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Ordinary decisions such as which company to spend your money with seems like a straightforward process. However, there is more than meets the eye. One of the UK’s leading digital marketing agencies, Digital Ethos, breaks down cognitive bias’ that effect our shopping behaviour.

  • Consumers put greater emphasis on the first piece of information they receive which influences their thought processes behind purchases
  • We also tend to seek confirmation that confirms opinions we already have without considering alternatives
  • How information is worded can heavily influence customers’ decisions by presenting information as a positive or a negative depending on the message 

Anchoring bias

The anchoring bias is the human tendency to put more weight on the first piece of information offered than everything that follows.

For example, if you tell someone a product normally costs £9.99 they’ll instinctively think they’ve found a bargain when they see it advertised somewhere for £7.99. Likewise, they’ll consider it overpriced if they see it advertised for £13.99.

This technique is often used on Amazon where they display the previous price and the current discounted price together, leading customers to want to purchase the item to get a good deal.

New York restaurant Serendipity 3 is a prime example of how initial information can influence customers’ spending habits. Back in 2010, the restaurant added a $69 hot dog to its menu. At the time, the weiner was in the Guinness Book of World Records for the world’s most expensive hot dog with ingredients including heirloom tomato ketchup, white truffle oil, duck foie gras medallions, black truffles and caramelised Vidalia onions. Sales for the hot dog itself didn’t do too well, but sales of other items on the restaurant’s menu such as $17 burgers soared. Because of the media frenzy surrounding the hotdog, the $17 price point didn’t seem as much in comparison yet is much more than the average person would usually spend on a burger.

Confirmation bias 

Confirmation bias is how we all tend to prefer the information or news that confirms what we already believe, rather than challenging it, and is a technique often seen in retail marketing. German car manufacturers deliver quality, French wines are first rate, and Silicon Valley start-ups develop brilliant technological innovations. Many people hold beliefs related to industries or individual brands. 

In marketing, companies will seize on positive assumptions about their industry to confirm consumers’ beliefs and cement themselves as a trustworthy source. People will readily believe these communications as they will fit like puzzle pieces into the company’s public image. Marketing is often more efficient and influential when it builds upon positive presumptions. 

Consumers often find it difficult to judge whether a seller is trustworthy. Without this trust, there can be no sale. Even when customers are interested in a product, they are consciously or unconsciously looking for indicators to confirm they have found a serious and competent seller.

The theory of personal investment is also applicable here and refers to how people do more and put forth more effort whenever they will recoup something in return for such. An example of this is an offer such as ‘buy three and get the fourth item free’, thus encouraging consumers to spend more money to work toward the reward of a free item. This confirms the consumer’s opinion that the brand is worth investing time and money in due to rewards - forgetting that spending more money is required to reap the benefits of them in the long run.

Positive customer testimonials are often displayed on ecommerce sites to prove that their product is worth the money and that it is sensible to do business with them. By doing this, companies give consumers the necessary nudge to make the final click to purchase. 

Framing effect

The framing effect refers to where an individual’s choice from a set of options is influenced more by how the information is worded than by the information itself.

For example, advertisements for toothpaste often feature phrases such as ‘recommended by 8 out of 10 dentists’ in order to place authority opinion and trust into the product for the consumer. It’s safe to say that the opposite which is ‘2 out of 10 dentists don’t believe this toothpaste works effectively’ would fail to persuade consumers to purchase the product.

The framing effect is common across most ecommerce platforms and is used to suggest their products will add a positive experience to the consumer. Think about ‘save 50%’ vs ‘half off’ - it suggests that the consumer will be gaining something if they purchase the product and may not receive the same reward if they purchase somewhere else.

On the other side of the coin, negative framing is also just as successful in consumer persuasion. Words and phrases such as ‘don’t let…’, ‘don’t miss out…’ and ‘hurry’ incite FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) in consumers to act quickly and make their purchase.  

Digital Ethos offers SEO, PPC, Social Media, PR, Web Development and Influencer Marketing services. For more information, please visit