Hope, Fear, and… Shopping for Books at Amazon

SHOPPING AT AMAZON

When browsing for a book (or other product) at Amazon, it’s amazing how much hope, fear, and other emotions factor into the shopping experience.

Whether you’re a customer, an author, or an Amazon seller, it may be worthwhile to take a moment to try to understand the psychology of Amazon sales.

Imagine yourself staring at a book detail page at Amazon.com, considering a book that caught your attention.

There are two types of criteria that may influence whether or not you purchase the book:

  • You may apply logical reasoning.
  • You may be influenced by your emotions.

For most customers, both aspects may factor into the purchase decision. Some customers generally rely much more on one aspect than the other.

It may not even be a conscious decision. Many people are influenced by emotional responses without even realizing it. Sometimes the emotional aspect is subtle. Sometimes it may impact us on a subconscious level.

Also, note that logical reasoning can’t decide everything. Sometimes, after a person who relies heavily on logic applies logic as far as he (or she) can take it, the person still isn’t sure. In that case, the person might use some emotional aspect to break the tie (or flip a coin).

If you’re a customer, you might learn to make wiser buying decisions by trying to understand how various aspects of the product page may influence you emotionally.

If you’re an author or an Amazon seller, you may wish to better understand how sales psychology may benefit you both short-term and long-term. (Note that what benefits you in the short-term may hurt in the long-term. They don’t always go hand in hand.)

A LITTLE SALES PSYCHOLOGY

Let’s break down an Amazon product page, considering how each element may influence a customer’s buying decision.

  • Book cover (or product photo). This may send a strong visual signal, but may also suggest subtle emotional responses. You might think that the main message should be “Look at me,” but it’s actually better for the signal to be “Wow, that looks appealing.” An effective image does more than this: the subtler messages can carry influence. A picture can send a “positive” signal, inspiring the customer be in a better emotional state. A picture can have a “professional” tone. It can strive to earn “trust.” It can say “I look like the type of product you’re looking for.”
  • Reviews. Many reviews (both good and bad) carry marketing influence. Good reviews play on customers’ hopes, while critical reviews play on customers’ fears. Most of the time, it isn’t intentional, but of course there are both good and bad reviews that have been written with the intent of playing on hopes or fears. As a customer, it’s a challenge to glean helpful information from reviews without being influenced on an emotional level. As an author or Amazon seller, you must consider that many customers are skeptical to some extent about customer reviews. One possible fear is that the seller recruited reviews, so if the first 20 reviews are all glowing and the last 10 reviews are mostly bad, that by itself may act to “confirm” a customer’s fear that the seller recruited good reviews for a not-so-good product. In addition to customer reviews, there may be quotes from editorial reviews, and there may be review quotes in the description or Look Inside. There is another important aspect of reviews: If a product page plays on customer hopes by making a product seem better than it actually is, customer reviews help to offset this marketing tactic. Reviews are a strong reason that all authors and sellers should focus on long-term success (writing a great book or delivering a great product helps to get favorable reviews in the long run).
  • Description. Marketing copy is one of the most challenging forms of writing—and the proof of its effectiveness isn’t when several people tell you how impressed they are with what you wrote, but in what percentage of customers who read it proceed to purchase the product. An effective product description must be concise because most customers won’t read a long description in full (and if the description is long, most customers won’t even bother to click the Read More link to see the remainder of it). The few sentences that customers can see before the Read More link appears is valuable real estate: There is so much an author or seller needs to accomplish with a minimum of words. In terms of marketing influence, sellers want to create “customer engagement,” “arouse curiosity,” “inspire interest,” and perhaps even “create a sense of urgency” (but you’re not supposed to mention limited-time offers or pricing here). But the description also needs to provide valuable information about what to expect from the book (or other product). It may also need to create a sense of professionalism and trust. It needs to help create appeal. On top of that, the words need to flow well, be a good fit for expectations, and avoid spelling and grammar mistakes. There is one thing that a description shouldn’t do: It shouldn’t give the story away.
  • Title. Even the title can carry emotional influence. Have you ever read a title that had a little jingle that you got a kick out of, maybe put you in a good mood? The title needs to reinforce the visual message that the book cover (or product phot) sends. With fiction books, very short titles tend to be more effective (1 to 3 words). That’s partly because the eye is drawn to a short title in search results, and partly because many customers just look at the first few words when looking at search results. A title can help to create appeal (or just the opposite). Appeal is an important criteria, since appeal helps to put the customer in a happier state when making a purchase decision.
  • Look Inside. This can be the most valuable real estate on the product page. The customer must already be interested in order to be looking inside. This means that every other aspect of the product page has done its job: Now it’s up to the Look Inside to close the deal. The Look Inside has one important job to do: It just needs to send the message, “This book is everything you hoped it would be—based on the cover, description, title, and reviews—and MORE.” If it sends that message, the customer will almost certainly Buy Now. (But again, if the rest of the book doesn’t live up to the expectations created by the Look Inside, this will be exposed in customer reviews, and fewer customers will Look Inside in the future.) The Look Inside contains visual elements and writing, both of which need to help deliver the right messages. As with the description, the Look Inside must engage the customer and arouse curiosity (but without giving the story away), and like the book cover, the Look Inside needs to send the right visual signals.
  • Bio. A biography (or about me) section is a chance to demonstrate expertise or knowledgeability, but it’s also a chance to show humanity, individuality, and professionalism. For authors, if you can write an interesting biography, that bodes well for having written an interesting story (since very often readers aren’t interested in biographies). A picture that accompanies the biography offers another opportunity to send the right visual message.
  • Colors. There is even a psychology for interpreting colors. For example, a good cover designer selects a color scheme that is appropriate for the subject matter or story. Certain colors are better for attracting males or females, some colors work better for romance while others work better for mystery, some colors suggest professionalism, and some colors convey emotions (like happy or sad). Amazon uses color in text labels, prices, stars, buttons, and other elements of a product page. The prices are in red, which not only stands out well against a white background but may aid in creating a buying impulse (many stores use red for one of these two reasons: let’s assume they are using it for contrast and to catch attention, and if it happens to help a little to create a buying impulse, it’s just a happy bonus for the store).

We humans don’t always make the best decisions. Even humans who spend their lives solving very difficult problems quite skillfully can be prone to making a stupid everyday decision.

If humans tended to be better decision-makers, a lot of successful talk-show hosts would be out of business!

So when you’re shopping for a product, try to think about how you might make a wiser purchase decision. Try to think of which factors may be trying to influence you emotionally. Try to force yourself to rely somewhat more on logical reasoning and somewhat less on emotions.

Or forget it… just act impulsively and enjoy the splurge. You know you want to. 😉

If you’re an author or Amazon seller, try to think about how your Amazon product pages might influence customers emotionally. Don’t try to think of ways that you might take advantage of this in the short run because such ploys tend to backfire in the long run (killing sales later): For example, if the product page plays on the customer’s hope that it’s the most amazing product ever, disappointed customers will post critical reviews (which will play on future customers’ fears) and will return the product (and Amazon uses customer satisfaction metrics in its algorithms).

So you don’t want to oversell a product, making it seem way better than it is. But you do want to make it sound as good as it is. If it does deliver on customer hopes, the product page should show this.

You can also think about how your product page delivers both visually and in words important messages, such as “professional,” “positive,” “trust,” “expertise,” “creative,” or a particular subject matter or topic (like “romance” or “country”).

What is your customer hoping to get from your product? Among these hopes, what does your product actually deliver? You want to show the customer that your product delivers on the right hopes, and you want to disclose when it doesn’t deliver on other hopes.

What does your customer fear he or she may get from your product? You need to apply a similar reasoning here.

Write happy, be happy. 🙂

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2017

Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing
  • 4-in-1 Boxed set includes both volumes and more
  • Kindle Formatting Magic (coming soon)

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10 comments on “Hope, Fear, and… Shopping for Books at Amazon

      • I also meant to comment on this. For the book description, I’ve been told to have a hook or two in the beginning on separate lines, then a description that is character driven rather than plot. As a book buyer, I have seen book descriptions that were all hooks and no substance. I guess I’m an odd shopper. When I read a book description, I want to get an idea of what the book is about. That way I can get an idea if the subject matter interests me or not. A hook in the beginning may make me read on to find out more, but all hooks and pitches don’t really work for me.

  1. There’s a great book, Descartes’ Error, that makes the case that much of our logical decision making is influenced by emotion. People who have limited emotions are not Spock-like fonts of wisdom, but have great difficulty making decisions. They can spend all day tabulating reasons for or against actions being considered and still get nowhere.

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