There was a time, not too long ago, when we thought people would never buy clothes online. E-commerce in general was a laughable concept. Up until the pandemic, even the idea of buying groceries online to be delivered at your doorstep also sounded too good to be true. Now look at us.
The idea of shopping online was so ridiculous because we couldn’t fathom not being able to try on the clothes before purchasing them. And it was hard to imagine that someone other than us could pick the right produce at the grocery store.
The main obstacle entrepreneurs had to overcome to convince us to shop online wasn’t technological but psychological. Unless they could lower the uncertainty that came with shopping online, it didn’t matter whether or not the technology could deliver that service. Uncertainty, it turns out, is the main obstacle every business or salesperson has to overcome in order to turn a potential customer into a paying one.
Online stores managed to help us clear the psychological hurdle of buying online in many ways. They present items in different angles, use models to show us different styles, and even provide size guides to help us make our decisions. Some even enable us to “try on” the items virtually, a feature Warby Parker recently rolled out via their app.
When I worked in higher education, the most important step in the recruitment process was ensuring that prospective students and their parents scheduled a campus visit. Before they commit to paying thousands of dollars, parents want to make sure that the place their kid is going to spend the next four years of their life is safe and adequate. The bigger the financial commitment, the higher the risk.
Giving prospective students the ability to see themselves living and thriving on our campus was an important step, as well as removing all the guesswork around how much it would cost them and their families. To lower uncertainty and secure an early commitment, we knew we had to bring them to campus for a visit as soon as possible.
What can YOU do to lower uncertainty for your customers? Here are three things to consider.
Branding is the most powerful way to lower uncertainty for customers. And it’s one we all now take for granted. To echo advertising guru Rory Sutherland, in a brand-less world, there’s no accountability. When no one’s reputation is on the line, there are no incentives to deliver the highest possible value since you won’t reap the benefits or suffer the consequences of having average products. Branding creates accountability, which gives consumers confidence in their purchases.
The level of consistency great brands deliver is also why we buy branded products. If I'm not an adventurous eater, I’m more likely to go to McDonalds while traveling abroad, even if I don’t like it, because at least I know exactly what to expect. We buy brands because brands are safe.
TRIALS, FREE RETURNS AND MONEY-BACK GUARANTEES
When we buy, there’s an empathy gap that exists between our present “unhappy” selves and our future “happy” selves. Free trials are the quickest way to close that gap. People like to try on clothes because they can immediately see themselves in the new clothes and get a dose of the boost in confidence or the joy they expect to get from the purchase. That’s the main reason we try on clothes and test drive cars, and why even dog shelters offer trial periods.
To convince us to shop online, companies also made it easy for us to return the items and get our money back. Without this crucial step, the uncertainty of buying online would simply be too high. Like online stores, many businesses also offer money back guarantees to lower the cost of uncertainty that comes with buying.
CASE STUDIES, SYSTEMS AND PROCESSES
Unlike an item you can try on and buy at the store, there is a great deal of uncertainty that comes with buying things that do not provide instant gratification. As a consultants, for example, we have to be a good fortune teller to lower the cost of uncertainty for potential clients.
First, we have to be able to paint a vivid picture for the future. Using case studies and other illustrations, we have to tell a compelling story about how their businesses will be transformed once their problems are solved. Second, we have to show them a clear path from here to there by explaining my process.
Ultimately, it’s important to understand that as people, we are wired with a bias for risk aversion because our survival depends on it. This means that more often than not, people are looking for ways to minimize the risk of making the wrong purchase decision, more than they are seeking to maximize the potential benefits. In the end, for customers, the biggest cost of all isn’t money, but uncertainty.
written by Junior Nyemb, Chief Empathy Officer