Boost Sales by Reading Your Customers’ Body Language

A consumer psychologist explains how to build trust and grow revenue without uttering a word.
Studies show that mimicking the body language of customers can help you seal the deal. (Photo: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

There’s a proven way to increase sales that you and your sales staff almost certainly aren’t using. Consumer psychologist Bruce Sanders, author of “Sell Well: What Really Moves Your Shoppers,” said it builds trust and make shoppers more inclined to buy.

Here’s what you need to know about using body language to help seal the deal according to Sanders.

Related: 4 Ways to Get Customers to Instantly Like You

How much of an impact can body language make on a potential sale?

“Reflecting on and influencing your shoppers’ posture, gestures and movements can definitely increase revenues. In a study conducted at a store department, the percentage of shoppers who talked with a salesperson about MP3 players and then ended up purchasing one was about 60 percent. The researchers then trained some of the salespeople to subtly mimic their customers. When they repeated customers’ phrases and copied their body movements, 79 percent of shoppers ended up buying.”

What’s the psychology behind this phenomenon?

“There was something in that mimicking that was causing people to become more likely to buy. One reason is that people are flattered when others imitate them. If I’m using certain phrasing when I’m talking and you repeat it back to me, I’m flattered you heard what I said. Now you’re using my language and I recognize your movements. That makes me trust you more and I’m more likely to take your advice to buy a product.”

What are some ways to use body language to close a sale?


“Demonstrating a product to the shopper is a great opportunity to use body language.” -Bruce Sanders (Photo: Bruce Sanders)

“Demonstrating a product to the shopper is a great opportunity to use body language. Dance instructors have noticed their students do best when they reverse the direction of the movement, so dancers can see it as if they’re the ones performing it. If you’re demonstrating something, say you’re selling teacups or mugs, reverse the direction of the product if you’re facing the shopper. People are more likely to buy a mug when the handle of the mug is toward where they would pick it up.

“You should also create acts of closure at the end of purchase. If we can get the shopper to do something like close the bag or something that is a body movement that indicates closure, the rate of returns will go down significantly. If a salesperson does it, it also will work. Salespeople can fold the bag down partially and get the customer to close it the rest of the way. This brings down the chances of a return later on. “

Should shopkeepers think about body language as they design their stores?

“We can look to inborn tendencies in shoppers to create environments that boost sales. Having a shopper engage in a pulling movement, like opening a bin, actually increases their interest in candies and other sweets. Shoppers will buy more sweets when holding a shopping basket than pushing a cart. Pulling your arm toward yourself is a movement associated from birth with nursing or taking a bottle. From birth onward, we associate pulling our arm toward ourselves with acquiring pleasurable objects.

“Put pleasurable items in bins or on a high shelf. Don’t make it a nuisance or painful for consumers, but making customers put in a little bit of an effort to reach something works. If I can get customers to reach a little bit for it, the potential of a completed purchase goes up.”


Prompting customers to nod while examining a potential purchase leads to a higher chance of buying, according to a study from the University of Amsterdam. (Photo: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

Why does encouraging certain movements increase the chances of a sale?

“Learned associations are rooted within everybody. A few years ago, I went in to sign the authorization for a routine screening sigmoidoscopy. Unlike many permission slips I’ve read, this one was written in three narrow columns on the sheet. As I read from top to bottom to top through the columns, I realized I was slowly nodding my head. That reminded me of findings from a University of Amsterdam study. People who were induced to nod their heads up and down would think more positively about purchases they were considering. They became more inclined to purchase an item. You can facilitate the sale by asking the right questions and nodding your own head to generate feelings of yes.”

What is the biggest body language mistake salespeople make?

“The most common mistake I have seen in retail consultations is scorn. The shopkeeper or salesperson will hear the same questions again and again about items or transactions or delivery terms. To the salesperson, the question is starting to sound really old. So the salesperson looks like they’re bored with the question and the shopper feels they’re being looked down on.”

Any final advice?

“The advice I give to retailers is listen carefully. Listen not just to the words that shoppers use, listen to their tone of voice, watch their expressions and postures, and figure out how it all goes together.

All of this is a nudge, not a shove. If it’s more than subtle, if you try to shove the customer toward a purchase, there’s going to be a push back, they’ll feel they’re being manipulated. Remember in the first study that about 60 percent of people ended up buying an MP3 player anyway, without the body language techniques. A gentle nudge will give retailers an edge.”

Related: 4 Types of Customers (and How to Sell to Each of Them)

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