Each day, we make hundreds – sometimes thousands – of decisions, without even realizing it.
People are surrounded by persuasive messages all day long, from verbal suggestions by co-workers, to signs and flyers in the street, to more blatant advertisements on TV, radio, the Internet and in other media.
Most of these messages are fairly low-stakes; we see and hear them as we go about our business. We’re able to ignore them, or may be biased in a small way, but probably won’t be inspired to take action that very minute.
When a person visits your ecommerce store, however, they’ve already demonstrated a very important characteristic just by being there: they have some kind of commercial intent.
Are your offers and messages taking advantage of that and persuading visitors to become buyers?
Let’s have a look at the science behind persuasion and its impact on your ecommerce conversion rates.
Six Ways Shoppers are Influenced & Persuaded
Dr. Robert B. Cialdini described six ways in which consumers are persuaded to make purchasing decisions, in his popular 1984 book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.
According to Dr. Cialdini, these six subtle psychological pressures can influence customers in the moments that matter, inspiring them to say yes to whatever it is that’s being asked of them:
- Social validation
Yes, we’ve talked about these before, but they’re so important that it’s worth examining them again to see how they can apply to your ecommerce environment.
1. Using Reciprocity to Drive More Small Conversions
This principle requires that you give something back in exchange for whatever it is you’ve received. One example of this is a free gift with a purchase, though it also applies to concessions people make to one another.
If you visit a small town ice cream shop, you’ll probably be offered a small sample of the different flavors of ice cream you’re considering. Accepting this small token makes a persuasive argument for you to go ahead and buy, because you feel like you should return the favor! You’re highly unlikely after accepting the sample to leave without buying an ice cream.
Ecommerce stores obviously can’t reach out and let you try their products in the moment of consideration.
What’s an online retailer to do?
Consider the size of your ask and what you can offer in return, or what concession you can make, to that customer for making such a big commitment to your brand. Often, consumers are more likely to accept a series of small requests than one large one.
Take retail Goliath Amazon, for example. They have some seriously big ticket items available for purchase online. Yet if you’ve ever bought new furniture for your house, you probably wanted to try it out first – to sit on the couch you’re considering, or feel the grain of the wooden bed frame.
How do you overcome that desire (which becomes an objection to buying online) and persuade the customer to convert? By offering something of value to the customer before you ask them to buy.
In Amazon’s case, this often means making a concession like offering free shipping, as in this example:
Reciprocity and Microconversions
Amazon Prime is another great example of reciprocity in ecommerce. In addition to Free two day shipping, they offer customers a number of “gifts” like early access to sales, free photo storage, and tons of movies and television shows on demand, simply for joining Prime for $99. All things considered, the price tag is a relatively small ask.
Once a customer enrolls in the program, Amazon can continue marketing to them and step it up with personalized offers based on that customer’s preferences.
The reciprocity is ongoing with the free two day shipping.
As Amazon continues to ask for more – convert and join Prime, convert and make a small purchase, convert and make a larger purchase – they continue to offer something of value. Since the customer has already said yes to the smaller offers, they feel invested and are more comfortable saying yes to the bigger ones.
Reciprocity isn’t only a sales tool; it can help you build your social audience, as well.
Offer a small discount or a free gift on checkout, then ask on the Thank You page that the customer follow your brand on Facebook. You’ve just given them something and they’re more likely to complete that action. You could also take this opportunity to ask for a review or social shares, which takes us right into the next principle that can help you persuade and convert.
2. Social Proof Made More Powerful with Personalization
Social proof is the psychological phenomenon whereby your online store visitors are influenced by the actions of others and are more likely to take the same action. It can be massively influential in an ecommerce environment and you have plenty of tools at your disposal!
One popular way to demonstrate social proof is to integrate your store with Facebook. Showing visitors which products other people bought most often or Like the most can be incredibly persuasive.
Check out all of the social proof in this Booking.com hotel listing:
The little heart icon tells visitors that 4857 people have added this property to their Wish List. almost 4,500 people have left review. Forty-seven people are looking at the property right now and someone just booked 2 minutes ago! All of this social proof is highly persuasive to the buyer, who wants reassurance that they’re making a good choice.
Personalizing social proof kicks it up even further. Try letting visitors log in on your website using their Facebook credentials, so they can see reviews and products purchased by their friends. Check out Facebook integration apps in the Shopify’s Resources App Store.
3. Ensuring Commitment and Consistency
People are more likely to take action on things they’ve already thought over or discussed with others. This is thanks, in part, to our desire to be consistent and stay committed to our ideas.
In an ecommerce environment, we want customers to stay committed to the idea of purchasing this product in front of them. We don’t want them to question or overthink it too much, or they’ll start objecting.
One great way to combat this is to use rhetorical questions as a way of driving commitment. In a 2006 Journal of Language and Social Psychology article, social scientists point out that “rhetorical questions can increase persuasion and message processing, creating a relatively strong, resistant attitude.”
Rhetorical questions don’t require an answer; the answer is either obvious, or doesn’t exist. They’re used to make a point, not elicit a response. Some ecommerce examples could include:
- “If you could save 15 minutes a day, would you?”
- “What if you never had to sharpen a kitchen knife again?”
- “How would your family enjoy a week at the beach?”
You can even A/B test these different persuasive questions and see which are most effective ones by targeting first time visitors with a slide-out message or with an overlay.
4. Being Likable
We’re more likely to be influenced by people we like, but what is likability in ecommerce?
Being communicative, responding promptly and politely to inquiries and focusing on great user experience can all help. I’m more apt to like your brand if you make my shopping experience simple, intuitive or even fun.
Humanizing Your ecommerce Brand
Another way your business can be likable is to take care to humanize your brand in your communications and marketing material.
Generic business material is boring. Spice it up and give customers someone to actually like by sending messages out from your personnel, instead, like this:
Our internal data at Commerce Sciences shows that quality assurance and satisfaction messages are great applications of this personalized messaging tactic. However, it’s less effective with company policy messaging. People tend to see policies and restrictions (eg.: a 30-day return policy) as arbitrary rules; it’s easier to relate to a policy that was defined by an organization than a specific person.
Other promises are more effective coming from an individual. Testimonials on your ecommerce site are a great example of this – they’re far more compelling, with the name and picture of the author, than brand messaging saying the same. In fact, customer testimonials are the most effective form of content marketing (AdWeek SocialTimes).
5. Building Your Ecommerce Brand’s Authority
There are two distinct but equally important types of authority online: your authority with your audience and customers, and the authority your ecommerce site demonstrates to search engines.
Industry & Topic Authority
As an authority in your industry, your brand is a go-to source for accurate information, expert advice and in-depth insight. Within your brand, you may also have one or several public-facing people building their professional authority, which furthers your brand image and authority as a whole.
Image source: Twitter
Airbnb CMO Jonathan Mildenhall is a great example of the power of building authorities within your brand. Formerly the VP of Global Advertising Strategy and Creative Excellence at Coca-Cola, Mildenhall is a keynote speaker on the international stage and has graced the cover of AdAge. He helped Coca-Cola win 20 Cannes Lions in a single year (2013) and has amassed an impressive audience on Twitter and Tumblr.
Encouraging and empowering employees to speak at industry events, write for relevant publications, and use social networking ensures a steady flow of positive brand content that reflects well on the entire company. It shows the world your brand is passionate and involved in your industry.
Your ecommerce site’s authority is a different animal, though many of the same tactics are effective for brand authority building. Google and other search engines consider hundreds of factors in their ranking algorithms, including the perceived authority of the site.
How can you demonstrate authority?
While we don’t know exactly what it is search engines are considering (it would make it too easy to game the system), we can safely assume there are several authority signals in play. The best known and most talked (and speculated) about authority signal, of course, is the volume and quality of backlinks to your site.
Links tell search engines that other sites found your website and content reputable, relevant and informative enough to send traffic from their site to yours. Be cautious of SEO strategists who promise to build links for you; search engines crack down hard on links that appear reciprocal or otherwise spammy. Links should be earned through the publication of great content that compels people to naturally recommend your site to their audience.
Blogging is a fantastic way to build both topic and web authority, yet it’s a strategy underused by ecommerce brands, as demonstrated in Tommy Walker’s recent post The Curious Case of the Underwhelming Ecommerce Blog. Blogging brings huge traffic opportunities, keeps user on site longer and helps nurture and convert leads; if you commit to blogging and do it right, the payoff can be huge.
You’ll find some great blogging and linking tips in this Shopify SEO Strategy post.
6. Creating Scarcity
The fear of missing out (FOMO) is a powerful motivator. Customers can be compelled to take action immediately when offered free shipping for a limited time only, time-sensitive discounts, the last of a remaining product, etc.
Smart ecommerce marketers use a variety of tactics to create scarcity, such as showing a limited number of items left as in the example from Francesca’s, above. You can also show scarcity by size, by showing the unavailable sizes crossed out or in a different colored font. Or, use a tactic employed by many travel booking sites and display the number of current page viewers as buyers competing against one another.
Urgency and Timing
In the example above, Bath & Body Works really taps into the FOMO with limited time offers. You can also use coupons with a time limit, even going so far as a to include a countdown to expiry. Flash sales are another popular tactic for creating scarcity via urgency. If you don’t buy now, you’re going to pay more/miss out/not be happy. It’s super effective for converting buyers who are on the fence.
Persuasion isn’t the result of a single optimized message, or even an offer that matches your visitor’s intent. For ecommerce retailers, it means appealing on an emotional level to your customer using each of the tools and technologies at your disposal.
It means persuading each customer to take the next small step… and the next… and the next, until they ultimately convert and complete your desired action. And if you get your customer all the way to the cart but don’t seal the deal? Check out these 13 amazing abandoned cart emails for persuasive recovery messaging.