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The art and science behind every “Add to Cart”

I am a creature of habit. Almost every morning, I order my coffee from the same shop in the basement of my office building, and when I do my grocery shopping online each month, I tend to rely on the same brands for household staples like toothpaste, razor blades, milk and snack foods.

Habitual shopping saves time. I know what I want and where to get it and I can generally be assured that I’m getting it at a reasonable price point.

Consumers like me can be a challenge for brands to market new products to. My attachment to specific products, services and companies makes it harder for brands to convince me to try something new.

Over the years, Adobe has done a lot of research and worked closely with brands to study shoppers’ habits and find out what businesses can do to have a meaningful influence on customers’ purchase decisions. In our fast-paced world, it is human nature to make low-risk decisions on autopilot, much like subconscious reactions. This behavior creates certain patterns that inform us on what makes customers tick – and click – on the same things each month. With this intel, retailers can create more meaningful content and experiences that resonate and drive purchases more effectively.

According to Guliz Sicotte, head of product design and content for Magento, companies must create online experiences that combine four principal characteristics to prompt a customer purchase. The experience must be personalized, reflective, transparent, and involve pleasing aesthetics.

Personalizing experiences
Customers want to feel that products are relevant to their intentions. This can be traced back to what neuroscientists describe as habitual decision-making. Habits start out as conscious decisions but eventually become subconscious.

Link your techniques, content, value proposition and offers to something that feels familiar to the customer’s brain. This will increase the customer’s comfort level and make them more likely to take action because what you’re asking them to do feels easy.
Customers today are faced with a constant barrage of e-commerce opportunities. Brands can expedite the shopping experience and increase conversions by identifying products that other shoppers with similar interests and buying habits have purchased. When a product has been vetted based on other profiles that closely match their own, the customer feels more comfortable making that purchase.

Once the customer feels comfortable, be sure to move beyond that and provide an unexpected delightful experience to break the habitual purchasing patterns. This introduces twists on familiar mental models – something that syncs with customer expectations yet is unique enough to drive new engagement and action at the same time.

Reflective experiences
Each step in your e-commerce experience should reflect intention. For example, if you’re displaying a range of products online, make it easy to determine the characteristic around each, without the customer having to invest too much time to dive into it themselves. Category pages should induce curiosity. Be sure to show customers the important details and features that are most relevant to them and their personal purchase experience.

This process creates a path that drives the customer closer to purchase. Create momentum and a pattern of ‘yes’ which can make the customer more comfortable with a bigger and riskier purchase decision.

For example, if you’re promoting high-end travel, don’t immediately ask the potential customer if they are looking for an expensive vacation to the Caribbean. Instead, ask leading questions about their current travel habits – are they planning to travel in the next 12 months? Do they take a vacation every six months? Every twelve months? By that point, they will be habituated toward a positive response and be more receptive to bigger considerations and bigger purchases.

Cognitive scientists believe that the human brain makes decisions in a reflexive and goal-oriented way. The mistake some businesses make is asking people to tap into their goals too quickly rather than tapping into reflexes and habits first. Create opportunities for the buyer to take small steps first – small steps that eventually lead towards a large goal or purchase.

Transparent experiences
Transparency is another essential for driving positive customer experiences that ultimately lead to purchase.
Make important decision-making factors such as return policies and shopping times highly visible by writing them in clear and simple language. If many products are being displayed, make it easy for customers to find what they’re looking for without having to invest too much time on your site.

An easy, transparent layout plays well into the customer’s need to feel like they’re in control of their environment. Other areas to improve are easy navigation to different aspects of the product page, reviews, the ability to filter selections, and providing preset recommendations for ‘customers like me.’

Instead of making your customer think too much, start with something that feels familiar and habitual to them, requiring less cognitive energy to process. You’ll have an easier time when it comes to persuading them later on.

Aesthetic experiences
The right aesthetics can be hugely influential on the customer’s perception of your store’s trustworthiness. There is a series of innate human behaviors in which we already know what to do next. In the buying process, this includes our reflex towards something beautiful.

Creating this aesthetic experience requires having bigger, more detailed and realistic photos, especially when it comes to apparel, as customers often want to try on and feel the fabric before buying items of clothing. Retailers therefore need to reproduce the experience of being able to see the actual item. This means giving customers large images from many angles. Brands are increasingly also adding videos for a more immersive 360-degree view.

This focus on aesthetics should also be woven into an e-commerce brand’s UX design to help pave a customer’s path to purchase. Principles like proximity, balance, unity and contrast are important to this notion of aesthetics.

The next stage of e-commerce experiences
Understanding the psychology behind why customers make the purchase decisions they do and designing experiences to match those patterns is just the beginning. Brands will continue to fine-tune these strategies, layering in more future-forward technologies as they do so.
Augmented reality (AR) is already fast becoming a game-changer for retailers. AR can be used to overlay outfit styles on online models that look just like the customers themselves, enabling them to envision the real-life equivalent without actually being in store.

However, even with the most precise understanding of what makes us tick and click, together with stunning aesthetics and powerful UX design, none of those matters if the experience doesn’t fill a need in the customer’s purchase path. Don’t just use technology for the whiz-bang effect, gear them towards solving real problems for customers buying online.

With a razor-sharp focus on problem-solving and your brand’s commitment to get closer to customers’ deep, underlying purchase drivers, you’ll be better positioned to inspire consumers like me to break out of my buying habits and ‘click’ on your store.

Ming Fai Chak

Ming Fai Chak, Solutions Consulting Manager, Adobe Southeast Asia.