Persuasive Web: Where Psychology Meets Conversion

DAY 11: “Don’t Interrupt Me!” Can Interstitial Upsell Pages Persuade?

Posted in 30 Days of Persuasion by persuasiveweb on June 11, 2009
Don't bug me! I'm eating.  

Don't bug me! I'm eating.

Here’s a persuasion don’t: Don’t interrupt people when they’re trying to buy your products. It’s like you’ve got a cookie in your hand, it’s nearing your mouth… and someone bumps your hand. Even if you don’t drop the cookie, it’s still kind of frustrating. 

Or how about this? You’re on a website. You’ve added to your cart the products you’re willing to pay your hard-earned money for. You’re ready to checkout…. And suddenly you’re confronted with a cross-sell page that’s keeping you from buying your products and getting on with your life.  

If you’ve been in this situation and had a less-than-great response to the interruption, congratulations! You’re human! And as a human, you’re evolved to avoid delays in consumption of any kind. It’s part of foraging theory, a model within the behavioral ecology of consumption… and it’s what we’re talking about today. 🙂

Yes, Consumers Are Foragers
Even the most ‘civilized’ among us can’t train out the evolved behaviors of our ancestors. Human consumption, according to some theorists (e.g., Hantula, Brockman & Smith, 2008), is a bio-behavioral phenomenon where behavioral adaptations from ancestral environments impact decision-making. That means that what you consume has more to do with built-in decision-making processes than you might’ve expected.

Whales have become expert foragers, evolving and perfecting the 'bubble wall' that traps their prey.

Whales have become expert foragers, evolving and perfecting the 'bubble wall' that traps their prey.

The idea calls on foraging processes of ancient times, wherein hunters/gatherers sought out often-scarce food — and the scarcity of the food made acquisition of it (and eventual consumption) highly competitive and valued. Foraging theory is what makes us want stuff now… and it applies to online consumers. 

People who shop online experience the same major phases of foraging our ancestors did:

  1. Searching
  2. Handling
  3. Consumption

Handling — or the period that begins with an item sitting in your cart and end with that item being delivered to you (via mail or download) — is the period during which interruption most frequently happens. Items that have a longer handling time are less preferable than items that can be consumed with little delay.

Enter Interstitial Upsell Pages (i.e., Interrupters), the Bain of the Forager’s Existence
I’ve been in marketing for years. So, I mean, trust me, I get the importance of cross-selling — and I know how powerful tools like recommender agents can be in getting people to add more products to their carts. I like higher conversions! 

But I don’t like interruptions.

And marketers know that people don’t want to wait in line at retail or experience page load delays on e-commerce sites… so why the helsinki are e-marketers adding these interstitial upsell pages in to the shopping flow? Here are two experiences I had recently.). Interrupter (Interstitial Upsell Page) Interrupter (Interstitial Upsell Page)

Did I love being interrupted in these two separate product acquisition (i.e., handling) processes? Well, I didn’t abandon, at least… but I do remember not liking the experience — feeling disengaged and sold to. That was my personal experience.

The first real question is, Does extending the handling period and delaying consumption cause users to abandon their carts? Not necessarily, according to Jason Goldberg. In fact, interstitials have shown great results for many e-tailers… and they must be working a bit, or test-savvy sites like wouldn’t be using them. 

The second and more interesting (to me) question is, Are the interrupters themselves persuasive? Do they actually help rather than hinder? Is it an interrupter that increases sales… or the entire concept of cross-selling? Can you achieve the same results you might achieve with interrupters by using a less-interruptive technique than an interstitial upsell page?

Trigger Their ‘Rapid Forager’ Response
Whether you use interrupters or not, it’s clear that people care about delays. That means there’s an opportunity to remove possible barriers to purchase for your users: tell users how far they are from getting their hands on the products they’re ordering on your site. Throughout the conversion funnel, try messaging any of the following that apply to you:

  • How many days it takes to ship a product within an area
  • How long it will take to download software from the site 
  • How quickly users can expect to receive free whitepapers in their email inboxes
  • How long it takes to get a refund 
  • How many hours it takes to receive a response from the technical support team

By eliminating barriers re: delays, you move your users closer to a place where you can persuade them to purchase your product. 


Read more about foraging theory and consumer decision-making:
Delay-reduction effects on foraging in Internet malls
Consumption based on social psychological and marketing models
Saad’s evolutionary bases of consumption


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