Increase eCommerce Sales With These Lessons From Psychology

Pricing is a complex proposition. Retailers want to make a profit, but if they push their margins too high, sales decline. If they err in the other direction and set prices too low, there is a chance that money is being left on the table. And pricing is just one of many decisions that impact sales and customer loyalty on an eCommerce store.

After all, shoppers and retailers are human beings and human psychology influences everything we do. Understanding a little psychology can help retailers design an online sales experience that benefits both shoppers and retailers.

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Comparative Pricing

Comparative pricing relies on contrasting similar products with different price points. Comparative pricing is used in various ways, but one of the most common is an array of three products. A basic option is cheap but lacking in features, a very expensive option is lavish and full-featured, and in the middle, there is an option that is better than the basic option but much less expensive than the highest tier.

The majority of shoppers will not choose the most expensive option. It exists as a point of comparison for the middle product, which is priced to be better valued than the bottom tier option.

In this way, it is possible to sell more of the middle product at a higher price than if it were the only option.


When we give someone a gift, they feel obligated to give us something in return — they want to reciprocate. Reciprocity is part of the glue that holds societies together and it is deeply ingrained in our behavior.

Psychologists who investigate reciprocity have learned that when a shopper is given something for free, they are likely to spend more. The “gift” doesn’t have to be substantial to trigger the response, as you will know if you have ever bought a product in a convenience store after tasting a sample, even though the sample wasn’t all that great.

eCommerce retailers use reciprocity in many ways:

  • “Buy one, get one free” offers.
  • Free gifts, including vouchers.
  • Samplers sent with orders.
  • FREE 1st month of your service.
  • FREE support.
  • Great warranty program.
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Reciprocity isn’t an iron law, so it doesn’t make sense to give away high-value products or those that make serious money for your business, but small gifts and thoughtful discounts are often effective.


The effect of scarcity has entered the popular lexicon as FOMO, so called, the fear of missing out. Reducing the likelihood that people can possess something reliably increases their desire for it.

The scarcity effect has taken the retail world by storm in the last few years. It seems that every online store I visit wants to tell me how popular their products are, how few there are in stock, and how many people are looking at them right now!

There is a law of diminishing returns for a technique like this. If every store yells about their constrained stock and a sudden rush of interested buyers on every product page, shoppers will begin to disregard that information.

Nevertheless, implied scarcity is popular for a reason: it works.

Social Proof

We are biased towards liking what other people like, especially when they are people we admire or would like to emulate — the huge advertising fees paid to Instagram celebrities are ample evidence of the effect. We are also biased against believing what salespeople tell us, so much sales copy is undercut by the “well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?” effect.

Social proof provides additional evidence of the desirability of a product or service. On eCommerce stores, social proof can take the form of reviews, ratings, and testimonials. Social proof is an excellent use of an eCommerce brand’s social media platforms: YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook posts, created by customers and promoted by the brand, are particularly effective.

Human psychology is complex and the effects we have discussed are fragile. They are worth trying, but they should be part of a comprehensive A/B testing strategy to make sure that they have the expected outcome.

TIP: would you like to get deeper into this topic? We recommend checking out Predictably Irrational, one of the best sellers in this area with plenty of research and real tests with groups of people.

Author: Graeme Caldwell is a writer and content marketer at Nexcess, a global provider of hosting services, who has a knack for making tech-heavy topics interesting and engaging to all readers. His articles have been featured on top publications across the net, TechCrunch to TemplateMonster.  

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