Ecommerce heart

Ecommerce: How to harness emotional triggers

20th Nov 2017

Page speed and A/B testing an ecommerce site is all very well, but brands are starting to realise conversion optimisation is more emotional than technical.

If you've ever been excited about a purchase, you'll know that shopping is a hugely emotional experience. From the exhilarating initial research and the anticipation, to the thrill of clicking that “buy now” button. Buying a product or service can be a surprisingly emotional process.

In this article we'll be exploring why this emotionality should be incorporated into ecommerce, the benefits this approach can reap and how brands can make this technique work for them.

But first, a little background

Whether we're planning a “shop-‘til-you-drop” Saturday on the high street or adding items to our online basket, there's no denying the buzz that exchanging currency for goods and services can create.

This is a fact that advertisers have incorporated into their strategies for a long time to persuade customers to buy products. Perhaps the John Lewis Christmas advertisements give you a nostalgic lump in your throat. Maybe the Coca-Cola “Open Happiness” campaign puts a smile on your face. An advert that evokes certain feelings determines how effectively the brand taps into its intended demographic.

Emotion in ecommerce

Technology presents so many ways to measure consumer behaviour like click and bounce rates, A/B testing, hot spots and more. Coupled with customers ordering the latest season’s loafers on their commute, it's easy to see how ecommerce became more about convenience and less human.

This approach to selling and marketing online can only tell retailers so much. What retailers also need to be measuring, to truly understand their customers, are emotional drivers like impulsiveness, excitement or even anxiety.

Putting technical elements to one side for a moment, let’s focus more on those emotional drivers. Elements like marketing content that tap into the customers’ positivity or pointers like ‘only 1 left in stock’, which triggers that feeling of urgency. Combining a streamlined website with outstanding content will trigger those emotions that play into purchasing decisions.

In short, the purchasing decisions we make are very rarely based on rational factors they're based on how we feel.

This is a notion corroborated by Nobel prize-winning behavioural scientist Daniel Kahneman. He explained that our decisions are made using a part of our brain called “System 1”. It is larger and faster than the logic-driven parts of our brain, known as “System 2”, and relies on feelings and emotions to make choices. (For more on this, read the previous article in this series: What behavioural psychology teaches us about using emotion in marketing). 

It's not just Kahneman who subscribes to this view. Unconscious Branding author, Douglas Van Praet, explains: “the most startling truth is we don’t even think our way to logical solutions. We feel our way to reason. Emotions are the substrate, the base layer of neural circuitry underpinning even rational deliberation. Emotions don’t hinder decisions. They constitute the foundation on which they’re made!”

These theories are borne out by science. Psychology Today claims MRI brain scans reveal our emotional centres are much more active than the information processing areas of our brain when evaluating brands. The publication also states that research shows an advertisement's emotional effect exerts greater influence on a consumer's intent to buy than then content of the ad itself.

So it stands to reason, that combining current data with emotional insights, can provide an opportunity for retailers to engage with their customers at a more personal level.

How retailers can harness emotion in ecommerce

Now we've established exactly why emotion stands to benefit ecommerce, it's time to move on to how this approach can work for you.

For previous technical, digital types, this leap may feel fuzzy and overwhelming. Which emotions should you be trying to make your visitors feel? How can you achieve this? And how can you measure the ROI of an “emotionally intelligent ecommerce store”?

This interesting article on customer emotion from the Harvard Business Review features a table of emotional motivators that may be a helpful place to start. It shows that whilst people have thousands of emotions, there are a few that frequently prove beneficial in a commercial context. This includes celebration of individuality, hopefulness for the future, a sense of balance and wellbeing, a feeling of freedom, feelings of excitement and a sense of belonging.

By understanding your customers and the role of the heart and the head, you can create a more effective customer engagement and conversion strategy. Here are a few practical ways you can begin to channel emotion via your website:

1. No more cookie-cutter websites

They may be highly functional and practical, but they don't express the unique brand personality required to elicit an emotional reaction from a visitor. If the only distinguishing factor between your website and another is price point, then what's preventing shoppers from heading straight to Amazon?

By equal measure, how can your website make consumers feel their own individuality is celebrated and therefore connect with yours better?

Infuse your website with your branding and your personality to trigger a much more emotional response.

2. Streamlined experiences

Create a frictionless experience so that customers can get to the checkout page without their emotionally-driven (System 1) purchase switching to a logical one (System 2).

You can achieve this by ensuring the checkout information is visible and clear (to prevent security fears), make the checkout experience easy to understand and visually appealing with a clear end goal in easy reach.

3. Get visual

Images are one of the most effective tools for eliciting emotion quickly, it’s how customers connect with a brand; whether it’s the location, model or even lighting. While we may need to read a product description, an image is a direct way of generating an emotional response.

A significant portion of our neurology is involved in face perception which means that we react very strongly to images of people and their expressions.

Incorporating these visuals into your website is an easy way to provoke an emotional response. When Medalia Art swapped artwork for human faces, their conversion rate soared by 95%!

4. Be personal

One of the most positive human emotions we can experience is feeling cared for. Any ecommerce business will understand the importance of great customer care, but weaving a little extra online enhances this positive effect.

ASOS, for example, now remembers previous purchases and “wrong fit” refunds. They use this information to provide personalised size recommendations. This level of “personal tailoring” helps to make consumers feel special, cared for and therefore emotionally engaged.

We need to remember that consumers and retailer journeys are continuous. The more a customer trusts a brand, the more likely they are to complete their purchase with them; it’s the same for emotionally intelligent ecommerce experiences.


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