The Psychology of an Online Shopper

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Every time someone makes an online purchase, numerous psychological factors have pushed them towards such a decision. As an eCommerce store owner, it makes sense to take some time to understand how the human brain functions in these scenarios and how this can contribute to the success of your online store.

Understanding buyer psychology is more than simply making more sales; it will guide your user journey, connect with your audience and offer the best possible experience for existing and new customers alike.

In this blog, we’re going to consider how you could use five vital psychological principles to improve your online store experience.

Buyer Psychology Background

We all like to think that our choices are made through our own cold, complex logic, but in fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth. According to, our decisions are primarily motivated by emotional factors, not logical ones.

This is why those who experience brain trauma to the area which processes emotion often struggle to make decisions.

For instance, have you ever tried to put a point to somebody using solid facts, yet still they refuse to budge to see the logical conclusion?

We’ve all been in that situation, and it’s someone’s emotional connection to their point of view, which prevents them from seeing another perspective, and believe it or not, this scenario can be applied to an individual making a purchase online.

Understanding precisely what influences purchasing decisions is vital and will apply ten-fold when running an eCommerce business, yet it is often overlooked.

Product Positioning Defined by Psychology

One of the most popular representations of the human psychological condition is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:


Product Positioning Defined by Psychology

Courtesy of Thoughtco

This simple chart dictates the motivations behind our decision-making. This includes basic needs such as food and shelter, personal self-esteem, and potential drivers for success.

While this may seem theoretical, it does work when applied to real-world applications. It tells us that selling based on features, or ‘logic,’ should give way to something more expressive.

Take the example of the watch industry. All watches must essentially achieve the same thing: telling the time. Of course, some may offer additional features such as measuring submersion depth in water or telling you the temperature, but by and large, when you buy a watch, you know what features to expect.

What sets one wristwatch apart from another is the psychology of the price tag. For instance, a Rolex is designed for the high-end luxury market, but a sports watch is designed to be robust and used daily.

In this instance, Rolex advertisements will target ‘esteem’ in their advertising to play on the idea of the respect, status, and recognition having a Rolex may bring. On the other hand, a sports watch manufacturer may target self-actualization, where advertising may focus on the positives of exercise and achieving goals.

Therefore, it’s essential to ask yourself, ‘what fundamental need does my product address?’ From here, you can begin to tailor your advertising and steal a march on similar competitors by making your product more appealing to your key demographics.

Creating Action Using Psychological Triggers

Psychological triggers are also a significant factor in deciding to take action, whether buying a product or signing up for a newsletter.

There are countless psychological triggers we could cover, but here we’ve chosen five of the most common that you need to consider:

  • Decision Paralysis
  • Social Proof
  • FOMO
  • Status Quo Bias
  • Framing

#1: Decision Paralysis

Decision Paralysis

If you were to ask anyone whether they enjoy being presented with choices, they’d most likely say that they do. That said, the way we act doesn’t back up this statement; we are simple creatures, and too much choice creates ‘decision paralysis.’

In other words, when presented with too much choice, our default response is to take the easier route and make no decision at all.

This will undoubtedly be a problem if you run an eCommerce website with a vast selection of products. This is not only an issue for people that are looking for something specific, but also if they are unable to choose between similar products.

This problem will also apply to your calls to action; if you have too many, or they’re too complicated, your users are far less likely to complete any of them.

You can solve this problem by highlighting one choice above others, featuring a single product, or creating a universal call-to-action.

#2: Social Proof

Social proof is, in a nutshell, the idea that we tend to follow the pack, which is why it’s crucial to show how much others enjoyed the products you have to offer.

This is why any good eCommerce website will be heavy on reviews, testimonials, and product ratings. The more a product is shared, rated, and reviewed, the more likely we assume that this is a good product.

Social proof has even more impact when a recommendation comes from a friend, member of the family, or celebrity endorsement.

#3: FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)

FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)

FOMO is by far the most impactful psychological tactic we have in our arsenal. When it comes to the idea that we may miss out on a positive experience, we’re naturally motivated to take action to avoid the inevitable feeling that comes with missing out on something we feel might be necessary.

You can harness this in several different ways, by:

  • Limiting stock of a popular product
  • Offering substantial discounts over a short period
  • Showing customers how popular a product is and how many people have viewed it

Airbnb uses these kinds of ideas to the significant effect:

By telling the visitor that the times they are looking to go away are expected to be busy, it triggers an action to secure the accommodation they want and prevent FOMO.

Humans are naturally resistant to sacrifice, so the idea that someone else should benefit from our inaction is not something we’re accustomed to.

Think of it like this: when a child is playing with a particular toy, they’ll get bored of it after a while and abandon it. If someone else comes along and takes it sometime later, the child’s interest suddenly peaks again.

It’s such a simple analogy, but it’s one that you should be using to your advantage.

#4: Status Quo Bias

The status quo bias is our preference to stick with things that we’re comfortable with. It’s why we order the same thing in a restaurant time after time – because we know we enjoy it.

We’re creatures of comfort, and we like what we know, which is why so many of us unburden ourselves from making any significant changes that might rock the boat.

This is something that many organizations will look to take advantage of by increasing prices because they know you’re never likely to move to another company. Think about all those times you’ve looked at new phone tariffs or car insurance deals that are only available to new customers.

For an eCommerce website owner, the status quo bias means two things:

  • Firstly, it means any initial design or structural changes to a website need to be done carefully and slowly. Massive overhauls can often mess with people since they’re already familiar with a particular way of doing things; a sudden change could force them to look elsewhere.
  • Secondly, it’s vital to ensure that the transition for new customers away from competitors is simple and as smooth as possible. If that move is difficult, it will only reinforce the status quo bias that moving is too much of a hassle.

#5: Price Framing

Price framing is another useful tool available in our eCommerce box of tricks. This is the idea that to identify the value of something, it must be compared to something else.

We’re often reluctant to buy a product until we can compare it with other products, and you certainly don’t want a customer looking to competitors.

The best way to do this is to frame the value of the product on a website. Let’s, for example, say that your website sold bespoke website contact forms. Your potential customers will instinctively want to compare your product to competitors, to understand whether it’s worth the money. Instead of them shuffling off to look at a competitor, break down your software offerings into three different packages, like so:

Price Framing


You can offer a standard version, an economy version, and a business version. The idea behind this is that you’re showing your customer that your standard package is of great value and will tick the boxes of most customers.

The economy package will usually be so basic that it won’t cover the needs of the many, and the business package will only satisfy the needs of a few. These factors combined mean that the standard package becomes the most attractive, both in cost and features.

In Summary

Sales tactics and smart psychology tips have been a mainstay in retail circles for centuries, showing how compelling psychology can convince customers to buy.

That said, having the means to buy at the tip of our fingers has changed the retail landscape. An eCommerce business owner no longer needs to convince people to buy; the fact that they’ve visited your website means they already have an active interest.

The challenge is to convince them to buy from us there, and then – waiting can often mean they change their mind or visit a competitor with a comparable product.

In this blog, we’ve covered the psychology of online shoppers to help you make the most of your eCommerce website, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. Since it’s a fascinating topic with so much nuance, it is worth digging that little bit deeper.


Richard LeCount is a branding and marketing expert and the managing director of eCommerce business

The Psychology of an Online Shopper

Omnichannel eCommerce for Top Selling Online Products