Reassure, don’t pressure people
Pressuring nudges (e.g. only 3 left!) are effective but increased product returns by 69%. Use reassuring nudges instead (e.g. this product is perfect for you)
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Your potential customer is visiting your product page. They like what they see, but they’re unsure: should they buy it right now, or come back to it later?
But you know they may never come back if they decide to postpone their decision.
You might try to pressure them with nudges that push them to buy right away. It could be through scarcity (‘only 3 left in stock’), or maybe a limited time offer (‘buy now or the price will increase’).
Indeed, such nudges generally work - despite their flaws. But they’re also salesy, aggressive, and leave a nasty aftertaste.
So is there a better way?
Yes, there is.
Reassure them instead of pressuring them.
P.S.: This is Ariyh’s 200th insight! I can’t believe we’re already here. I want to celebrate this with a special issue next week, keep an eye out for it 🥳
Use reassuring nudges, not pressuring ones to reduce product returns
Channels: Ecommerce | Website | Retail | Promotions
For: B2C. Can be tested for B2B
Research date: May 2023
Use reassuring instead of pressuring nudges (e.g. “Only 2 left, buy now!”) to boost conversions. For example:
Reassure people based on their past purchases (e.g. “This fits your style!”)
Clearly explain the product’s measurements (e.g. an image detailing its size)
Remind throughout checkout which product option and color they’ve chosen
Pressuring nudges seem more effective initially, but they backfire because they cause very high product returns.
Reassuring nudges drive a similar number of total sales, compared to pressuring nudges, once you account for product returns.
In an experiment with ~6,000 customers of a large Asian ecommerce retailer, researchers tested the effectiveness of no nudges, pressuring nudges, and reassuring nudges. They found that:
Time pressure (e.g. “The deal ends in 3 hours”) led to almost 3x more sales, compared to no nudge (6.9% vs 2.4%). However, it also increased product returns by over 4x (2.2% vs 0.5%).
Social pressure (e.g. “31 people bought this in the last 24 hours”) led to over 2x more sales (5.1% vs. 2.4%) and much higher returns (1.3% vs 0.5%).
Reassuring nudges (e.g. “Great choice!”) reduced product returns by 69.3% more than pressuring nudges.
The negative effect of pressuring nudges is stronger when people shop via mobile apps (vs. websites).
🧠 Why it works
Pressuring nudges make us more impulsive and more susceptible to FOMO (fear of missing out).
But after this kind of ‘pressured’ purchase, we often feel buyer’s remorse and return the product.
In contrast, reassuring nudges increase our confidence in the purchase.
They address “questions” that we’re likely to ask ourselves while deciding to buy (e.g. is this really for me?).
These answers help us self-justify our purchase, so we are more likely to buy.
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The study only tested exclusive, limited edition, fashion products. However, the effect probably extends to other types of products (e.g. microwaves, accounting software, spa packages)
Fashion products typically have very high return rates (up to 40%). The negative impact of pressuring nudges may be weaker for other types of products.
The research did not test using both reassuring and pressuring nudges at the same time. We don’t know what happens when they’re combined.
Pressuring nudges may have worked well for this retailer because it is well known and trustworthy. They may not work as well for less known retailers.
The whole study happened on one website, under the same product page design. Different website designs and nudge placements might lead to different results.
🏢 Companies using this
Reassuring nudges seem to have become gradually more common for some major ecommerce retailers such as Amazon and Asos. They sometimes combine them with pressuring nudges.
On the other hand, other retailers such as AliExpress and Temu heavily focus on pressuring nudges.
Temu time pressures people to buy through countdown timers and ‘Almost sold out’ signs. They might be better off using reassuring nudges instead.
⚡ Steps to implement
Use nudges to reassure people that they are making the right choice in choosing your product.
Nudge potential buyers to make informed choices about your product, based on its features and benefits.
Reassuring nudges include:
References to who it’s for (e.g. “Wouldn’t your kid love this gift?”)
Recommendations based on previously-liked items (e.g. “Because you viewed this other product”)
Suggestions to make the right decision (e.g. “Check out the perfect size for you”, “Choose your device”)
Size guides and ways to use the product
Any other method that emphasizes a good fit with the product
Be careful not to instill doubts in your potential buyers, as you reassure them. Don’t ask “Are you sure you want this?”, it will probably backfire.
Be careful when using pressuring nudges. They may drive higher short-term sales but will lead to higher product returns. For example:
Limited time offers such as “This deal ends in 3 hours!” (time scarcity)
“Only 3 left at this price!” (supply scarcity)
“99 people purchased this item in the last 24 hours” (social persuasion)
🔍 Study type
Field experiment (with 5,938 customers of a large Asian retailer)
The Effects of Pressure and Self-Assurance Nudges on Product Purchases and Returns in Online Retailing: Evidence from a Randomized Field Experiment. Journal of Marketing Research (May 2023)
Remember: This is a new scientific discovery. In the future it will probably be better understood and could even be proven wrong (that’s how science works). It may also not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.
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