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. Priming is massively underused in ecommerce.
Behavioral economists have been talking about and writing about principles of priming for years, but it’s not used enough in eCommerce.
Where a visitor is on your site there is a battle brewing inside their head — between short-term and long-term thinking.
It’s important for us marketers to understand this struggle because it holds the key to higher conversion rates and our year-end bonuses.
- Short term thinking: “I want to find the lowest price” or “I want to find the solution fast.”
- Long term thinking: “I want the best performing solution” or “I want to take time to properly research my options.”
As you can imagine, these 2 strategies produce vastly different outcomes.
Our work requires us to spend the bulk of our time thinking about the short term instincts of buyers. This is what our copywriting process is based on.
But there are times when the marketer needs to activate the long term mindset. Priming is the tool used to make that switch.
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 encouraged us to make healthy food choices.
When we are presented with a challenge, the first instinct that kicks in is our System 1 mode. Our 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 (by the way, we encounter over 35,000 choices every day), System 1 has already made the decision for us before System 2 can be activated!
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:
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, you can’t rely on your visitor’s System 1 mode. Your product is objectively better but the shopper isn’t objective in System 1 mode. So, you need to activate System 2 mode if you want to improve your website’s 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 the site. Wolfgang Digital analyzed 130 million website sessions, over €330 million in online revenue, and calculated the average session duration (time on site) for all of eCommerce at 2 minutes and 32 seconds (source).
Time on site directly correlates to higher conversion rates (we see a 30%+ bump in conversions if we can get a visitor to hang out 4+ minutes).
Look at your own GA data. Instructions.
As eCommerce marketers and business owners we want to understand the impact of our marketing on conversion rates.
Overall conversion rates only reveals total health. It doesn’t tell you how specific groups of shoppers are behaving.
We really care about engaged shoppers.
But how do we know the conversion rate of these engaged shoppers? Google Analytics has a solution. I made a view to show how we can use GA to create a segment for engaged shoppers:
Ok, so now that we know how to create this segment let’s talk about ways your can use Priming to increase session duration on an eCommerce site.
There are 2 ways to achieve this:
2: Sometimes the user’s first instinct is negative. You can use priming to fix 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 through the 4 strategies listed above 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.