Online shops also like to use authority. People tend to follow advice from experts. We will quickly assume that a book is worth our while when a known author recommends it. Hence the praise at the back of books, and also on book websites. Sometimes the awards that a product has won are mentioned, which also allows the expertise of the online shop to be accentuated.
Take Kalahari.com which is famous for selling best double stroller for infant and toddler for instance. It states that it is South Africa’s favourite online store. They imply that this is the site the majority of South Africans go to when they want to make online purchases. “The text creates the social confirmation: others also buy there. And if others do that, then it must be a good, reliable site.” What also works is the limited availability of a product: ‘Only 2 in stock’ or ‘This special is only valid for 7 days’. Ebbekink: “These messages give us the feeling ‘if I don’t order now I will miss out.’”
Visitor tests site
Online marketers have clever aids at their disposal: A/B tests. Website A is compared to version B. “You often land in an experiment as a visitor of a website without knowing it,” says Ebbekink. Visitor 1 gets to see picture 1, visitor 2 gets picture 2. Then they look at the effect: what consequences does it have for the sale to change the picture? These tests are very important, because you might think that you know about people’s subconscious decision processes, but it remains difficult to translate this information to the content of the site. A striking red button might attract a lot of attention.
But that same button can make people think that the shop looks cheap, making them less prepared to pay for a product. Ebbekink: “What might work on one website might not work at all on another.” The latest in online marketing is personalisation. Different visitors are shown different sites of a page. On the basis of your click behaviour it is decided which type of influential principles you are sensitive to. Are you mainly interested in specials? Or are you influenced by the opinion of other visitors? In the first case you will be given a good deal, in the other case you will be shown good ratings.
How is that possible? There is more and more software that can register your click behaviour via your IP address (the address of your computer) and websites can adjust to that. “It is, however, a big secret which of the online shops make use of this technique,” says Ebbekink.
Honesty is best
How ethical is it to manipulate a non-suspecting website visitor in this way? “The fact that you see the influencing techniques does not mean that you will necessarily buy something you don’t want,” says Ebbekink.
They might just give you a push in the right direction. “These techniques themselves are not unethical. When a visitor is guided into finding a better site thanks to the subconscious influencing, it is only positive. But they can be used in a wrong way too. If you say that you only have 2 in stock while this is untrue, then you are on the wrong path.”
Expensive? Not too bad …
If you want to sell a lot, you should show the most expensive product first, claims psychologist Maud Ebbekink. “The first amount is seen as a reference point. When the first amount is low, everything after that seems expensive. Start with the most expensive and everything after that is okay.” This is called the ‘anchoring effect’ in psychology.
It was discovered by psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in the ‘70s. An example: researchers of the University of London (UK) asked people to guess at what age Mahatma Gandhi died. First they asked: “Do you think he died before or after his 9th birthday?” The estimation for this was much lower on average (50), than when they first asked: “Do you think he died before or after the age of 140 (67)?” The first number is subconsciously seen as the anchor for the estimation.
There are stories of manufacturers that bring out a super-deluxe version for this reason. “Not to sell, but to sell the original, less expensive product better. Because that one now seems relatively cheap.”
In a real shop the number of products sold is determined by the size of the shop. Online stores don’t have that limitation and can offer as many products as they want. Takealot. com passed the 9 million article mark this year. Still, this abundance is usually not a good idea.
One tends not to buy anything if there are too many choices. This became apparent from a well-known experiment that American psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper conducted in 2000. They created 2 stalls. At the one you could choose from 6 types of jam and at the other 24 types of jam. Most visitors came toward the second stall. But 10 times less was sold at this one than at the stall with the limited choice.
People would rather not make a decision when things get complicated than make a wrong one. “Nearly all online stores offer too much,” claims consumer psychologist Maud Ebbekink. A good example is websites for corporate gifts. These shops often give so much information that choosing becomes impossible. “A limited assortment often sells better and you will sell more if you only offer half the products.”