Any good salesman understands people – how they think, what they like, what turns them off, and most importantly, what allows them to seal the deal. After all, a substantial part of making a sale is appealing to human psychology.

When most people think of ‘sales’, they picture someone walking door-to-door, cold calling over the phone, or a traditional retail setting. However, the sales process is no different when you’re trying to sell something online via an e-commerce website. Even though there is no face-to-face interaction, the basic principles of psychology can be applied. The first step is to understand who your target audience is and how you can build relationships to appeal to their thinking process. Then, you must remove the blocks that prevent customers from taking those final steps to purchase the product.

Science has shown us that we don’t just make decisions based on logic, although sometimes we wish we did. There is a plethora of confounding variables that play a role in our choice to make a purchase, from emotional manipulation to timing and design. Today, we want to talk about how you can play on these psychological variables to maximize the success of your e-commerce site.

Let’s dive right in.


Balance the Buyer’s Journey with Visual Hierarchy

Whether you have noticed or not, humans have innate scanning patterns they rely on when they first start browsing a website. For most types of e-commerce sites, this pattern resembles a Z-shape that starts at the top left corner and zig-zags down to the bottom right corner.


It’s the natural way most people look at e-commerce websites, which is why successful stores like Amazon and eBay rely on it.



As you design your e-commerce store, try to place the most important elements in line with this aesthetically pleasing Z-shape. Keep basic information, like the name of the store and the viewer’s shopping cart at the top. Users will intuitively look for those links in that area. Place discounts, temporary sales, popular products, or categories in the middle and shuffle the other important information to the last line of the Z.

Make it a point to align the general buyer’s journey of your website in accordance with this phenomenon and prioritize site elements in a hierarchy. The most important stuff starts at the top of the “Z” and progresses down the hierarchy towards the bottom. Not only will this layout get your viewers to look where you want them to, but it will also make their shopping process easier since they’ll instinctively know where to find things.

Don’t Go Overboard With Triggers

There are many psychological triggers and ploys people recommend when building an e-commerce site. These commonly include:

  • Social proof (reviews and testimonials)
  • Fear
  • Altruism
  • Reciprocity
  • Scarcity
  • Authority

If used correctly, these triggers can have amazing effects on your e-commerce conversions. However, trying to use too many can potentially backfire.  Keep in mind, consumers today have generally wised up to the common online sales tactics and can sense desperation from a mile away.

Having said that, using a few triggers here and there can prove beneficial for your brand. There are some, like the concept of social proof, that top the list in terms of effectiveness. If you haven’t heard of this technique (coined by Robert Cialdini in the 1980s), it’s essentially the concept that people copy the actions of others. If other people are all buying a product, the next shopper is more likely to, as well. Social proof has been the undisputed champ of the psychological triggers for a while, and should not be overlooked when deciding on a few triggers to include on your e-commerce site.

The expectations of social proof, like customer reviews, have matured. People want to see unbiased reviews that tell the whole picture – both on niche review sites and on e-commerce sites themselves. This involves the pros, cons, advice to the company, etc.



Make sure you are encouraging reviews to reflect accurate information – there’s no bigger turn off than reviews that are clearly fake. Contrarily, there’s no better advertisement than honest reviews that are heartfelt and positive.

The big thing is to avoid overloading customers with psychological manipulation. A dash of subtlety goes a long way when it comes to making the sale.


Eliminate As Much “Friction” As You Can, Then Eliminate Some More

According to the Baymard Institute, roughly 68 percent of users abandon their carts after putting items in them. The question is, what happens between their initial interest in the products and their decision to leave without buying? What steers them away or changes their minds?

The term “friction” refers to any extra steps in the process of navigating your website. Each step provides an opportunity for a potential customer to reconsider their decision to purchase. Therefore, the more “friction” a consumer encounters, the less likely they are to hit that “confirm order” button.

Friction comes in many different forms. For instance, a slow-loading page can send frustrated people away very quickly. It’s been estimated that for every second a website page fails to load, you can expect a 7 percent decrease in conversion. Users might also be driven away by pop-up ads, pages that are difficult to navigate, or poor graphics.

One of the most impactful elements of friction found on e-commerce sites is a poor check out system. Users need to be able to find their carts easily and check out in a completely secure, straightforward manner. The site should also be transparent about shipping, taxes, return policies, and other fees from the get-go.


Roughly 55 percent of consumers abandon their carts because these extra costs ended up being too high, according to another Baymard Institute Study.

That said, all conversion funnels, checkout processes, forms, etc. need to be simplistic and not complicate the UX in any way. You want it to be incredibly easy for consumers to go from point A (adding an item to their cart) to point B (completing the purchase).


To Sum It All Up

All humans have psychological tendencies that can help predict whether they will or will not complete a purchase. Although we can’t always make an accurate prediction, there are things we can do to facilitate a better buying experience from a mental and emotional standpoint. The more an e-commerce site taps into visual scanning patterns, worthwhile psychological triggers, and a clear purchasing process, the higher its conversion rate will be.

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