When creating and optimising our ecommerce customer journey, not only do we need to ensure that we make this as frictionless as possible, but also that we make it as persuasive as possible. 

Our journey today

When creating and optimising our ecommerce customer journey, not only do we need to ensure that we have made this as frictionless and easy to use journey as possible, but also that we have made this journey as persuasive as possible. 

Working Psychology defines Persuasion as being:

Persuasion attempts to win "the heart and mind" of the target. Thus persuasion must induce attitude change, which entails affective (emotion-based) change. Although persuasion is more difficult to induce, its effects last longer because the target actually accepts and internalizes the advocacy.

Persuasion is powerful, and no I’m not meaning sly, dodgy tactics to sell snake oil.

What I’m addressing today is tactics that assist the consumer in their decision making process by making the decision easier for them to make. 

Douglas van Praet: Unconcious Branding:

Research shows that more than 90% of our decisions are unconscious.

So this post is going to be showcasing and exploring what brands are currently doing at each step of the customer journey. We’ll look at sign up, email, landing page, product page, checkout and abandonment.

I’ve showcased some of the more popular persuasion tactics available and highlighted the underlying reasons as to why this persuasion tactic works.

More often than not, most persuasion tactics can be used within multiple steps of the customer journey.

Sign up/registration

Persuasion tactic: reciprocity

The concept of reciprocity says that people by nature feel obliged to provide either discounts or concessions to others if they’ve received favours from those others. Psychology explains this by stressing that we humans simply hate to feel indebted to other people!

When subscribing or registering for something, reciprocity is often a principle that we call upon, even if we don’t fully recognise that we’re doing so. The below example from Dorothy Perkins is a good example of reciprocity in action.

Firstly, note the clear benefit statement at the top: “Be the first to know about events, fashion news and exclusive events”.

We are then offered an incentive “Sign up for our newsletter and save 10%”

It's important to note that there are 10 form fields/questions within this form, yet only four are mandatory. 

Normally, for a newsletter sign up form, this could be considered too big a request as a form, even with the majority of the fields being optional. 

However, this is where the reciprocity factor kicks in. The fact that Dorothy Perkins is giving the new subscriber 10% off means that the subscriber now wants to reciprocate and ‘balance the books’ as such and will happily fill in all the fields – even the optional fields.

Yes you’re right, a transaction has just occurred. Dorothy Perkins has purchased permission and data, and both parties are happy.

Persuasion tactic: cognitive ease > explicit visual design cue

There is a law named the “Principle of Least Effort”, which covers diverse fields covering topics from evolutionary biology to web design.

It claims that animals, people, even well designed machines will naturally choose the path of least resistance or "effort". 

Many web usability studies have shown over the years that readers only skim read pages looking for relevant information as opposed to reading word by word.

To enable conversions designers are faced with the task of providing visual cues, not just to help guide the reader to find the content they need, but also to influence them to take action.

The example below is utilising an explicit visual design cue in the form of an arrow. Our eyes are drawn to designs that direct action such as an arrow and this is an effective use of the arrow as it draws the reader’s eyes to the objective of the overlay – which is to enter their email address and download the whitepaper.

Persuasion tactic: implicit visual design cue

Implicit directional cues, unlike their explicit counterparts are more subtle and use such things as positioning and line of sight to direct the readers eyes to the objective.

In the case of the below example, the women’s eyes are looking directly at the form, which is the objective of the page. Consumer’s look to the brand for guidance on what to do next.  

By using the line of sight using the women’s directional gaze, it is made clear to the consumer what action needs to be performed.

Email 

Persuasion tactic: anchoring

Anchoring is a cognitive bias that describes the common human tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information offered (the “anchor”) when making decisions.

During decision making, anchoring occurs when individuals use an initial piece of information to make subsequent judgements.

For example, the initial asking price for a retail item sets the value, so that the sale value seems even more appealing. In other words the mind is more biased by first impressions. 

In this example below from Woot!, we see Anchoring in action. Simply by having the strikethrough on the original price of $17.99, it clearly states to us, without having to do any mental gymnastics, what the value of the product is and the anchor is set. 

Persuasion principle: emotion

As humans, we tend to pride ourselves in thinking we consciously make decisions by carefully analyzing all the information available and then deciding what the best option is.

However, like it or not, we subconsciously make purchasing decisions based upon our emotions and then we post-rationalise these decisions to come up with a suitable reasoning as to why we made that decision. 

In his book, Unconscious branding, Douglas van Praet said:

Influence is born by appealing to the emotions while overcoming rational restraints.

He also revealed that research shows that more than 90% of our decisions are unconscious.

A lovely example below is an email from Hilton Hhonors. The copy is wonderfully persuasive – “Exclusive Travel Specials”, “escape to your paradise”, “unforgettable memories” and finally the Call-To-Action “treat yourself to the getaway you deserve”.

This is compelling and evocative copy, hooking our emotions into finding out more about the offers available.

Persuasive principle: scarcity & loss aversion

Humans have two main drivers – to avoid pain or to gain pleasure. These two drivers are key to every action we take and when we’re faced with either the fact that their availability is limited or we might lose the ability to acquire them on favourable terms, then they appear more attractive to us.

This is why we tend to act quickly when we’re told that this is the last one, or that the special offer won’t last.

Studies have proven that we’re more likely to act based upon loss (avoid pain) than gain (gain pleasure). This is because gains are fleeting and losses linger. People behave irrationally to avoid loss. So to take advantage of this, promote your product’s limited quantity. 

The below email from Banana Republic uses loss aversion three times within it. Phrases such as “cannot be missed, “It’s your last chance!” and “(Hurry it expires soon!) are all designed to tug on our ‘missing out’ emotions.

No one likes to be the person who missed out and as a push channel, email is a perfect channel to use this tactic.

Landing page/homepage

Persuasive principle: social proof

Robert Cialdini, the author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion states “People see an action as more appropriate when others are doing it”.

This principle relies on the adage "safety in numbers." For example, we're more likely to work late if our colleagues are doing it, put a tip in a jar if it already contains money, or eat in a restaurant if it's busy.

We are simply assuming that if others are doing it, then it must be OK. Ask yourself – when driving have you ever joined the long cue rather than the short cue as you felt that it was the ‘safer’ cue. This in effect similar to ‘herd mentality’ and we can harness this to our benefit.

A test was run on Betfair’s homepage using VWO. The goal was to increase clickthrough’s to the registration page. It tested reciprocity, loss aversion and social proof to see which one would deliver the best results.

The winner of this test was social proof, resulting in 7% more clickthroughs to the registration page. Not only did this test find a version that provided an immediate uplift – but it also gave insight as to what motivates the audience – obviously the adage ‘safety in numbers' resonates well with their audience.

Persuasion tactic: cognitive ease > explicit visual design cues

Emaze’s homepage uses explicit visual design cues well. Using conversion-centred design principles, we can see that on the right is the main call-to-action “Start now! It’s free”.

And helping us along the way is an explicit visual design cue – an arrow, pointing us in the right direction to help us achieve our objective and provide advice of what to do next. 

Speaking of advice, if however, you aren’t ready for taking the leap into a free trial, but require some nurturing instead then they’ve got an arrow for that too! “learn more”.

I love it. Emaze is directing visitors into the most appropriate action according to their lifestage and using explicit visual cues in the form of arrows to do this – and all of these directions are taking place above the fold.

Persuasion tactic: Hicks law/paradox of choice

Hick’s Law is a common principle of design, and is the design consequence that the time it takes to make a decision increases as the number of alternatives increase.

The law itself is used to estimate the time it will take someone to make a decision when presented with multiple options. Essentially it refers to the finding that too much choice leads to being overwhelmed to the point of indecision – leading to ‘Decision Paralysis”. It also can be known as The Paradox of Choice.

Optimisation experts Unbounce are strong believers in the philosophy of ‘less is more’ in regards to landing pages. So much so, it was put to the test. On the control version other content was offered in addition to the whitepaper while the variant only offered the whitepaper as available content. The variant increased downloads by 31%.

Solutions/product page

Persuasion principle: von Restorff Effect

Also called the isolation effect, this predicts that an item that “stands out like a sore thumb” is more likely to be remembered than other items. For example, if a person examines a shopping list with one item highlighted in bright green, they will be more likely to remember the highlighted item than any of the others.  

A very obvious, simple yet extremely effective way to take advantage of this is to apply this to your calls-to-action.

Think of your call-to-action as the task that you want them to perform. If it’s hidden and is difficult to see, then it will be difficult to action – so make it punchy and persuasive, as seen in this great example from ASOS.

Not only is the call-to-action punchy and eye-catching, but it is positioned in alignment with the journey flow on this page as well as having an applicable and yet persuasive and assuring copy.

Persuasion Principle: anchoring

In this great example from Joanna Wiebe of Copybloggers, the Anchor tactic was used to great effect by simply reversing the order of the pricing packages. The original order started with cheapest package on the left and increasing in pricing as you go right.  

However, when the most expensive pricing was moved to the left and was used as the anchor, there was an uplift of 500% in clickthroughs. By having the more expensive pricing as the first price, it has set our value of the product as being this price and anything less than this price is very good value.

Checkout

Persuasion principle: Hicks Law/paradox of choice

Theoretically what this checkout login page is trying to do is to ensure they have an option for everyone – which is no bad thing.

However, in reality, the page is messy and confusing and results in many prospective customers abandoning at this point. The problem? There are too many choices.

This step in the process is disruptive in itself – the consumer has happily added items to their basket and now want to pay for them and have them delivered – yet, this page is what stands in their way from continuing the happy shopping experience.

It is demanding that the consumer stop and think and this act in itself often halts an enjoyable shopping journey prematurely in its tracks. Too many choices and too busy.

As an alternative, this checkout login page from Wren Bathrooms has taken the non-disruptive route and ensured it is a smooth and continuous journey for the customer – answer two simple questions and you can continue on your journey.

Persuasion principle: commitment & consistency

The principle of commitment & consensus declares that we human beings have a deep need to be seen as consistent.

As such, once we have publicly committed to something or someone, then we are so much more likely to go through and deliver on that commitment…hence consistency. This can be explained, from a psychological perspective, by the fact that people have established that commitment as being in line with their self-image.

This picks up from the above simple checkout page where a first-time customer has continued through to purchase and after purchase they are asked to provide a password to create an account.

This process uses Cialdini’s commitment and consistency principle by calling upon the fact that after having added all the necessary details to create an account during the purchase process, all they had to do was provide one more detail and they would then be advantaged when they shop next time.

Abandonment 

Persuasion tactic: cognitive ease > implicit visual cue

Subtle but very effective, this overlay is calling upon the direction that the model is facing to ensure that the customer’s eyes are drawn towards the call-to-action and not away from it.

It helps to contain the task and offer within the overlay and very simply and nicely supports the call-to-action. 

Persuasion tactic: scarcity & loss aversion

Nothing communicates scarcity and triggers loss aversion so effectively as a live countdown clock.

In the below cart abandonment email from Wowcher, the Anchor principleis used, while the email is also triggering the need to act soon by using a real-time countdown clock.

 

So, why not review your current ecommerce customer journey and see if you identify any potential opportunities to leverage these effective persuasion tactics? 

Kath Pay

Published 28 July, 2015 by Kath Pay

Kath Pay is founder & CEO of Holistic Email Marketing and a contributor to Econsultancy. She also is the Trainer for Econsultancy's Advanced Email Marketing and Email Marketing courses and has authored Econsultancy's "The Fundamentals of Email Marketing" report.

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Comments (4)

Brian Hennessy

Brian Hennessy, Founder / Creative Director at Thread Creative, inc.

Jonathan Gottschall hints at another cognitive bias in his book, The Story Telling Animal, with this quote:

Shrewd thinkers going back as far as the philosopher David Hume have noted a tendency toward “imaginative resistance”: we won’t go along if someone tries to tell us that bad is good, and good is bad.

Though I don’t have a quote on hand, I’m pretty sure Moral Psychologist Jonathan Haidt mentions a similar idea in his book, The Happiness Hypothesis. To paraphrase: It is far easier to persuade someone to do something that moves them up the moral ladder, than down.

In other words, if your product or service represents an idea that make the world a better place, it is far easier to persuade someone to buy it. Quality and availability being equal, consumers prefer and will pay a premium for products that leave the world better off, over products that represent a net-neutral purchase, morally, or a net-loss in terms of their societal benefit.

Here in the U.S., you can see this played out in brands like Chipotle and Patagonia who can charge several multiples more for their goods than their competitors because they offer people products that help change the world for the better. Of course, whether or not their products are, in fact, morally superior could be debated endlessly. But the success they’ve experienced by offering products that seemingly make the world a better place is beyond debate.

over 2 years ago

Ana Jesus

Ana Jesus, Senior Marketing Manager, EMEA at Olapic

Great article Kath. Another way to bring persuasion to an e-commerce site is to add the 'social proof' within the product page, by showcasing how others are making use of that product through user generated content, such as what Karen Millen is doing in their product pages: http://www.karenmillen.com////fcp-product/026JV08701

over 2 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

Good article, but in the real world: it may not be wise to take any one of those headings as a must-do.

Even in this one page: contradictions are shown:

For example: yes, there is a Paradox of Choice: the example you give takes away every choice but 'the CTA we give or nothing'.

Whereas the eMaze example is praised for giving another choice:

> if however, you aren’t ready for taking the leap .... then they’ve got an arrow for that too!

So, just like many proverbs contain deep truth: and yet contradict each other eg

Many hands make light work.
vs
Too many cooks spoil the broth.

about 2 years ago

Kath Pay

Kath Pay, Snr Consultant at Holistic Email MarketingSmall Business Multi-user

I couldn't agree more Deri - it all comes down to testing and optimising - and see what works best for you and your audience :-)

about 2 years ago

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