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5 Need-to-Know Ways Psychology Affects Conversions

Written by Brenda on September 25, 2014 Sell Online.

No matter how much e-business technology advances, the psychology behind it stays the same. That’s why, today, I’m taking a break from talking about the former to give you a quick rundown on the latter.

What follows are five simple tips for understanding your customers’ mental processes so you can use that info to better manage your sales strategy.

1. There Are Three Types of Buyers

According to Carnegie Mellon University, these would be Tightwads, Spendthrifts, and Average Buyers.  Each group responds differently to certain marketing messages.

Tightwads – 24% of customers – almost compulsively avoid buying, even where the average person would think it’s worth it.  That’s because they associate spending with guilt and shame. To sell to this crowd, you need to minimize those feelings, and the best way to accomplish that is to emphasize the value of the product relative to the cost, especially in utilitarian terms.  (“It’ll pay for itself” can be a powerful phrase here.) And don’t try to sell them the luxury model: they’re more likely to want the bare minimum it’ll take to get the job done.

Spendthrifts – 15% of customers – respond to the opposite approach. Money is often not an object for them – even when they’re in financial situations where it should be – and they’ll buy for the sheer thrill of getting a new toy. They want the luxury features, the expensive but beautifully-designed product, and the prestigious brand name. Make sure you have financing options though, as they won’t have the cash up-front.

Average buyers – the remaining 61% – sit between the two, and respond to a more balanced marketing approach that mixes practicality and flash.

Alternately, according to some camps, the three types would be “traditionalists, the majority, and innovators.”  But much of the advice to selling to groups divided in this way would be the same.

2. You Don’t Want to Seem Too Perfect

Customers are more trusting of corporations willing to own up to their failures instead of passing the blame to someone else. Admitting that you made mistakes can give your customers the impression that you’re an honest and accountable business, which are sorely lacking these days.

Likewise, it’s much better to respond to customers’ concerns and let them know what you’re doing to address them than to try to sweep them under the rug. For example, if you sell a widget that’s been recalled in the past, don’t change the subject if a customer mentions it. Let them know how the manufacturer improved the design since then, and how you’ve also stepped up your quality-control efforts to make sure no customer of yours gets a defective one.

If you ignore the question, the implied message is that you haven’t done anything about the situation, you don’t care about their concerns, and that a widget purchased from you may still be likely to burn their house down.

3. Use Urgency and Follow-Ups

You’ve probably seen those news reports on Black Friday: you know, the ones about otherwise-normal office types breaking down doors and pummeling each other over some gadget they probably didn’t need anyway. What drives them to that, you might have wondered?

Urgency. Black Friday is possibly the largest urgency-based shopping event in history. Everyone knows you have only one day a year to get these deals, and it’s likely that all the good stuff will sell out shortly after the stores open.

Thankfully, your customers can’t punch each other over the internet, but creating a sense of urgency can still bring them to action. There are plenty of ways to do this, most of which you’re likely already familiar with. One-weekend only sales, fast-expiring coupon codes, seasonal products, limited-time only content, incentives for taking action before a certain date…you get the picture.

However, urgency often won’t work for everyone, so for the people that prefer to buy at their own pace, follow-up tactics will often prove effective in bringing them around. We’ve done an article on these as they relate to cart abandonment, but much of the advice on it can be applied to other situations where you need to get back to a customer.

Also, people tend to ignore even urgent information if they don’t know what to do about it. So make sure your calls-to-action, as well as any further instructions your customers will see, are clearly-worded and will let them know exactly what to do and what they’re getting into by doing it.

4. Be Bold

Stand for something.

Make distinctions – whether explicit or implied – between yourself and your competitors. This is pretty much the basis behind exclusivity and branding. When Harley-Davidson, for example, sells itself as a big, beefy bike for manly men, they’re making a bold choice about what audience they’re interested in and which one they’re all right with losing.  Same goes for cars like the Toyota Prius, which are just as heavily targeted to another demographic and just as alienating to people outside it.

Don’t be afraid to know who your target audience is and take pride in them. Be careful, though. Some companies have taken this approach to horrifying extremes. It seems that the key is to still show understanding and respect to the demographic you’ve decided to “let go.”

If your company stands for certain values, don’t be afraid to declare them openly. This is especially true if your values are nice things that benefit the customers, like good service, dedication to improvement, and so forth.

5. Use Social Proof

People want to fit in. But that’s not the real reason to use social proof. That’s pointless, since it’s impossible to predict or intentionally establish a trend, anyway. Almost every corporate attempt at that has been a disaster.

The real reason is much simpler. People look to other people’s experiences with a thing to determine if they should try it.  This makes plenty of sense. Back in the old days, if three members of the tribe went into a cave and didn’t come out, you’d all know to avoid that cave. Likewise, if someone found a bunch of edible berry bushes down by the river, you’d all head down to get some.

Less has changed than you might think. Today, if three Yelp reviewers complain that they bought from a company and received a damaged product, most readers would know to avoid that company. And if someone found a great one-weekend only sale from a certain business and posted it to Facebook, you’d all head down to load up on cheap widgets.

So, first, it goes without saying that you should provide easy social media options so that satisfied customers can tell their friends about any particularly impressive deals they’ve gotten from you.  Likewise, you want a counter that displays how many people have already liked or shared the page.  Including positive reviews at a conversion point will help reinforce that buying is a good decision.

In general, you want to go out of your way to give a voice to people who are using and enjoying your product, or who have had good experiences with your store.

Authority is also a powerful form of social proof.  If you can make yourself look like an expert in your field (and hopefully you can back that claim up), then it can establish in customers’ minds that you know your stuff and that they can trust you to give them a great product.


This is just a basic guide, so I’ve barely even scratched the surface on psychology and conversions here.  Still, feel free to share your favorite tips, or any aspects that particularly fascinate you, in the comments below. I’d love to hear all about them!

Image source: Tim Sheerman-Chase


One Response

  1. maria
    October 29, 2014 at 12:08 pm #

    I like point two- you’re right, I think that a sense of humility proves that you aren’t a cold corporation, you actually have real people behind you and it creates a “face” that customers can relate to and will feel more comfortable with