The Psychology of E-Commerce: Why Three Heads are Better Than One

If you conjure up an image of a living being with three brains, you’d probably think of a little green chap from Out-Of-Space. When in actual fact, each and everyone of us has three brains, or at least one organ with three distinct components. These three parts are broken up into the old brain, midbrain and new brain, each part has an influence on the way you make decisions.

Let’s take a look at how the three parts of our brain affect our decisions when making choices online, starting with the old brain.

The Primal Lizard Brain

The old brain is the part of the brain responsible for all your primal urges; fight, flight or freeze. The old brain takes care of all our basic needs; safety, food and sex. When we put this in context of how our old brain reacts when we visit sites, our old brain needs to safe and secure and not under any threat. If the old brain doesn’t feel safe, it will be screaming ‘LET’S GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!’. The good news is that there are plenty of ways we can make the old brain feel safe.

Firstly, adding feelings of security by using a secure connection – https instead of http – so that all data between the site and user is encrypted. Then it’s a case of moving on to the information architecture – that’s the design, layout, styling and messaging. Unfortunately not every company has the luxury of the brand reassurance that comes with Apple or Amazon. This means that companies have to focus on getting the balance just right. Using the correct tone of voice, making sure images are of high quality and focusing on the key elements and making sure these elements are ordered rationally.

Think of a website as a bricks and mortar fashion store. Most follow the same formula. They have a sign and branding at the front of the building telling the customers what they sell. Their most popular selling products displayed in the window to entice customers through the door. Then if the customer makes it through the door, all the products laid out in the relevant sections. Shoes in one place, t-shirts in another, the store has a natural flow to walk through and navigate the sections. The tills are usually pushed to one side with signage directing customers to them.

Most stores follow the same formula, and it works. Consumers are used to this formula, so when they visit a different store, the flow feels natural and familiar. This reassures the customer making them feel at ease and it also means that they haven’t got to learn a new way of navigation, so they can focus on their main task, to make a purchase.

Now imagine if that bricks and mortar store didn’t follow the formula; they filled the windows with as much product as they could, the tills were not in the usual place, all the sections didn’t make sense, the t-shirts were mixed up with the shoes. Furthermore, maybe the store looks a little tired and shabby. Straight away, you’d question if the products were going to be the same quality as the shabby store. Then you’d have to learn a new way of navigating the store, trying to find what you want. It wouldn’t be a pleasant shopping experience and you might even give up and go to the store next door.

Most successful websites follow the same formula as each other, placing the important elements in the same places. This reassures site visitors, putting them at ease and satisfying the old brain, making it feel safe and secure to proceed.

The Emotional Middle-Man

The next step is to satisfy the needs of the midbrain. The midbrain is responsible for our emotional part of the decision making process. You want the midbrain to feel relaxed and that the site can be trusted. We also want the midbrain to feel excited about the product, you want the midbrain to start releasing dopamine – the feel-good hormone.

The Rational New Brain

Finally it’s the new brain’s turn to get involved. Or at least to feel that it has been involved. The new brain deals with rational decision making, although most of our ‘rational’ decision making occurs after the decision has been made, not before. The new brain wants to feel involved even when it’s not. It’s primary focus is to make sure the old brain and midbrain are happy, if they are then the new brain is gives the green light.

Satisfying your users’ old brain, midbrain which in-turn satisfies the new brain are the very basics of the psychology of eCommerce. Once you’ve tackled this, it time to move on to getting to know your user.

Know Your User

One of the most fundamental parts of selling your products online is to know who you are selling to. Get this wrong and you risk putting users off your product or sales offering, which means you’ve also wasted time and money with the whole design and development of your site. For example, selling to a predominantly female audience between the ages of 18-30 is going to require a different strategy to selling product aimed a men in their 50s.

There are of course times when your product or service may sell to either or all demographics, which requires a totally different strategy. The great news is that you can find out exactly who you customers are with some research techniques, then you will be on the road to making your product or service an amazing success. There are many more factors involved with the Psychology of E-Commerce, get in touch to find out how we can help figure out the best way forward for you.

Posted by Chris Tunnicliffe