Persuasive Web: Where Psychology Meets Conversion

DAY 15: Delegation! When Your Users Ask YOU to Tell Them What to Buy

Posted in 30 Days of Persuasion by persuasiveweb on June 15, 2009

Overwhelmed by options and clueless as to how to decide? Delegate your decisions to people who know.

When you don't have the knowledge you need to make the right decision, it's time to delegate!

Really effective persuasion is based on tapping in to the decision-making processes of consumers to address their barriers to purchasing and break those barriers down by highlighting/applying their motivators for purchasing.

Principles of persuasion are largely based on how to help consumers make the decision you want them to make. But “purchase decision delegation” is all about consumers stepping back and letting others make their decisions for them. It’s like subcontracting your decisions to someone better able to make them. 

Why would a consumer want to let someone else make up their minds? Most often, it’s because:

  • They’re lacking the product knowledge they need to make an accurate decision
  • They’re too busy to be bothered
  • They don’t really care and just want to get the purchase over with

In such situations, consumers may be open to using an online recommender agent to show them their options and suggest the best matched product for their needs. (Let’s call this an “online agent.”) Think of any time you’ve asked a coworker to recommend a real estate agent, for example — if you ended up going with that agent, you effectively delegated your decision. Doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch anymore, does it?

What Purchasing Decisions Might Consumers Delegate to Your Online Agent?
Before we go too far, let’s be clear: Delegating decisions doesn’t always mean delegating the final purchasing decision. Consumers aren’t going to necessarily give you their credit card numbers and tell you to buy whatever you think they need (except maybe for personal stylists and interior decorators). No, instead we can ask consumers to allow us to help them make decisions at one of these 3 (of the 5) purchasing stages:

  1. Information Search – They need your help to figure out what characteristics they should be looking for in the product/service they purchase
  2. Evaluation of Alternatives – They need your help to narrow down their choice sets (or products in product categories)
  3. Purchase Decision – They need your help to make the final decision

Regardless of the stage at which your customers may wish/need to delegate their decision to your online agent, the fact is that they will have at least 2 major barriers to overcome in order to subcontract that decision to you… The good news is that there are at least 4 major motivators that you can highlight to help break down those barriers and open them up to delegating to your online agent. This chart describes. 

Picture 8

The desire for control in making a decision about what to buy cannot be underestimated. It might be impossible for your online agent to erode the control barrier for some users — but it is not always impossible, or, if it were, this blog post and the research that supports it (e.g., Crane; Klein & Ford, 2003; Ratchford, Lee & Talukdar, 2004) would never have happened. 🙂

For you to make the most of this information and its opportunities, it may be valuable to consider first the elements that litter the path between your users and their use of your online agent:

Picture 2

This path diagram shows that your potential customer is separated from subcontracting their decision to you by the barriers and the motivators, where the barriers need to be lessened and the motivators highlighted. (With regards to the motivators, it’s worth noting that accountability, authority and customization all lead to an increased sense of trustworthiness of your site and its online recommender agent.) Here are some ideas around how you can highlight motivators:

  • Accountability – On the agent landing page, message that you have a 100% 30-day money-back guarantee for any purchase and that, for purchases made from the online agent, consumers get an additional 30-day grace period for returns. Or offer a ‘feedback’ tool that lets users return post-purchase and tell others if they liked the product or if they should use the online agent. 
  • Authority – Give the credentials of the people behind your automated online agent or on your chat tool. 
  • Customization – Create a truly robust online agent that takes the detailed info of the consumer and uses that info to generate a custom recommendation. 
  • Trustworthiness – Huge topic! 🙂 Click here to read about building trust on your website

Examples of E-commerce Sites with Online Agents

Picture 32

Picture 37Picture 27

(BTW, is begging to be linked to NetFlix or even Why o why, WhatToRent, don’t you turn your cool tool into an opportunity for your users to actually purchase or rent the movies you recommend?)

Where Are We Seeing Online Agents Today?
The above examples are for wine, mortgages and movie rentals, respectively. There are also a schwack of travel, insurance, stock/trading and wardrobe recommenders out there. These online agents are pretty obvious solutions, given how align closely with at least one of the “reasons to delegate” we noted at the start of this post:

  • They’re lacking the product knowledge they need to make an accurate decision = WINE, MORTGAGES
  • They’re too busy to be bothered = MOVIES
  • They don’t really care and just want to get the purchase over with

But where are the software recommenders? Where are the contractor recommenders? And what about options in the “I don’t care — just get it over with” area? I’m seeing a future of online agents that recommend birthday cards for coworkers, new wiper blades for your car….. 🙂 



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