consumer behavior

Let’s explore the meaning of behavioral science and why it’s so important — more so, critical — to increasing online conversions.

As data becomes cheaper and more accessible, behavioral science becomes an increasingly important term for anyone serious about marketing and conversion optimization.

Examples of Behavioral Science in our Everyday Lives

Many people think of behavioral science as a field of academic study or the domain of dedicated data scientists, but it’s much broader in scope than that.

In fact… it’s everywhere you look:

  • When you check to see how many people liked your most recent Facebook post, you’re using behavioral science.
  • When you decided to buy a certain pair of shoes based on their star rating, you were using behavioral science.
  • When you chose not to by that espresso machine because of the reviews, you were using behavioral science.

The Billboard music charts, the New York Times Bestseller list, the Rotten Tomatoes Freshness Score, the laugh track on The Big Bang Effect. Behavioral science affects our thoughts and decision making on a daily basis.

So what is behavioral science? And why is it a MAJOR key to increasing a website’s conversion rate?

If you’d like to learn more, watch my presentation on using behavioral science for your business.

What Is Behavioral Science?

The simplest definition of behavioral science is that it’s the study of human behavior. For those of us in the digital marketing profession, behavioral science is the science of predicting the future. Understanding how people have behaved in the past will help us understand how people will behave in the future.

It encapsulates multiple fields of study, including psychology, sociology, social neuroscience, and cognitive science, and many others, and it focuses primarily on controlled observation of behavior patterns in response to external stimuli.

Behavioral science differentiates itself from fields like social science in that it is driven by rigorously obtained empirical data, and this data-driven approach is what led us to fall in love with the field here at Conversion Sciences.

Why Behavioral Science Is Instrumental In Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)

In the early years of this century (no, not the 1900’s), I was a corporate marketer responsible for generating leads and sales from the relatively new worldwide web. It was my job to create advertising, compose the emails, design the landing pages, develop the content and build the website that would attract people to us and convert these visitors into leads when they arrived at the website.

It was a frustrating job.

Because in the digital world you can do anything. Any image, any copy of any length. I could add video, animations, live chat, ratings and reviews.

Sometimes I would mash the best ideas together into a mush that only served to confused my readers.

Other times, I would have to pick one consistent message. But was it the best one? Really? I didn’t know.

This is why the carousel was born. Marketers couldn’t decide what to put on their home pages, so they just rotated through a bunch of options.

Not a good plan.

This was all frustrating because my only form of research was “launch and see.”

Launch and see (also called “launch and pray”) is the most expensive way of collecting behavioral data. An entire design has to be completed and launched before we have ANY idea if it will work.

Redesigns have become the primary way businesses test their websites: spend a lot of money, launch and see.

Analyzing Behavior to Increase Website Conversions

Fortunately, I’ve got mad programmer skillz. I wrote a little program that collected data on my visitors. Whenever they arrived at my website, I would store the source of their visit and then track them to see if they completed a form. At the time, I didn’t even know that this was called a conversion.

With this simple program, I was able to track and measure how visitors interacted on our website. I now had data with which to make informed decisions about our site content.

In 2005, Google released Google Analytics, and suddenly, an entire new realm of online behavioral science data was opened up to webmasters at no cost.

Research vs. Intuition: The Importance of Behavioral Science

In 2014, Marks & Spencer redesigned their apparel website. Marks & Spencer is a GBP10 billion company running food and apparel stores in the UK and Europe. In 2013 13% of their sales went through the web. That’s about $1.5 billion. With a B.

In 2014, they launched a website redesign. The effort cost GBP150 million. Today that would be about $180 million.

Marks and Spenser new home page offers "The New Look"

After two years and approximately $180 million spent, Marks and Spencer launched a new website. Source: Digital Tonic

The UX community–and their designers–thought the redesign was “positive.”

More research would be needed for us to give a thorough UX opinion but our first thoughts are that it’s a positive redesign.

— ExperienceSolutions

The customers didn’t agree. Upon launch, the site saw an immediate 8% drop in sales. That’s about $10 million per month in lost sales. This number doesn’t take into account the loss of brand trust.

The best way to build brand online is to deliver what your visitors want.

For $180 million, we expect that they did a great deal of research into their customers and visitors. So, what went wrong?

This is the battle being waged in your businesses. Intuition vs. research. Best practices vs. behavioral science. Left brain vs. right brain. Both are necessary. But if you continue to find yourself struggling to get value from the visitors that you pay to bring to your site, there is an imbalance.

Intuition is our ability to apply our experience to new situations. We admire those who can discern the important aspects of something without study.

When behavioral data was expensive to acquire, most campaign planning and development time was spent in the domain of intuition. Any research was done at the beginning of the process, and this was primarily qualitative data based on surveys and focus groups.

Then the designers and developers applied the data to the best of their ability relying heavily on their intuition to make thousands of little decisions necessary to complete a project.

The old "Mad Men" way of design left most decisions up to experience and intuition, not data and research.

The “Mad Men” way of designing a website.

It is at the end of this process that true behavioral data is collected. It’s called results. If the results were positive, then the campaign can be replicated and continued. If the results were disappointing, then the campaign would be scratched, and the process would start over.

This is the classic launch and see approach.

What Using Behavioral Science Data Looks Like

What does a campaign development process look like in an era of cheap behavioral data. For most businesses, it looks the same. But for industry leaders, it looks like this:

Effort is split between experience or intuition and data or research.

This is how we design a website when data is abundant and cheap. Like today.

Qualitative data is collected at the beginning. But now we can go back and test components of the campaign again and again. And we collect inexpensive quantitative behavioral data.

Intuition has its place and always will. But now we have balance. At several points along the development path, we can answer specific questions about our campaign.

Conclusion: What Is Behavioral Science and Why Is It Critical For Conversion?

Every marketer will need to add behavioral science in their diet. What is behavioral science and how does it lead to winning campaigns?

We’re going to be diving deeper into behavioral sciences in the coming months.

We’ll be discussing the rules of behavioral science, examining case studies, and providing practical strategies for application.

If you’d like to learn more, watch my presentation on using behavioral science for your business.

If it’s backed by data, it’s not sexist. At least that’s what we tell ourselves. If the data says it’s true, it’s not stereotyping. We all know men and women shop differently. Except when they don’t. So this daring infographic, conspiring with the numbers to perpetuate some of our favorite stereotypes definitely caught our eye.
We were intrigued because you could replace the word “Men” with “Relational Shopppers” and the word “Women” with “Transactional Shoppers” and this infographic would still make sense.
We’ve written about relational versus transactional buying behaviors before. Did you tune us out? Just like a man, amiright ladies?
If we were to take the low road, we’d gleefully embrace the stereotypes presented here. However, we’ve chosen to take this opportunity to redirect our attention to two important buying behaviors that you can use to increase sales on your website.
Yes, there are real differences between men and women. Take a few deep breathes if this comes as a shock.
The infographic from eCommerce Platforms affords us the view that men and women tend to fall on either side of the transactional/relational buying divide. Women tend to be more transactional whereas men are more relational.
What’s transactional about women’s shopping preferences? According to the infographic:

        

  • They are responsive to marketing emails, coupons, and sales.
  •     

  • They are more selective about products and are more likely to buy something that fits all of their requirements.

And what’s relational about men’s shopping preferences?

        

  • They need detailed product descriptions and product comparisons.
  •     

  • Their need is immediate, so they’re less likely to be shopping just for the sake of shopping.
  •     

  • They are less interested in discounts.

Different buying behaviors of men versus women

Different buying behaviors of men versus women (women are pink and men teal)


Some statistics that sum it up best tell us that price is less important to men that it is to women. The greatest fear of a transactional shopper is paying too much and, as women are more likely to do, will shop longer to get a bargain. Relational shoppers see the shopping process as part of the cost. Like men, they will pay more to reduce shopping time.
Shopping behaviors of men versus women

Women’s behaviors are in pink; men’s in teal.


That stereotype that women love the experience of shopping holds up if we’re to believe that they shop based on future needs and that they are more likely than men to be shopping for other people as well as themselves. It’s the opposite for relational shoppers and men. Shopping needs to be easy and uncomplicated.
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Move Past the Stereotypes

Not every woman is a transactional shopper and not every man is relational. But designing for your stereotypically transactional woman will pay off for transactional men as well. Relational shoppers will respond to relational buying cues regardless of their sex.
As I studied this infographic, I couldn’t help but think about my own (female) shopping behaviors. I mentally went through a checklist for each item that supposedly applied to me and which did not. Turns out, I’m kind of a dude.
With this realization, I was immediately taken back to my middle school and high school days when my older, cooler brother asked me to go to the mall with him. If that was the road to his approval, obviously I was going to be into shopping. New favorite hobby, right? Wrong. I hate shopping!
I went back through the entire infographic, checking off his behaviors this time. Turns out, he’s kind of a girl.
For the most part, I’m pretty girly and he’s a bro, but we don’t fulfill gender expectations when it comes to online shopping. What stuck out the most to me is that my needs are immediate and his rarely are. If you don’t have an immediate need, why else would you be looking to spend money except that you enjoy the experience?
future vs immediate needs
It’s the same idea with impulse buying or being logical with your purchases. I almost always spend a lot of time mulling over whether I actually need something, and I try to think through all of the ways that buying a particular item is going to make my life easier or how often I’ll use it if I buy it.
impulse vs logic
A more subtle character trait is how we choose what we’re going to buy.How to choose which product to buy
Here are a few of my brother’s most trusted review sources.

My brother's review sources

My brother’s review sources


Nope, you don’t know these people. They’re just a bunch of his friends.  On the other hand, I used to be a librarian, so the reviews I trust look a little different.
My review sources

My review sources


I also noticed an area where marketers could easily get my brother to spend more money.
The online shopping experience
He has never really been into social media, but he recently joined Instagram, and it felt like our family dynamic changed overnight. I now get a play-by-play of his life complete with as many hashtags as he can imagine.
Documentation of a very successful shopping trip

Documentation of a very successful shopping trip


Since he’s still new to social media his hashtags are mostly jokes, but eventually he’s going to realize that he can use them so that they’re searchable. When that day comes, I’m sure I’ll be flooded with hashtags about Yeti coolers, Bud Lite with Lime, and whatever brand makes those flip-flops with the beer bottle opener in the sole. He will absolutely love sharing and being able to see how other people are using all of the things he loves.
Since I’m on the other end of the spectrum, I don’t have a Facebook screenshot to share about the Warby Parker at-home try-on sunglasses that just came in the mail. You just won’t find me posting about my online shopping experiences. Instead I’ll be posting cute pictures of my cat.
This is Frankie, and she's wearing a cute hat.

This is Frankie, and she’s wearing a cute hat.

What’s the moral of the story?

There is actual data to support the claim that, in general, the shopping behaviors of men and women are different. But there is also plenty of evidence that stereotypes don’t always hold up or that individuals are complex in their buying behaviors. And even that transactional versus relational shopping behaviors are situational.
When it comes to increasing conversions for your own business, being able to generalize about your buyers could be helpful, but not as helpful as using data specific to the visitors of your own website, not just the internet as a whole.  What if all of your customers are just like my brother and me?
Infographic describing the differences between men's and women's shopping behaviors
Thanks to ecommerce-platforms.com for sharing.
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In this presentation, I talk about predicting the future.
The problem with predicting the future, even using CRO, is that our visitors are very unpredictable. Here are some of the assumptions we use to predict the future that just don’t work.
Because, really, all of us are predicting the future. When we’re building our sites and we’re putting our ads out, we’re trying to predict what that ad or that site is going to do for our business.
We’re all trying to predict the future and we’re not very good at it.
The Conversion Scientist Podcast


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If Psychology is the practice of understanding a person through their actions and behaviors, isn’t website optimization pretty much the same thing?
The folks who invited me to speak at the Chinwag Psych Conference in London think so. Here’s why.
What a person says they are feeling and thinking doesn’t let a psychologist know what is going on in their subconscious. It’s the subconscious that drives our behaviors more than our rational, conscious minds.
No, the psychologist has to read between our words, evaluate our unconscious behaviors to begin to see deeper.
A Conversion Scientist can ask a web audience what they expect from a website and why the did or did not buy. The answers will be rationalizations, and often will contradict the actual actions of these visitors.
We have to read between the lines, watching their online behavior. Our analytics database is like our couch.
In the end, both the psychologist and the Conversion Scientist must speculate as to why people behave the way they do.
The psychologist may recommend additional therapy. They may prescribe medication. If they are good, they will monitor the patients to see how the treatment worked.
After seven years of website optimization, I may need medication.
The Conversion Scientist may prescribe building trust, stronger language, more social proof, better images and more. And we always measure the effectiveness of these “treatments.”
So, if you’re in London on May 15, you should come and see an amazing lineup of psychologist-marketers. Nathalie Nahai, Craig Sullivan, André Morys, and Bart Schutz round out my list of favorites.
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Checkout abandonment rates stand at an average of 67.4%.
This eye opening statistic reveals that a significant amount of online businesses are letting valuable sales slip through their fingers due to errors within the checkout stage itself. The modern day consumer is spoiled by choice, they can easily compare prices, they judge a website and brand within seconds and they will make quick judgments on whether to make a purchase or not with any slight site error or cause for doubt leading to a loss of interest, and lost sales.
Online brands must work increasingly harder to encourage their consumers to make a purchase. Brands must understand how their consumers respond to their website design and layout as well as offering top customer service, quality products and competitive prices – not an easy challenge.
Vouchercloud has developed this infographic to help online businesses gain an understanding of what puts consumers off from making a purchase – leading to checkout abandonment. It gives an insight into the mind of the ever demanding online consumer in a bid to help businesses improve their sales.
Consumer Psychology and eCommerce Checkouts
About the Author:
Emma works for vouchercloud. She works with brands to plan and develop effective coupon marketing campaigns which will boost profits and increase brand exposure. She enjoys all aspects of marketing and the challenges of producing a successful campaign which will be well received by consumers. Her key responsibilities are to develop and launch these campaigns with her team. You can reach vouchercloud on Twitter & Facebook.