When running an ecommerce store, it’s easy to forget that visitor #3456 is a real, live person. A person subject to cognitive biases, new points of view, psychological theories, and more.
Having a basic understanding of the principles of influence can put you ahead of the competition. You’ll have more insight into why visitors abandon their carts, why they buy, and what makes them spend money.
More importantly, you’ll have insight into how you can turn theory into practice, and science into cold, hard cash.
These 14 persuasion techniques work to give you an unfair advantage in the most important battlefield of all: the human brain.
14 powerful persuasion techniques
Reciprocity is a social norm that states that if I give you something, you’ll feel obligated to return the favor. Essentially, this allows me to ask for something in return rather than wait for a voluntary act from you.
Here’s where it gets really interesting. The two values don’t necessarily need to be equal. For example, if you hold the door for me, I’m more likely to say yes to buying you a coffee.
Ways to apply this persuasion tactic to your store:
- Offer a tripwire—an irresistible and low price product designed not to make money, but to change the relationship from casual visitor to actual buyer.
- Offer a free gift or discount, including free shipping, a welcome discount for first-time buyers, product samples, an unexpected free gift to go along with an ordered product, etc.
- Send appreciation cards and notes to existing customers.
Consistency states that once you commit to something, especially in writing, you are more likely to follow through or maintain the stance. People like when their thoughts and actions are aligned.
Once you get someone to make a commitment, they begin to engage in self-persuasion. That is, they begin to justify related actions to themselves and others.
Chubbies plays on consistency in an interesting way:
By listing its beliefs, it’s actively calling for people who share similar beliefs. If these beliefs resonate with a visitor, they’re more likely to buy because that would align what they think and what they do.
Other ways to apply it to your store:
- Push visitors to opt-in to your email list or download a relevant free resource. Once subscribers make the small commitment, they’re more likely to make a bigger commitment.
- Encourage social sharing at every stage. The more public the commitment, the better.
3. Social proof
Humans are naturally social (yes, even before social media came along). As a result, we’re heavily influenced by those around us, especially if we hold them in high regard. Social proof states that you base your actions and beliefs on those around you.
You’re most likely to follow the lead of someone who is similar to you or in situations where you’re very uncertain. Often, there’s comfort in just doing what everyone else is doing.
Ratings, reviews, share counts, testimonials … social proof is all around you.
Here’s an example from Partake Foods:
Other ways to apply it to your store:
- Have an influencer or expert endorse or provide a testimonial for your product.
- Show the number of people who have purchased recently or how many people are currently viewing the product.
- Add trust icons, like media logos and mentions.
Likeness simply states that you tend to say yes to people you like. That comes down to two factors:
- Physical attraction: Case studies have shown time and time again that people who are physically attractive are more persuasive.
- Similarity: You are more likely to be persuaded by someone you deem similar to yourself.
This translates quite easily to store design and voice of customer ecommerce copywriting. For example, which of these sites would you rather buy from?
I’m willing to bet it’s the bottom one, with the cleaner, more attractive design.
Other ways to apply it to your store:
- Come across as a friend, not a big corporation. The more human and similar your brand seems, the better.
- Support the same causes as your customers. Some stores do this by donating a portion of profit to a relevant charity.
Authority states that you have a tendency to believe that if any expert or person of authority says something, it must be true.
There is a very famous study, the Milgram experiment, attached to this persuasive technique. It was conducted in 1961. Basically, two participants (a teacher and a learner) were placed in two different rooms. The learner was hooked up to an electric shock machine, which the teacher controlled.
A supervisor, wearing a lab coat, was also present. He told the teacher to ask the learner questions and shock him when he answered incorrectly. After every incorrect answer, the voltage increased (up to 450 volts).
The catch? The learner was an actor, making fake pain noises after each shock. The study explored how much pain the participants were willing to inflict on a completely innocent person if instructed by a person of authority.
How to apply it to your store:
- Build authority by highlighting qualifications (job title, product awards, etc.).
- Avoid cliché, vague awards and claims (e.g. “World’s best doughnuts!”).
- When in doubt, borrow authority from someone else via an endorsement, a product review, etc.
Scarcity states that when something has limited availability, you assign more value to it.
During an opening monologue of The Tonight Show in 1973, host Johnny Carson made a joke about an upcoming toilet paper shortage. People rushed out to buy it, helping to create an actual nationwide consumer toilet paper shortage.
Scarcity, too, is all around us in ecommerce. Anyone who has shopped on Amazon will recognize this:
The closer that number gets to 0, the more persuasive.
When people believe something is in short supply, they perceive it to be more valuable and are more likely to purchase it. People want to avoid the regret of not being able to obtain the item in the future.
According to Robert Cialdini, an American psychologist, limited availability persuasion works by creating a sense of urgency that makes people value the item more and feel the need to purchase it before it runs out. This technique is most effective when the item is something that people truly desire and when there is a limited supply.
Other ways to use scarcity in your store:
- Promote limited-time offers. A countdown to when the discount or deal ends can spur purchases.
- In the cart, show how much the visitor saved with a call to action to check out before the savings expire.
- Offer free express shipping or something similar to those who purchase before a certain time of day.
7. Price anchoring
Price anchoring states that the first price presented plays a big role in the decision-making process.
For example, the price is regularly $129.99, which is noted first. But it’s currently on sale for just $59.99. That first price, $129.99, serves as an anchor, making the discounted price seem like a total steal.
Here’s how Greats does it:
The first, higher price sets the stage and becomes the anchor that makes the second price so much more appealing.
Let’s say Greats didn’t use price anchoring. $89.10 might seem like too much to spend. But the $99 original price clearly indicates that it isn’t. You might actually find price anchoring limits comparison shopping as well.
Familiarity states that you prefer the things and people you are familiar with. Yes, seriously. Studies have even found you’re more likely to fall in love with someone the more often you see them. Your happiness is actually correlated with how many things you’re familiar with.
This fondness for familiarity is why you’ll often find the cart in the top right-hand corner of a store. Or why you’re so attached to the neighborhood you live in. Or why you tend to order the same one or two meals at your favorite restaurant.
Familiarity comes down to three factors:
- Cognitive Fluency: How easy is it to think about something?
- Prototypicality: How similar is it to others in the same category or industry?
- Habit: How well does it match previous, similar experiences?
This is why knowing your audience is so important. Being familiar with the experiences and language they’re expecting can be incredibly useful for increasing conversions.
Ways to apply familiarity to your store:
- Use a simple design that’s low complexity and low on clutter. Don’t rage too hard against the machine. Stick with a prototypical design that works as expected for the ecommerce industry.
- Use words and phrases your visitors will find familiar and scannable. Speak as they would speak, if you will.
- Take a cue from the types of calls to action your direct and indirect competitors are using. How do they match up? You don’t want to copy them, but you want to make sure you’re meeting expectations.
9. Attentional bias
Attentional bias states that you pay more attention to emotionally stimulating factors and downplay other factors. The more intense and touching something is, the more attention you pay to it. Makes sense, right? That’s why fear and sex tend to be so persuasive.
So, when WWF is trying to raise money to save and support animals, they tug on the heartstrings a bit with emotion-evoking visuals:
A happy, thriving baby polar bear who could keep cool all thanks to you? That’s a pretty positive emotion. It’s no surprise this type of messaging is conveyed over and over again through copy and images.
Some ways to apply it to your store:
- Conduct some qualitative research to determine what emotional state people arrive in. Do they come to you stressed, desperately seeking a solution? This will help you determine whether you should take advantage of the natural emotional state or try to change it.
- Font, color, and images all have emotional values. Be purposeful when choosing them.
- Writing copy that tells a story can help you make an emotional appeal.
10. Loss aversion
Loss aversion states that you strongly prefer to avoid losses than to acquire gains. According to Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist, we typically fear loss twice as much as we enjoy success.
So, to put that into perspective, your visitors fear not liking your product twice as much as they think they’ll enjoy the benefits of having your product.
Perhaps that’s why some stores so prominently display their money-back guarantee. Like Muse:
It’s worth noting that there are some exceptions. Kahneman has found that people decide differently, depending on whether the decision is framed as a loss or a gain. So:
- If you want someone to make a risk-averse choice, focus on what they will gain by making the choice you want them to.
- If you want someone to make a risk-seeking choice, focus on what they will lose by not making the choice you want them to.
Other ways to apply it to your store:
- Use your images and other visuals to show the loss scenario instead of the gain scenario.
- Choose the wording of your offers carefully. “Don’t miss out on our summer sale: 10% off all t-shirts.” might work better than “Take 10% off t-shirts.”
11. IKEA effect
The IKEA effect states that the more effort we invest into something, the more we value it. Anyone who has spent three hours putting together an IKEA dresser knows how this feels.
Product customization is a great way to trigger this effect. The more effort your visitors put into customization, the more they value the product. You might find this reduces cart abandonment and increases conversions.
12. Paradox of choice
If you’re offered one option, the choice is clear: do or do not buy. When you’re offered two options, your brain focuses on choosing between the two. Suddenly, the idea of not buying anything at all is muted.
In that case, offering more than one option can help make a sale.
However, if you offer too many options, analysis paralysis comes into play. With so many options, you can’t decide and end up choosing nothing at all.
This is known as the paradox of choice. The key, of course, is finding the right balance of options.
It’s why IKEA puts two calls to action on its landing pages: Add to Bag and a heart emoji to add the product to your wish list.
13. Foot in the door
The foot-n-the-door persuasion method is a form of door-in-the-face technique. It involves making a small request to the target individual, and if they comply, following up with a larger request. The idea is that the person will be more likely to comply with the larger request if they have already agreed to the smaller request.
14. Go big, then go small
This is a favorite persuasion technique for salespeople. It begins by making a large request, which the other person is likely to say no to.
However, they are more likely to say yes to a smaller request that comes after the initial large request. This is because the person feels guilty for saying no to the first request and wants to make up for it by saying yes to the second request.
Create your persuasion strategy today
The truth is that social psychology and persuasive techniques don’t always translate well to the online marketplace. You can’t read someone’s body language or make eye contact with them over the internet.
However, the many emotional persuasion techniques above have certainly proven that they have a place in ecommerce. At the very least, they’re worth experimenting with if you’re a small business owner or digital marketer.