Consumer impulse buying of food at festivals and events: understanding the role of sensory cues



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Kansas State University


Impulse buying has gained interest from both researchers and practitioners because of its contribution to sales and profits. The past decade has seen a dramatic increase in the number of mobile food vending in the United States. Open-air selling by vendors may encourage consumers to buy food on impulse. Food sold on streets involves sensory cues that strongly induce impulse buying. Unlike normal buying behavior, impulse buying is greatly affected by emotion, but it may also be explained by cognition. Although impulse buying of food is a prevalent phenomenon, little academic research has been conducted regarding food consumption impulse. Further, there remains a lack of clear understanding of the link between emotions and impulse buying. The purpose of this study was to explore and empirically test consumers’ impulse buying behavior of food from street vendors and to identify determinants such as sensory cues, arousal and pleasure as emotional responses, perceived risk as a cognitive response, and the urge to buy impulsively. In particular, Study 1 proposed a theoretical model identifying the effects of sensory cues on arousal, pleasure, and perceived risk and, in turn, the urge to buy impulsively and impulse buying behavior. Study 2 proposed food neophobia and perceived human crowding as a possible moderator that may function in the relationship between emotions and impulse buying. Data were collected from 361 consumers who were 18 years or older and had purchased food from mobile vendors at a participating festival or event in the United States. The proposed relationships were tested using structural equation modeling and hierarchical multiple regression analysis. In terms of direct effects, Study 1 found that sensory cues were positively related to arousal, pleasure, and the urge to buy impulsively and were negatively related to perceived risk; arousal and pleasure were positively associated with the urge to buy impulsively; perceived risk was negatively associated with the urge to buy impulsively; and the urge to buy impulsively was positively linked with impulse buying behavior. Further, arousal, pleasure, and perceived risk partially mediated the relationship between sensory cues and the urge to buy impulsively. Study 2 concluded that perceived human crowding moderates the effect of arousal and pleasure on the urge to buy impulsively and, in turn, impulse buying behavior. Food neophobia had no moderating effect. The study findings add to the understanding of consumer impulse buying in the context of street food. In addition to its contribution to the literature, practical applications that mobile food businesses could use to attract and retain customers are provided. The study concludes with general discussions of limitations and areas for future research.



street food, sensory cues, emotion, cognition, impulse buying

Graduation Month



Doctor of Philosophy


Department of Hospitality Management

Major Professor

Chihyung Ok; Carol W. Shanklin