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Using confirmation bias to increase conversion

Author's avatar By Expert commentator 08 Apr, 2015
Essential Essential topic

Examples showing why customer loyalty may be a self-fulfilling prophecy

We’re funny creatures, us apes. Take decision-making, for instance. Before we make a decision, such as buying an expensive item, we’re often beset by doubt and uncertainty. We might check out price comparison websites, ask friends and family for advice, or explore numerous models and variations of a product, all before committing to the purchase.

But once we have committed… once we have handed over our credit card details and gone through with the transaction… suddenly all that uncertainty drops away like water off a duck’s back. You can almost feel the relief as you wallow in the glow of your choice’s superiority, even though, in reality, the products that you left sitting on the shelf were probably just as capable as the item you selected.

It’s not just buying decisions that are affected in this way. Post purchase rationalisation, as it’s called, affects us all. Gamblers are surer of their choices directly after placing their bets than shortly before (though not, presumably, after their horse comes in last), and even relationships are affected by the phenomenon, with partners proving more accepting of their spouses foibles after they get married, than before.

So, what’s going on?

Post purchase rationalisation, also known as buyer’s Stockholm syndrome, is our brain’s mechanism for reducing cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance (or hypocrisy headache, as I like to call it) is the state of discomfort we experience when holding two or more contrasting beliefs at any one time. The state, first identified by eminent American psychologist Leon Festinger in 1957, leads us to embark on dissonance mitigating behaviour.

This behaviour takes the form of retro-fitting justifications to our actions - even when these actions may have been taken glibly and without any real consideration. “Do I take the red pill, or the blue pill?” you might ask yourself, before swallowing down the blue one and only later convincing yourself that you made up your mind based on a rational analysis of your situation.

As if our own internal justifications weren’t enough of a concern, we also seek out complimentary evidence to back up our decisions, whilst ignoring facts that conflict with them, in a process known as confirmation bias. An example of this might result in the unconscious avoidance of five-star Mercedes-Benz reviews by customers who have recently splashed out on a new BMW, or a person’s refusal to read a newspaper whose ideology jars with their own.

This behaviour makes perfect sense – life is stressful enough without being constantly reminded that we’ve made bad decisions. The brain therefore acts as a filter; seeking out evidence and opinions that support our decisions, whilst forgetting or obscuring those that portray our decisions in a poor light.

So, how can digital marketers use this phenomenon to our advantage?

Confirmation bias can be used to generate both increased customer conversion, and also customer retention.

Using confirmation bias to generate increased conversion

Your customers are constantly making decisions when on your site, whether it be the choice to visit in the first place, to view a particular product, or to add items to their baskets. The problem is that these steps in the customer’s journey are rarely framed as choices, and therefore opportunities to cement confirmation bias slip past.

Not always though.


Check out Freelancer.com, who use an always present experience bar to remind their customers of just how much effort they’ve already put into the service. 'Wow – I really have spent a lot of time on Freelancer.com' the customer is nudged into thinking. 'I wouldn’t waste my time on a poor service, ergo, Freelancer.com must be a really useful service'. Self-rationalisation wins the day.


Use of affirmation messages within the customer journey can also play a big part in engendering confirmation bias. By actively highlighting when a choice has been made, the customer becomes much more aware of their own decisions, and becomes more loyal to your brand as a result.


Take Mailchimp.com as an example. Who could forget their first monkey high-five upon sending an email campaign? This positive affirmation reminds the customer that they have completed a significant milestone, and rewards them for doing so. Subtle “well done” and 'Good choice' messages have the same effect within a customer’s check out process, and will ultimately encourage conversion.

Using confirmation bias to generate increased retention and spend

Of course, we don’t want to simply sell to our customers as a once off, we want to actively encourage them to return time and time again. This is where encouraging customer testimonials and social shares becomes incredibly important.

A customer is never more loyal than the moment directly after they’ve purchased your product and this means it’s the perfect opportunity to request either a written testimonial or a social endorsement for your product or service. But can these customer endorsements be more than just an acquisition tool?

Research carried out by The Guku demonstrates that the act of writing and sharing a positive product review can lead to an increase in the customer’s perception of your product’s value by up to 37%.

That means that the act of writing and then sharing a review can actually change your customer’s recollection of your product (in our research, we used flapjacks, but the approach is applicable to all products and services). Writing about and socially sharing a positive experience amplifies confirmation bias, to the point where your customers become more likely to make repeat purchases, and will spend more when doing so.

So, in summary:

  1. Create a virtuous circle of customer loyalty - by demonstrating evidence of your customer’s commitment to your product/service
  2. Be generous in your praise of the customer – recognise and reward every decision they make, no matter how small, as they progress towards your checkout
  3. Encourage review writing and sharing, post sale – not only will it help you acquire new customers, but it’ll make the ones you already have more loyal.

This is the second article in our series by Andrew on applying psychology to improve digital experiences and campaigns. See Andrew's first post on digital psychology - using reciprocity to trigger customer loyalty.  If you would like to find out more on the subject, feel free to drop Andrew and team a line, or watch their video on digital psychology.


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