10 Bizarre Things That Influence Customers Online

We know there are a lot of psychological factors that influence purchase behavior online and offline. Here are just a handful of funny things that influence customers to behave the way they do:

Bigger Buy Button

It’s 2011, and by now you would think web users would be confident that every ecommerce site has an Add to Cart button, right? Why does color, size and even irregular shape have a proven, measurable impact on products added to cart, checkout initiation and checkout completion?

The most likely answer is that big, bold, funky shaped buttons stand out and put the “call” in call-to-action. Steve Krug was right: “don’t make me think.” I mean really, don’t make them think!

Mixed Case Ads

According to testing by Mind Valley Labs and others, This Simple Tactic of capitalizing the First Letter of each word in your PPC headlines can Boost Click-Through Rate by 80%. But hey, why not test it yourself?

Up To…

Is it better to send an email promotion with “Sale! 15-75% off!” or “Sale! Up to 50% off!”?

With number ranges, the customer will make a mental shortcut that defaults to the lower end of the range for percent off, and the higher range for dollar amounts in a “sale” context.

Why? We all understand that most people win $1 on the scratch and win ticket, not $100,000, and sale products are more likely to be just 15% off. So in this case, up to 50% off is more persuasive than even the 75% promise in the range. (The flipside is, people can mentally ignore the “up to” and demand 50% off of an item “as advertised” – yes, this happened to me plenty of times in my retail days!)

Free Shipping

A professor at the Wharton School of Business found that consumers preferred free shipping worth $6.99 in savings over a $10 discount on the product. Irrational, but I have my theories why…

Are we there yet?

Nearly 1/2 of consumers are too spoiled rotten by high speed broadband and Google searches in 0.00000001 seconds to wait more than one-Mississippi-two-Mississippi before bailing from a site. Site speed not only impacts the current site visit, but even future visits, as Forrester reported in 2007 when page load expectation was a generous 4 seconds:

  • 64% of dissatisfied online shoppers said they were less likely to visit a slow retailer again
  • 62% were less likely to purchase from the site again
  • 48% would purchase from a competitor
  • 28% would hold a negative perception of the company
  • 27% would tell a friend about the bad experience
  • 16% reported they would be less likely to visit a retailer’s offline store after a bad online experience


Not to mention, page load speed affects search rankings. Optimize for performance!

The Eyes Have It

The direction of a model’s eyes directs the eyes of the web user. Show subjects looking towards a call to action or important, and customers’ eyeballs will follow. Or use a head-on shot and stop ‘em dead in their tracks.

Kill Will

Ditch “will” in your copywriting to make it more powerful and persuasive. For example: “The SuckCut will shave dollars off your monthly haircuts by giving you the freedom to groom your head at home. Chicks will dig it!” Better: “The SuckCut shaves dollars of your monthly haircuts by giving you the freedom to groom your head at home. Chicks dig it!” (OK that’s otherwise an example of terrible copy, but you get the idea).

Open Fields

Users have a tendency to start typing in open fields without really reading the label first. For example, entering email addresses in search boxes and vice versa, or in returning customer login fields instead of clicking Guest Checkout.

Labeling inside of the field helps prevent such errors (text disappears when user starts typing).

Extreme Couponing

Showing a coupon box in checkout (or voucher code for our European friends) can send a customer to Google to find a coupon, costing you margin in price and affiliate commission and messing up your marketing attribution. Blech.

Displaying the coupon box only to customers who have been referred with a coupon code is one way to curb this behavior.

Spam Button

The spam button should be used for flagging messages selling C*alis and other, well, spam emails. But many use the button simply because an email was uninteresting. This means messages one has opted into could be erroneously marked as spam, and the reputation of that sender hurt. Follow the tips to avoid this problem!

Got any more examples? Please share in the comments.

Looking for help with ecommerce? Contact the Elastic Path consulting team at consulting@elasticpath.com to learn how our ecommerce strategy and conversion optimization services can improve your business results.

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6 Responses to “10 Bizarre Things That Influence Customers Online”

  1. Jean says:

    Fancy buy-it-now buttons are always a treat when I go online shopping. :) The prettier, the better!

    Omitting “will” out of one’s copywriting is such a fantastic tip. I don’t do it too often, but I’m stopping that habit starting today.

  2. I’m fascinated by all forms problems, and was particularly intrigued by your point about labels inside fields, finishing:
    “Labeling inside of the field helps prevent such errors (text disappears when user starts typing)”.

    I noticed that many of your points are supported by a link to evidence but this one wasn’t. It also surprised me a lot, because I have got lots of anecdotal evidence that:
    (a) users hate it when the labels for fields disappear on them (“what was I meant to type?”)
    (b) putting a label inside the box makes it look less like something to type into, and so harder to find.

    But I was intrigued by your point because I also have plenty of evidence that users treat any empty box on a page as the box appropriate for typing in what they want to do, e.g. a search term.

    Could you please point me to the evidence for your advice?


    • Hi Caroline, excellent comment.

      Clarifying point with the word “instructions” rather than “label” would have been better. In-field labels that disappear reduce and do not return hurt usability, but instructions to clarify, such as labeling a search box with “enter email address” or “search by keyword or item number” can help prevent errors where people make the assumption of what the field is about. The label would be “Search” and the in-field text would be instructions “search by keyword or item number.” If the instructions disappear, the context remains with the static label.

      You are correct that pre-filled fields can be skimmed-over and are less obvious that they require input, for that reason, a very light gray text provides context without causing the problems. This may be user tested on a site-by-site basis, of course, as any usability reduction from overlooking fields should be measured against the reduction in errors (another usability problem).

      The distinction should also be made between short forms and long forms. Short forms such as an email sign up, search field or even checkout login requires less recall, so in-field labels aren’t as wonky. For long forms, they should be avoided. Luke W has some commentary on this on UIE.com you may be interested in.

  3. Hi Linda

    I am familiar with Luke’s article. He doesn’t quote any evidence either, just his view of the experience of the Apple form before and after some changes. His view (which I respect; he quoted me in his book, and I quote him in mine “Forms that work: Designing forms for usability”) is that the ‘after’ form is better overall, but he’s at best equivocal about the ‘labels inside boxes’ point:

    “Apple’s solution may be able to mitigate this issue because the form is mostly asking for inputs with a known structure”.

    That’s hardly a ringing endorsement of the idea. Key point: it’s not guaranteed to work, and it’s only appropriate for a specific, rather limited type of form.

    I campaign against instructions inside fields, as in this article:

    My evidence is that instructions inside fields do little to help usability, and are frequently treated as defaults by users.

    Bottom line: don’t put hints or instructions inside text boxes; don’t put labels inside text boxes.

    • Hi Caroline, have you observed there is a difference between forms and free-standing fields like Search and e-mail signup boxes? For example, the visitor with the intent to search is unlikely to not successfully use search because the box appears pre-filled with faint text. Of course, this warrants usability testing, but I would imagine user behavior to be different from filling in other types of forms, where the eye can easily “jump” over fields. Different type of task completion?

  4. Haha, great piece of research. I worked on a campaign once with a voting system, and we saw an increase in the voting numbers once we made the voting button bigger and more visible. I found this rather surprising as it was only as small and quite personal campaign but does just show that the ‘don’t make me think’ factor does work. The ‘The eyes have it’ section is also very interesting, I hadn’t even considered this type of implement before! Good work.

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