psychology of ecommerceAs ecommerce marketers, we often implement tactics that never, ever work. These techniques make zero sense, but for some reason, they always move more merchandise. You probably know the thought well: “Offering this is just dumb. Who’s gonna fall for it?” The answer: Everyone.

Buying According to Social Proof or Celebrity Endorsement

Remember when your mom used to say, “If so-and-so jumped off a bridge, would you?” Basically, she was reminding us all to think for ourselves and do what we think is right. So, when we add reviews and links to review sites to ecommerce pages or ask celebrities to endorse products, we’re pretty much ignoring that tiny little “mom” voice deep inside of us.

psychology of ecommerce

The thing is, though, everyone ignores that little voice.

We all want to know what someone else thought of the products before we make a purchase. We want to know that the world—in general—finds the item we’re about to buy “cool.” And sometimes we’ll buy something we don’t even need just to fit in.

Free Shipping for Specific Purchase Amount

You know how it goes. This, this, and this go into your cart, and then you’re ready to go. Except, buying one more item might just put you over the threshold for free shipping. Will you A) spend another $20 for that free shipping, or B) pay $5 for shipping and leave that item you don’t really need.

psychology of ecommerce

If you answered A, you’re not alone. For some reason, consumers are willing to spend money on items they don’t need just to get something for free. That something, in most cases, is free shipping.

Paying for Membership

Ah, the membership fee. Many ecommerce sites have started charging customers to belong to a “special” group. Amazon Prime is a classic example. In return for membership, buyers get special perks, such as free shipping, first look at new products, discounts before anyone else, and so on.

psychology of ecommerce

The problem is that anyone who pays a membership fee suddenly feels the need to spend more in order to make the membership fee worth the cost. In other words, every time you log in, you’ll buy a bunch of stuff you really don’t need (and sometimes aren’t even sure you want) in order to make the most of that membership.


Ah, yet another ploy for ecommerce sellers to move unwanted merchandise. Think for just a moment. Would you buy that handbag right this minute if you didn’t get something free with it? You didn’t touch it for months—in fact, no one did—and that’s why the company is ready to give stuff away just to get rid of it. 

psychology of ecommerce

Even though you know the reasons for not giving in, you still probably offer this type of special on your own ecommerce site from time to time. You may do what some others have done and offer variations on the theme. Buy One Get One Half Off. Buy Two Get One Free. (If you didn’t need or want one, why get three?) Whatever the special, you know people will bite.

We don’t think there’s anything wrong with these tactics. Obviously, they work. They get products moving. We’re just saying that sometimes buyers make no sense. To save money on one thing, they’ll spend even more money on another. Is that your fault? Nope. Are you taking advantage of some weird psychology? Maybe. But again, it’s not your fault shoppers do things that make zero sense. Anyway, everyone else is doing it.

What other things to buyers do that make no sense? What psychological triggers get them pulling those wallets out when they weren’t interested before? We’d love to know your thoughts, so leave us a comment.

Ecommerce Conversion Optimization and Testing

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Originally published Jun 17, 2014 10:00:00 AM, updated January 18 2023