Psychology in eCommerce Web Design: How to Increase Sales

Is your eCommerce website optimized to resonate with people’s feelings? Does your website design adopt psychology-based designs to have a positive influence on visitors?

If it’s not, you’re missing out on sales.

A poorly designed (or even average) website may not be enough to convince shoppers to part with their hard-earned money.

And let’s face it: few entrepreneurs or small business owners set a brand strategy goal to create an average-looking website.

Good design is essential.

Among other things, good design strengthens your company’s brand identity. In fact, design can be a vital differentiator if you’re starting a new business. And, of course, it’s critical if you’re trying to grow an existing business.

But good design is not just about aesthetically pleasing design. Good design also includes working with people’s natural psychological tendencies to remove friction for potential customers. This makes it easier for a business to win customers.

And, there’s one area of marketing psychology that’s particularly powerful for eCommerce websites.

Let’s take a look.

The completionist phenomenon (or “what we can learn from gamers”)

In gaming society, players who complete every possible task in a game are called “completionists.”

But, this definition falls short of conveying the actual scope. Completionists finish e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g… from the main storyline to side quests to every achievement, puzzle, trophy, and prize.

This (not insubstantial) subset of players may spend hundreds of hours completing a game. And, ultimately, this investment earns them nothing more than satisfaction and bragging rights.

So, why do they do it? What drives these players on through hundreds of hours of (often tedious) “grinding?” And, what does it have to do with your eCommerce site?

The truth is that most people, to some extent, experience this same need for closure.

The three psychological principles below motivate completionist behavior. They can also help your eCommerce business complete more sales.

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Zeigarnik Effect

The Ziegnarnik Effect is a phenomenon discovered by German psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik in 1927.

While observing how well a series of subjects recalled interrupted vs. uninterrupted tasks, Zeigarnik discovered that interrupted tasks were far more memorable.

But, that’s not all.

When people were interrupted while completing a task they,

…objected, sometimes quite strenuously, and were loath to stop even when the experimenter insisted upon it.

As I mentioned before, “In non-scientific terms, interruptions make us bonkers. Once we start a task, we want to complete that task.”

Being interrupted is stressful. And, here’s why:

Every time we engage in a task – any task – we use mental and physical resources. Dedicating these resources causes varying degrees of stress depending on the complexity of the task and the obstacles we encounter.

Completing a task means you no longer need to use the mental or physical resources involved – relieving stress.

But, when you are interrupted or prevented from completing a task entirely, those mental resources remain in use in the background.

Imagine a computer – each interrupted task is an open tab. And, each tab uses up some of the finite resources on your mental PC. Open enough tabs, and eventually, the fan starts to whir, and all of your programs start to run less efficiently.

This desire to relieve tension by completing a task can be a great motivator in eCommerce web design.

Here are a few techniques for optimizing your website to take advantage of this phenomenon:

  • Show images of other products that are available for sale on every individual product page. This reminds the user that there are still other things to look at – their task of shopping is not yet complete.
  • Don’t remove users to a dedicated cart page when they add items to their cart. Arrival on the cart page signifies an ending – and release of tension. Instead, confirm that the item has been added to the cart using an interstitial page (that serves as a brief interruption). This will motivate the user to act again to overcome the disruption.
    • Direct users’ actions to move beyond the interstitial with intentional design:
    • Include buttons encouraging users to choose to “go to cart” or “continue shopping;” and show pictures of other related items. If the shopper is ready to check out, they’ll click “go to cart.” But, if they’re still open to buying more, the “continue shopping” button and product images will motivate them to shop for more.
  • Use a shopping cart icon that changes to indicate when a cart has items inside. This reminds shoppers that they have an unfinished task.
  • Store shopping cart content so that it remains even if the visitor leaves the page. Seeing a full shopping cart upon returning to the site will motivate shoppers to take action.

Incentive Theory

When designing an eCommerce site, the goal should always be to keep people moving forward.

You can’t make a sale if people never click past your homepage.

And, if you want to keep people moving deeper into your website, you’ve got to give them good reasons to click deeper.

The incentive theory of motivation can help.

Biology backs this up. As we previously shared:

…there’s an entire complex system in our brains dedicated to recognizing rewards. Our ancestors relied on that system to ensure that they found the rewards that were important to their survival – food, safety, and sleep.

And, while that system’s primary purpose is to keep us alive, it does recognize other less-vital rewards.

Science writer Deborah Halber explains:

Any object, event, or activity can be a reward if it motivates us, causes us to learn, or elicits pleasurable feelings.

Video games are excellent at employing incentives to motivate players to keep playing. Some games include hundreds, if not thousands, of possible small rewards, achievements, or incentives to keep players busy.

You can follow their lead and add small motivational rewards and incentives to keep users moving through your website or checkout process.

Here are a few ideas for using incentive theory on your eCommerce site:

  • Link rewards to desirable shopping behaviors (like adding extra items to their cart, checking out within a specified time, or spending a specific amount of money).
  • Automatically trigger reward notifications when a customer adds a certain number of items to their cart. Notify them of these rewards on the same screen or interstitial that confirms their product has been added to the cart. Show the rewards they have already earned, as well as the rewards they can achieve if they continue shopping.
  • Clearly and frequently communicate what a shopper must do to claim a discount or reward (like free shipping). Place this information on every screen in the same place so that it’s always visible.
  • Invite shoppers to participate in a game (spin a wheel, play a slot game, etc.) to win a reward. Showcase this activity early in shoppers’ journey on your website to motivate them throughout their shopping experience.
  • Place incentives where they’ll have the most impact:
    • on the homepage to encourage people to start shopping,
    • on the cart summary page, to motivate them to complete their order,
    • and within the checkout process.

Goal Gradient Effect

This psychological phenomenon can be easily demonstrated with a quick anecdote.

One day when I was 12, I went horseback riding. My mount was a wily 21-year-old Arabian named Bainub. And, Bainub was not in the mood for a ride.

He wanted to head back to the barn and munch on some oats. Instead, he was trapped in the riding ring with me.

So, Bainub bolted.

I struggled to bring him under control as we lapped the ring again and again. But every time we reached the straightaway leading to the ring exit – and the barn beyond – Bainub would redouble his speed.

He could see he was close to his goal. And he worked harder to get there.

This is the goal gradient effect in action.

Now, your customers are (probably) not horses. But, the gradient goal principle impacts people, too.

This study found that people’s purchase behavior reliably increased as they neared the desired goal.

So, how can you put this principle to work in eCommerce web design?

Here are a few possibilities:

  • Use a progress bar or checklist showing your shoppers’ progress through the checkout process. People need to see that they are close to the goal to work harder to reach it.
  • Provide visual progress updates on your website, letting the users know how close they are to the desired goal (like free shipping, a gift, or a higher discount).
  • Use a point system that allows shoppers to earn discounts or gifts. And seed users’ point accounts by adding free points to help them get started. The perception that they are closer to their goal will help to motivate them.

Stronger together

These three psychological principles discussed above all support each other. Together, they combine to provide powerful motivation.

Weave these tips throughout your eCommerce site, and you’ll find more shoppers completing their purchases.

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