What triggers people to buy things? Learn how to make more sales from these 5 thought-provoking experiments.
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People love to shop online.
These are big numbers, but what’s more important is how these numbers are created.
In other words, what triggers somebody to purchase something online?
This is a question smart marketers know the answer to—and take advantage of—to encourage more people to spend money in their stores.
Let’s look at five behavioural science experiments that shed light on how consumers think and act. And how marketers are using these psychological triggers for sales maximisation.
Experiment #1: The Power of Peer Pressure
A lot of us tend to believe we buy things out of our own will.
When in reality, many of our purchase decisions are based on what the majority are doing—and there are studies that can prove this.
A team of behavioural researchers in San Marcos, California, decided to do an experiment in a neighbourhood.
They went to every door, and hung on each knob either one of the four messages:
Message 1) Please turn off your fans to help save the environment.
Message 2) Please turn off your fans to save $54 over the summer.
Message 3) Please turn off your fans so that you can be socially responsible citizens by preserving energy.
Message 4) Please turn off your fans because 77% of their neighbours are using less power.
The experiment concluded that energy usage within the homes who received messages one to three remained the same. However, for the last group who received the fourth message, energy usage had dropped significantly!
Because they realised that the majority of their neighbours were doing the same, they felt more compelled to comply with the message.
This tendency to lean towards what others are doing can be referred to as social proof.
People love to seek the opinions of previous customers who have tried your product. We assume that if other people are enjoying your product, it’s likely they will too.
That being said, using social proof in the form of testimonials, before & after pictures, and product reviews are all powerful methods that trigger people to buy.
And if you don’t have any social proof yet? Follow-up with new customers via email to request an honest review of your product.
Experiment #2: The Jam Paradox
As human beings, we’re naturally wired to want more—whether that’s more money, more time or more happiness.
But when placed in a scenario where we’re faced with several options, choosing one single option and walking away can be very challenging.
In 2000, psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper set up an experiment in a gourmet market.
She set up a booth which showcased a variety of fruit jams.
People were invited to taste-test the jams before they purchased, which after they were awarded with a free $1 off coupon.
At first, the booth would showcase twenty-four jams for sale. Then after a few hours passed, the number of jams were reduced to six. And would alternate between displaying each of these two numbers throughout the sale.
Iyengar and Lepper found that while displaying twenty-four jams attracted a larger audience, only 3% would go onto purchase.
On the other hand, while six jams attracted a smaller crowd than twenty-four, 30% would go on to purchase a jam.
What does this tell us about consumers?
Offering them too many choices at once can cripple their ability to make a decision.
From a different perspective, it might seem a luxury to have several options to choose from (think buffet).
But in reality, this only delays action in your consumer.
Too many choices can also leave us with feelings of guilt and regret after making a purchase.
For example, imagine there’s a t-shirt you really want to buy. There’s six colours on sale, and though you like them all, you can only choose one.
Eventually you decide to purchase the t-shirt in white. And while you’re happy with your final decision, you still feel a bit of regret knowing there were other options you could’ve tried.
That being said, it’s important to limit the number of variations your product offers, whether that’s in colour, size or design.
With less options, customers are less likely to procrastinate over a decision, or feel a sense of regret after purchasing.
Best of all, less options means prospects aren’t slowed in the process of buying, which leads to quicker sales.
Experiment #3: The Violinist at the Metro
So, how do our brains effectively deal with information overload?
One way is to create mental shortcuts based on our environmental surroundings. This helps our brain to make sense of what’s in front of us.
And from a customer perspective, this mental ability allows them to either discard or pay attention to what you have to offer—as the study below illustrates.
In 2007, famous violinist Joshua Bell and his team ran a behavioural science experiment.
Dressed in a baseball cap and plain clothes, Bell performed a 45-minute series of songs at the entrance of a metro station in Washington D.C.
Out of the 1,097 people who walked past him, twenty awarded Bow with a tip, and only seven stopped by to listen.
Even though Bow was playing astonishing music, busy commuters saw where he was playing, how he was dressed, and used the context to determine that he wasn’t worth their time.
Every day our brains are bombarded with so much information. And the only way it can handle this overload is to create assumptions based on the context that it comes in.
If you saw a bunch of college students drinking alcohol at a frat party, you’d probably assume that it was cheap liquor.
Whereas if you saw a group of professionals drinking cocktails at an exclusive bar, you’d probably assume the opposite.
Keep in mind the place where you want to showcase your products. It may be more profitable for micro-influencers to promote your product, compared to a meme page with a huge following.
Experiment #4: The Ross False Consensus Effect
Rule 101 for any business is to listen to the market.
This gives you insights on what consumers want, how they behave, and how to improve your customer experience.
This might seem obvious to some. But many a time, our own opinions, beliefs and assumptions can get in the way of this vital rule. As the following study reflects…
In 1997, Professor Lee Ross had a group of participants read a book, in which a conflict occurred.
After reading, they were told that this conflict could be resolved in two ways. Either option A or option B.
Then they were given three tasks. The first was to guess which of the options most people would choose. The second was to state which option they would choose. And the third was to describe what type of person would choose option A or B.
The results showed that most people said that others would choose the same option as they had.
Moreover, these people went onto make extreme judgements on the personalities of those who didn’t choose their option.
As business owners, this is a clear example of how we can easily make decisions and assumptions based on our own personal experience.
But adopting this way of seeing things does nothing but sabotage your opportunity to make more sales.
As a solution, avoiding making business choices if it’s solely based on your personal opinion.
It’s smarter to study how consumers are behaving on a mass scale, then make effective marketing decisions based on the data you’ve collected.
Experiment #5: Memories control our choices
Good memory is essential for any human being.
And while its primary aim is to help us recall things from the past, it can also trick us into believing that certain events occur more often than they actually do.
In 1965, researchers gathered 152 participants and ran an experiment.
They asked participants the following question: “If you open up a book and choose a page at random, what is more likely to happen?”
- Scenario A: you’ll find more words with the letter K
- Scenario B: You’ll find more words where K is the third letter, rather than the first
Out of 152 participants, 105 predicted scenario A to occur. When in reality it was scenario B: you are far more likely to find words where K is the third letter, rather than the first.
Participants chose scenario A because it’s easier to remember words that start with the letter K.
This cognitive bias is referred to as availability heuristic, a mental shortcut most of us use every day.
You see, because recall is easier, our brains lead us to believe it happens more often than it does.
And this is something marketers take advantage of.
For example, there are video ads that start off by reminding people of a time where they experienced a type of problem. This triggers them to reminisce back to a time where they experienced the same thing.
And, in doing so, your mind creates the illusion that this problem occurs frequently. Which makes us more inclined to purchase the solution that is offered, since we see it necessary to put a stop to a “frequent” problem.
How can you implement this in your ecommerce business? Aggravate the paint points that your product solves.
If you sell a posture corrector, start your video ad (or copy ad) by visually speaking about the problems that occur from low back pain.
If you sell an LED dog leash, talk about the dangers of walking your dog with a regular leash at night.
The goal is to form an unpleasant experience within their mind that will drive them towards the solution—your product.
The Bottom Line
Every day we walk into stores, but seldom do we realise the psychological techniques that are silently running in the background.
If it’s your aim to maximise sales and conversion rates in your online store, applying these proven techniques are a great way to start.