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6 marketing psychology strategies to boost e-commerce sales

Anyone who sells high-demand or hot products for a living, whether online or offline, should know these six ways to use marketing psychology to boost sales.

As the owner of an online store, you have to overcome a series of obstacles. First, you need to create your brand and launch a user-friendly website. Next, you need to generate traffic to this site. And after all that work, you still need to convince visitors to make a purchase on your website through effective product pages, copywriting and photography.

It can be difficult to get people to say yes to what you’re asking them to do. Anyone who sells high-demand or hot products for a living, whether online or offline, should know these six ways to use marketing psychology to boost sales.

What is marketing psychology?

Marketing psychology is the study of human consumer behavior and how buyers respond to marketing and advertising, engage with brands and ultimately decide how to spend their money. The psychological aspect examines why people behave as they do and make the decisions they do. We look at what influences buying decisions, and how brands and marketers can create campaigns to address these behaviors.

Six ways to influence customers with marketing psychology

If you read books on sales or marketing, you may be familiar with Robert Cialdini’s Influence. This book defines and explores the key areas of psychological persuasion techniques that brands need to focus on. We have adapted these ideas and added others to the following list.

Let’s take a look at how you can use marketing psychology to integrate psychological triggers into your online store.

1. Reciprocity

The principle of reciprocity in marketing psychology means that when someone gives us something, we feel obliged to give them something in return. Have you ever gone to Costco and ended up buying sausages without planning to because you felt compelled to buy after trying a free sample? It was the principle of reciprocity in action.

Of course, online retailers can’t personally visit the home of every person who interacts with them to slip a sample into their hand. So how do you make reciprocity work for you?

Free gift with purchase

You may not be able to offer something in advance, but you can certainly offer something on the side. This tactic is very popular with cosmetics and beauty product manufacturers. Your gifts can also include product samples. Wellness brand Anima Mundi Apothecary encourages conversions and increased basket value by offering free samples when shoppers reach a certain amount.

Even if you don’t announce the gift in advance, slipping samples of other products into your shipped product is a marketing psychology technique that can encourage repeat purchases.

Content donation

Content marketing is an effective way for online retailers to bring value to potential buyers as they progress through their customer journey. For example, underwear brand Boody exploits this principle as part of its marketing efforts by publishing a fun blog post explaining the differences between briefs and bikinis, two products the brand sells itself.

COOLA, which sells sunscreens and other sun-related skincare products, harnesses the psychology of buying by helping potential customers determine the right SPF and product for them through an interactive quiz. It also provides the brand with useful information about its audience.

Whether it’s a guide to making the perfect dressing or an exclusive interview with an author, use content as an ethical bribe that makes people feel grateful to your company.

Surprise and delight

As well as advertising free gifts, pre-purchasing is a great way to encourage first purchases and capitalize on the psychology of shopping. By adopting an approach based on surprise and delight, you don’t tell customers in advance what they’ll receive for free. Instead, when they receive their order, they’ll discover that you’ve given them a gift.

Not only does this build customer loyalty and encourage word-of-mouth, it also introduces them to new products they might not otherwise have discovered.

2. Social proof

Social proof is more important than ever: people are more interested in customer reviews than ever before the pandemic. Brands with a rating of less than 4 out of 5 stars are at a serious disadvantage, because consumers don’t trust them.

Social proof is linked to the principle of appreciation. Because we’re social creatures, we tend to have a cognitive bias for things other people already like, whether we know them or not. Anything that shows the popularity of your site and your products can be a psychological trigger.

Gluten-free vegan snack brand Partake Foods is a merchant that frequently uses customer reviews on its website.

Using social media for social proof

The psychology of social proof can also manifest itself outside your website, on social media for example. Influencer marketing has become commonplace in e-commerce. These online comments about your brand and products can generate interest and, consequently, sales.

One way to use social proof on social media is to partner with an influencer, creator or celebrity. That’s exactly what HELM Boots does. By featuring Liz Lambert in a pair of her boots, the brand gave her a glow of desirability.

Show what others are interested in

Have you ever mentally saluted the taste of someone wearing the same shoes or shirt as you? You probably felt a quick connection with this person on the basis of this common ground alone.

Stores can exploit this idea by presenting products that are similar to those the person is browsing. Amazon is famous for this approach. He has two ways of introducing other popular products to buyers.

It displays other products that customers have searched for and purchased during the buying process.

You can take a similar approach in your own online store with an application like Also Bought or Frequently Bought Together.

3. Rarity

Scarcity marketing is when people are motivated by the possibility of missing an opportunity. It’s the principle of the eternal teenager: if someone tells you you can’t have him, you’re likely to want him even more.

But advertising scarcity is only half the battle. You need to give your audience enough information to seize the opportunity. A simple message like “There are only 10 left!”, with no obvious path to buy the product, would do your message a disservice and cause unnecessary frustration.

Ending sales

You can organize temporary sales with discounts on certain items to encourage purchases. Make sure buyers know that the offer won’t last forever, so they feel compelled to buy while they still can.

Announcements of impending stock shortages

Items about to be withdrawn from the shelves have an element of rarity. If a product is the subject of a sample sale or a production stoppage, it can be useful to highlight this so that interested customers don’t miss out.

Display a counter or number somewhere to show exactly how many items are left. Specify whether the product will be restocked or not. If this is the case, give buyers the option of signing up to receive a restocking notification if they miss their chance.

Seasonal or limited products

Every March, when my friend receives her green Shamrock Shake from McDonald’s, she has a field day on social media. She wouldn’t be so enthusiastic if she could walk in and get it at any time – the knowledge that the offer is limited motivates her and creates a thrill around the exclusivity.

That’s exactly how I feel about my pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks, and Starbucks knows that other customers feel the same way.

But you don’t need to be as well-known as these companies to exploit this marketing psychology tactic. Fashion designer Tery D’Ciano has built a successful business on this principle alone. She makes each item by hand and buys only a limited quantity of supplies to carry it out, so at each depot there’s a limited quantity of items to buy – you have to get the new models before they’re sold out!

4. Pricing

Setting a product’s price is a matter of real psychology. The price of your product represents the amount of risk someone is willing to take. In other words, people are much more likely to look at a $10,000 product than a $1 one.

Bundled prices

Product bundling involves combining two or more items that are usually available for sale individually into a single “product” available for purchase. This bundle of items is offered at a fixed price to buyers. In some cases, you can offer a discount on the bundle price. In other cases, you can add a surcharge to account for extras such as gift wrapping.

Whatever your approach, bundling products can increase the perceived value of a purchase. Customers can benefit from a discount if they buy all items at the same time. If you sell hair care products, for example, you can bundle shampoo, conditioner and hair gel together for a small discount.

In other cases, the added value lies in convenience. For example, you could offer a bundle of gift items, in which case the customer doesn’t have to worry about shopping around for gifts. You can also package this offer in a pretty basket or box so that the customer doesn’t have to worry about packaging.

Show price comparisons

And don’t forget to compare prices. A consumer will be much more likely to buy your item if you can show them that it’s competitively priced. If your price is more affordable than your competitors’, this can be a viable way of influencing sales.

You can also compare the prices of your own products. Buyers may have to decide between two of your products, so you can offer product and price comparisons to help them.

5. Loss aversion

Marketing psychology boils down to finding non-obvious ways of reducing buyers’ perceived risk through persuasive tactics. For example, by appealing to authority, you reduce the risk of a “yes”. Someone who says yes (to your call to buy a product) can always invoke the authority you’ve shown to justify their purchase. With scarcity, the risk of “no” inherently increases. If you decline an offer today, you may not be able to take advantage of it later.

The use of influence psychology can decrease the risk of “yes” through social proof, authority and unity, or increase the risk of “no” through scarcity, consistency and reciprocity. The idea of loss aversion essentially means that we feel losses much more intensely than gains of the same magnitude.

Identifying loss and gain

Effective marketing focuses on specific pain points and how the product alleviates them. The loss is the pain point, and the gain is the product, or the solution that the product enables the customer to obtain. When marketing your items, you need to remember to highlight the loss as much as possible, while describing the gain.

For example, this banner on the Pourri home page effectively addresses both aspects. She emphasizes the pain of pet odor, and the fact that life without her products is smelly. Next, the text explains how its Pet-Pourri product can eliminate these odors and leave you with a fresh-smelling space – the payoff.

Free samples and trials

If you can, offer free samples before you buy. The “try before you buy” principle is one of the surest ways of encouraging a consumer to buy with confidence. This approach is particularly effective if you sell consumables such as food and beverages, skincare and cosmetics, and other health and wellness products. If you sell subscription products, you can offer the first box for free or at a reduced price.

When people can experience the product first-hand, they can see what they’ve been missing, and what they’re likely to continue missing if they don’t take action. No one wants to miss out on an exceptional experience, and you can demonstrate this by offering free samples and product trials.

6. Commitment and consistency

When it comes to sales psychology, the psychological principles of commitment and consistency state that people go to great lengths to appear consistent in their words and actions, even to the point of doing things that are fundamentally irrational.

That’s why, if you’re trying to change something in your life (losing weight, for example), it can be very useful to share your goal. Once you’ve made a public commitment, you’ll be much more motivated to stick to it.

As a retailer, if you can understand the psychology of buying and get customers to make a small commitment to your brand – for example, by signing up for your e-newsletter – they’ll be more likely to buy from you later. And if you can get products into their hands, even if they don’t formally commit to buying them, you’ll increase your chances even further.

That’s the principle behind Warby Parker’s home trial program.

Warby Parker knows that with a product that’s in your field of vision all day long (literally), appearance and fit are important. The company also knows that if it can put a set of frames in your hands, it has already gone a long way towards making the sale – that’s the power of understanding the psychology of buying.

Warby Parker makes the process as simple as possible: order the samples, receive the box, order the frames you want and return the box free of charge. They say there’s no commitment, but they’re wise students of Cialdini. They know that customers feel the commitment as soon as they open the box.

Facilitating engagement by facilitating returns

You can also apply the principle of commitment and consistency to your return policy. In a study carried out by Narvar, nearly three quarters of consumers said they would be more likely to buy from a company with a “no questions asked” returns policy.

Zappos and REI are two brands whose return policies are renowned for their ease, and are excellent examples of this. Purchasing is less restrictive for customers, who know that if they don’t like the product, they can easily get their money back. But once he has the product in his hands, will he really return it? Maybe not. He’s already committed.

Stay true to your brand

While it’s tempting to get carried away with the theories behind website personalization and conversion rate optimization (CRO), it’s important to stay authentic. You don’t have to sacrifice your brand identity to make a sale. In fact, your brand and marketing psychology tactics must go hand in hand.

Authenticity and consistency build trust. When consumers trust your brand, they’re more likely not only to buy from it, but also to spread the word about your mission and products, allowing you to further leverage the social proof advantage we talked about earlier.

Sprinkle your site with these marketing psychology techniques and you’ll see your sales increase.

Psychology of marketing FAQ

What is marketing psychology?

Marketing psychology is the study of human behavior and how consumers respond to marketing and advertising, engage with brands and ultimately decide to spend their money.

How is psychology used in marketing?

Psychology is used in marketing by companies to understand how consumers make purchasing decisions. They can then develop strategies to respond to these behaviors and trigger specific actions.

Why do we need psychology in marketing?

Psychology is essential to marketing in order to understand how consumers make their purchasing decisions. When we understand this, we can learn to create marketing strategies to effectively promote products and boost sales.

What is a psychological marketing strategy?

A psychological marketing strategy appeals to consumers’ subconscious to prompt them to take specific actions, whether to make a purchase or convert in some other way.

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