Using persuasion, emotion and trust to unlock online sales

15 Dec 2015

OK, there’s nothing new about the power of persuasion, emotion and trust when it comes to selling. We didn’t use the term, but PET principles worked in advertising, shops and showrooms long before we had the internet and eCommerce.

People need to be persuaded before they take action; we are very much influenced and led by emotions; and we don’t continue if we don’t trust them.

Using persuasion, emotion and trust in the non-personal internet world is not easy. That’s why PET is something UX consultants focus on. They are at the core of good UX design and conversion rate optimisation because they drive action and conversions.

Mastering PET principles helps you design better sites and continuously improve them to earn every possible conversion. Incorporating them into your eCommerce strategy means easy, stress-free buying journey for your customers.

Using persuasion to trigger engagement

Persuasion isn’t convincing somebody to do something they don’t want to do. Online it’s easy for people to abandon a selling process that makes them uncomfortable; so forget about convincing them to do something they fundamentally don’t wish to. And if you did manage to pull it off, would it help if it leads to disappointment and negative reviews?


Age UK explain how a donation amount could help towards to drive persuasion.

Persuasion means getting people to realise that what you want them to do is in their interests - and then convincing them to act immediately. Your best chance of converting a sale is when people first see an offer, or a reason to act - this is when the process is at its most straightforward for your customer.

Social proof persuasion techniques

When it comes to persuasion there’s safety in numbers. Would you choose the busy restaurant with a ‘buzz’ - or the deserted one next door?

Being part of the crowd feels less risky. This is why reviews are so influential. We want to see that other people have done the same thing (or bought the same product) and been happy. Personal recommendations are highly influential and so are unbiased online reviews.converse_screenshot

Schuh use persuasion techniques by with ratings and implementing ‘12 customers have this in their basket’

Where you position reviews and ratings on product pages affects conversions. They should support rather than interrupt the flow. Data analysis and testing will tell you whether people use your reviews as they should and it’s often a productive area for split testing.

Get them to act NOW

Scarcity (only 3 left in stock) and limited duration (offer ends in x minutes…) are proven to persuade people to act now rather than later. groupon_screenshot

Groupon use ‘Limited Availability’ and ‘over 20 bought’ to combine two scarcity methods

We all love bargains and offers. But are we really are getting a discount? Showing people exactly how much they are saving as a sum of money takes away that moment of doubt that could kill your sale. Partner this with scarcity and time limits and you’ll get more completed sales.

The art of persuasion is related to reducing cognitive dissonance - the feeling of unease when what we’re doing might be out of step with our beliefs. It’s also closely intertwined with our emotions, which is what we’ll look at next.

Emotional triggers that drive behaviour

We like to imagine that we’re rational beings, driven by logic and reason. In reality we’re not. Technical data and specifications help to confirm and rationalise our actions, but the impulse to buy is triggered by an emotion. Rationalisation often comes later.

Like it or not, associations with emotional triggers drive our behaviour. Think about comfort eating. Reaching for the chocolate when we’re a bit down only makes sense because the chocolate is associated with a happier time or happier state of mind.

Psychologist Steven Reiss identified 16 basic psychological drives that influence our behaviour. A useful first step is to understand which of the following would be motivators for people to buy your products. You can then think about associations you can create in the minds of site visitors.

  • Power over others
  • Status
  • Romance
  • Intellectual curiosity
  • Independence
  • Acceptance (being included)
  • Saving & collecting
  • Honour & loyalty
  • Idealism & justice
  • Social contact
  • Family
  • Vengeance
  • Eating
  • Physical activity
  • Tranquility

Experiments showed that a wine store sold three times as much wine when they played classical music in the background compared to the Top 40.

Not convinced that associations influence behaviour? Think about what the smell of fresh bread baking does to your buying behaviour in the supermarket.

And why would a dog be so effective at selling paint or toilet roll, if it wasn't for the power of association?

Associations that create emotions

Again, back in the days of print advertising it was shown time and again that adverts featuring photos of products being worn or used outperformed those that just showed the product.

Now, thanks to neuroscience and technology we understand that those images trigger brain activity similar to when you are using the product for yourself. Rather than just seeing the product your brain is ‘experiencing’ how it would feel to own, wear or use it.hume_screenshot

The inclusion of lifestyle images saw click-through rates increase by 15.9% Source

Product images and descriptions can create the associations that will stimulate the right emotions. Header and background images can be particularly effective because they are peripheral and subliminal. This factor can really help if your budget doesn’t run to photographing every product being used.

Questions for designers: What do you want customers to feel when they think about your product? What imagery could you use to help associate your products with those feelings? What colours are associated with those feelings and emotions?

If you never put much thought into background images and the associations they create, you should! As ever, set up some tests and measure the impact of different images before making wholesale changes.

How to make a site feel trustworthy

I don’t think anyone will fall down in shock if I say that people won’t buy from a site that doesn’t seem trustworthy. But what makes an eCommerce site look like one that can be trusted? Here’s a quick checklist:

  • Make it look professional. The quality of the design and images tells your customer that the business behind the site is real and substantial.
  • Testimonials and social proof show others have trusted your brand.
  • Use payment methods that people recognise.
  • Use recognised trust seals.
  • Use confidence building elements on your buttons and CTAs (padlocks, ‘pay securely’ etc).
  • Include full contact details (including a phone number) and your postal address.
  • Be up-front about delivery charges so people can see them at the point of ordering.
  • Make your returns policy clear and easy to find.screwfix_screenshot

Screwfix’s checkout use a known security seal and also display a padlock and 'Secure Checkout'

Ultimately, good UX design delivers a trouble-free mental process. The second somebody stops to think about whether they can trust your site or really need what you are selling, the game is up. The subliminal background images we talked about earlier are powerful because they create an association without your customer having to stop and think.

Incorporating the emotional, persuasion and trust elements holistically into your design makes them part of the flow of the process - so the mental effort required from customers is kept to a minimum. After all, we all like an easy life.

We offer a range of UX and Optimisation services to help improve customer experiences and increase conversation rates.