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Most decisions, including online purchase decisions, are made by using the oldest part of our brains. This is a powerful motivator that can be successfully targeted using merchandising techniques. Before we look at the how, let us first consider the why?


From an evolutionary aspect our brain’s function and design-point makes perfect sense, without the “old brain” we (humans) would not have survived in evolutionary terms, we would have just been the predator’s food! Let’s consider our brains in evolutionary terms:


Convert more customers using lessons from psychology

Given this evolution, and the relative sizes, why is the “old brain” so much more powerful (The Lizard Brain), than the Mammal and Human parts. You may even be inclined to imagine that in today’s metaverse the old brain becomes useless, that of course is not the case, at all. Charles Darwin in the 1870s famously proved this old brain power to himself, try as hard as he could when he was at the reptile house at London Zoo, he could not help but flinch in the event of a strike from a reptile. That is the right response, how else would we humans have survived for several thousands of years, this response is inbuilt, it reacts quick and bypasses the mammalian and human parts of the brain, hence it’s harder to control and very powerful. If we can harness it, we can use its power for many things, one such in context seemingly trivial end game is to improve our on-site conversion significantly!

Phycologists refer to these brain parts with other names such as the inner-child and ego, while contemporary Psychology authors apply a view of this domain that is more consumable for mere mortals such as us. Well worth a read are books like the “The Chimp Paradox” by Dr S Peters and “Thinking Fast and Slow” by D Khaneman. For our purposes if we can tap into and “please” the old part of the brain, we can create an online purchase experience that converts much better, digital agencies call this removing cognitive friction. Dr Peters in his book calls this old brain the “chimp” (picture below) and for a good reason he picks a chimp as the proxy, Dr Peters tells us that this chimp is some 20 times stronger than the other parts of the brain, tap into that and you can create what is called in ecommerce terms high converting and frictionless experiences online.


While these authors do a superb job of dumbing down the neuroscience, rightly so, to try and make it consumable for us mere mortals, they all, including the classical psychologists refer to these three key brain areas with different Pseudemys. The science is well proven here, so onward, if we can target this the “chimp” we can channel significant action from our customers.

Now we understand why, lets move to the how. How can we apply that to an online shopping experience?


Here are four examples of how you can use this knowledge of Human Psychology to improve our onsite conversion and user experience by appealing to the old brain.

Woman, Shopping, Lifestyle, Adult, Bags, Buy

  1. Create a few simple choices, reduce the cognitive friction. Here is an example of too much choice:

Is there such a thing as too much choice? - Psychminds

Here is when it’s just right:

Convert more customers using lessons from psychology

Apple have always been a favorite of mine for creating the right amount of choice and creating relevant experiences. Closer to home, imagine your boiler goes at home, mine did recently, little did I realize how many types of boilers for home heating there are. Just go type “Boiler” on the Screwfix website, you get 283 results, too much choice. Do the same on Wolseley’s website and you got four specific categories or types of Boilers to choose from first, before you are presented with the actual results, this is important as the word “Boiler” as many variants, the Wolseley UX in my favorite, it is more relevant and a better experience. By the way this is nothing to do with the underlying tech, any ecommerce platform can manage that, one approach directs the consumer on a journey the other is more complex, and you can see why; Gas, Combi, LPG, KW, System, etc! Get this choice right and you will create cognitive ease reducing your bounce rate!

2. Provide simplified choices with comparisons for your visitors. This is often called “anchoring”. Phone and broadband companies do this well, they side by side list packages, giving the purchaser reference points to support the decision. Here is an example from Virgin Media, it’s like a the classic small, medium, or large choice at any fast-food outlet.

Convert more customers using lessons from psychology

Also, another example used by many is merchandising sequencing in, Kahneman in “thinking fast and slow” has lots to say on in his book on priming, its well proven, also worth reading is Priceless by W Poundstone, the latter author looks at the psychology of pricing, combined with Kahneman’s anchoring observations you can get good results. If you want to up your game read them both. To implement a mash up of the two, you might position a higher priced product, say it’s a branded shirt at 59.95, next to your target product that you want to sell lots of, say its 39.95. This 39.95 product now appears relatively better value and will convert better.

3. Imagery is vital to prime and create the right mental mood, if you are selling luxury goods your images should match and set the scene, if you are selling household cleaning products likewise the imagery should evoke the mindset of the buyer. Here is a little proof point with a test, to hammer this home, first look carefully at this image:

Many cleaning products say they kill 99.9 per cent of germs. Should I worry about the remaining 0.1 per cent? - BBC Science Focus Magazine

Okay you have seen the above picture of cleaning products. Now look carefully and tell me the missing letters here: S _ _ P. Chances are you will think the missing letters are O and A, spelling SOAP. You have been primed! Look up the statistics on that, you could have picked any of these, salp, samp, scop, scup, seep, ship, shop, simp, skep, skip, slap, slip, slop, snap, snip, soap, soop, soup, sowp, stap, step, stop, sump, swap and swop! Imagery is key, had you seen this image first:

Vegetables, Fruits, Fresh, Produce, Harvest, Organic

You would have likely piked O and U = Soup. Try it on someone who has not been primed.

4. Social proof is also important, we know that from ratings and review results, but consider your buyer audience and make them feel at home. Have you ever noticed the amount of North Face brand loyalists that have never been near the “North Face”, perhaps never very far from where they were born. The point is knowing your audience and marketing to your audience in their terms with their imagery, go check out the North Face site and its imagery evokes a definitive outdoors feel, even if you only ascend to your local shops in your North Face jacket, you still crave and need this imagery before you buy. You get the idea here:

Convert more customers using lessons from psychology

It’s not just North Face check out Helly Hansen too:

Helly Hansen | Skifahren, Segeln, & Outdoor Bekleidung | HH AT

In Summary,

  1. Reduce choice and make it relevant.
  2. Anchor choices well to help keep it simple and create cognitive ease.
  3. Use imagery that primes your customer.
  4. Consider your audience wisely and again use imagery, social proof or whatever is needed to validate your brand belongs to the target audience.

To learn more about how HCL Commerce helps you sell more click here

Happy Trading!


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