Online Shopping Psychology 101: Understanding What Drives Your Consumers

Online Shopping Psychology 101: Understanding What Drives Your Consumers

In the course of any business, any entrepreneur has to ask themselves the question, “What do my customers want?”. You could ask these questions directly, but a clear and accurate answer isn’t always guaranteed because what motivates people hides a little further beneath the surface. Most of the time, it seems as though we cannot fully and rationally explain to the fullest extent why we want the things we want.

It would be nice to just take a peek into our consumers’ minds sometimes, especially if we are getting the online foot traffic but not improving our sales in any way. This is where knowing something about the psychology of online shopping will come into play in helping you attract customers to your websites and converting them into your paying customers.

If you are like any e-tailer, you’ve gone through lengths to make sure that your online store is fully-loaded with all the features and options that are guaranteed fool-proof in making your online venture a successful one. But did you consider the deep psychological drives that affect all if not most of your consumers?

You’re going to need to spend some time reflecting on what drives consumer behavior because having some knowledge of what motivates your consumers to make purchases will give you a better understanding of what you need to do to increase conversions on your site.

The key to success in any business ultimately lies in your ability to understand the wants, needs, and desires of your target consumer. The more you know about what makes people tick as buyers, the better. This article will give you some insight into the motives of your buyers, and what psychological drives are triggering them to make their purchases.



Impulse buying is considered fairly common behavior in today’s consumerist world. It’s when someone buys an item without first putting much thought or consideration into the item that they suddenly desire to acquire.

An Impulse buyer will not consider the consequences that their purchases may have in the future, all they know is that they wish to possess the item immediately. A consumer who tends to impulse buy is more likely to be concerned with their image, their social status, and how they appear to others. In other words, they make purchases based on what they think will look good in the eyes of other people.

So, how does the impulse to make a purchase come on? A strong trigger can come on from simply seeing the product itself or from seeing the product being used in some way. For instance, seeing it on a celebrity, seeing it being raved about on social media by an influencer you are following, seeing it on a friend, or even seeing it from your product page with an interactive zoom or video. This is when the consumer feels a connection with the item and a feeling of vicarious ownership is formed, wherein the consumer finds him or herself imagining what it might feel like to own the product.

Another thing that can trigger impulse buying is loss aversion, which is a strong emotion linked to anxiety and the fear of loss. This is something that all people innately possess. It explains why losing $100 can feel like an extremely heavy blow, and why sales and coupons trigger more purchases. The limited nature of sales drives us to make purchases for the fear of loss and missing out on a great opportunity that we may regret not acting upon in the future when the sales have stopped.

Conditional free shipping is another big trigger for impulse buying. Setting the minimum free shipping order price higher, or having a buy two get free shipping offer could drive people to spend more than they intended.



Color is known to affect buyer behavior and businesses have been strategically using colors to their advantage for decades. It’s been found that 87% of consumers make buying decisions based on color, meaning that the color pallet you use for your brand needs to be carefully considered because color can have the power to affect your consumers’ moods.

Some hues make us more excited, elevating our blood pressure, inspiring passion, and action. While other colors are known to subdue, creating a more calm and secure effect. Being familiar with your target consumer will help you choose what colors you should use to elicit the desired and appropriate effect that you want your consumers to experience when browsing your shop.

Color and appearance is something that your consumers give great importance to and it’s something you have to plan out very carefully based on the identity of your brand and your target audience. Here is a simple chart to give you an idea of how color can affect people’s mood:


The Power of Social Proof

As people, one of the most powerful psychological forces that we experience is the need for social acceptance. We are wired to follow the behavior of others and are likely to seek out third party validation to behave correctly. This is why including reviews, testimonials, and ratings into your online shop can be such a powerful trigger for your consumers. People trust reviews of products and services that come from third-party individuals and make this a basis on whether to buy something or not.

Note that third party influence has great effects on people’s decision-making process. The phenomenon that is social proof is used to the advantage of marketers in both offline and online marketing. Here are the types of social proof that that affects your consumers:

  • Testimonials and reviews: These are two types of user-generated forms of social proof wherein current users recommend and praise your products on your product page or social media. You can handpick testimonials to put them on your website homepage and use them as powerful proof of the quality of your products or services.
  • Celebrity and influencer endorsements: Celebrities and social media influencers have legions of fans that admire them and follow them online. They are considered icons of trust for thousands if not millions of people in society, which means that what they say about your products holds a lot of significance for many people.
  • Friends and family: Simply having the people close to you recommend a product is social proof enough because we give a lot of value to the recommendations of people we know and trust.

    Delayed Gratification

    We all know the feeling of the immediate gratification that we get from shopping in physical shops. However, with online shopping, we have to wait sometime after we make our purchase, sometimes up to weeks. But the fact that we don’t experience immediate gratification is not considered the downfall of online shopping at all, the opposite is true. The delayed gratification that we feel from online shopping is one of the most lucrative psychological aspects of shopping online.

    Shopping online brings about the feeling of anxious anticipation for shoppers, and that’s why we enjoy the options of tracking our packages and anticipating the day that it arrives at the doorstep. We know that the reward is coming and we can’t wait. Online shopping has been shown to have an even more powerful psychological effect on the feeling of reward and gratification than traditional retail because consumers have the time to feel the excitement from waiting for their items to arrive, as opposed to in-store purchases where they get to have the items right away.

    The culprit for this reaction lies in the parts of the human brain that controls our emotions, the amygdala and the striatum, which causes us to anticipate and processes rewards by flooding us with dopamine. Digital dopamine is what we call the pleasurable reaction that we get from technology and shopping online.

    If you are running an online shop, and you are wondering what edge you could have against physical stores where you can get instant gratification and reward, then don’t wonder anymore. The delayed gratification that your consumers get from purchasing something online is proven to be more powerful. With online shopping, the feeling your consumers get from tracking orders feels like the countdown to Christmas morning. Your consumers are in a sustained state of excitement over having something to look forward to.


    Urgency and Scarcity

    Have you ever been shopping online for an item that you liked only to see that there was a limited amount left, so you added it to your cart right away? The limited amount urges people to act fast and nab that deal before it’s too late.

    This is something that many consumers are susceptible to. The trigger is also known as purchase anxiety, a psychological trigger based on urgency and scarcity that is so deeply rooted in our drive for survival. Studies have found that online stores with countdown timers and stores that show a limited amount of items left in stock from their product page converted 9% better than stores that did not.

    Creating a sense of scarcity and urgency for your consumers could very well help you increase sales on your online shop with some careful tactics. The goal is to nudge your prospective buyer into making a decision and completing an action on your store with some gentle but powerful subliminal suggestion. This can be achieved by:

    • Limited-time sales
    • Flash sales
    • Countdown timers
    • Limited item quantity
    • Carefully creating copy to reflect urgency

    The effect that scarcity and urgency have on people psychologically is a natural phenomenon that retailers are known to build marketing tactics upon. Just remember to use this strategy with some prudence so as not to rub customers the wrong way.



    Retail therapy is very much a real thing and your consumers may be turning to you and your store to relieve their stress and anxiety at the end of the day. Online shopping is a kind of mini mental vacation for your consumers. The act of simply browsing through online store catalogs and looking at prices and deals, and beautiful shop designs help people improve their mental well being, and this is a proven fact. The act of browsing induces a feeling of reward just as much as finally getting the product in their hands would.

    One of the reasons why shopping online is so popular is because people can do so at home, from bed or the couch, comfortably scrolling through items and reading reviews for items that they might want to find themselves owning.

    It’s been found that people tend to turn to shopping as therapy during major life transitions, for instance, after a breakup, before getting married, or having a child. Shopping relieves anxiety and gives people a sense of control and preparedness for new stages of their lives.

    What you can do for your consumers to make the process of shopping more therapeutic for them can go beyond creating a beautiful online store, you can also improve their shopping experience by making the process fast, personalized, and stress-free.

    Here are some things you can do for your customers to make them happy:

    • Make your store easy to access from any device
    • Make their shopping experience more personalized
    • Suggesting complementary products to go with whatever your customer is currently viewing
    • Providing special offers to your site visitors
    • Send out personalized emails for special events, like major sales
    • Offer them free or discounted shipping
    • Included free gifts to go with their purchases

    The Bottom Line

    The bottom line here is that the more you know about your customers, the more you will be able to serve them better and give them the shopping experience that they want. Have you considered the psychological drivers of your consumers in building your online store? Let us know what you think was the most important aspect of building your store to appeal to your consumers.

    Got any questions about this article? Ecommerce Pro loves to address your queries and concerns regarding your ecommerce website or online business ideas. Feel free to start a conversation with us today. Together, we will build a better online store specifically designed to satisfy the needs and desires of your consumers.