Evil retail? Turns out we’re not so manipulative

After spending a good few months with a team conducting a heuristic review of UK retailer checkout processes I was expecting to see a swathe of persuasive design patterns set out to do their worst in convincing us to part with our cash. It’s either a case that we’ve got a bunch of ethical marketeers and product managers or they haven’t worked out how to use psychology to  people.

Persuasive design and the use of psychology can be a good thing, well for business it can be. I have a clear policy on using these techniques – only white hat, as experience strategists we are not in the business of tricking people.  Whilst I’ve never come across any studies into use of black hat persuasive design, my hypothesis is that it would be once bitten twice shy and customers would be less likely to use the business for repeat purchases, ultimately damaging their longterm CXI score.

A definition

White hat – a persuasive design pattern that facilitates the customer make a decision by not overloading them with choice, confusing them or generally making things slow.

Back hat – a persuasive design pattern that purposely manipulates the customer into making a choice that benefits the business.

Slow and fast, but not thinking

Whilst we desire for the customer experience to be immersive (and therefore slow) during browse to be exposed to as many tools, content features and products to engage with the brand, the opposite is true of checkout where speed is king. This is where persuasive design has it’s role to play.

10 options for delivery? No. Show me the top 3 people use who have this particular product delivered. Technically that is straightforward to deliver and helpful to the customer by reducing choice overload. For maximisers there is an option to see all if need be.

Hitwise studied the average visit time of top 500 shopping sites until November 2014 finding the average time spent making a purchase online is 7 minutes 59 seconds. Most interestingly thought is that checkout can take up to 3 minutes 52 seconds. We need persuasive design to redress the balance of time.

Not Heinz, but 57 flavours

A number of patterns are documented on the evil design site, which are categorised as follows:

Pride Use social proof to position your product in line with your visitors’ values.

Sloth Build a path of least resistance that leads users where you want them to go.

Gluttony Escalate customers’ commitment and use loss aversion to keep them there.

Anger Understand the power of metaphysical arguments and anonymity.

Envy Create a culture of status around your product and feed aspirational desires.

Lust Turn desire into commitment by using emotion to defeat rational behaviour.

Greed Keep customers engaged by reinforcing the behaviors you desire.

What’s next?

The core steps in the checkout flow could have a number of techniques applied to UI elements to benefit the business by lessening dropout and making it faster for the customer. These could be deployed using A/B or MVT tests, but the community won’t be keen to share the results, especially the ones that work.

Over the coming 6 months I will be developing eCommerce checkout patterns that include a number of persuasive patterns for product managers to use. Just remember, with great power comes responsibility. Don’t be evil.

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