting is this. Before you buy anything that allows you to pay with Paypal, stop and think. Take a breath. Ask yourself, “do I want it, do I need it, can I afford it, will I regret this in the morning?” If you are still convinced this is something you just HAVE to have, then go ahead. You probably would have got it using your credit card anyway. But if that moment of hesitation is enough to make you think twice, maybe you really don’t need it after all. Remember, a penny saved is a penny earned.

For further reading on impulse buying and Paypal, the following links offer some good background information.

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Guest's picture

I'd say the ease in online purchasing itself often leads to impulse buys. If the checkout is nice and easy, there's less time to second guess your decision. But there are still some sites you hide shipping information to the last minute, which tends to discourage my purchases. I don't know if I'm alone in this regard, but after making so many purchases I realized I had my credit card number memorized, expiration date and security code included. Then again I tend not to let sites store my credit card number, so I'm always reentering it.

Guest's picture

I don't have this problem as much with PayPal, but Amazon One-Click definitely does me in. Now that I'm working full time at a job with no pay--yet--I make myself step away from the computer for a few minutes to overnight before clicking the button.

Putting the impulse purchases of the past up for sale on eBay is a real lesson in their true value. I don't think my husband will ever rush out to buy a hardback best seller again. And his collection of Stephen King, valued on at 75 cents a book, is hardly worth the shelf space. Any he might decide to read again could be purchased quickly and cheaply.

Guest's picture

People are impulsive. Credit card usage in the US is abundantly evident of that. PayPal doesn't make people impulsive, they're just another greedy company that enables people to continue being impulsive.

Control your behaviour and stop with the "I've gotta have that its a good deal!" crap. Control the impulses. Cut up the credit cards and close the PayPal account, and think overnight about any purchase with a price more than $100.

Guest's picture

I'm committed to using an all-cash system for spending, but online shopping obviously doesn't fit this model. I use Paypal as my online "envelope"--I transfer the amount I've budgeted for online shopping into my Paypal account each month. I've yet to go over budget, and anything left over is transferred back into my checking account at the end of the month. Thoughtful post--thanks!

Guest's picture
Johanna B

I truly believe that I was "addicted" to Amazon. I must have bought 20 books on Ancient Egypt before I realized they all said the same thing. I could have gotten by with a trip to my local library and not spent a dime . I don't shop on Amazon any more and I go to the library a couple of times a week.

Andrea Karim's picture

PayPal broke me a while back. I got involved in a project that I thought would be great and started buying supplies like crazy. I eventually realized that I couldn't complete it, yet I had spent hundreds on eBay buying up everything that I could find.

I have a new rule now - I'll get a deal lined up, but think it over for 24 hours before buying. 90% of the time, I decide against the purchase.