Cyber Monday Hangover: Why Do They Always Get Me?

What Can We Learn from Cyber Monday? 

“Why do they always get me?” Have you ever thought these words after you had time to contemplate a purchase made on the internet? If not, chances are it will not be long until you do; that is, unless the topics from this post are understood and applied. Coming off of a Cyber Monday hangover, you might need to think through seven influential persuasive principals that might have been used against you. These principles are contrast, reciprocity, consistency, social proof, authority, liking and scarcity.  Robert B. Cialdini, an experienced psychologist and a crafty persuader came up with these principles in a popular resource on social influence. These principals will explore how many consumers are persuaded on the internet and how to look out for persuasive messages online.  To help us see how these principles work out a daily basis, we will look at how amazon.com incorporates all the influential persuasive principals. (amazon.com is just a case study). Let’s look at what contrast means and how it is applied online.

Contrast

What comes to mind when you read the word, contrast? I am sure you remember literature assignments where you were assigned to compare and contrast two stories or characters. In a similar way, contrast is used in internet persuasion. For example, once you are about to pay for a book at amazon.com, you will be offered a slight discount on a certain book you previously viewed and decided not to buy. In “contrast” to the total of let’s say, $150.00, the $9.00 book discounted to $7.50 seems like a good deal. Not only does it seem like a good deal, but in contrast to your total, it seems manageable to add the discounted book to the order by simply clicking the mouse. This is how contrast works, now let’s move to the persuasive principle of reciprocity.

Reciprocity

Have you ever walked through the food court and almost decided not to pay for lunch because of how many samples you ate? Well, believe it or not, the motive behind handing out small portions of tasty delights is not to feed the hungry, but to draw in potential business. Internet persuaders use reciprocation by providing a service or giving a product to a potential customer with the aim of getting their business in return. Amazon.com offers a unique feature for each book that allows the customer to view the front cover, table of contents, back cover and even the first chapter for free. By doing this, amazon.com introduces the product in a way that makes the customer feel safe, yet at the same time there is potential for interest to awaken in the customer due to the sneak peek. Yet, how does amazon.com move from reciprocity to closing the deal with many customers?

Consistency

Before seeing how amazon.com closes the deal, let’s dance around the topic of consistency. What enters your mind when you see someone acting in an inconsistent way? You probably are repulsed by their hypocrisy or on a lighter note, laugh at their character. Either way, no one wants to be around inconsistent people and they definitely do not want to be perceived as inconsistent. Amazon.com has picked up on this reality and is capitalizing on it as well. Amazon.com invites their customers to add books to what they call a cart, this is simply where the books selected are totaled up. However, there is always a chance to decline a purchase. Yet, when many customers add a book to their cart, they can’t decline the purchase because they want to remain consistent. Consistency is seen as a noble characteristic, but to one being persuaded, it can cause them to commit to buying a product they shouldn’t buy. What other influences come from the surrounding culture?

Social Proof

Can you remember how you were finally coerced into buying your first expensive drink from Star Bucks? I can, it happened when I noticed they were popping up all over town and seemed as if all my friends where meeting there regularly to catch up. It was not long until, I said to myself “if they all love Star Bucks, I can at least give it a shot.” Then it happened, I was hooked (Tall Pike with 4 packets of Splenda and 1/4” of half & half. Yeah, thats whats up!), but what persuaded me? Many things, but mainly it was the persuasive principle of social proof. “They are all doing it,” is the anthem of social proof and can persuade many by the masses. Amazon.com is no different, they have cultivated a culture of consumers who stay devoted and they indirectly sell for the persuader by telling their friends how much they saved, which in turn creates the dynamic of social proof. What about those who claim not to be influenced by their peers or at least see them as less credible?

Authority

The influential persuasive principal of authority easily answers this rebuttal. Have you ever looked up to an employer, professor or mentor in such a way that it seemed like whatever they said was “gospel truth?” Those in authority over us have a power of influence that is stronger than most.  A couple years ago, Amazon.com was trying to push their electronic reader Kindle and in the online add, it showed how newspapers could be downloaded to the device. The principle of authority was evident in seeing over 30% of the newspapers shown had President Obama on the front cover. Amazon.com was connecting Obama to the Kindle in an ancillary way, yet the connection was made nonetheless. All of us succumb to these principles, but our culture is heavily influenced by authority. At times some will be led in ways that are not criticized by those influenced because of the credentials of those influencing. As obvious as this technique is, there are going to be many who ask, “What if I am not a fan of President Obama?” This question points forward to the next section of online persuasion principles, liking.

Liking

What happens when you are in a group discussion with people you enjoy to be around, and it seems like they have all shared a particular experience you are unaware of? As they bounce their thoughts and opinions back and forth, you are left there thinking, “Should I google this right now?” The reason you thought this way was because you like the people you were around. Their subject gained instant credibility without you knowing it, so much so, you already committed to looking it up ASAP. On a more personal level, most of us trust our friends and can be persuaded in many facets by simply liking them. Amazon.com has seen a way to include the principle of liking into their persuasion strategy. They have done this by creating a place in the Amazon customer account that gives the customer a chance to create a public profile similar to Facebook where they can post reviews and other interests. Now you can see what your friends are saying about the books they’ve read. If your interested, a click of the mouse is all it takes to add the book to your cart. What happens if the book reviewed is only on sale for the day you read their review?

Scarcity 

It’s hard not to feel the tension and excitement that comes from walking into a store that is selling a famous toy or game system on the day it is supposed to come out and sell out. People are known to camp outside stores the night before to make sure they have a shot at purchasing whatever hot commodities are marketed. Yet, what is all the fuss about? Why go to such extremes for a game system or a toy (Pepper Spray)? The persuasion principle of scarcity shows us we can be wooed to the idea that we will be one of only a few who own a certain product that will shortly be discontinued for collectors sake or sold out during a special sale. Yet , the greatest scarcity tactic I have seen is not necessarily the ending of a product as much as the ending of a sale.  Amazon.com has a place on its website called Today’s Deals, and in this section they list numerous deals which only last for one day. To hype it up a bit, amazon.com will list one of the first few items as “sold out” to entice the viewer to hurry up and buy.  Have you fallen prey to a similar tactic?

What Now? 

What is it about learning these principles that makes us feel like we have been manipulated or tricked into buying products against our will? The reason we feel this way is because we never realized all the logos, fancy popup boxes, emails and free product testing were aiming at taking our money. As cold as it sounds, this is how marketing works. This is why caution needs to be applied to every click while we surf the web. The internet is full of marketing campaigns where we are the targets, not the benefactors; where we are the ones hunted, not served. Will you be more aware to online marketing techniques? How will you educate those around you to the reality that they are targets for persuasion?

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About Daniel Ray
My wife and I live in Waxhaw, NC. Currently, I am a Sales Manager for a flooring company in Charlotte and also a distance student at UNCG. When I have time I like to hear live music, play golf, run, read good books, hike and ride my mountain bike. My wife and I are sinners saved by grace, trying to walk it out in grace.

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