Psychological prompts that generate sales and convert customers

How do you think as a customer?

Is there a way to influence customers online and are there any secrets to selling more as a business? These are the questions eCommerce businesses are asking themselves on a regular basis, and you know what, the answers could be a lot simpler than you think.

At the heart of every decision you make should be the user experience. The secret to user experience and key to your success, is understanding the psychology of a customer. You don’t need to bully or manipulate them into making purchases, you simply need to guide them subtly in the right direction to give them what they want.

We all have mental triggers and prompts that influence our actions. So, from a business perspective you must first understand these triggers to recognise the power you have to utilise them in your eCommerce store.

In a well-known marketing book ‘Influence’ by Robert Cialdini, there are six key principles that can be used to influence customers to say ‘yes’. eCommerce businesses should embrace these principles by first off saying ‘yes’ themselves.

The six key principles include:

  • Reciprocity
  • Commitment & Consistency
  • Liking
  • Authority
  • Social Proof
  • Scarcity

Let us now discuss these in more detail:

1. Reciprocity

Reciprocity is the compelling attitude of people to give something back after receiving a gift or favour. It’s used by many cosmetic and beauty businesses to entice customers with free samples and offers, encouraging return custom.

eCommerce stores may not be able to offer samples in advance but, offers and subscriptions can be used to entice users instead. Alternatively, the principle of reciprocity can be applied by offering free gifts alongside purchases.

Other than free gifts, eCommerce stores can add value to potential customers by providing useful, engaging and interactive content. Check out how our client Mademoiselle Macaron lets their customers create their own custom box of macarons as an interactive way to make customers enjoy purchasing your products. It’s a simple way to help users feel grateful about their interaction and purchases. Other ways of providing content ‘gifts’ could be through interactive quizzes or competitions for available discounts or premium products.

Assess which technique could work for your eCommerce store and make customers feel good about themselves and your business.

2. Commitment & Consistency

Commitment in the online retailing world is somewhat different to the commitment of the high street. On the high street, businesses have the advantage of getting products in the hands of their customers, increasing the chances of a purchase, whereas the online retailers use newsletter and account signups to establish a small commitment from customers. Cialdini’s theory is once a commitment has been made, the incentive to purchase becomes much higher.

Adopting an easy return policy, with limited or free posting costs, is a useful way to entice users to commit to purchases online with the understanding it is easily returnable. In reality, once the customer has the product in their hands, will they really go to the extra effort of returning it?

3. Liking

There is no debating that making more of a connection with your customers is the simple way of adding value and sales to your business. Making connections with your target market and embracing Cialdini’s principle of ‘liking’, is all based around the concept of branding and how your business is perceived.

Sharing your story

What exactly makes up the overall brand of your eCommerce store? Well everything from colours, fonts, images and design contributes to your brand personality. The aim of your business is to create a brand personality that is cohesive and which consumers can relate to.

Other than branding techniques, an ‘About Us’ page within your eCommerce store could also help engage consumers and a great way to promote your story in a way which people can relate to and understand.


On the principle of ‘liking’, people nowadays are very judgemental and wary of what others are using and wearing. As a result, eCommerce businesses should adopt an effective way of presenting and displaying their products online, relevant to their usage. Many eCommerce stores use models or individuals who customers can identify with to show off their products. If your business sells products that can be presented to display its usage, this is likely to be more effective and generate higher conversion rates.

Social Links

On the face of it, if consumers are recommended to your store by someone they know and trust, they are more likely to make purchases. This means it is vitally important to have links to all the main social media channels, for example Facebook, Twitter and Google+, so your customers can share their thoughts and tell their friends about the gems they’ve been able to find on your eCommerce store. Make it easy for customers to share your products to social media from your website.

Recommended & Popular products

As a retailer, if a customer visits your store you want to keep them there, even if you don’t have what they are looking for. This is where eCommerce stores can prompt customers with suggestions of recommended or popular products based on their search criteria. The option of directing consumers to an alternative product efficiently rather them losing them altogether to a competitor, is important.

4. Authority

The range of products and the competitor options are normally vast for eCommerce businesses so the user experience is a key priority. Including product filters, searches and action buttons will make it easier for consumers to narrow their requirements and choices to find exactly what they require. Although you are giving control to the consumer, as a retail owner, you are still the authoritative figure. Direct consumers down avenues which will assist their purchasing ability and generate more sales for your business.

In many ways an authoritative figure can earn the compliance and influence a person by what they say and do. In eCommerce, your stores navigation and design must act as the authoritative figure in persuading and directing potential customers to key areas.

5. Social Proof

The social proof principle is similar to that of ‘liking’, purely because we are all influenced socially by what other people do and like. This is where eCommerce retailers must appreciate that any platform which highlights the popularity of their store and products, can initiate more response. Have you received good media coverage? Prove it. Have you got long loving emails from customers. Quote them. Have you sold worldwide? Mention it.

Other opportunities for social proof is to display ‘most popular’ or ‘best selling’ sections within the store. We’ve all done it. We’ve all purchased products online because of their popularity and it forms another way of generating larger sales figures. To the consumer, these are the products everyone loves and is the best value for money and a recommendation from hundreds, maybe thousands of people you’ve never met before.

Ratings and reviews should also not be forgotten about. These again form a representation and trust of the brand by providing useful social proof of their products. Amazon, among many large retailers use ratings and reviews to assist customers. The more information and product feedback received, the larger the psychological pull to purchase that product.

6. Scarcity

The final principle of Cialdini from his book ‘Influence’ is scarcity which is the process where people feel they might lose out on something. If that authoritative figure we discussed previously says you can’t have something, it’s a natural but somewhat childish reaction to ensure you get it.

Businesses use all sorts of tactics to suggest products, or reduced prices, may soon come to an end. Often retailers use countdown clocks to display how long products or a sale has left.

Seasonal or limited products is another way to send psychological prompts to customers that products must be bought while stocks last. There are many examples of these, but the one that springs to our mind is the Creme Egg McFlurry from McDonalds. Is there a better McFlurry? This is kept under-wraps until Easter time and only available for a few weeks. It keeps customers wanting. Would we get this excited if they were available all year round? Of course not. The realisation that supply is limited, motivates us all, and businesses benefit from this.


The six Cialdini principles of influence (reciprocity, commitment & consistency, liking, authority, social proof and scarcity) are impacted by the non-obvious ways of perceived risk.

At the start of this blog we raised two questions — is there a way to influence customers online and are there any secrets to selling more as a business? Hopefully this blog helps answer these questions and emphasises areas your eCommerce store could use certain techniques to psychologically prompt an actionable purchase from customers. Help your eCommerce store grow, by starting to think more as a consumer than a retailer, and watch your sales climb and climb.

If you would like to contact us to improve your existing eCommerce store or to start a fresh, please get in touch. We are very friendly pandas.