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5 Hidden Factors That Make or Break Your Customer’s Buying Decisions

Have you ever thought twice about buying the latest “it” item? You're not alone! Dive into the psychology behind our buying decisions and discover five hidden factors that can make or break a sale.

Written by

Caroline McQueen ACIM

what's in store

We’ve all been there: scrolling through social media bombarded with the latest “miracle” product promising to transform your life and influence your buying decisions. Like me, you might have naturally curly hair that’s in a constant battle between dryness and frizz. England’s rainy weather certainly doesn’t help!

So, imagine my excitement when I saw a new anti-frizz treatment all the influencers were raving about, promising “salon-sleek shine for days.” £60 later at Selfridges, and guess what? Frizz City before I even step off the Elizabeth Line. Disappointment doesn’t even begin to describe it. 

But here’s the thing: my frustration wasn’t just about the product itself.  It was about the underlying psychology that influenced my decision – the hidden factors that often cloud our judgment and lead to impulse purchases. Because let’s be honest, that influencer’s perfectly smooth hair probably wasn’t achieved by just one product, especially considering the humidity levels in my lovely (but damp) London. 

They won’t fool me twice.

If You Build It, Will They Come?

This experience perfectly illustrates the issue brands face when attracting first-time customers. Just because you have a trendy product with influencer endorsements doesn’t guarantee repeat sales. Today’s consumers are savvier than ever. Big promises and celebrity endorsements can pique interest, but ultimately, the product’s ability to deliver on its claims determines buying decisions. A hidden layer of psychology is at play, a set of unspoken factors that influence our choices beyond the surface-level hype.

Understanding the psychology behind buying decisions can help you craft marketing strategies that speak to your target audience on a deeper level. This will empower you to create messaging that addresses their concerns, builds trust, and fosters customer loyalty. So, get ready to ditch the generic tactics and build a brand that truly connects with your customers.

5 Psychological Factors That Make or Break Your Customer’s Buying Decisions

1: Performance Anxiety – Will Your Product Live Up to the Hype?

Have you ever fallen in love with a dress online, only to be disappointed when it arrived? Maybe the fabric felt flimsy, the cut wasn’t quite as flattering as it seemed on the model, or the colour washed you out completely. This fear of the product not living up to the hype – that’s performance anxiety, and it negatively impacts customer’s buying decisions.

Shoppers see gorgeous photos, hear rave reviews, and desperately want the product to live up to expectations. But a nagging fear whispers in their ear: “What if it doesn’t work for me?”

The fear of a product not meeting expectations is a major roadblock to those coveted clicks on “Add to Cart.” In the world of fashion and beauty, performance anxiety can manifest in several ways:

  • Clothes that look amazing on a model but might not translate well to different body types.
  • Makeup that promises flawless coverage but is cakey or doesn’t last throughout the day.
  • Skin or haircare products that boast miracle ingredients but fail to deliver visible results.

As a brand owner, understanding this performance anxiety is crucial. When customers hesitate at the point of making buying decisions, it’s not because they don’t trust your brand (although that could be a factor too). Often, it’s simply the fear of disappointment and a wasted investment.

Calming Performance Anxiety: Strategies to Build Customer Confidence

Example: Skims product detail page

Here are some tips on addressing customer performance anxiety, building trust, and ultimately boosting sales:

  • Detailed Product Descriptions: Don’t skimp on the details. Craft clear and engaging descriptions that go beyond basic features. Highlight the product’s benefits, materials, construction, and how it will make the customer feel.
  • Accurate Size Charts and Fit Guides: Sizing is a major concern, especially for apparel. Invest in accurate size charts and consider including fit guides with helpful tips and tricks (e.g., “runs true to size,” “relaxed fit”).
  • High-Quality Visuals: A picture is worth a thousand words, and in the ecommerce world, it can make or break a sale. Invest in high-quality product photos that showcase details, textures, and how the product looks on different models (ideally with diverse body types).
  • Customer Testimonials and Reviews: Social proof is powerful because it leads to faster buying decisions. There’s safety in numbers. Feature genuine customer testimonials and reviews that highlight positive experiences with your products. Let your happy customers speak for themselves.

Emerging Technologies: Bridging the Gap with Virtual Try-On

The world of technology is offering exciting solutions to address performance anxiety. Augmented reality (AR) is making waves in the fashion and beauty industries with features like virtual try-on experiences. Imagine a customer can virtually “try on” clothes, makeup, or accessories using their smartphone camera. This innovative technology allows for a more realistic online shopping experience, helping to close the gap between online browsing and in-store confidence.

Virtual Try-On Demo by Visage Technology

By implementing these strategies and embracing new technologies, you can empower your customers to make informed buying decisions with greater confidence. After all, a well-informed customer is a confident customer and a confident customer is more likely to click “buy”!

2: Financial Friction – The Struggle Between Wants and Needs

Let’s face it: even the most fashion-forward or beauty-obsessed customer has a budget to consider. This is where the financial friction comes in. It’s the internal battle your customer faces when trying to justify the cost of your product. They might adore that statement necklace or the latest anti-ageing serum, but a nagging voice whispers, “Is it really worth the price tag?”

This struggle is particularly relevant when it comes to discretionary spending on fashion and beauty products. These categories often fall under the umbrella of “wants” rather than essential “needs.” Here’s a breakdown of the financial friction your customers might be experiencing:

  • Prioritising Needs: Basic necessities like rent, groceries, and bills always come first. Customers might hesitate to spend on a trendy top if they’re worried about meeting their essential needs.
  • Justifying the Cost: Especially for higher-priced items, customers want to feel confident they’re getting their money’s worth. They might compare prices, question the product’s value proposition, or even consider cheaper alternatives.
  • Fear of Buyer’s Remorse: The dreaded post-purchase regret! Customers might worry about splurging on something they might regret later, especially if it’s outside their usual spending habits.

Reduce Friction, Sway Buying Decisions, Increase Sales

Source: Klarna

Understanding this financial friction is key to overcoming it and influencing buying decisions in your favour. Here are some suggestions to overcome the financial friction hurdle and encourage customers to make the leap:

  • Transparency is Key: Be upfront and honest about your pricing. Avoid hidden fees or confusing pricing structures. Consider offering multiple size options with corresponding prices to cater to different budgets.
  • Flexible Payment Options: Make the purchase process as smooth as possible by offering a variety of payment options like credit cards, debit cards, and even buy-now-pay-later services like Klarna. This allows customers to spread the cost and make the purchase more manageable.
  • Highlight the Value Proposition: Don’t just focus on features. Emphasise the value your product offers. Explain how it will solve a specific problem, improve their lives, or enhance their style. Focus on the long-term benefits that justify the investment.
  • Promotions and Discounts: Strategic promotions and discounts can be an effective way to incentivise purchases and overcome financial friction. Offer limited-time discounts, loyalty programs, or bundle deals to make your products more attractive.
  • Free Shipping and Returns: The fear of unexpected costs can deter purchases. Consider offering free shipping above a certain order value or a hassle-free return policy. This shows confidence in your product and removes a potential barrier to buying.

By implementing these strategies, you can address your customers’ financial friction concerns and encourage them to prioritise your products as a valuable addition to their budget, not just another expense. Remember, a well-informed customer who understands the value they’re getting is more likely to overcome that financial hurdle and make a happy purchase.

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3: Practical Puzzles – Will It Fit My Life (and My Wardrobe)?

Imagine finding the perfect pair of jeans online – the style is on-trend, the colour is stunning, and the price is just right. But then reality sets in. Will they actually fit? Will they work with the clothes I already own? These are the practical puzzles that plague customers, especially in the world of fashion. Beyond the initial excitement, a whole new set of questions arise, preventing that final “add to cart” click.

Here’s a closer look at the practical concerns your customers might be grappling with when making buying decisions:

  • Fit Anxiety: Sizing is a major concern, particularly for online purchases. Will the clothes fit true to size? What happens if they don’t? Customers might hesitate without accurate sizing charts or clear fit guides.
  • Wardrobe Integration: Does this new top actually pair well with anything in my closet? Can I create multiple outfits with this piece? Customers might worry about a one-hit-wonder purchase that doesn’t integrate seamlessly with their existing wardrobe.
  • Overall Practicality: Is this a piece I’ll actually get a lot of wear out of? Is it suitable for my lifestyle? Customers might be hesitant about impractical items that require special care or don’t suit their daily routine.
Photo by Liza Summer (Pexels)

Solving the Practical Puzzles: From Sizing Anxiety to Outfit Inspiration

Understanding the practical concerns your customers face is half the battle. Here are some tips to address these concerns, build trust, and encourage confident buying decisions:

  • Clear and Accurate Sizing Guides: Invest in creating detailed sizing charts with clear measurements and explanations. Consider including fit guides with information on how the garment fits different body types (e.g., “runs true to size,” “relaxed fit”).
  • Visual Inspiration & Outfit Ideas: Go beyond flat product photos. Showcase how your clothes can be styled in different ways. Offer outfit inspiration on your website or social media to demonstrate versatility and integration with existing wardrobes.
  • Product Versatility in Action: Highlight the multi-functionality of your products. Show how a dress can be worn casually with sneakers or dressed up with heels. This helps customers envision how they can wear the item multiple times and get the most out of their purchase.
  • Chat Support and FAQs: Make it easy for customers to get answers to their questions. Implement a live chat support or a comprehensive FAQ section on your website to address common concerns about sizing, fit, and care instructions. This empowers customers to make informed decisions and reduces purchase anxiety.

The more informed customers feel, the more likely they are to make a purchase.

4: The Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) vs. Keeping Up with the Joneses (KUWJ) 

Have you ever scrolled through social media and felt a pang of envy? Maybe it was a friend’s picture sporting that trendy new bag or an influencer raving about a must-have beauty product. This, my friends, is the battle between two powerful forces: the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) and the pressure to Keep Up with the Joneses (KUWJ). These contrasting emotions can significantly impact buying decisions, particularly in the fashion and beauty world.

On the one hand, FOMO fuels the impulse to buy the latest “it” item everyone’s raving about online. Customers see their friends sporting a trendy new bag or rocking the latest makeup trend and the fear of being left behind kicks in. This can lead to impulsive purchases driven by the desire to stay on top of trends and feel included.

On the other hand, KUWJ plays a subtler role. It’s the subtle pressure to maintain a certain image or social status, often by acquiring the same possessions as those around you. Customers might feel the need to buy a specific brand or product because it’s perceived as being associated with a certain level of success or social standing.

Photo by cottonbro studio (Pexels)

How these contrasting emotions can influence buying decisions

Here’s the twist: FOMO and KUWJ can work for you or against you, depending on your brand strategy.

The FOMO Trap: While FOMO can drive sales in the short term, it can also lead to impulsive purchases and buyer’s remorse later. Customers might feel pressured to buy something they don’t truly need, or that doesn’t align with their personal style.

KUWJ Can Backfire: Focusing solely on keeping up with the Joneses can alienate a segment of your audience. Customers might feel excluded or judged if they perceive your brand as catering only to a certain social status.

So, how do you leverage these social influences while avoiding the pitfalls? 

Walking the Line: Capitalising on Social Influence without the Pitfalls

Social influence can be a powerful tool to drive sales, but it’s important to navigate it strategically. Here are some tips for using FOMO and KUWJ while avoiding the associated negative aspects:

  • Highlight Unique Selling Points (USPs): Don’t be afraid to brag (a little)! Showcase what makes your brand and products unique. Focus on the quality, design, ethics, or sustainable practices that set you apart. Give customers a reason to choose you beyond just trendy hype.
  • Showcase Diverse Clientele: Embrace inclusivity and feature a diverse range of customers rocking your products. This shows your brand caters to a variety of styles, personalities, and body types. It combats the KUWJ effect by demonstrating that your products are for everyone, not just a select few.
  • Promote Inclusivity in Your Messaging: Go beyond just models in your marketing materials. Feature real customers, influencers, and brand ambassadors that represent your target audience’s diversity. Use inclusive language and avoid promoting unrealistic beauty standards.
  • Focus on Community Building: Create a sense of community around your brand. Encourage customer interaction on social media, host contests or giveaways, and highlight user-generated content (UGC). This fosters a sense of belonging and combats the fear of missing out by making customers feel like part of something special.

Aim for Curated Trendsetting, Not Blind Following 

You can leverage FOMO by keeping your finger on the pulse of trends but don’t blindly follow every fad. Curate trends that align with your brand identity and target audience. This allows you to capitalise on the excitement of new trends while staying true to your brand values.

By implementing these strategies, you can use the power of social influence to your advantage. Your customers will feel engaged, valued, and empowered to make conscious buying decisions that reflect their own personal style and values.

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5: The Ego Boost

Let’s be honest: we all want to feel confident and beautiful (or handsome, depending on your target audience). This is where the ego factor comes into play. Customers often make purchases driven by a desire for products that enhance their self-image and make them feel good about themselves. It’s more than just about functionality; it’s about the emotional connection between products and how they perceive themselves.

Here’s a deeper dive into the psychology of the ego boost:

  • The Confidence Connection: We often associate certain products with increased confidence. A flattering outfit, a sensual fragrance, or a luxurious skincare routine can make us feel more put-together and ready to take on the world.
  • Emotional Investment: Products are more than just material possessions; they can represent a desired identity or lifestyle. Customers might be drawn to a brand or product because it aligns with how they want to feel and portray themselves to the world.
  • The Reward Factor: Sometimes, a purchase is a way to reward ourselves for reaching a goal or simply for working hard. Treating ourselves to that special item can be a powerful motivator and a way to boost our self-esteem.
Photo by Yana Hurska (Unsplash)

Decoding the Customer’s Desire to Feel Good

Understanding the psychology behind the “ego boost” factor is crucial for connecting with your customers on a deeper level. Here’s a breakdown of the emotional drivers that influence buying decisions:

  • The Confidence Connection: It’s no secret that we associate certain products with feeling more confident. A well-fitting outfit, a flawless makeup look, or a luxurious skincare routine can make us feel put-together and empowered. These purchases aren’t just about utility; they’re about the emotional transformation they provide, allowing us to face the world with a sense of self-assurance.
  • Emotional Investment: Products transcend their material form and can become symbols of a desired identity or lifestyle. Customers might be drawn to your brand or a specific product because it aligns with how they want to perceive themselves and project that image to the world. Your brand becomes a partner in crafting their self-narrative.
  • The Reward Factor: Sometimes, a purchase is a way to celebrate achievements or simply a pat on the back for hard work. Treating ourselves to that special item can be a powerful motivator and a way to boost our self-esteem. By understanding this reward mentality, you can position your products as not just functional items but as well-deserved rewards for a job well done.

By tapping into people’s desire to feel positive emotions, you can create a deeper connection with your customers and motivate them to make purchases that go beyond just fulfilling a need.  Your brand can become a partner in their journey towards self-confidence and a positive self-image.

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Beyond Features and Benefits – The Psychology of Buying Decisions

In the competitive world of fashion and beauty, understanding what truly motivates customers is key to success. While factors like product quality and price are important, there’s a whole other layer of hidden influences at play.  

We’ve explored five key factors that can make or break a buying decision:

  1. Performance Anxiety: Customers worry the product won’t live up to expectations. Address this with detailed descriptions, accurate sizing charts, and social proof.
  2. Financial Friction: Justifying the cost can be a hurdle. Offer transparent pricing flexible payment options, and highlight the product’s value proposition.
  3. Practical Puzzles: Concerns about fit, wardrobe integration, and overall practicality can hold customers back. Provide clear sizing guides, showcase outfit inspiration, and address common questions through FAQs or chatbots.
  4. FOMO vs. Keeping Up with the Joneses: Social influences can be a double-edged sword. Highlight unique selling points and showcase a diverse clientele to promote inclusivity.
  5. The Ego Boost: Customers desire products that enhance their self-image and confidence. Craft empowering product descriptions, showcase positive customer reviews and use inspirational brand storytelling to connect with their aspirations.

By incorporating these insights into your marketing strategy, you can create a more compelling customer experience and encourage informed buying decisions.  Use this knowledge to craft targeted messaging, address customer concerns, and build a brand that resonates with their values and aspirations.

Ready to tip more buying decisions in your brand’s favour?

If you’d like personalised advice on implementing these strategies for your specific brand, book a consultation with our team of marketing experts. We’ll help you unlock the power of hidden factors and create a winning formula for customer engagement and sales success.

Meet the author
Caroline McQueen ACIM
I help ambitious founders launch and scale unforgettable brands that effortlessly attract customers around the web and offline — without blowing the budget on social ads (Zuck that!) Off the clock, I enjoy Netflix marathons, French lessons, and exploring my local farmer’s market for culinary adventures.
growth design

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