More and more of our time is spent helping our clients not only make their online experiences more usable but developing a persuasion strategy that will run through their online customer journey.

In order for us to be able to develop these persuasive strategies, the majority of our time is spent one-to-one with consumers, understanding what motivates them, observing their online behaviour and understanding how they are influenced to buy online with one retailer over another.

With all this in mind, as a follow up to my previous article, Nine women x nine hours = nine usability insights, this article details an up-to-date list of nine of the most influential persuasive techniques, in no particular order, that retailers are using to encourage visitors to buy in 2012.

Persuasive techniques for retailers in 2012

1. Having a FREE delivery proposition

I previously worked at Shop Direct, when I asked consumers 10 years ago what are the reasons they have started to shop online, one was always to get FREE delivery.

Fast forward to 2012 and to be honest, nothing much has changed. Only in the last few weeks have consumers representing a wide demographic and, perhaps more interesting, socio-economic status, have stated ‘getting free delivery’ as one of the main reasons they by online, and choose between retailers.

Delivery proposition for increasing persuasion and conversion

Some retailers are able to offer free standard delivery on every order, and others provide visitors with a minimum spend limit in order to trigger a free delivery promotion.

I always find it quite fascinating how consumers will be more than willing to spend another £20 to save £3.95 on delivery. The feeling that they are getting something for free is enough to actually spend more than perhaps they have budgeted for.

Quick tips

  • See point two for a key way in which to promote your delivery proposition, especially if some options are free.
  • If there is a minimum spend in order to trigger free delivery, don’t miss out on the opportunity to provide dynamic, persuasive messaging in your shopping bag. ASOS is superb at this.

2. Provide a USP bar in your site-wide header

Although these don’t have an official industry used name yet (the promo strip perhaps?), in training and with clients I like to name the bar that includes key messages as the ‘unique selling points’ bar.

These are becoming quite common amongst retailers, and we are starting to see a variety of creative implementations of these.

USP bar in site header for increasing persuasion and conversion

A really interesting (to me anyway!) consumer insight that we are seeing is that even though consumers don’t mention this bar specifically, towards the end of on-site research sessions consumers are asked whether they had noticed the messages contained within this bar.

Almost everyone has, and more importantly they mention that it was really useful to be presented with these messages, especially when they relate to free delivery (see point one) and free returns.

Quick tips

  • Aim for three messages at most. Don’t try cramming too much in.
  • Make it clear if messages are clickable or just for information.
  • Consider small icons for delivery and returns messages.
  • Use a consistent design style to not create too much distraction.
  • Clearly differentiate each message with white space.
  • Use the space for messages such as:
    • FREE standard delivery on orders over XX.
    • FREE next working day delivery on orders over XX.
    • Save xx% on our SALE.
    • FREE returns.
    • Buy online, pick up in-store.
    • Order before 3pm for next day delivery.

3. Quick access to both new in and sale items from the primary navigation

Getting a good deal and/or saving some money are pretty important for the vast majority of consumers that we spend time with, including when shopping for FMCG, high street fashion and luxury goods.

At the same time many consumers want to see what are the very latest products available, the innovators and first movers I suppose you could say.

Promoting new products for increasing persuasion and conversion

Easy access to sale items for increasing persuasion and conversion

The quicker consumers can get access to products which fit in to these two distinct groups, the sooner they can start getting enthusiastic about the products they are being presented with.

Quick tips

  • If you have space in your primary navigation, include links to both the latest products and the sale items. Topshop have really embraced this with ‘New In’ being the 1st link on their primary navigation.
  • If you use mega menus, provide immediate access to both the sale items and the latest products available, but separate these links from the main list of sub-categories. Simply using red to highlight your sale category is a simple but persuasive technique that ASOS use.

4. Having a view all link with a variety of useful features

In customer research sessions we have conducted where consumers have a large number of products i.e. over 50, to consider before using any available filters, the vast majority of them choose to view all products on one page.

Comments like “I hate having to click through page after page” and “I just find it easier to see all the available products on one page” are very common.

Providing a view all for increasing persuasion and conversion

Another insight is that consumers in the first instance are generally visually led, so before they start using filters they will want to get a feel for the products available. After an initial scroll up and down to start their consideration process, consumers then expect to have access to a variety of filters.

Quick tips

  • If a consumer clicks the view all link, maintain this preference during their session as they click in to other sub-categories.
  • Use dynamic product loading as consumers scroll down the long page of products, to reduce the impact on site performance.
  • Use consumer research and analytics insights to determine both which type of filters to provide and which order to place them in.
  • Consider using larger thumbnail images to provide a richer browsing experience before clicking in to product pages.
  • Consider introducing quick view to provide more intuitive access to multiple products without clicking between product page and lister page.

5. Encourage and use customer ratings and reviews

OK, so the idea that providing customer ratings and reviews is an influential persuasive technique isn’t exactly breaking news.

On saying that, this certainly merits inclusion in this list of nine influential techniques, as we don’t go through one hour research sessions with a consumer without them mentioning about the importance of genuine customer ratings and reviews to help them make a purchase decision.

Uniquer reviews for increasing persuasion and conversion

Only last week, with my wife browsing random electrical retail websites to purchase some cheese lights for our kitchen (which have subsequently being fitted by our male electrician who mentioned the Fifty Shades phenomenon, but that’s a story for another day) the website getting our money was the one that had invested in gaining a few customer reviews.

Quick tips

  • Once you have the review volume, provide a filter for customer rating.
  • Ask consumers to provide some information about themselves, as well as just their rating (Kiddicare is great at this) – at allows other consumers to empathise with the reviewer and they become even more influential and persuasive.
  • Don’t worry of you do get a few bad reviews as long bad reviews don’t dominate! These reviews demonstrate that you aren’t being selective about the reviews you show, plus it may provide you with product insights that can be fed back to your production/manufacturing department. 
  • Include the customer rating on lister pages to start using this persuasive technique.
  • Ensure the customer rating and number of reviews is positioned very close to the product title on product pages.
  • If you have quite different customers, consider allowing consumers to filter reviews to see only the ones that reflect consumers like them. does this really well, and again it allows consumers to empathise with the reviewer much more than if everyone is treated as though they have the same requirements and expectations.

6. Provide multiple photos showing products in different use cases

For practically every type of online retailer, having good quality images that give a good reflection of the product is pretty fundamental.

When we work with retailers we always encourage them to provide a variety of photos which will allow consumers to get a true understanding of the product and its details. The fact is one of the most influential elements of shopping on the high street is being to physically pick up, hold, turn around, open, compare and in some case try on products.

Variety of product photos for increasing persuasion and conversion

Online retailers should aim to get consumers as close to this as possible in order to help them make a purchase decision.

Quick tips

  • Provide a high level of zoom.
  • Provide alternative images of close up views of the product, which in turn can then be zoomed in order to get as close to the product as possible.
  • If the product opens up, provide photos of the inside (see the examples below for two alternative ways of selling a bag online).
  • For certain products, product videos will really help consumers understand how the product works and deliver the kind of product demonstration that you can get in store. Kiddicare and Appliances Online are two retailers who do this superbly.

7. Make your payment options transparent on the shopping basket

If I had to use one word to describe what retailers should focus on when designing or improving their shopping bag, it would be transparency. Below is what from our experience with spending hours with consumers should be the objective of the shopping basket:

Provide the visitor with all they need to know for them to be happy to progress to checking out, without any un-answered questions, whilst at the same time not distracting them from their goal.

Transparent payment options for increasing persuasion and conversion

One area which we see is an influential technique that encourages consumers to proceed to checkout is providing visibility of your payment options. If one of these is Paypal, specifically for UK consumers, this is a particularly influential and trustworthy logo to include.

8. Provide visible security assurances and trustworthy logos during checkout 

Irrespective of the reputation, credibility or size of the retailer, or whether or not the retailer has a high street presence, providing consumers with visible security assurances during checkout is an extremely important approach.

Of course, retailers can feature credibility enhancing logos relating to security earlier in the browsing journey, in particular for less well know pure-play online retailers.

Clear security assurances for increasing persuasion and conversion

Quick tips

  • Include the logo of your security provider, especially if it is one of the few recognisable ones such as Verisign) in the checkout header.
  • Allow visitors to click on the logo to see an overlay of the specific credentials your site has.
  • Carry out rigorous testing so that visitors don’t get presented with error messages relating to security and form posting if they choose to navigate back through your checkout pages.

9. Enclose your checkout to focus visitors attention and maintain buying momentum, and provide easy access to customer service details

For many years, due to observing consumers behaviour during checkout both first hand and through analytics, I’ve been a very bid advocate of enclosing the checkout. In 2009 and then in 2011 I looked at a variety of retailers such as John Lewis, Game and Play to see whether they enclosed their checkout.

Enclosed checkout for increasing persuasion and conversion

The rationale for removing distractions and possible ways out for consumers during checkout has been well documented, and just in the last few weeks we have been conducting one-to-one research with consumers which really do underline the increased focus users have when they aren’t presented with distractions during checkout.

Quick tips

  • When providing your customer service details, include the opening times for this number and the cost of calls. This is about providing greater transparency and managing consumer expectations.
  • Provide a link which opens a light box to your delivery and returns information.
  • Provide a link which opens a light box to your privacy policy and security policy.
  • Remove all the standard site-wide links you have in your footer.
  • Conduct user testing and consider in-page session tracking solutions to see where consumers are having issues completing your checkout forms.

Bonus: encourage account creation at the end, not at the start

I have written about this topic previously, and I would say it falls in to both a usability and persuasion category.

I’m not sure how long it will take for consumers to not think of account creation or registration as some long winded, time consuming and nasty process, but this is exactly what consumers in 2012 still think of when we ask for their opinions of being forced or give the option to create an account at the start of checkout.

Benefit driven account creation page for increasing persuasion and conversion

Quick tips

  • Make the first step of checkout for both new and account customers as simple and intuitive as possible. Remove un-necessary or potentially confusing text, and reduce the amount of information asked.
  • If your customer’s buying cycle is quite small i.e. FMCG, versus long ie. electrical goods like washing machine, provide messaging at the start of checkout to make it clear new customers can choose to create an account at the end of checkout.
  • Simplify your order confirmation page to provide a benefit driven, focussed page which encourages new customers to simply choose a password and create their account. Useful Links

Below are a range of links you may find usable on the subject of e-commerce persuasion:

Summary, and your thoughts

So to recap, this list features nine of the most influential persuasive techniques that retailers are using to encourage visitors to buy online.

There are certainly many more persuasive techniques being adopted that I haven’t mentioned here, and I’m keen to hear what techniques and tactics other retailers are using to increase their conversion rate and average order value.

On saying this, I doubt that too many retailers will want to be publicly sharing this type of information, but as the saying goes, if you don’t ask you don’t get!