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Usability and Emotion – 2 Success Factors in Online Trade

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In this article, we explain how the fundamentals of human psychology can help you improve your website’s usability, making you more successful in online trade in the long term.

When I organize workshops or seminars on the topic of neuromarketing, there are always two things about how the brain functions in the context of marketing that I pass on to every visitor:

Firstly, the brain is the most resource-intensive organ in the human body. It only accounts for about 5% of an adult’s body mass, but for about 20% of oxygen consumption. That’s why it works according to the strict principle of efficiency. Or, to put it simply and in a way that everyone can remember it: the brain is lazy. If it doesn’t have a good enough incentive, it won’t be active.

Secondly, the human brain – like the brains of all mammals – is emotional. Most decisions and actions require activity in the areas of our brain that are also responsible for our emotional experience.

Most of the activity in the human brain can be explained by these two principles.

Efficiency and Emotion

What does is the significance of neuroscience for marketing or online trading, and for usability in particular?
It means that we need to make it as easy as possible for our customers to achieve the goals that drive them to visit our websites. It’s not about objective data, but about emotions and subjective values.

An example:

Suppose we want to book a holiday. As a matter of course, we open our browser, enter a few keywords in Google and sooner or later land on a travel comparison website. Here we are asked for the approximate travel dates and the destination, and then we see the results.

We then see hundreds of hotels, classifiable according to hundreds of criteria: price, highest customer rating, distance to city center, distance to nearest train station, number of stars, rating by travel portal, photos, restaurants in the area, and so on. Objectively, it is virtually impossible to find the best option from this offer with this number of possible decision criteria.

But these are the possibilities. The question is how to deal with them as a provider.

Usability: The Foundation for Business

If I go to the travel agency that I trust, the decision is usually made easy for me. I say where I want to go, when, how much money I want to spend, and then I get an offer. The selection is not made by me, but by the provider. This is what makes the purchase decision easier: the offer is reduced to a manageable number of possible alternatives.

Figure 1: Travel agency Thomas Cook (Source)

In online shops, this necessary reduction has to be done by the customer themselves – that means the brain has to use resources to ignore unimportant information and find important information. But, as I said before, the brain is basically shying away from unnecessary effort. Therefore, search results are rarely viewed beyond the first page.

That’s why filters and good search algorithms are so important. Usability is the basis of any success in online trading, i. e. the extent to which the offer can effectively, efficiently, and satisfactorily satisfy the needs of a customer.

The same also applies to physical retail stores.

Emotions: The Companion from Product to Purchase

The moment a customer loses control of the information presented to them, either because they don’t find what they’re looking for, don’t know how to make a decision, or don’t understand the menu – they will turn away and look for an alternative. Great usability on the website ensures that the customer won’t leave.

However, more is needed if you want the customer to successfully conclude their purchase.

For a successful business relationship, the customer must recognize a value in the offer: a reward that is worth the effort. They must be gripped by emotions. Purchasing decisions are based on activity in the emotional networks of the brain – the offer must therefore lead to this activity. If not, there will be no purchase.

Impressive evidence of the importance of emotional networks in decision-making processes can be found in Antonio Damasio’s work. Damasio investigated the influence of brain lesions, i. e. damage in narrowly defined areas of the brain, on decision making in different contexts. Above all, he was interested in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex: the area of the brain that is roughly located above the eyes.

Damasio examined various patients with impaired functionality of this brain structure due to mechanical effects (e. g. accidents) or diseases. What all these people had in common was that they showed normal, undiminished intelligence, could think logically and were able to continue their lives as usual – but they were not able to make meaningful decisions, which is why they became increasingly neglected, lived in the day and lost most of their social relationships.

Damasio was one of the first to scientifically prove that emotions are not the enemy of meaningful decisions, but that they are absolutely necessary for decision making. Decisions and actions of any kind – including buying – are ultimately based on activity in emotional networks. If there is no emotion, there will be no purchase decision.

Conclusion: Usability and Emotion Combined Result in a Satisfied Customer

Neuromarketing is a discipline developed from neuroscience which tries to explain how business processes can be optimized to the needs and expectations of the customer’s brain. Many decisions depend on the target group, the product and the interaction of these two factors. Every company should take note of the following two points, whether online or offline.

Firstly, make it as easy as possible for your customers to achieve what they want. Problems are the reason why customers turn away from a provider. If there are no problems, customers have no reason not to complete the purchase.

Secondly, arouse the emotions of your customer. No matter how and no matter what kind of emotion – as long as it has a positive connotation, this is the best possible motivator for a purchase that exists.

Any company that takes these two principles to heart will survive in the marketplace.

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