Thoughts on Digital Marketing

Why Do People Buy?

An E-Commerce Heuristic Formula Explained

When a prospect makes a purchase online, they follow a thought process:

I have a need > Who can meet this need > This link looks likely > Yes, that’ fills it, Should I buy? > Can I trust this company?  > Is this easy?

If we follow that process in an orderly way, we are likely to make a sale.  But the consumer isn’t that orderly. They are fully suspicious of what is presented and somewhat lazy. The elements of your presentation are weighed one against another before they purchase.

In the following, I will lay out the necessary elements and the explore the relationship between them.

If someone comes to your website via a search engine, they already want to buy. That’s the advantage of internet marketing. People seek you out when they need your product or service. You just need to get them not to click away before pulling the trigger.

So, the question really is, “Why Don’t people buy?

The rules for direct marketing haven’t changed since the inception back in the early 20th century.

  • Align what they see with what they want
  • Make a clear, compelling value proposition
  • Instill a sense of urgency
  • Build trust
  • Make it easy for them to complete the order

Let’s look at them individually.

Whether the prospect comes to your site via a search engine or to your landing page via an ad, they come with an expectation. They made a search and were presented with a list of returns and a set of ads.

The search results contain a heading and a description based, if you have done it right, on information that you provided to the crawlers. You have a bold title and a description. On the basis of this description, the user will decide whether or not to click to the site.

In the case of an ad, they make the click decision on basis of the ad’s copy.

In both cases the user made their click decision based on what they read aligning with their motivation to search in the first place.

Upon landing on your page, they will make a snap decision on whether to bounce or engage. If what they comprehend in the first 5 seconds of the page loading (and it had best load quickly) matches their expectation—their motivation--they will engage in the page.

They should not be landing on a vague home page of your site. Be it and ad or a search return to which they are responding, the page present must clearly and specifically mesh with what they presumed they were going to see.

Now that you have made an impression, they will begin to evaluate your offer or evaluate your value proposition. Does what they see fulfill their motivation and represent a reasonable expenditure. If you are seeking a sale, then this is a dollar value. If you are seeking information, then the expenditure is privacy and effort.

Assuming you have not yet turned them off, you now need to get them to respond to your call to action. Th best way being to offer an incentive to act or a disincentive to disengage. Examples being a sale, special offer or limited time offer.

So why haven’t they yet acted? You have yet to build a basis of trust. After evaluating their needs, and the offer, your customer is still evaluating YOU.

Many factors build trust: from the professionalism of the page to the consistency of your message. But you need to further reinforce this with the likes of testimonials, referrals, awards and guarantees. Even the use of PayPal, with its consumer protection, adds trust.

Need, proposition, incentive trust and ease of use. These factors perform not in isolation, but in a relative proportion to one another. If the incentive is large enough, users will suspend disbelief. Just look at the success of the Nigerian email scam.

Flint McGlaughlin of Meclabs created a conversion heuristic that, based on their research, show the relative weights of these factors:
C = 4m + 3v + 2(i-f) - 2a
C = conversion or the behavior you want the user to exercise
m = motivation or what need the user is trying to fulfill
v = the value proposition, the cost/benefit ratio of the offer
I = incentive which urges immediate action
f = friction. That is, barriers with the site that makes it difficult to complete the behavior
a = anxiety, the basic trust in the site

So, the likelihood of obtaining a conversion, the desired behavior, is most influenced by the users’ motivation. More precisely, how well what they see aligns with what they want. This is enhanced by the clarity of your value proposition. Will they fulfill their need?

If your value proposition can immediately bee seen as fulfilling their need then are well on the way to a conversion.

So now you sweeten the pot with an incentive to act. This alone is not likely to overcome a poor value proposition or a lack of alignment with user expectations, but it enhances the likelihood of them acting.
However, if it is difficult to act because of your site design (slow loading pages, too many steps or too long a form, broken links, the inability to answer questions, etc.) the user will move to another offer.
Finally, before the desired behavior, come anxiety. “Do I trust this site, this company, this offer?” “Should I give them my information or money?”

Let’s return to the question, “Why don’t people buy?”

The answer can lie in any of the parts of the conversion heuristic or in the interplay between them.
To discover why aren’t people buying on your site one turns to two tools: web analytics and user testing.

With a properly constructed analytics platform we can follow the user behavior to isolate issues.
Some, like a cart abandonment are fairly easy to detect--by looking at page exits--and rectify. Bounce rates will say much about that initial alignment with motivation. Other factors, like the power of the value proposition and incentives, can be experimentally tested and incrementally improved. Web Analytics can also real how a social media campaign is affecting the anxiety levels of users.
While web analytics can use archived data as a source of insights, user testing, which examines how the user actually interacts with the website, can give us more feedback more quickly.

User testing records how the user interacts with a website: mouse movements, click throughs, navigation usage, page order, etc. Often this comes with a self-narration where the user explains their impressions and actions while navigating the site.

A test with a sample as few as five users can uncover in a few minutes what hours of Web analytics can reveal.

By viewing the conversion process as a set of proportionally related parts and testing them, we can shape user behavior to achieve better results. User testing, website analytics, together with a structured approach to website improvement, will boost user conversions.

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