Single Operated Newsletter – How people decide what to buy

Cognitive biases that influence purchase decision-making

As people explore and evaluate in the messy middle, cognitive biases shape their shopping behavior and influence why they choose one product over another. While many hundreds of these biases exist, we prioritized six in our research:

Category heuristics: Short descriptions of key product specifications can simplify purchase decisions.
Power of now: The longer you have to wait for a product, the weaker the proposition becomes.
Social proof: Recommendations and reviews from others can be very persuasive.
Scarcity bias: As stock or availability of a product decreases, the more desirable it becomes.
Authority bias: Being swayed by an expert or trusted source.
Power of free: A free gift with a purchase, even if unrelated, can be a powerful motivator.

These biases formed the basis for our large-scale shopping experiment with real in-market shoppers simulating 310,000 purchase scenarios across financial services, consumer packaged goods, retail, travel, and utilities.

In the experiment, shoppers were asked to pick their first and second favorite brands within a category, and then a range of biases were applied to see if people would switch their preference from one brand to another. To test an extreme scenario, the experiments also included a fictional brand in each category, to which shoppers had zero prior exposure.

The results showed that even the least effective challenger, a fictional cereal brand, still managed to win 28% of shopper preference from the established favorite when it was “supercharged” with benefits, including five-star reviews and an offer of 20% extra for free. And in the most extreme case, a fictional car insurer won 87% share of consumer preference when supercharged with advantages across all six biases.

The experiment showed that, when applied intelligently and responsibly, behavioral science principles — and the behavioral and informational needs they align with — are powerful tools for winning and defending consumer preference in the messy middle.
How marketers can succeed in the messy middle

Although the messy middle might seem a complicated place, it’s important to remember that to consumers it just feels like normal shopping. The goal isn’t to force people to exit the loop shown in the model, but to provide them with the information and reassurance they need to make a decision.

Luckily, whether you’re a category giant or a challenger brand, the approach is the same:

Ensure brand presence so your product or service is strategically front of mind while your customers explore.
Employ behavioral science principles intelligently and responsibly to make your proposition compelling as consumers evaluate their options.
Close the gap between trigger and purchase so your existing and potential customers spend less time exposed to competitor brands.
Build flexible, empowered teams who can work cross-functionally to avoid traditional branding and performance silos that are likely to leave gaps in the messy middle.

Discover a business without

  • creating websites
  • being on camera
  • shipping products
  • setting up a channel
  • writing a book
  • starting a blog
  • selling on sites
  • taking surveys
  • freelancing
  • downloading apps
  • podcasting
  • driving strangers around

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