Have you ever gone into a grocery store and ended up at the check-out with double or even triple the amount of items you had anticipated buying? Well, I have too, and believe it or not a lot of that is because of the physical presence of a product. Those elements jump out at you to make you feel as though you need them. As a quick example, you pick up a Gatorade because you’re “thirsty”. Let’s be honest though, would you really have gone out of your way to find, and buy that specific refreshing item if you hadn’t walked down the aisle that it was conveniently placed in? Probably not.

eCommerce platforms allow you to create the same effects without needing to create physical temptation. They can do this by tapping into our subconscious minds, and I know everyone reading has been a victim of one of these purchases.

The Most Common, Impulsively Bought Items

“The single most motivating factor for an impulse buy (88%) is a sale price” (MediaScopeInc.)

When browsing through an online site, there are promotions flashing on every page you land on. The most common way to grab a consumer’s attention is to throw a price cut at them. One site that does this extraordinarily well is… Amazon:

Amazon Dove Choc.


You can see from this example that Amazon offers you a deal you can’t refuse (notice the limited time you have to order it once you click on the item)! There is a 23% discount, free shipping, and a display of how many consumers have already taken advantage of this amazing deal. They also offer 3 different flavors and 3 different sizes which, which is a tactic to make you think that you are getting a steal but if you choose to purchase a larger size, the price jumps up so watch out! The best part about this promotion is something you didn’t even realize your brain was picking up… Take a look at the very top of the screenshot of Amazon, and BOOM! There is the conscious mind finally realizing what the subconscious mind knew 10 minutes ago.

For anyone that can’t recognize the advertisement in the heading (example above), it is an Amazon Prime Promotion. It’s called Amazon Dash and it reorders household items for you, so you don’t have to remember. Now without even recognizing it, you will question whether updating to Prime would be beneficial to you. After a few times visiting the site, studies predict that you will  likely end up joining Prime (even if you don’t end up using the Amazon Dash deal), all because you saw it subconsciously just weeks ago!

Another example of an online subconscious purchase is when you buy more items than anticipated just because it was “suggested” or “recommended” to you. Let’s look at the below example from L.L. Bean:

llbean boot


You are now looking at a screen shot from the L.L. Bean’s web page Women’s Bean Boots. If you just shift your eyes to the right of the screen you can see where the website’s platform is recommending products that pair up well with the boots; you see cotton socks, insoles, a men’s slipper, and a traditional flannel shirt. All of these items are inviting us to click and make a purchase based on L.L. Bean’s suggestion. I don’t know how many of you I can speak for, but I know I have fallen for the suggested items multiple times.

People Tend to Follow the Crowds

When the word gets out about a product it tends to spread. When a friend that is simillar to you recommends a product, you also want to try it yourself. Or, say you have a celebrity crush on someone famous. If they wear a certain brand, don’t you want that brand a little more? This also falls under a social marketing trend that we will touch on in a bit.

Social Proof

Philip Graves, the author of Consumer.ology, states that, “…despite what most of us would like to tell ourselves, at an unconscious level, we aren’t individual pioneers, we’re sheep.”

Word_of_MouthSocial proof has a huge impact on the subconscious mind. We don’t always know the quality of the product we are shopping for, unless we have previously viewed it in a store. If you haven’t, you will be evaluating the product differently. Perceived risks are higher when ambiguity is involved. The risk factor is minimal but it comes down to to the “what-ifs.” What if it isn’t what was described on the website and therefore have to send it back, costing us extra time and money. This is where social proof comes into play. If we want to buy a product because our Twitter feed continues to suggest it to us, or our Facebook pages keep raving about it, the first place we will go to before clicking on that “add to cart” button is the customer reviews. This way we can see if previous consumers were satisfied with the product or not.


Re-Targeting Persuasion Power

When you enter into the world of online marketing there are different ways to reach your target market. One of the most effective ways is presenting an attractive logo. This allows past consumers to recognize your brand, while also building credibility for future sales. A memorable logo used across all channels makes recall much easier. When someone sees that logo again they will associate it with your brand and store. This becomes extremely valuable when re-targeting.

Re-targeting is when companies use previous interest that did not result in a sale to reach out again. There are many reasons someone might abandon a cart, maybe they were strapped for cash then. Use retargeting to give them a little push in the right direction down the road.

“Oh those shoes were too expensive at the beginning of the week, but my paycheck just got deposited into my account so now I can get those shoes that I need!”

Another tactic marketers need to take into consideration are the internal details within their advertisements. I am talking about the colors, fonts, sizing, etc. in order to make impressions memorable. In an article that Meredith Barrett wrote on Brain-to-Brain Marketing she states, “Subconscious judgments are made within the first minute and a half, with up to 90% of the judgements based on color.” Having said this, do you think that you’ve chosen a product or service based on the color of the logo or background? I guess it’s hard to say, because most of us would say they don’t think that they are affected by this, but how would we actually know if it’s our subconscious mind that is tricking us into it?

The Decision Making Process of a Purchase

This is a long process that I want to break up into two simpler steps. I learned about this two step method in the article Consumer Decision Making in Online Shopping Environments. The first step, is the screening of accessible products to figure out which products are worth being considered. The second, is being able to compare the selected products (chosen in step-one) in order to decide which specific product is the one you actually want. To understand this better, I put it into a real life situation for you. Imagine you’re searching the world wide web, and you Google “Best Wireless Sport Headphones,” because you’ve just heard how amazing having a cordless workout can be!

Google supplies you with “the best” wireless sports headphones out there. The only problem, the overwhelming amount of options that you’re shown, given the broadness of your search.

wireless headphone

Now, these are just suggestions from our trusted Google search. However, consumers that don’t find a product appealing within the first couple of seconds will move on to a familiar websites that they feel more comfortable with. This could be Amazon, or a wholesaler like Best Buy. Notice in the image screen shot below, you are able to specify your search. Here the specifications you want to make are: the type of product that you’re looking for (Wireless Headphones), then pick wireless headphone category (Sports & Exercise), and finally choose an order preference (Price: high vs low, Customer Review, or Featured).

wireless headphone


You can clearly see the improvement between the first Wireless headphones image and the second image. Let’s focus on the second, when you’re online shopping you want it to be as easy as possible. More importantly you want your choice to be the right one by following the two-step process. Being able to narrow your search creates a feeling of trust in the site that your subconscious mind loves!

Trust creates comfort, and comfort leads to sales. But not every store is like Amazon. Sometimes all you need to create trust is other people’s opinions. Remember, we subconsciously follow the herd. If you can get a social influencers to endorse your product, that product becomes more attractive to the masses. These endorsements get shoppers to step outside their comfort zone.

This also works with reviews.  If there are hundreds of reviews on a less expensive product and the majority of the reviews are good, we as consumers will usually take the time to compare that product with the familiar-brand product which is much more expensive just because of its name.

Putting our trust in a stranger’s hands is something that we do daily as consumers. Whether that is trusting a random review, looking up consumer reports and past data, or over hearing a colleague raving about a product.

3 Quick Facts:

1. Nielsen’s survey tells us that US consumers only choose consciously about 50% of the things that end up in their cart. The rest of the items in there are the result of shopping subconsciously.  Beyondphilosophy.com

2. Total retail sales for the third quarter of 2015 were estimated at $1,185 billion, an increase of 1.2 percent from the second quarter of 2015, and a 15.1 percent increase from the prior year at the same time. Census.gov 

3. 90% of people make occasional impulsive purchases, men spend more money on impulse buys than women: men spend approximately $41 per impulse buy versus $31 for women.  mediascopeinc.wordpress.com

Suggestions to eCommerce Retailers To Influence The Subconscious Mind:

  • Leverage up sells, cross sells, and related products in the appropriate places like the product page or cart page.
  • Utilize promotions and perhaps even flash sales to influence consumers based on urgency.
  • Leverage re – marketing tools on social media and display ads to bring people back to your site.
  • Make sure reviews are prominent or invest in technologies like Yotpo to generate more reviews.
  • Incent reviews and sharing with tools like Sweet Tooth
  • Invest in high quality design, photography and visuals to influence consumers based on visual appeal.
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