The Psychology of Decisions: Part Two

Jeanette Helen Wilson

Published Mon 21 Mar by Jeanette Helen Wilson in Creating Better Content and Marketing More Effectively

In Part One, we looked at how using a subtle blend of psychology and simple, high-quality content can help to woo potential customers. In Part Two, we’re going to talk about how your website can enable the decision-making process, helping your potential customers on the smooth path to purchase...

‘Choice is the purest expression of free will -- the freedom to choose allows us to shape our lives exactly how we wish (provided we have the resources to do so)’ Leslie Ye, blog.hubspot.com.

In Part One of The Psychology of Decision-Making, we looked at how decisions are made in the human brain. We talked about heuristics, which are mental shortcuts that enable us to make quick, easy decisions. And we discussed the role of heuristics in the world of marketing, particularly online.

We showed you a selection of home pages and asked what words these triggered in you. For example, Harrods usually conjures up words such as ‘luxurious’ and ‘expensive.’

When we look at these home pages, we may think we are looking at them with unbiased eyes. That a choice to buy something from them will be pure free will. And in some ways we are. But in others, we are already, through a heady combination of mental shortcuts and years of exposure to advertising and logo familiarity, programmed to react to them in a certain way. 

Advertisers and marketers don’t know exactly what makes people buy one specific product over another, but the research that has progressed in the field of heuristics goes a long way in explaining the decisions we make.

William Glasser argued that all choices are made to satisfy five basic needs: survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun.

Bias and Choice: Pitch Your Products Perfectly

Anchoring Bias

We all love a bargain. Even if we’re well-off financially, it’s human instinct to make a saving, to be one step ahead. Saving money is one of the big motivators in the decision-making process. Anchoring a price is a great way to encourage customers to buy your products online. In a shop, an item keeps its original label showing the price it was before the sale. Replicate this online by showing the original price. See the example below from the Reiss website: 

Not only is the original price printed clearly in black, but it is scored through, and the new, sale price is highlighted in red. This reduces the amount of mental energy a potential customer has to use to make the decision to buy.

 Framing Effect Bias

The way that different choices are presented to us greatly affects the way we react to them. In a study, participants watched a traffic accident and were asked about how fast the cars were going when they contacted each other. Researchers then changed the verb “contacted” to “hit,” “bumped,” “collided,” and “smashed” for different groups of participants. As the intensity of the action verb grew, so did the participants’ speed estimates. They guessed that the cars were going 31, 34, 38, 39, and 41 miles per hour, respectively.

So the language we use on our websites is really important. Using sensory language to describe products in the absence of the customer being able to touch, smell or taste the product can have a positive effect on their likelihood of buying. People are more likely to choose a product if they can 'experience' it, even if only vicariously, through the power of the written word.

The words Lindt use on their website appeal to the senses: melts, tenderly, gently, caresses, senses: all of these words contribute to the overall sense of positivity and luxury.

Colours are also essential and we respond positively to great product photography. Most online clothes stores now show a 360° view of an item, and a zoom facility so that we can even see the weave of a fabric, almost as though we are touching it.

 Product photography that is poorly executed, grainy, pixellated and flat, will not give online customers the feeling that they are truly experiencing the product, and mistrust will creep in. People want to feel confident that if they buy a product online, what they receive through the post will be a true reflection of what they saw on the website.

Ingroup Bias

The herd instinct is very strong in us. As Glassner points out, the need to belong is one of our primary motivating factors in making decisions. Convincing your online visitors that others have bought a certain product, engaged your services or signed up to your newsletter is a great way of reducing the mental energy needed to make a decision.

Loss Aversion Bias

We don't want to miss out on things: time-limited offers. Sign up now, only 5 left! Avoid a loss rather than receiving a gain.

Many e-commerce websites now tell you how many items are left in stock. Whether we are aware of it or not, loss aversion is a strong motivator to buy. We feel if we don’t buy it now, we may miss out. Messages such as ‘Hurry While Stocks Last’, traditionally the slogan of High Street shops, have been modified, toned down and streamed for an online market; giving us a subtle nudge in the direction of ‘Get it now, avoid disappointment later.’ 

Cath Kidston’s sale section of the website gives a subtle reminder of how many handbags are left; so you can make a decision of whether or when to buy.

Too Many Choices = Buyer Remorse

Sheena Iyengar, author of The Art of Choosing, conducted an experiment in which participants were offered a box of chocolates with numerous choices. Another group of participants were offered a box of chocolates where there were fewer varieties and therefore less choices available. The study found that the former group rated the chocolates they consumed less favourably than the latter group, who had less choice to begin with. Buyer remorse, where a consumer starts to regret their purchase, is far more likely to occur when they were presented with more options in the perusal stage of the purchase.

It may seem counterintuitive to offer less choice, but fewer options, presented well, are generally preferred to a whole gamut of choices.

Create a Clear Path to Purchase

Remember that 'making decisions causes mental fatigue' (Leslie Ye, Hubspot). Make the decision-making process as easy as possible for your customers.

On the Urban Outfitters website, it’s easy to see exactly what you’re buying. There are six different views of the dress, the price clearly marked, a size guide and a strong call to action. All of these elements combined create a clear path for purchase.

 Categorise Your Products Clearly

Categorising your products clearly can reduce the mental fatigue on your customers. Doing the background work for them and presenting products in a way that they can clearly distinguish between them is a great way of encouraging them to make decisions.

Mouse House do this well, showing just two options that are both clearly labelled, without any jargon, enabling potential customers to make a decision quickly.

So, we have looked at why the human brain likes to make decisions quickly and efficiently, and how presenting your online products and services in a clear, orderly and simple way can turn potential customers into loyal customers.

We’ve looked at how you can present your website to reduce the mental strain of decision-making, shifting the work from your customers to the planning and design of your website. 

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