The Predictably Irrational Customer

Content Maestro
May 23, 2012 | 3:30 PM

I recently finished reading Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by behavioral economist Dan Ariely. In each chapter, Ariely argues that consumers interact with the market in an irrational, yet predictable, manner. Like many other readers, I immediately began to assess my every-waking decision based on the things I was learning. Working in the world of eCommerce and web design at Briteskies, I've noticed a hesitancy or uncertainty with shoppers when making purchases online. In an effort to curb these reservations, I started paying attention to how online stores designed their interfaces and deals in a way that would appeal to these irrational consumer behaviors, which could possibly reduce shopping cart abandonment.

The first chapter of the book, "Relativity", examines a need for comparison while shopping. Comparing similar items may facilitate the decision to buy when you can evaluate pros and cons side by side. Below, I evaluate two examples of sites that use this technique successfully.

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The cross-sell in eCommerce is another good example of Relativity. For example, let’s say I am out browsing spring platforms on DSW.

DSW Wedge Sandal Product PageDSW Wedge Sandal Related Cross Sell

I find a wedge sandal I like but I’m not completely committed to the shoes.  After reviewing the basic product information, I see that DSW has kindly made some suggestions of other platform sandals I might like. Notice that although brand, color and height change, the basic style remains the same.

Introducing a different style of shoe might discourage any progress on the decision making process. It might lead me down another path where I would have to start from the beginning.  It might overwhelm me with too much information and I might lose my interest.

The point of the cross-sell is to offer easy product comparisons while reinforcing the user’s decision to buy.

National Geographic Wants You to Bundle

Similar to the advertisement Ariely examines on the Economist website, I stumbled upon an advertisement for National Geographic promoting two different options for subscriptions to its magazine.

National Geographic Magazine Subscription

The first edition promotes a one year print subscription for $15. With this deal, instead of paying the $71.88 per year or $5.99 per issue for the cover price, I would pay $15per year or $1.25 per issue. That translates to a 79% savings in price by getting the subscription.

However, the other bundle prominently covers two thirds of the page’s real estate. With this deal, not only would I get the print edition, but I would also get the iPad edition and access to the online archive as well. Instead of paying $171.82 for a year’s worth of services, I would only pay $19.99, which is 88% in savings.

Prior to this advertisement, I had no idea that National Geographic offered these additional services.  National Geographic’s marketing team’s motive tries to nudge print subscribers to take a chance on an electronic subscription. The user’s desire to have an iPad edition and the online archive changes from an unknown into a possibility. Instead of focusing on the price of print subscription, the focus becomes the thought process over which is the better deal of the two.  Although I started my search with no intention of getting an electronic version, the bundle comparison logically seems to be the better decision of the two. Therefore, the probability of users choosing the “All Access” bundle becomes greater.

The Decision Is Yours… or Is It.

These are just two examples of how ideas in Ariely’s book can and are being used in the web design and eCommerce world. By using Relativity, the products' benefits are highlighted and the user feels they are making a logical conclusion based on comparison. Sometimes this is just that little nudge a user needs to finally click “buy”. Would you consider yourself to be predictably irrational?

A Great Offer, Just a Click Away

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