3 Ways to Use Consumer Psychology to Boost E-Commerce Sales

Hack the decision-making process to make buying feel easier, less risky and more rewarding.
Offering free shipping and free returns will help make your customers more confident to buy. (Photo: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock)

Countless books have been written on how people make decisions (and whether those decisions are rational). But you don’t need to read them, or have a Ph.D. in consumer psychology, to use certain key facts about the consumer decision-making process to your advantage.

Here are three psychological concepts that influence a purchase decision and how to leverage them to boost sales.

Risk perception

From a consumer’s perspective, buying something online can be risky, since they can’t see or touch the item before paying. Shelling out for shipping can add to the perception of risk, since shoppers don’t get that money back if they return the item.

Kenn Costales, owner of e-commerce marketing firm Monolith Growth Consulting, said helping the customer feel their buying decision is less risky will increase the likelihood of a purchase.

One way to do it is by providing free returns, he said. “This tactic is best used for products that traditionally require a pre-purchase trial,” such as clothing and makeup. Free returns keep the customer from feeling “stuck” if they don’t like the item once they see it in person.

Another way is offering free shipping. “Free shipping is such a base expectation for many users that a mere sight of it will boost conversions,” said Costales.

Related: How to Make Online Returns Hurt a Little Less

Inner locus of control

Many people like to believe they can influence outcomes with their behavior — that they have some control over what happens. In psychological terms, people who tend to think this way have an “inner locus of control” (versus an “external locus of


“Humans are wired to achieve goals, by working towards a goal and attaining it, we get a sense of fulfillment.” -Kenn Costales (Photo: Kenn Costales)

control”). E-commerce retailers can use this desire to feel powerful to their advantage.

“Humans are wired to achieve goals,” said Costales. “By working towards a goal and attaining it, we get a sense of fulfillment.” Retailers can set “goals” for consumers by using action-oriented copy to promote their products.

As an example, Costales shared a test performed by L’axelle, a personal care brand. For one of the products, underarm sweat pads, the company changed the landing page headline from “Feel fresh without sweat marks” to “Put an end to sweat marks!”

“As you can see, compared to the original version, there is a stronger implication around ‘taking action’ to reduce sweat marks. Why? That is because the stronger the sense of control a person has over the outcome, the more empowering the product feels for her.”

By changing to a more action-oriented headline and product description, L’Axelle increased the conversion rate on the product page by 93 percent.

Related: How to Optimize Your Paid Search Landing Page

Decision fatigue

“More choices mean reduced willpower,” said Costales.

“Decision fatigue and subsequently, decision avoidance, is an effect where if a user is presented with a large range of choices, she is unable to select an option and move forward. From an e-commerce standpoint, if a user is overwhelmed with lots of options with no way to organize it, she will easily bounce off.”

Most online retailers let customers filter results by criteria such as size, color or style. “Without these, it would be very hard for the user to find what she wants, which leads the user to not convert at all,” said Costales. But don’t overdo it, he warned. Too many filters can add to decision fatigue because you’re overloading the consumer with too many factors to consider.

“Think of a restaurant where you already had something in mind to order, yet the waiter/waitress keeps on giving suggestions that you didn’t want,” he said. “It is annoying. That is what your shop is effectively doing by adding too many filters.”

One way many online retailers are dealing with decision fatigue is by providing shoppers with a personalized experience on their website. A good example, Costales said, is Kate Hudson’s athletic fashion line Fabletics. Once a user is registered on the site, she is led through an onboarding sequence that helps curate product suggestions based on self-selected preferences.

Fabletics offers a personalized experience on their website to diminish customers’ decision fatigue. (Photo: GrowthHackerKit.com)

It’s common to have a visitor “bounce around” your site, browsing for something they may like, but because of decision fatigue, they’ll soon drop off, said Costales. “But if you filtered the page ahead of time, there’s less chance for decision fatigue, leading to higher conversions.”

Related: 10 Tricks For Boosting Sales in Your E-Commerce Store

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