When developing product pages, user experience designers generally assume that the inclusion of reviews, specs, and other data will increase the likelihood of a customer purchasing the product.
However, we recently researched the online sales of a very popular gadget and witnessed the complete opposite behavioral patterns: The more details that visitors were provided, the less likely they were to purchase it.
There are a few factors that play into this kind of consumer decision-making.
Most recent research into consumer decision-making has focused on attempts to create a model describing the logical process of how people make decisions. However, many of our most crucial choices are made by hunches, gut feelings, and a somewhat automatic reaction that is partly subconscious.
Although we like to refer to this feeling as intuition, which immediately gives it an aura of mystique and glow, the truth is that this “intuition” is actually a process of Emotion-Based Learning.
Based on the emotional significance of past events, one learns to approach or avoid similar situations in the future without having to consciously process them again. For example, if a child touches fire, the next time he sees fire he will remember how it feels. His emotional memory guides his behavior without him having to re-experience the unpleasant occasion again and again.
Researchers at the University of Iowa asked participants to pick one card at a time from four different decks while their physiological measurements were being registered. The decks were set up in a way such that the first two led to an overall loss over the long run, while the other two led to an overall gain. The scientists found that participants figured out the game after choosing about 50 cards, and could explain in a logical manner why choosing cards from the first two decks was a bad idea.
But the logical process described above was not the only process that took place in the participants’ minds; the Iowa scientists found that the participants exhibited stress responses such as increased skin conductivity and increased sweat gland activity in their palms when hovering over the wrong decks, after only 10 cards.
In other words, the participants anticipated unconscious punishment 40 cards before they could articulate it and actually figured out the game long before they had realized that they figured out the game.
Our brains use two different strategies to make sense of a situation. The first is the intuitive System 1, which operates below the surface of consciousness, transfers messages through biological channels such as skin conductivity and sweat glands, and automatically makes many of our decisions. The second is the logical and rational System 2, which, although slow since it requires a lot of information, nevertheless often overrules System 1’s decisions.
When we analyzed the product page for a very popular electronic gadget in order to understand the behavioral differences between purchasers and non-purchasers, the results were bewildering. Customers who purchased the product, whether on their first or fifth visit to the page, spent considerably less time on the page than visitors who did not purchase. They didn’t scroll down as far and seemed less interested in (or distracted by) the abundance of information on the page. On the other hand, visitors who scrolled down the page and paid attention to the technical specification details, reviews, and product descriptions were much less likely to add the product to cart.
Although the observations were surprising, they tie in closely with our two cognitive systems. Research shows that our emotional state plays a large part in our decision to purchase a product. Thus, visitors are more likely to add a product to their cart and complete the purchase process while they are in their emotional mode, controlled by System 1.
Some captivating keywords and images of smiling product owners will often do the trick, leading the visitors’ System 1 to go for the purchase.
However, exposure to too much information forces customers to invest cognitive resources that they weren’t planning on investing. And no, they are not literally forced to read the information, but once they are aware that additional product data exists, they won’t allow themselves to overlook it.
This mere exposure to additional information will trigger their rational System 2 to kick in. Once System 2 gets involved, the process becomes much more complicated; the visitors now feel the need to conduct research on the product and weigh its pros and cons versus others in the market. Moreover, they may completely second-guess their interest in the product–thoughts such as “Do I really need this?” may creep into their minds.
Successful product pages are those that know how to communicate with their customers’s System 1s and keep them in the emotional, more-likely-to-purchase mode.
The product page discussed above, which saw decreased conversion rates as visitors were exposed to more content, essentially forced its visitors into the rational mode and elicited their System 2s. It encouraged scrolling, which in turn exposed a lot of excess data. It was full of technical specification data, long paragraphs of feature descriptions, and large comparison tables with advanced technical language requiring deep concentration and attention to details. When visitors were exposed to all of this, they were no longer able to remain in an emotional mode. As such, their purchasing decision became rational and difficult.
However, once the company optimized the page by hiding the abundant product information behind tabs (and thus available only “on-demand” rather than imposed on visitors coercively), sales of the product increased by threefold.
Unless you are selling a product that is financial or transactional (like an insurance policy), you do not want your visitors to be in a rational mode while engaged in the purchasing process. Your product page layout is above all a way to groom System –to nudge consumers toward a buy.
By exploiting System 1’s propensity to react to subtle cues and utilizing stimuli that trigger the emotional system, you can prevent your customers from activating their rational System 2.
This will allow them to buy your product based chiefly on how it makes them feel, rather than exposing them to overly detailed information that may cause them to second-guess the purchase.
—Liraz Margalit is a customer experience scientist at ClickTale. As CES, Liraz brings thought-leader content concerning online consumer behavior from a psychological perspective. Her analyses incorporate theory and academic research into a conceptual framework that creates insights in online consumer behavior.
—Udi Zisquit is a customer experience (CX) consultant at ClickTale. Udi works with ClickTale’s largest Fortune 500 and global customers.