April 21, 2022
 min read

The psychology of shopping: Ideas for increasing e-commerce sales

Hannah Macready

Think about the last time you went shopping. What motivated you to make a purchase? Why did you buy one product instead of another? And, how long before you entered the store were you thinking about this purchase?

Understanding these questions yourself is an essential part of understanding your customer's behaviours. The psychology of shopping has always amazed marketers, but with the introduction of e-commerce, the landscape has changed.

Now, consumers are constantly faced with ads, opportunities, and behaviour modifying content that influences the ways they shop.

Marketers that harness these behavioural strategies stand to improve their online sales and forge stronger connections with consumers.

In this post, we'll explore the psychology of shopping and teach you how to apply it to your e-commerce site.

What is the psychology of shopping?

The psychology of shopping consists of the desires, motivations, and behaviours that influence how consumers shop.

These psychology-based strategies can be broken down into three major components:

  1. Motivation
  2. Ability
  3. Triggers

Motivation is what drives people into a purchasing mindset. It could be triggered by an event or feeling. There are two types of motivation: internal (or intrinsic) and external (extrinsic). Intrinsic motivators come from within the customer, such as shopping because it feels good or for enjoyment. Extrinsic motivators come from outside of the consumer and are often associated with rewards, like receiving a commission after making a sale.

Ability is how it relates to the consumer and their access to resources that may be required in order for them to make a purchase. Customers who have higher levels of ability will be able to afford the product or have time to shop around and compare prices.

Triggers set off an automatic response. They can either prompt someone into action or remind them of something they already wanted. Triggers can be environmental, such as seeing an advertisement on TV while watching the news. They can also be internal triggers like food cravings when one is hungry.

These principles can be applied in various ways when trying to convince shoppers to purchase on your site rather than someone else's. Marketers that can align these three elements, with the right product and in a user-friendly environment, will be more successful.

How to use the psychology of shopping in your e-commerce store

Now that you have an understanding of these basic psychological principles, it's time to learn how to use these to improve your sales.

Every e-commerce site has some type of goal: sell products, generate leads, increase brand awareness. Understanding these goals is critical to motivating your customers effectively.

When considering your customer's motivations, think about how they first interact with your brand and what opportunities you have atfor that moment to use the psychology of shopping.

For example, if most customers come in through your Instagram page, then you'll have to motivate them with a strong call-to-action in your bio, add an Instagram shop to improve their ability to check out and trigger them regularly with ads across the platform.

Another example is when customers are browsing through your website catalogue. If your site is difficult to navigate or if your shop is not easy to use, customers are likely to give up and leave your site, decreasing sales.

To fix this issue, motivate your visitors with a clear and direct web UX, create a seamless e-commerce checkout experience to improve their ability to purchase, and trigger them with strategic Google search ads before they ever hit your site.

Augmenting motivation through product suggestions

When shopping online, people often want to be shown something specific rather than browsing product by product. This is why online advertising is so effective as it presents motivation to consumers before they know it's happening.

Augmenting motivation can be as simple as adding a widget that suggests similar products that consumers have purchased in the past. It can also look like a related items section on a product page.

Determining what products to suggest is the key. Marketing psychology research has found that four main factors affect product selection:

  • how much the customer likes the specific item;
  • how useful it will be for them;
  • whether other people like it too (social proof);
  • value or price

Keeping these factors in mind, we can see product suggestions in a few ways. 

  1. Suggest products that are similar to products viewed or purchased before.
  2. Suggest products that other customers, who have viewed similar products, also purchased.
  3. Suggest similarly priced products.
  4. Suggest products on sale or discount.

Augmenting ability through pre-sale planning and preparation

If you want to augment ability before a sale happens, then you need to understand who your customers are, what their experience level is with your product or service, and how they will be interacting with it.

For example, someone who has never used a power drill before may have difficulty choosing the correct size bit for drilling pilot holes in drywall. Someone who has used one extensively probably won't have this problem. 

Similarly, if your target audience consists of stay-at-home moms, you know they have time to browse and shop around, so you can afford to take more time explaining the value proposition behind your products.

On the other hand, if your target audience consists of busy professionals who don't even own power drills, prospects may feel overwhelmed by having to research drill bits and different models before they come out. To augment the ability of this market, you should provide them with a way to directly compare different bits, eliminating the need for research.

Here are a few ways to augment ability in the pre-sale process:

  • Identify what information your customer needs before purchasing an item. Then make sure that all of this information is easily available through various touchpoints (e.g., product page, search results). Make it simple for them by using common symbols or numbers to indicate things like price or sale.
  • Include a variety of images to illustrate what the product looks like from different angles. This builds trust by giving customers a better idea of what they are buying.
  • Provide details about how to use the product. For example, if you are selling furniture, show people using it in their home or office space and walk them through each step of the process (e.g., assembly). 

Augmenting triggers through the psychology of scarcity

Scarcity is one of the most powerful triggers that we have. When people feel like something is rare, they tend to want it more and are willing to spend a higher price for it (e.g., once-in-a-lifetime experiences). This psychology tactic is often called FOMO, or the fear of missing out.

Using the psychology of scarcity as part of your marketing strategy can be an effective way to drive online sales. For example, if you have limited stocks, or offer products on a first come first serve basis, you should mention this somewhere on the product page.

Or, if your store sells shoes and only offers a few of each size for purchase, then highlighting how people will need to move quickly to buy them would convince more people into buying. 

This tactic can also apply to e-commerce marketing campaigns. If you have an email blast set up for when new stock arrives, then mentioning how stocks will be limited or moving quickly would create a sense of scarcity and encourage people to buy.

Factoring in perceived risk

One of the biggest reasons why people fail to buy products online is due to concerns over the reliability, safety, and feasibility of the order. This fear can lead to a lack of trust in e-commerce sites, which ultimately results in abandoned carts and missed sales opportunities.

To mitigate this risk, ensure that your e-commerce site has a strong security system in place, such as an SSL certificate. You should also provide clear information about shipping time and return policy to make the customer feel more comfortable with their purchase.

Other tactics for showing clear trust signals include a solid returns policy, security logos, and customer testimonials. Sharing user-generated content on your social channels can also help develop trust and encourage users to shop with you.

Improve e-commerce sales with psychology

Psychology is an important part of any business, but it becomes even more crucial when running a digital store where the screen and user interface are so different than in traditional brick-and-mortar stores.

When you're thinking about how best to use psychology in e-commerce, think about what your customers want and how you can make their experiences easier on your site. Put yourself in their shoes and create systems that work for them, not against them.

If you're ready to get your e-commerce business off the ground, contact us! We've built dozens of high-performing e-commerce websites using the tactics described above. Plus, we offer digital marketing services across a range of verticals, so your products will be visible across the internet.

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