6 time-tested persuasion techniques from the real world to use on your website

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Sometimes it’s easy to forget the art of persuasion wasn’t invented in the 90s with the onset of dial-up internet. All it takes is a quick break away from the screen, and it’s not long before you realise how much inspiration can be drawn from the ‘real world’ – having evolved and stood the test of time over centuries.

Recently I had the pleasure of experiencing an unlikely source of such real-world inspirations in the shape of Istanbul’s magnificent market, the Grand Bazaar. Beyond the chaos and sensory overload that hits you at first sight, the bazaar is one of the toughest places to compete for attention. Home to 4,000 shops spread across 61 covered streets, each street specialises in a particular type of item, so a shop ends up selling almost identical merchandise to their 20+ neighbours. With local tradesmen having to sharpen and evolve their selling techniques since the 15th century, the Grand Bazaar is a treasure chest of time-tested lessons we can learn from.

In this article, we expose some of the most interesting time-proven persuasion techniques used by local tradesmen, explain why they work, and show how you can apply them effectively on your website.

Break the ice with a simple question

The similarity of products being sold side-by-side means a nice product presentation often isn’t enough – tradesmen must find additional ways of bringing in customers. Seconds into entering the market, salesmen approach me with their favourite ice breaker: “Where are you from?” It’s hard to think of an easier question to answer, yet it serves an important purpose.

Simply by answering “Russia”, I’ve committed myself into a conversation where the shop owner now has the chance to find common ground (showing off his language skills and inevitably admitting his respect for Putin). His chances of luring in an experienced shopper like myself are now considerably higher.

How you could use this:

Get users to make that initial small commitment. A small question or action that doesn’t require any thinking can get that initial engagement from your users without putting them off longer steps. It can also be a great opportunity for users to self-select and allow you to tailor content around their answer.

Not dissimilar to the bazaar classic "Where are you from?", money transfer website Azimo starts with a simple ice breaker question on their homepage.

Not dissimilar to the bazaar classic “Where are you from?”, money transfer website Azimo starts with a simple ice breaker question on their homepage.

Once a destination country is selected, they are able to offer more persuasive, localised content.

Once a destination country is selected, they are able to offer more persuasive, localised content.

Similarly, instead of presenting your visitors with an off-putting long form, starting with a simple first question can get that important first engagement that will make users less likely to run off as they face the more frictional questions.

Like bazaar salesmen, freemium online games face much competition from similar products so look to smoothen their onboarding as much as possible. Rather than slapping a registration form on the front page, this "Age of Empires" knock-off asks one simple piece of information at a time, starting with username. 3 steps later, having by now built a peasant house, they are asked for their email, at which stage they are more committed to the game.

Like bazaar salesmen, freemium online games face much competition from similar products so look to smoothen their onboarding as much as possible. Rather than slapping a registration form on the front page, this “Age of Empires” knock-off asks one simple piece of information at a time, starting with username. 3 steps later, having by now built a peasant house, they are asked for their email, at which stage they are more committed to the game.

Offer something first

As I am eventually lured into a carpet store, I am politely offered a glass of Turkish tea. Tea is a huge deal in Turkish culture and is an ever-present part in the art of selling by bazaar salesmen.

The act of accepting a glass of tea triggers an important psychological principle in itself, creating a sense of reciprocity in the buyer. As such, when we were given a little something for free, we became indebted to the other party and are naturally more obliged to offer something back in exchange. In this context, that could mean making a concession in negotiation, feeling more obliged to buy or at the very least giving your time for the shop owner to sell their story. In addition, the time spent drinking tea and listening to the seller creates a second level reciprocity – time indebtedness.

How you could apply this online:

Offer something meaningful to your visitors – without them needing to give something in return (be it money or information). Depending on your business this can be a free piece of content that is of value to them (think ebooks or webinars), or a sample of your product.

Besides this, reciprocity can have more creative methods. SurveyGizmo (below) pro-actively offers its users a free trial extension without asking for anything in return. They know that this small act of kindness will make you much more likely to then start paying after the trial extension.

Sell the story

As I sip the delectable tea, the seller has the perfect stage to sell their story to a now-receptive audience. I am told about the history of Turkish rugs, the people behind the work, the unique processes and great that goes into making them and the resulting quality that will make rugs last for generations (ever increasing in value over time).

In a market so crowded with identical items and with prices so fluid, the importance of differentiating your product is absolutely crucial both to getting the sale and one at a higher price. Many tourists (including myself) never came to the Bazaar with the intent of buying a rug, and experience will tell the seller that a strong story highlighting authenticity, antiquity and quality will often prove enough to create the necessary desire.

How you could apply this online:

Boost your perceived value by really selling the story. You may not be fighting for attention in a bazaar, but it is more than likely that there are plenty of similar products or services available as alternatives. Get the insights from your customers about why they chose your product and emphasise this at key consideration stages to make it crystal clear why exactly you stand out from your competitors.

Swoon Editions does well in selling the hand-crafted story throughout their product pages, boosting perceived value of their furniture.

Swoon Editions does well in selling the hand-crafted story throughout their product pages, boosting perceived value of their furniture.

Anchor the price

Once the storytelling is over, the owner’s assistants begin to bring out the rugs. The first rugs I am shown are as intricate and beautiful as they come, however with the price tag to match. I’m quoted a price far higher than I would ever spend on a rug – and as I tell him this I am confident the shop owner already knows this. He is applying the price anchoring technique: the next set of rugs brought out for me are still pricey, but sit in a considerably more realistic price range – one that subconsciously I’m now more likely to be content with.

The deliberate act of showing me the highest price items first sets a psychological benchmark against which I am comparing subsequent prices. Now that I’ve been shown the expensive rugs, the next ones come across as relatively good value.

How you could apply this online:

The price anchoring technique is particularly powerful in an environment like a bazaar where the less experienced customer typically doesn’t have a great knowledge of prices, however anchoring can be readily applied online.

One of the most natural places anchoring can have a dramatic impact is in setting pricing strategies. If you present the lower priced option first, they will be anchored towards the lower end, and so the reverse applies when you show the expensive plan first. Another classic is adding an extra-premium option to a 2-option plan that typically leads more people to select the seemingly better value now-middle option.

Adding an extra, significantly more expensive plan option helps encourage users to go for the now relatively better value "Plus" plan, as demonstrated by CrazyEgg's pricing plan above. They went a step further by reversing the usual plan order to set the anchor at the most expensive plan before they view the rest.

Adding an extra, significantly more expensive plan option helps encourage users to go for the now relatively better value “Plus” plan, as demonstrated by CrazyEgg’s pricing plan above. They went a step further by reversing the usual plan order to set the anchor at the most expensive plan before they view the rest.

Give positive reinforcement

I take time to look through the mid-range rugs laid out in front of me, with the salesman briefly fading into the background. As I get my hands on a particular rug, he steps back in saying “Great taste! This rug is 100% wool and is of great finish.” He explains how you can see the quality of the finishing is particularly intricate and shows how the rug changes colour depending on viewing angle. Call me gullible, but his words encouraged me and made me more open to negotiation.

How you could apply this to online:

Applied at the right moment, positive reinforcement can prove an efficient nudge to encourage a user to follow through to the next desired action and convert.

One of the most natural settings in which you could apply it, is at the point items are being added to basket. This could manifest itself as the virtual version of the Turkish salesman (praising the user’s selection) or through the use of positive messaging when a particular goal is achieved, such as reaching a free delivery threshold, completing an offer or unlocking a discount. Equally, reassuring users of the value of the product they have selected (price/most savings , most popular) can be a powerful motivator at the crucial final stages of the funnel.

White goods provider AO gives an encouraging virtual pat on the back once you've added certain items to the basket.

White goods provider AO gives an encouraging virtual pat on the back once you’ve added certain items to the basket.

On forms, a virtual pat on the back on completion of a particular step can “humanise” the experience and go a long way in encouraging the user to continue the momentum through to the end.

Address common objections

As we narrow down to a particular rug and we begin to discuss the price, the shop owner feels the sale edge closer and starts explaining about the free wrapping, hassle-free & reliable shipping, how the rug is easy to maintain and how it’s going to last for a lifetime.

Through experience, rug sellers naturally pick up on the common objections tourists thrust at them (often in a final attempt to pull out from buying a rug they never intended to buy) and use this knowledge to proactively address each of these concerns. This may seem obvious, but for some reason it often fails to translate itself into the online world. And unlike the physical world, there is often no-one to answer those concerns on demand.

How you could apply this online:

Find out the common objections your visitors are raising that are stopping them from converting, and make sure these are made perfectly clear and visible at the stages they have those concerns. This should be a fundamental principle of any conversion optimisation programme, yet is still often neglected.

Do this simply by asking your visitors and customers directly – something that’s so easy nowadays with all the tools out there, yet for some reason still overlooked by many. Use on-site surveys to ask those that are abandoning the leakiest parts of your funnel why, or you could ask those that did convert if there was something that made them hesitate. If you have customer support – speak to them or listen in to their conversations. Use the insights you get to address their concerns exactly in the places you know they crop up.

On their subscription form, Netflix ensure the most burning concern is addressed with a simple heading.

On their subscription form, Netflix ensure the most burning concern is addressed with a simple heading.

Graze uses well-timed callouts to encourage users facing a choice commitment dilemma.

Graze uses well-timed callouts to encourage users facing a choice commitment dilemma.

It’s important to remind ourselves that while the medium may be different, the human nature is still very much the same at its core. Whether strolling through a bazaar or browsing the depths of Google, the same principles of persuasion influence our decision to convert – even if the execution will vary.

I may have returned from Istanbul with a rug I neither really needed nor intended to buy, but besides serving as a lush-but-out-of-place living room centrepiece it also serves as a reminder that we should be inspired by and learning from those who have been relying on and perfecting the art of persuasion for centuries.

Key takeaways

So, next time you are out shopping in the ‘real world’, take note of your positive experiences and observations and think about how you can transform these onto your website to help boost your own conversions.

  • Break the ice with a simple question
  • Offer something first
  • Sell the story
  • Anchor the price
  • Give positive reinforcement
  • Address common objections

October 29th, 2018

About the Author

 

Nikita Kursov

Nikita is a senior consultant with 7 years of experience in conversion optimisation, having delivered optimisation strategies for a wide array of websites in industries ranging from travel and retail to gaming, finance and B2B. He has a particular interest in the application of cognitive psychology to influence user behaviour.

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