Psychology of Ecommerce Sales: Priming

Rishi Rawat Blog Posts Leave a Comment

Behavioral economists have been talking about and writing about principles of priming for years, but it’s not used enough in eCommerce.

Wait, what’s priming again?

We like this Wikipedia definition: Priming is a phenomenon whereby exposure to one stimulus influences a response to a subsequent stimulus, without conscious guidance or intention.

More simply, priming is a way to condition the visitor on your site. Priming is massively underused in ecommerce.

System 1 and System 2 modes

When we were kids our moms used to say, “eat your vegetables”. At the time, we hated the idea. We would do everything in our power to avoid vegetables. Now, as adults, we’re glad our parents nudged us to make healthy food choices.

When we are presented a challenge the first instinct that kicks in System 1 mode. System 1 mode is shortsighted. It wants instant gratification. If you listen to System 1 exclusively you’ll end up homeless. This is why our brain has a countervailing instinct: System 2. System 2 is rational.

In an ideal world, we should be using System 2 all the time. Unfortunately, System 2 is a lazy fellow. Often, when we’re encountering a choice (btw, we encounter over 35,000 choices every day) before System 2 can be activated System 1 has already made the decision for us!

How does this apply to eCommerce?

Our System 1 mode gets us into trouble. But we’re not aware it’s controlling us. Let me ask you 2 questions:

A: How much time are people spending on your site? Answer: “not long enough”.

B: How driven are your shoppers to your discounts? Answer: “Too much. We want to get away from relying on discounting”

If you actually talk to your customers they would say:

“I want to do detailed research”

“I want to buy a quality product, not just the cheapest one”

Yet, their behavior betrays what they are saying publicly. If shoppers saw their site visit recordings they would not recognize themselves. Their System 1 is running the show and they don’t even know it.

As a marketer in charge of a truly special product, I can’t rely on my visitor’s System 1 mode. My product is objectively better but the shopper isn’t objective in System 1 mode. So, I need to activate System 2 mode if I want to improve my website conversion rates.

The solution? Use priming on your eCommerce site.

There are many types of priming. But in an ecommerce setting 4 types of priming matter the most:

1: Priming the visitor to spend more time on site. Why does this matter? Because time on site directly correlates to higher conversion rates. There are 2 ways to achieve this:

2: Sometimes the user’s first instinct is negative. You can use priming to solve for that. An excellent example of getting the user to watch a long video.

3: Priming shoppers to buy in larger quantities. An example.

4: Priming the shopper to be less price sensitive. An example.

Why eCommerce priming works

Shoppers conditioned based on the 4 options listed have a huge internal need to remain consistent with their choice. Not being consistent causes inner conflict. For example, if the shopper says they aren’t price-sensitive (they want to pay for a premium product) then when they go to the product page and see a high price they are more likely to continue with the purchase to remain consistent with their first choice.

About Frictionless Commerce

We’ve been thinking about online buyer psychology for the last 11 years. Why do online shoppers behave the way they do? Does a product that is objectively better than the competition always win or does buyer perception matter most? We’ve learned some fascinating truths.

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