AAs a digital marketer, Emily Ware spends a lot of time online, but this comes with risk. Ware has borderline personality disorder, a mental health condition related to impulsive behaviors. In your case, that’s spending money online.
“At the beginning of 2020 I was in debt of £ 4,250 with nothing to prove,” he says. “A good 95% of this was due to impulsive spending, from clothes to trips to bars and concert tickets. One of the worst was spending £ 300 on tickets to see Cher on a whim. “
According to charity Money and mental health, one in eight adults spends more than they can afford online, while almost one in four buys things they don’t need. People who have experienced mental health problems are twice as likely to do either of these, and the charity says they are especially vulnerable during the coronavirus pandemic.
Britons collectively spend up to £ 1 billion each month on impulse purchases, according to a survey conducted last year by 118 118 Money. While mental health, mood, and personality play a role in that, consumer psychology is increasingly being used to shape our online choices. This combination of design and behavioral science means that our unplanned purchases are not always as spontaneous as we think.
Kate Nightingale is a consumer psychologist working with brands and charities such as Klarna, Swarovski, and the British Heart Foundation. She says her role involves doing things that can get people to buy, “but we make sure they really understand the meaning of the product, its value.”
Whether they are used for positive purposes or not, the problem for some consumers is that these tactics are slick, successful, and designed to be discreet. It can be difficult to know when brands are using them, and difficult to resist the most attractive ones.
Some of the more common ways that retailers take advantage of psychology include rushing into decisions and persuading ourselves that we are missing out if we don’t make a purchase.
Shortage: Anything limited creates a sense of urgency and prepares us to act quickly. Sales are by definition limited. Hotel websites also use this when they say that there are four rooms available, but five people are viewing them. It works because most of us want to avoid the pain of losing something.
Free shipping thresholds work the same way. The pain of missing out on a gift can push us to spend a little more, even if we don’t need or want the extra items.
Social proof: Reviews, Recommendations, and Likes indicate that a product has already been tried and tested, so it feels safe. It works because we are kind of a herd: we copy ourselves to show that we fit in and because copying is an easier cognitive process.
Some brands take advantage of this by revealing what other consumers bought, while Facebook highlights what their friends and family like. Why? Because we trust your opinions above all, which makes it a powerful form of marketing.
Default options: It takes less mental effort to stick with the defaults, like leaving the newsletter box checked. The same applies to repeat subscriptions (often discounted to further sweeten the deal) and select packages. On the other hand, Nightingale says that canceling later can be more difficult, as it means facing if you made the wrong choice the first time.
The home test options push the same buttons. These allow you to order multiple items and return what you don’t want. Retailers know that many consumers will avoid the pain of choosing or returning things. Ware agrees: “The problem was that I would have more clothes than I had the budget.”
Framed: Scrolling through many similar products is exhausting, so websites find ways to prevent us from getting distracted or clicking.
“Our brain is designed to pay attention when something is different because it can be a potential danger or opportunity,” says Nightingale. Framing or dividing up your content also makes it easier to understand, rather than mixing it all up.
Varying the font size by just one or two points is another tactic, he says. “Subconsciously your mind will pick up on it. And since it is slightly larger, you will naturally pay attention to it. So you feel like you like this product, but it has nothing to do with the product. “
Frictionless payment: Once we’re ready to spend, seamless payment options like one-click checkout and guest checkout help us check out before questions arise. Buy now and pay later options like Klarna also give the illusion of payment flexibility and therefore affordability, minimizing that it is a form of debt. It is this speed and lack of transparency that worries critics.
What Retailers Can Do
Money and Mental Health says that all of these marketing tricks tempt consumers to spend more than they can afford and leave them vulnerable to debt problems. The charity is asking retailers to make shopping online slower and more considerate, adding friction again to the process.
Friction is anything that prevents us from completing tasks and can mean a loss of revenue for retailers. “Take an example of a queue in a real store,” says Nightingale. “How many times did you abandon your potential purchase because you were in a long queue?”
Friction online includes clicking multiple buttons or reading fine print, which designers often try to minimize. Processing information is expensive in terms of energy and effort, says Nightingale. “Our brain generally looks for easier ways, so it can conserve energy for other things that are more important.”
Sam Nurse is a debt counselor and president of Monetary Advice Center. She says impulsive purchases cause problems when they conflict with priority costs, like rent. She advises clients struggling with spending to “try to be aware of any impulsive buying habits and find ways to disrupt the urge.”
Nurse wants retailers to adopt “ethical marketing and advertising policies that aim not to exploit impulsive purchases among lower income groups and vulnerable consumers.” Both she and Ware are asking online stores to help consumers assess affordability and consequences before paying, but that’s the opposite of the well-being sentiment global retailers are building online.
“When I started in marketing about six years ago, I thought now I know all the tactics that I couldn’t fall in love with them,” Ware says. “I would look at the ads on the gambling sites and think how ridiculous their tactics are and that I would never be attracted to it, but I managed to be attracted to something so addictive.”
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.