Here at Keep It Usable, we’ve been studying and applying persuasion and psychology within our designs for many years, but recently it’s gained much more awareness and businesses are beginning to wake up to the huge impact it can have on sales.
Traditionally, marketers, web managers, business owners were mainly reliant on marketing strategies and visual design to capture attention and convert customers. However, where this failed was in understanding the customer and end user. It’s the same if your company focusses too much on A/B and multivariate testing – you’re making changes blindly and just hoping for the best if you haven’t conducted enough user research to start with.
Changing a button colour or text may give you a conversion increase but if you haven’t had any dialogue with your users you have no idea if you’re giving them what they expect, need and want. It’s these things that have the biggest impact. Not only will it inform your design now, but everyone in the company will have a greater understanding of the user and what they want, which can lead to better future ideas.
What is persuasive design?
Persuasive design is based on understanding the end user and using psychological design techniques to increase those persuasive factors that encourage and nudge a user to take action. There are many persuasive factors, including and not limited to, trust, credibility, authenticity, reciprocity, scarcity, motivators to act (free, sex and food being the most common). The skill is in identifying and knowing which will appeal to your audience and which to present at the right time to motivate the desired action. It’s not a case of simply adding everything to your home page and sitting back whilst the clicks roll in, unfortunately it takes skill, timing, an experienced designer, user research, and an understanding of the users psychological buying process to create the perfect momentum to drive the desired behaviour.
Amazon: Masters of persuasive design
We see persuasive design elements used a lot within Amazon’s website. Here are a few examples that are easy to spot.
Ever wondered why people prefer images to reading text? It’s a scientific fact. Our brains respond more quickly to images, they take less time to process which causes us to like them more. So, wherever possible you should display images of your product or service. People like to see visuals of what they’re buying, it helps them to understand and feel confident of their purchase. If it’s done right, imagery can also greatly increase trust in your company and give you credibility, however, be careful because when done badly it can lose you a lot of business. We don’t recommend using stock photos – users know they are fake and that feeling transfers to your business.
People like to imagine how things will look and feel in real life. This is why showcasing multiple imagery of the same product and videos are now commonplace. Fashion and clothing websites benefit dramatically from showcasing videos – people want to see how the garment will look on their body and the movement of the fabric tells them a lot about how it might feel to wear.
The power of FREE
Free is one of the biggest persuaders, which is why it is used in every type of industry. Have you seen the big campaign by Graze at the moment? They’re offering one free box to every new customer as well as offering existing customers a free box for every friend that joins (clever hey?). It did take Amazon a while to offer free delivery on all items (remember when you had to spend £5?) and the fact that they’ve kept the delivery free says a lot – it’s working! Paying for delivery adds extra cost to the user, as well as concerns about the cost of sending the item back should it not be suitable. We call these concerns ‘barriers’ and each barrier to purchase adds up to one huge barrier that results in you losing a potential customer. This is why user research and usability testing is so important – it enables us to identify all psychological barriers to purchase so we can not only remove them, but add in elements that address these concerns at the crucial point.
You won’t identify psychological barriers like having to pay for delivery (and understand why this is such a problem) by A/B testing alone. You can only gain rich information by talking to your users, getting inside their mind, understanding their daily lives, how your product or website fits in, how it can help them, what’s stopping them using it, what concerns and worries do they have, etc, etc. It’s REALLY important!
Social proof: Reviews
What do you think Amazon is? A product retailer? Surprisingly, they’re primarily a review site. Most people who visit Amazon go there to check out the reviews, even if they intend to purchase the product elsewhere. In user studies, when given tasks, users will often visit Amazon before continuing with their task on the intended site. Reviews are the key reason for this and Amazon know it! That’s why you have to scroll right down the page past all the things they want to cross-sell to you before you can get to what they know you’re there for: the reviews. Their hope is to distract you with similar purchases, free delivery, what other people have bought and all the other lovely things they hope will catch your eye.
Customer reviews are very powerful. They give what you’re trying to sell credibility and increase trust. The more the buyer is like them, the more their concerns mirror their own, the more trust and reassurance the user will feel. Most people don’t want to be the first to try something, they want to know someone’s taken the risk before them. People fear making the wrong choice so your aim is to remove or at least lessen that fear, thereby removing another barrier to purchase. A good review placed at the optimal stage in the user journey can be the psychological edge the user needs to feel the pull towards purchasing.
Encouraging cross-sells and exploration
What if users decide not to buy what’s on the page? Amazon try to direct the user to other products they may want to purchase. There are two ways in which they do this but their aim is the same: keep the user within Amazon and increase the likelihood they will see something they want to purchase. Amazon showcase ‘Customers who bought this item also bought’ and ‘What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?’ They’re pretty much the same and as people don’t really read text what matters is that they see something that captures their interest and keeps them engaged until they eventually purchase.
This isn’t just a clever use of social proof, it works because it’s likely that if you like the product you’re looking at, you’ll also like what most other people looked at or bought. The fact is that although we like to think we’re all individual, we’re more predictable and alike than we want to believe.
Further information and advice
We hope you enjoyed this article that only touches briefly on how you can use persuasion within design.