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It’s Not Rocket Science: The Science Behind Customer Decision Making

December 5th, 2018 | 3 min. read

It’s Not Rocket Science: The Science Behind Customer Decision Making Blog Feature

Zmags Blog Author

Sharing perspectives on the latest trends and tips to help eCommerce brands stay ahead to engage and drive revenue.

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Sure, exploding volcanos and science experiments may seem daunting, but the science behind customer decision-making doesn’t have to be. In fact, knowing the science of shopping can increase your views, customers, and sales. For example, picture two types of shoppers. The first comes home with several bags after a long day of shopping sales, while the other thinks this mass shopping spree is nonsensical and absurd. Turns out there is scientific reasoning behind this. It’s called the dual process theory.  

What is Dual Process Theory?

Dual process theory is the idea that two different systems work together during the decision-making process. These are called system one and system two. System one is the automatic subconscious mind which is fast, primal, illogical, and requires very little access. System two is defined as your controlled and conscious mind which is effort-intensive, small capacity, logical, and slow processing.  

This customer decision-making theory dates back to the 1800s. American philosopher and psychologist  William James paved the way for more modern interpretations. Is this sounding familiar? You may have read Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, who popularized the theory in 2003.  

What’s the Point?

I’m getting there! The point is that as humans, we like to think we are very rational when it comes to decision making. But, in fact, we are not. It’s actually very rare we use our heads when shopping. As customers, we try to rationalize our decision making of system one. And when we need it the most, system two is rarely there to stop us from our shopping spree.  

Think of the systems of the dual-process theory as a system of checks and balances. System two is supposed to subdue our system ones. So, when you see an Instagram ad for a cute dress, your logical system two is supposed to stop you from buying the extraneous dress. However, most of the time, that’s not the case. Instead, system one convinces you by saying that “it was on sale” or “that dress quality is too good” or “That was such a steal.”   Now for those who are reading this and saying, “well I have self-control and I only buy necessities when I NEED to,” good for you.  

Appealing to System One

There are a few ways you can market to system one. Since the subconscious mind is at play here, you need to wake up those unconscious thoughts. Here are a few ways:

  • Exhaust system two’s capacity
    • The best way to do this is in the decision-making step of the customer journey. Say you’re checking out a new lip-gloss but you have options between glossy and matte, 1 oz vs 3 oz, or red vs purple. Offering small customization options give you choices that diminish the voice of system two.
  • Use clean-cut visuals
    • We all know visual cues are consumed faster than text, so this is where you roll out videos and interactive content. As a marketer, you need to make sure that the visuals are simple, to the point, summarize the benefit, and still catch the attention of customers. These visuals will appeal to system one’s more primal and subconscious side.
  • Keep it simple. Period.

Appealing to System Two

Since system two is the conscious mind, you want to keep it focused and present. For example:

  • Give them the facts
    • System two will want to heavily vet the options, which will include your competitors. The easier and faster you make it to compare your products to one another and to competitive products, the better.
  • The element of surprise
    • Anything like pop-up subscribe windows or discounted checkout timers can do the trick. It’s unexpected and it requires a decision: do I sign up or do I leave?
 Just remember that every purchase is unique. No one is a logical, conscious buyer all of the time. And no one makes all of their purchase decisions with one system exclusively. The two systems work together depending on the context and number of previous decisions made that day.