Selling things online? Here’s how to persuade your customers to buy!

The holy grail of ecommerce is conversion. And conversion is really just another way of defining persuasion. After all, when a person decides to make a purchase at your ecommerce site, it’s really just the result of many small acts of persuasion culminating in a final decision to purchase.

Given conversion is key to the success of every business, it is very useful to understand how persuasion works.

The Five Basic Principles

There absolutely is a science to persuading people. Further, that science has distilled the act down to five basic principles. These are reciprocity, scarcity, authority, consensus, consistency and liking. The judicious application of any of these can influence someone to make a decision.


When someone gives you something, you feel compelled to give something in return. Ever wondered why car dealers offer you water, coffee, snacks and the like? Similarly, restaurants, when customers are facing an extended wait; sometimes offer a glass of wine as a mea culpa. Having enjoyed the wine, you’re more likely to be patient until your table comes available. This is reciprocity at work.


Also known as the fear of missing out (or FOMO), when people learn something to which they are attracted is in limited supply, they are more likely to take immediate action to acquire it. The annual Pebble Beach Concours ‘d Elegance was once admission free. With ever-burgeoning crowds, the event became so crowded organizers decided to charge admission, thinking it would dissuade casual attendees and thin the crowd. However, charging admission had the opposite effect. Further, the more they charged for tickets, the more people showed up. They’d inadvertently triggered the principle of scarcity, which made attending the event more valuable in the eyes of the public.


If a noted expert in a given area expresses an opinion, people are likely to take that information as truth. “Four out of five dentists surveyed say brushing your teeth with Crest will reduce cavities.” Well, the truth of the matter is brushing your teeth with any toothpaste will reduce cavities. However, the marketers behind Crest toothpaste latched onto the authority principle underlying this fact and applied it to their product first.


We are more inclined to be accepting of an idea if others with whom we feel kinship express their approval of the notion. This is what drives social proof. It’s also why having customer testimonials on your ecommerce site, whether you sell furniture online, electronics, cosmetics, ebooks or any other product is critical to your success.


A lie told loudly enough for long enough eventually comes to be accepted as truth. In other words, consistency of a given message is key. Much of contemporary pop music works according to this principle. The first time you hear a song you might not like it. But as time goes on and you hear the song over and over again it begins to grow on you. Similarly, marketing messages must be repeated over and over again to be accepted. Applying consistency to your promotional efforts will see them eventually gain approval.


People are more apt to agree with the opinions of someone with whom they feel an affinity. This is why finding common ground with your customer is key to making a sale. When you’re going into business, it’s important to identify your ideal customer and do everything possible to create an environment in which they feel welcomed. You become “likable” in their eyes, which makes them more comfortable buying from you.

Some aspect of these five elements can be directly attributed to every purchase decision. Understanding how persuasion works based upon these factors and applying them to your ecommerce site will improve your conversion rate exponentially.