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Sales psychology in ecommerce

ecommerce psychology

We all know how sales strategies function in physical shops: expensive items are put at the centre of shelves, cheap products are placed at the bottom, and small articles are presented next to the checkout to stimulate last-minute purchases.

But it is possible to influence clients in online sales too, by using persuasion strategies. This approach is called sales psychology.

Which are the fundamental principles of sales psychology and how can these be used to manage an online shop so as to optimise sales?


What is sales psychology?

Sales psychology studies how our mind changes when we see a product. When applied correctly, it uses persuasion, motivation and emotions to create a positive atmosphere that encourages purchases and improves conversions.

Sales psychology deals with analysing:

  • what human purchasing behaviour looks like
  • what connections exist between experience and buying behaviour
  • how buyers react to advertising and sales strategies
  • what incentives motivate people to buy
  • how buyers' preferences can be recognised at an early stage
  • how psychology can be used to persuade people.

However, it is important to be aware that sales psychology aims not to convince people to buy low-quality products or to deceive them. Doing so would be manipulative and influence people unethically.


When does sales psychology start?

In a physical shop, sales psychology begins exactly when you enter the shop. The way you are made to feel, the greeting and the offer of help are all factors that influence your first impression.

Also online, the first impression matters. A website should make a potential buyer feel comfortable from the beginning. The design, ease of navigation, and chance to contact support via chat are important.

For this reason, sales psychology is crucial from the first contact with potential clients to the end of a sale. 


Why is it more difficult to apply sales psychology to ecommerce?

An online shop can reach many potential customers, but competition is strong. Using sales psychology helps clients buy in your online shop. However, applying it is a challenge as you can't actively engage your clients. 

Still, there are ways to successfully use sales psychology. For example, a website's design is crucial: for 93% of clients it can influence the purchase decision. 75% of clients abbandons a website if it is not well visibile on smartphones.  


The instincts behind sales psychology

In the field of sales psychology, five instincts are addressed and used in a specific way. These instincts are inherent in every person, but their expression is individual.


Fear instinct

If a client feels worried, they'll search security in the purchase. This need can be satisfied with the right of return, insurance or just by stamping documents. 


The hunter and the gatherer

This kind of potential clients aim to obtain a good price-performance ratio. Not only do they visit the shop casually, they also search for a specific product. It is beneficial to offer discounts or coupons to attract this group. Another way to conquer them using sales psychology is by offering discount vouchers for purchases, therefore increasing the chance that they come back to buy at your shop. 


Eroticism and recognition as instincts

If you are selling beauty products, eroticism can be important to attract clients. Vanity and the desire to be recognised play a key role. You can praise a client for their competence or give small promotional giveaways to satisfy that desire. 


Social instinct

It is complex to identify this aspect and put it into practice. However, if you understand that a product is designed for potential clients' friends or family members, you could underline the product's features that are significant and positive for them during sales. 


Play instinct

Another instinct that can be considered as such is the play instinct. Prospects want to touch and test a product. This is why they must always be given the chance to test a product before buying it. 


Form/design psychology (Gestaltungspsychologie ) targeted for a successful online shop

Unintentional blindness

Unintentional blindness means that people don't notice something because they concentrate on something else. A famous example is the invisible gorilla test, where people watch a video of basketball players and many don't notice that a gorilla is crossing the video.

Our attention resources are limited, therefore we focus only on what we consider as important. In online commerce, it is important to put the spotlight on the essential information and design the website in a way that attracts the client's attention to what you want to highlight. 


Blindness to change

We often don't notice when something changes around us. For example, if an image flashes and something is added or removed, our brain could not realise it. 

This also happens in films, where you can find a character wearing a blue shirt in one scene and a red one in the next scene. Entire characters can be substituted too, without us realising it. 

We do not yet know the cause of this blindness to change. If you want to make changes to the design of your website, it is better to make them one at a time or use animations to make visitors notice them.



Accessible design

An accessible design makes websites recognisable, easy to use, comprehensible and firm.

To make a website recognisable, it is important to have clear and easy to read content, with a nice colour contrast. The design should guarantee a sufficiently high contrast to enable colour-blind people to distinguish content.

A website must adapt well to different devices and users, making sure that the visualisation adapts to the screen size. It is essential to follow the two-sense principle, allowing the site to be used by visually or hearing impaired persons, including compatibility with screen readers.

To be easy to use, the website must be controlled with both mouse and keyboard, also allowing voice control through a smartphone. 

In order for a website to be comprehensible, it must be clearly and intuitively organised and structured. Texts must be written easily and attractively, with the chance to visualise them through an easy language or sign language. 

Finally, a firm online shop must support as many web browsers as possible, requiring well-structured HTML programming.


Hick's Law

Hick's Law, discovered by William Edmund Hick and Ray Hyman, helps measure how much time it takes to make decisions. This law says that the time required to make a decision increases if there are many options amongst which to choose. In other words, the more choices there are, the more time it takes to decide.

This principle is also used in videogames to create tension, conceding little time for decisions. If one wants to reduce the tension, the time to decide is increased.

It is better to avoid giving clients too many options as it will shorten the decision process. Concentrating on a limited number of suitable and interesting choices is more efficient.


Fitts' Law

Fitts' Law, explained by psychologist Paul Fitts, says that if the target is far or small, more time is needed to touch it with the mouse and errors increase if it moves rapidly. 

A well-designed website should try to reduce errors. The edge of the screen restricts the movement of the mouse or fingers in the search area.

Buttons or links must stand out compared to other websites's elements. The biggest button should be used for important actions, like 'purchase', 'add to chart', or 'go to cart'.

The distance of a website can be reduced with menu items. Drop-down menus can also be useful. The most frequently used sub-menu items should be at the top.


Gaze cueing effect

This effect relates to the way we gaze when we see a person on a website. Often, our gaze follows that of the person in the image.

If a person looks at a text, we look at the text. But if the person stops looking at the text, we do not really remember what it says.

This effect can be used to focus attention on a website. For instance, if you want to make a product stand out, you can use a face looking at that product to highlight it.

Images should be carefully chosen. A well-done image can increase the number of website visitors. Using only high quality and meaningful images is important, and SEO optimisation should also be considered.

To achieve this effect, it is also helpful to understand the psychology of colours. Colours can evoke emotions, so it is crucial to choose the right colours for the design of the site, matching the products accordingly.


Sales psychology methods to increase e-commerce sales

Nowadays, there are many methods that can be used specifically for the e-commerce sector to increase sales and motivate customers to purchase. Some examples of the methods are listed below.

However, there are also other methods that can be used.


The scarcity principle

The scarcity principle suggests that when a product is limited or available for only a short time, people are more inclined to buy it. For example, an online shop may say that there are only a few pieces of an item left, that it will only be available for a short time or that there is a discount only for a short period.

However, showing the exact number of items in stock requires complex technical and logistical processes, which not all online shops can provide.

Seasonal products are also a common strategy to motivate customers to shop.

Scarcity prompts customers to decide quickly whether or not they want the product, leading to a quicker purchase. This approach is often used in the sector that sells directly to consumers.


Social proof

Online shoppers find it important to know what other customers think.

Opinions or recommendations can positively influence online shoppers.

There are categories such as 'People with similar interests have also bought' or 'Top rated products in this category'.

Testimonials are another way. Customers show their name and photo, making the recommendation authentic and allowing the potential customer to better identify themselves.

Sometimes, influencers or celebrities can also be used to push purchases. In some cases, there are even collaborations where products are sold with the participation of celebrities.


Anchor effect

With the anchor effect, people take information from the environment and use it to make decisions. Psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky discovered this effect in the 1960s.

They experimented with the effect using a wheel of fortune. They asked people to spin the wheel and then guess how many African countries were members of the United Nations. The higher the number on which the wheel of fortune stopped, the higher the estimated number of countries.

The effect is still automatic, and the information used as an anchor can also be unrelated to the topic.

In sales, anchoring can be used in sales. If the original price is shown during a discount, the new price seems less high and people are more inclined to buy.


Biases of liking

As we mentioned earlier, an important issue is that customers feel good in a shop, even online. Potential customers should always feel appreciated. This makes them more open to arguments and increases the likelihood that they will make a purchase.

The liking bias is based on the fact that people want to feel appreciated. When we feel valued, we are more inclined to act according to our emotions.

It is essential to show sincere interest and respond to customers in a personalised manner. False friendliness is perceived very quickly.


The contrast effect

Contrast effect is a type of perception error. Products that are actually expensive seem less expensive if we compare them with a particularly expensive product.

This effect can be used online, for example, when configuring a car. At first, spending 2,000 euros for a colour of your choice might seem like a lot. But if we compare it directly with the basic price of the car, which is 50,000 euros, the price seems cheap.


Choice Architecture

With choice architecture, another product is deliberately added to the selection to push the decision in favour of the more expensive product between two options.

For instance, there could be two different subscriptions for a streaming service. The first allows only the TV app at a cost of EUR 30 per month. The second, at a cost of EUR 55 per month, allows use both via the TV app and via a smartphone app.

If the goal is to convince customers to choose the second subscription in particular, the following can be done: offer a third option that includes only the smartphone app, but at a cost of EUR 55, the same as the complete package.

The third offer makes the option less attractive at the same cost but with more advantages. Many customers might choose the complete package.

When a customer has difficulty deciding between two products, offering a third alternative may be helpful. The important thing is that the third option has approximately the same price as the more expensive variant, but offers fewer advantages and features to the customer.


Paradox of choice

Having too many options can also lead to confusing customers. This was studied in an experiment in 2000.

Initially, a table was set up with 6 types of jam. Forty per cent of the people passing by tasted a jam, and 30 per cent bought it later.

Next, a table was set up with 24 different varieties of jam. Although 60% of the people tasted a jam, only 3% bought it afterwards.

If you give customers too many options, they may feel confused and worried about making the wrong choice. For this reason, it is important to limit the options for potential customers.

It is also useful to ask a few questions to make a pre-selection for the customer.



Reciprocity is when we feel the need to give something back to people.

If you give customers a small present, a free sample or something similar, they often feel compelled to make a purchase.

Even if the purchase is refused, giving something as a gift may still have this effect. But it is important not to make the customer feel that the purchase is automatic or discounted.



If you apply sales psychology effectively and efficiently online, this can be an opportunity to increase your sales, expand and optimise your conversion rate and thus be more successful with your online shop.

Still, it is important to know the subject in depth and to apply the methods of sales psychology carefully. When these are applied correctly and adapted to one's web design and online shop, sales psychology is certainly a promising aspect.

From this point of view, reviewing a website is a crucial step in ensuring a positive and effective user experience. At DevInterface, we conduct comprehensive and thorough reviews, addressing the various crucial aspects of the website. With our expertise and attention to detail, we can optimise the design, navigation, security and overall functionality of your site. Contact us now and tell us what issues you are experiencing and where you would like to improve with your website.