Nudge, Nudge: Behavioral Psychology And E-Commerce Conversions

When you’re designing your business or e-commerce website, your main focus is probably on making sure that the design of your website reflects your company’s brand, while being aesthetically appealing to users. While having a strong company brand is crucial for holding onto your customers, your website also needs to increase conversions, guiding your customers towards your desired outcome so that your business is profitable and successful.

One way to increase your e-commerce conversions is by using some basic principles of behavioral psychology. Behavioral psychology is an area of psychology that studies what makes people behave the way they do – the actions, emotions, and thoughts that go into their chosen behaviors. In fact, it’s such an influential field of study that the White House has a “Nudge Unit”. A team with the goal of using simple social experiments to learn how the government can accomplish anything, from lowering energy consumption to increasing tax collection.

Your business will benefit from “nudging” people in the right direction by designing your website to optimize your conversions. Here are four behavioral psychology principles (and the science behind them) to get you started.


More often than not, consumers aren’t sure about the exact value of an item; therefore, they use context clues to make a decision. For example, in one experiment, consumers were given a choice between two differently priced cameras ($170 and $240); their preferences were evenly split. However, when a more expensive option was included ($470), 57% of shoppers preferred the $240 camera, while the two “extremes” were equally chosen.

Most people look for a middle ground. You can take advantage of this on your e-commerce site by adding an “extreme” option to the top end of your offered products. Your customers perceive the value of any item by comparing it to other similar products , so by placing your products adjacent to a more expensive model, your customers will feel more comfortable paying more for the middle option.

Social Herding

We tend to view ourselves as independent spirits who make decisions on their own and without the influence of others’ opinions. But in reality, humans are much more tribal than that. We seek out others with values and beliefs that are similar to our own, and we assimilate ourselves into the same group, following the lead of our peers.

No experiment showcases this principle better than the Asch Conformity Experiments. In these studies, groups of eight participants were asked to look at a line on the left and choose which line it corresponded to on the right. However, in each group, seven of the group members were actors prompted to respond a certain way, while a single, unknowing member (who always answered last) was the real subject.

In the control group, the actors all chose the correct answer; in this scenario, less than 1% of the experiment subjects answered incorrectly. In the experimental group, however, the actors all agreed on an incorrect answer, which resulted in 75% of the subjects agreeing with the group and providing a wrong answer.

On your company’s website, you can use the principles of social herding to build your brand’s sense of community. For example, increase signups for your newsletter by featuring a line that says “Join 3,000 others and subscribe to our newsletter.” That way, your audience will see the power of your community and proof that people similar to them are taking this particular action.

Tyranny Of Choice

Having several options is a good thing, right? Actually, research shows that too many choices can be overwhelming to shoppers, even stopping them from making a purchasing decision.

In one study, researchers set up sampling tables with a display of jams in a grocery store. On Day 1, 24 jam jars were displayed, and 60% of shoppers stopped at the sampling table; however, only 3% of those who stopped purchased a jar of jam. On Day 2, six jam jars were displayed, and while only 40% of shoppers stopped to sample, 30% of those that did went on to purchase a jar.

As it turns out, then, sometimes less is more. Keep your e-commerce site simple and focused on the actions you truly want your customers to take. Cutting down on the decisions your shoppers have to make, makes it easier for them to ultimately convert.


People don’t always love having to make decisions and your brain often “defaults” to certain choices that it knows you’ll enjoy, rather than waste time and energy mulling over every little decision. The path of least resistance is a tempting one.

Organ donation rates in Europe offer a robust example of the power of defaults. In the United Kingdom, Germany, and Denmark, citizens are asked to “opt-in” to organ donation on their DMV forms, resulting in consent percentages of 17%, 12%, and 4%, respectively. Meanwhile, in Austria, Belgium, and France, citizens are asked to “opt-out,” and consent rates are 100%, 98%, and 100%, respectively.

You can make it easier for your audience to choose your desired outcome by pre-checking boxes for actions that you want them to take. For example, go ahead and check the box that asks if your customers want to add on a small product in order to qualify for free shipping; your conversions could increase dramatically.

Your company’s website needs to showcase your brand in its design. However, by including some principles of basic behavioral psychology, you can guide consumers towards your preferred outcomes while making your brand even more strategic.