How to successfully design for the confusing way people buy

Paul Boag

Too often we are desperate to convert every user who comes to our website. But it is important to remember that users rarely buy on their first visit. We need to design our calls to action in the right way to accommodate this behaviour.

This post is sponsored by PinnacleCart

When we create our customer journey maps, things look so straightforward. A potential customer moves through a linear sales funnel. A funnel consisting of steps like:

  • Discovery.
  • Research.
  • Selection.
  • Purchase.
  • Delivery.
  • After sales.

Each step along the way takes them closer to completing our call to action. But in the real world things are rarely that simple.

Think about your own behaviour when making any kind of large purchase. I suspect it is rare for you to look at a product and immediately buy it. Instead you go away and think about it. Maybe you look at some competitors. Maybe you go back and look at it again a few times before reaching a final decision. Maybe you talk to friends or read reviews.

Whether online or off, our purchasing decisions are anything but linear. Rarely will we visit a website and immediately place an order.

This leads us to an important question. How do we accommodate this kind of behaviour? Or put another way, how do we maintain a relationship with users to ensure they come back and buy?

Maintain a relationship

Marketers are well aware of are somewhat erratic purchasing behaviour. That is why they are so keen to encourage us to sign up to newsletters or social media when we visit their website. They know that these platforms can establish an ongoing relationship with customers.

They understand that if they can keep in contact with us it increases the chance that we remember them. Remember them when it comes time to buy.

But this is a dangerous road to go down. It is easy to lose sight of the end goal. In our desire to keep in contact with customers at the beginning of their journey, we undermine the end.

This happens because we focus on getting people to sign up to our newsletters or social media. In doing so we distract from the primary call to action of buying.

This results in newsletter overlays and gaudy social media icons screaming for attention. When all the user wants to do is place an order.

Often our secondary calls to action scream for attention.
Often our secondary calls to action scream for attention.

So how do we find the balance? How do we keep contact with customers on their journey, while avoiding upsetting those at the end?

It is all about picking the right moment.

Pick the right moment

The worst example I ever saw of distracting secondary calls to action happened when I went to buy a T-shirt. A friend recommended a website that sold great T-shirts. But on arriving at the website the first thing I saw was an overlay asking me to sign up for a newsletter.

At this point I had not even seen any T-shirts. I was not ready to hand across my personal information to a brand I knew nothing about. The timing was all wrong. What is more, when I later returned to the site to buy a T-shirt they once again pushed the newsletter.

If we want to maintain contact with customers, we need to be intelligent about when we ask. We need to display the secondary calls to action only when user behaviour indicates it is a good time.

How you know the moment is right

For example one common approach is to only show these calls to action when somebody is about to leave. But that should only be a starting point.

There are many indicators that a user may be at the initial stage of their purchasing process. It could be the first visit to your website. They might be viewing many pages suggesting product comparison. They may spend a long time looking at the different pages. This might show that they haven’t seen this information before. All these suggest somebody early on in their purchasing process. Somebody who we should be targeting with social media or newsletters.

But the best example are users who have started a call to action but abandoned it partway through. The most obvious example are users who abandon the shopping cart. But it could also be somebody who fails to complete the contact us form.

E-commerce platforms like PinnacleCart can automatically email customers who abandon their cart. Often ecommerce sites use this to offer discounts in an attempt to encourage users to place an order. But it might be better to use this to encourage them to subscribe to social media or your newsletter.

A modern e-commerce platform like PinnacleCart will have the ability to automatically email users who have abandoned their cart.
A modern e-commerce platform like PinnacleCart will have the ability to automatically email users who have abandoned their cart.

A user who abandons their shopping cart is unlikely to buy yet. They are simply not ready. But we might be able to persuade them to agree to ongoing contact if you can offer them real value.

So how do you persuade these users to follow you on social media or sign up for a newsletter?

How to persuade users to sign up

You might send an email to those who have abandoned their cart. You could trigger a call to action for users about to exit your site. Whatever the case, how you present a call to action is of paramount importance.

It seems that the default approach offered by many is some form of discount or incentive. Marketers seem to love them. “Sign up for our newsletter and get 10% off” for “return to your shopping cart and get a free gift”.

There are circumstances where they work. But they are not the only option available. In fact in some situations they can cause more harm than good.

Discounts and incentives don’t always work

For example, a discount to encourage users to sign up for a newsletter sends the wrong message. It implies that the newsletter offers no value in itself. That the company is bribing you to part with your personal details so they can spam you.

Offering discounts if people sign-up for your newsletter just looks desperate.
Offering discounts if people sign-up for your newsletter just looks desperate.

Discounts may be a motivator for somebody at the end of the purchasing process. But they are less of a motivator for those at the beginning. If you are still researching your options, you do not yet know whether you want a discount. This is because you are not yet sure whether you are going to buy with this particular company.

Focus on adding real value

Instead we need to focus on offering real value via social media and newsletters. For example we could suggest to those who have abandoned their cart that they sign up to receive a buyers guide. A series of emails that will give them tips and advice about what to buy.

News about new products and shameless self promotion are not an incentive to signup. You need to offer users more. Advice, support, tips, tricks. But we need to be more imaginative than discounts and incentives.

People are reluctant to add more noise to their lives. More emails, more social media updates. You have to be able to prove value. You also have to be clear about what they will get.

How often will you email them? What will it cover? Can I easily opt-out. If we don’t answer these questions people will not subscribe.

Users want to know that things like opting out will be easy.
Users want to know that things like opting out will be easy.

Show some empathy

At the end of the day this is about thinking through the user experience and showing some empathy. Too often our calls to actions are driven from a selfish desire to persuade people to convert. But for those actions to be successful we need to see things from our customers point of view. Where are they in their journey? What do they want or need at that point? How can we give them what they want while still achieving our aims?

It is time to stop shouting at users the minute they hit our website, hoping they will pay attention. It is time to start considering their needs and responding with a more nuanced approach.

About our sponsor

The PinnacleCart platform includes everything you need to succeed in selling online. From small business to enterprise – PinnacleCart has been helping companies catapult their online sales to new heights for over a decade. Our shopping cart software helps transform mundane storefronts into beautiful, marketing focused businesses.