When trying to optimize your e-commerce website, it is easy to get lost in tactics instead of understanding the fundamental psychology principles driving user action.
This is easily demonstrated by the debate on the best “call to action” (CTA) button color: if asked what the best button color for conversions is, you are most likely going to answer “red,” “orange,” or some other color. And you’re most likely to be wrong.
In one experiment about CTA button colors, of which the results were published on popular marketing blog Hubspot, a writer famously declared that “red beats green.” The psychologist in me couldn’t help but notice a flaw in the study, though: It ignored a fundamental psychology principle that could have made “green beat red” in a similar experiment if the situation were reversed—the principle of sensory adaptation (one of the principles I’ll be discussing later in this article).
When trying to optimize your e-commerce website for better conversions, it is important to avoid having a simplistic worldview in which the focus is placed on tactics (making it difficult to replicate the results of your experiment). Instead, try to understand the fundamental psychological principles driving user action and make changes based on these principles. Below are three principles to help you get started:
Principle #1. Sensory Adaptation, and Why Red Doesn’t “Beat” Green
Going back to the button color experiment, in which the author of the Hubspot article boldly claimed that “red beats green,” a keen eye would have observed something both pages tested in the experiment have in common: Both CTA buttons were tested on a page with a green color scheme. As a result, the red button stood out against the green background, while the green button blended in. That could have impacted results in favor of the red CTA button.
Psychologists have found that what blends in tends to get ignored, and what stands out tends to get noticed. In particular, sensory adaptation (or neural adaptation) is “a change over time in the responsiveness of the sensory system to a constant stimulus.”
In other words, when our brain gets exposed to the same stimulus constantly, responsiveness decreases. It’s why you don’t feel your shoes or clothes after being in them for a while, it’s why it doesn’t hurt as much after a while if you put your hands in slightly hot water, and it’s why you will not easily notice a green button on a long sales page with a green color scheme.
Implication for your e-commerce site: When trying to introduce CTAs or other elements that you want users to notice on your e-commerce website, make sure it doesn’t blend in. If your site uses the red color scheme, a red CTA button will give you suboptimal conversions. The same goes for practically every other element of your site. Design your e-commerce site with an understanding of the principle of sensory adaptation and you’ll notice your conversions soar.
Principle #2. Weber’s Law of Just-Noticeable Difference
While the concept of change sounds good, we’re psychologically unprepared to deal with drastic sudden change. This is why Snapshat recently experienced massive backlash when it introduced its new redesign.
Whether it is a redesign, a change in pricing, or an improvement to an existing product, it is important to introduce them with an understanding of the principle of just-noticeable difference. Just-noticeable difference is the amount of change you need to introduce to something in order for the difference to be noticeable at least half of the time.
Depending on the kind of change you want to introduce, you might want to ensure it is below or above just-noticeable difference. Positive changes should be at or above just-noticeable difference while negative changes should be below.
- If you want to redesign a website people are familiar with and love, the changes should not be too drastic. Instead, it can be gradually rolled out so that people do not see a drastic change.
- If you want to increase the price of a product, avoid introducing a drastic price hike. Instead, implement a gradual price increase until you achieve your desired price.
- If you want to introduce a positive product improvement that many customers have requested, ensure that the difference is clear enough that people notice a change from what was initially available.
Whether you want to increase product prices, redesign your e-commerce website, or introduce some other change, operating with an understanding of Weber’s law of just-noticeable difference will decrease backlash and improve conversions.
Principle #3. The Pleasure Principle, and the Demand for Instant Gratification
When Freud introduced the concept of the “pleasure principle,” we weren’t as impatient we are today. However, attempting to optimize your e-commerce contrary to this principle could make your conversions suffer.
Psychologists have repeatedly found that we want instant gratification. Not just that, but we ignore or protest against anything that doesn’t help satisfy this instant gratification. This explains decreasing human attention spans, to the point where a study stated that human attention span is now shorter than the famed short attention span of the goldfish. It’s also why a single second delay in website load time could reduce conversions by a whopping 7 percent!
Having a slow website violates the pleasure principle and will result in poor conversions. If your e-commerce website is not optimized for speed, it’s time to do something:
- Make your website faster. Enable caching and use a CDN, use a website builder/CMS with a focus on speed, audit your website to remove bloated code, and change hosts if necessary.
- Make it possible for people to see the status of their activity on your site, for example, if they are at checkout or if a page is loading. Let them see their progress with activities on your website—not knowing how long they have to wait is a painful experience that will cost you sales.
- Reduce the checkout process. Research has shown that more form fields and more checkout pages negatively impact conversions.
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