The decision to buy anything is made in fractions of a second. Almost the entire decision-making process takes place in the emotional centres of the brain. Only after our emotions have come up with their idea of the right thing to buy does the more logical part of our brain come into play. It then attempts to justify the decision that is made. And all of that takes place in less than a second, according to much neuroscience on decision-making.
For an online business, you want people to decide in your favour. You want the brains of your visitors to be thinking “yes, I want to buy that”, rather than “maybe” or even “no”. So, how can you get people to make the decisions that you want?
Research on the process through which people make purchasing decisions shows that we tend to go through a similar set of steps before pressing that “buy now” button or take an item to the checkout in a store.
You’ll see these stages in a recent set of lecture slides I used for my Business and Management undergraduate students that I teach at the University of Buckingham. Essentially, before buying anything we need to:
- Know that we want something
- Clarify our precise need
- Explore the possible solutions to that need
- Identify suitable suppliers
At each of these stages, the Internet plays a crucial psychological role in the decision to buy.
Helping people know what they want
Often people do not know what they want. They do not wake up each day with a shopping list inside their head. Instead, almost everything that we purchase is generated by a subconscious desire, as I explain in Chapter 1 of my book Click.ology.
What this really means is that you need to constantly be in the mind of your target audience for whatever it is you sell. That, in turn, means that you need to be adding content to your website regularly, frequently updating social media and being present wherever your target buyers hang out, whether that is online or in the real world.
Customers will soon forget about you and potential clients will not even know about you, unless you are “omnipresent”. The subconscious nature of decision-making means that most people decide to buy from people they have already heard about. Many businesses appear to leave that job to Google’s algorithm. In other words, these firms have no control over how people hear about them or even think about them in the first place.
To help people to make the decision to buy from you, your company needs to be highly visible in your marketplace.
Clarifying precise needs
When people do realise they want to buy something, they start some basic searches. These could include looking at blogs and videos from “YouTubers” to collect ideas. Many people talk to their friends, family or colleagues to try and get a notion of what’s best for them.
In the modern parlance of the online world, this means you need to be using “influencers”. These are bloggers and vloggers who can talk about your company’s products and services. Before the Internet came along, this was called “public relations”. Essentially, you need to get other people talking about you, if you are going to be able to help potential clients clarify their needs and be steered towards a decision to buy that is heading in your direction.
Exploring possible solutions
When people who want to buy something get to the stage of serious consideration, they start looking around the web for companies that might be able to sell them what they want. At this stage, they are making rapid emotional decisions about products and services that might work for them. One piece of research has shown that people make the choice of websites to explore in 560 milliseconds – just over half a second. There’s a problem with that; you are not consciously aware of anything until 700 milliseconds. So, people are deciding whether your business website is one they wish to explore BEFORE they are even aware of what they are looking at.
This means your website has to be well-designed, fresh, up-to-date and obviously easy-to-use. If you do not meet these minimum requirements, as well as look aesthetically pleasing, your potential customer will not even consider you.
Helping people identify you as a potential supplier
In the world of consumer psychology, when people are just sifting through a range of potential websites and suppliers that is known as an “Evoked Set” of possible suppliers. Once they have taken a look at these possibilities, buyers focus on what is known as a “Consideration Set”, or what might be called a short-list. Your business needs to be in that short-list of suppliers that will be considered. Otherwise, your target audience cannot even make the decision to buy from you.
Your target visitors need clear information, detailed specifications and a guide to what they will pay, preferably an exact price. Often online, companies will display prices in US Dollars to appeal internationally. But that is off-putting. Research shows that if you don’t put prices in the local currency of each visitor, they often make the decision not to buy from you.
Also, compare yourself to the competition; highlight their weaknesses. List all the features of your products and services, in addition to the benefits. Much marketing advice is to focus on benefits. But in the “Consideration Set” phase of purchase decision-making, people are much more focused on features.
Getting people to buy from you
There is a lot you can do to influence people and make them more likely to want to buy from your business. However, you need to make sure you have satisfied their needs at every stage of the decision-making process, otherwise, you will lose out to the competition.
You can find out more about decision-making in the sales process on The Sales Chat Show podcast episode “The Science and Psychology of Human Decision Making“.
You can also find out more about decision-making in online shopping from the Communigator Blog. Below is an infographic created by B2BMetric which details the stages of the decision-making that goes on when people buy something.