There isn’t a magic ‘buy’ button in shopper’s minds – There’s 791 of them!

6 FREE examples of how you can activate the buy buttons in the minds of more customers

Like nearly all other shoppers, I’ve succumbed to the occasional impulse purchase.

This temporary lapse in self-control typically occurs when the system 2 part of my mind is occupied thinking about something else. But the omnipresent system 1 goes right ahead and buys that must have, impulse item for me.

To us as shoppers this is a careless slip in concentration and a realisation that we’ve been ‘had over’ by the store yet again. But to the retailers and the owners of the brands they stock, this is another sale, another step towards target and another miniscule advancement towards category superstardom.

What if you could actively switch these ‘buy’ buttons on and off at will? What if you could tap right into the system 1 mind of the shopper, leaving system 2 blissfully unaware? And what if you could activate these buy buttons at a fraction of the cost of many other in-store activation techniques? Well, sit tight and hold on, because…

…you can!

Most shopping behaviour lives in our unconscious, system 1 mind. This area of the brain is the residence of automatic skills, information processing, dreams, and emotion. And According to Psychology Today, the spontaneous urge to spend our hard-earned money is ingrained in our DNA. During my 30 years of analysing shopper and consumer behaviour and psychology, I have amassed a database of 791 (so far) fantastically powerful buy buttons that exist within the minds of shoppers. I have developed the ability to flick these switches in just about every media: From packaging to POS, above-the-line to online. And in doing so, have helped some of the most famous brands on Earth, increase their brand sales grow categories and enrich trading relationships. All from tapping into the minds of shoppers and consumers.

Here, completely FREE of charge, are 6 examples of how you can activate the buy buttons of shoppers and consumers.

Firstly, the word FREE itself. This beautiful four letter ‘buy button’ is just about as powerful as they come. Why, because it is processed almost exclusively by system 1 in the first instance. Let me explain: When we exposed consumers to a range of different special offer mechanisms whilst they lay in a £3,000,000 fMRI scanner, one of the findings was that different parts of the brain process different types of promotions. And ‘FREE’ was handled by the system 1 controlled reward centres.

You put the word free into your marketing communications and you’ve immediately built a buy button into them right there and then.

Secondly, comes laziness. As a species, humans are lazy things. At least our brains are. And this presents those in the know with another buy button. Given the choice, your system 1 brain will almost always take the easiest option, the route to purchase that involves least effort. So to apply buy button 2, simply make sure your product is easier to buy than competing items. It doesn’t matter that the vegetables in the supermarket cost a bit more than they do at the local market, they are easier to get, while you’re there on a big shop, and that’s all that matters to system 1.

Buy button number 3. If lots of other people buy and consume a product, then it must be good. Therefore, my system 1 wants it as well. This fact taps into a number of psychological nuances: From fear of missing out (FOMO), to social proof and mirror neurons.

Enough of the sciency stuff. Here’s how to use it. Whether on pack, online or in-store, communicate that lots of other people buy and consume your brand. That way, you’ll be flicking yet more buy buttons in the minds of shoppers and consumers.

Let’s now turn to numbers as we move on to buy button number 4. Specifically, although I have many, many more, let’s look at numerical anchoring. What this relates to is the fact that the first number we see influences our perception of subsequent numbers. In other words, system 1 helps convince system 2 of the meaning of a numeric value. In research, anchoring was shown not to interact with cognitive load, so the process is predominantly automatic and unconscious (System 1).

Examples of anchoring within retail include explicit slogans to buy more: “Buy 18 Snickers bars for your freezer” or “limit of 12 per person” and ‘expansion anchors’ such as “101 uses!”). In each case, the result has been an increase purchase quantities.

To activate buy button 4, you need to scientifically maximise the numbers you communicate. If your detergent promotes 60 washes, that makes £7 look relatively small as a price. But it depends where you visually put the wash quantity number in relation to the price (I can help you with that).

Buy button number 5 involves humanisation; specifically the right sort of humanisation. Suppose you have an image on your pack, POS or website. Adding a person makes this more engaging. As a species we’re hard-wired to check out any other person to determine whether they are someone to fight, run away from or find a room and mate with. Specifically, when you add the face and in particular eyes of a person to your communications, you instantly flick an ‘added attention’ buy button.

And finally, buy button number 6. This is perhaps one of the easiest buttons to apply, and yet one of the most rarely used. Choice overload. As a civilised society, we have more choice than our minds can be bothered to cope with. When you help reduce that choice you make it easier for system 1 to make a selection. Incidentally, this in one reason why the discounters are doing so well: They offer a much more manageable choice for system 1.

If there are any more than about 7 choices of which your brand forms 1, start to visually sub-divide them into more manageable chunks. For example, the ‘wall’ of garden fertilizer and chemical products is overwhelming for system 1 (and system 2). But visually splitting it down into first kill or cure, then by application (path or flower bed), then by plant type (fruit, flowers, etc.), all helps to guide system 1 down towards a manageable choice.

There you have it, 6 powerful buy buttons that you can apply to increase brand sales, grow your category and enhance your trading relationships. But remember, I have 786 more and if you’re interested in tapping into them the process couldn’t be easier:

  1. Send an image of the communications you’d like me to look at
  2. I’ll summarise how much they can be improved
  3. You commission my expertise and I’ll provide you with all the relevant buy buttons

During the last 30 years, I have advised 62% of the top 100 fmcg brands in the UK. Chances are I’ve already helped either your organisation or your competitors to achieve distinct competitive advantage using shopper/consumer psychology. So isn’t it about time you got in on the act?

Thank you for reading

Phillip Adcock

Path to Purchase – Which is more effective in-store, on shelf?

Shopper Psychology Applied

Are you losing sales and share because your brand isn’t as psychologically effective in-store as those of the competition? Is the in-store performance of your brand suffering because it isn’t aligned with the minds of shoppers? Would you like to simply and effectively increase sales, grow your category and enrich trading relationships?

Access 30 years of analysing shopper psychology and shopping behaviour, enhanced with key learnings from leading psychologists from around the globe. Tap into quite simply the most comprehensive database of shopper insights available. You can now access this priceless shopper understanding in the form of shopper based retail effectiveness audits. Here’s a summary example

Ariel vs. Persil

The 2 leading brands of washing detergent were compared and analysed across 11 different metrics. From their ability to gain mental attention on shelf, through pack design and category layout, to the communication of price. In summary, how well does each of the 2 leading brands align with the psychological drivers and motivations of real shoppers.

“The overall headline finding was that Ariel scored higher that Persil in almost every aspect! But neither scored well”

So let’s look at the findings in a little more detail.


Firstly we analysed attention: How effectively do Persil and Ariel emotionally and instinctively grab the attention of passing shoppers. Because both brands rely very much on rational aspects to persuade shoppers to choose one over the other, they fail to emotionally connect as well as they could. And although Persil has a degree of humanisation on pack, the imagery is hidden behind the SRP. How would your brand perform?


Secondly, we turned our focus to how well each of the research brands initially appeals to shoppers in-store. Because many visual aspects of each brand are so similar, the appeal scores were low (Ariel 29%, Persil 25%). Psychology suggests that there is an opportunity for either brand to convey uniqueness in what is a somewhat crowded marketplace. Does your brand appeal as much as it could on shelf?


Next, engagement: How psychologically engaging is each brand as it sits there in-store on shelf. With this metric, Ariel (47%) was significantly more engaging that Persil (27%). Neither product appears to ‘own’ any non-comparable attribute with which shoppers could benchmark other alternatives against. Also, the layout on shelf combined with the pack designs gives Ariel significant visual advantage. Ever wondered how engaging your brand is in-store?

Range & Layout

Moving our attention to the range available and the layout, the scores were almost identical. With so much visual ‘sameness’ between the research brands, neither offers any category default option. But if they did so, purchase decisions would become easier.

Why spend time choosing an option? One has already been chosen for you.”

Purchase conversion

Next is the browse to purchase conversion ability of each brand. The scores here were Ariel 29%, Persil 25%. Neither brand provides a specific tangible reason why it is better than the other. Here’s the science: Any product specialising in one attribute is perceived to be superior on that attribute relative to any all-in-one options. Do you know the conversion rate for your brand?


On-pack imagery: Ariel scored 0% and Persil 40%. From a psychological perspective, these packs need more humanisation. Educate and inspire using images: Concepts that are learned by viewing pictures are more easily and frequently recalled than are concepts that are learned by viewing their written word from counterparts. Is your on-pack imagery as good as it could be?


What about the pack colours: Ariel 71%, Persil 78%. In a category where colour is talked about so much, both brands ranked well – Albeit very similar to each other. Shopper attention is naturally drawn toward stimuli that are visually salient. And whenever a concept enters our mind quickly and easily, it produces a pleasant sensation in our brain. We then falsely attribute that pleasantness with our evaluation of the stimulus. What’s the best colour for your brand in-store?


On pack copy: How well do the words on each of the brands communicate with shoppers: Ariel 54%, Persil 43%. Both brands rely on their name on shelf. The packs lack a distinct call to action in terms of ‘buy me’ or ‘switch to me. In addition, by increasing the surface size of text, especially emotional words (if there were any), they could enhance the emotional impact of those words. What does your pack say about your brand?


We then went on to analyse the psychological effectiveness of the fonts used on pack: Ariel 50%, Persil 45%. The fonts used are clear and easily legible; sending out a message of function over feelings. Psychologically, there is an opportunity to introduce more creative fonts. Because, when people exert greater effort to process information, they encode the memory in greater detail. So not only would obscure fonts enhance the perceived uniqueness of a product, but they’d also create a stronger memory of that brand. Which brand in your category has the most effective font?


Specifically looking at how the prices were communicated Ariel scored 37% and Persil 23%. It is well-known that from a psychological perspective, the way most supermarkets display prices is frankly, poor! For example, £ sign too big, price numeral too (physically) big, lack of left digit bias and no charm pricing. What does the Shelf Edge Label (SEL) say about your brand?


What about the non-price related numbers used on each of the packs: Ariel 50%, Persil 41%. Ariel anchors shoppers to the number 1 on a 60 wash bottle, while Persil makes 60 seem small and insignificant by locating it on the bottom left of the bottle. In summary, both could easily be made more appealing just by changing the way numbers are displayed on pack. Can you count on the effectiveness of any numbers on the packs of your brand?

These retail effectiveness audits, are designed to help brands like yours increase sales, grow categories and enrich trading relationships. The recommendations have been disseminated from a database of 791 psychological insights specifically relating to shoppers and shopping.

Access to this database of priceless shopper understanding is now available to you in the form of shopper based retail effectiveness audits. If you would like to know how your brand compares to the competition, follow this link, or let’s talk.

If you think there is value in this article then please, please share it

Alternatively, are you just fascinated by how shoppers think? Or would you like to know more about how you think? Check out my books on Amazon for much more insightful, provocative and stimulating information.

Shoppology: The science of the shopping brain

Master your Brain: The science of your brain

The Presenters Handbook: The science of the PowerPoint brain


Want better packaging? Here’s how

Subtle design changes can make all the difference

For years, marketers have used suggestions that consumers imagine using their products. Slogans like “Imagine the Possibilities” from Intel and Apple, or merely “Imagine” from Samsung, encourage consumers to transport themselves into a state in which they are using the product. The success of such appeals have been well documented.

So can just the way in which a product is visually depicted affect the extent to which shoppers imagine using the product? The answer is an unequivocal YES! Simply altering the way a product is visually presented can elicit more (or less) mental simulation of product interaction and this can result in higher (or lower) purchase intentions.

In one test, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, propensity to buy yoghurt increased by more than 20% simply by showing an image of a bowl of yoghurt with the spoon on the right side of the bowl, compared with when the spoon was shown on the left. Purchase intentions for the yogurt were significantly higher when the orientation of the spoon matched the participant’s dominant hand. And as an estimated 88% of people are right-handed, that’s the one to favour.

A separate study featured the image of a hamburger with a right hand, left hand, or no hand holding it. The right-hand condition resulted in a more than 50% higher propensity to purchase compared with the other scenarios.

Here’s your opportunity: Because we’re surrounded by more stimuli than we can process, we use selective attention. Our eyes perceive everything, but only a fraction of those stimuli enter our consciousness. It is estimated that only around 5% of visual stimuli make it through to our conscious awareness.

In other words, our eyes perceive more stimuli than we can consciously process. Therefore, some stimuli enter our brain without any conscious awareness. But because they’re still in our brain, they influence our product perceptions and shopping behaviour.

What this means is that your product packaging has the ability to directly influence propensity to purchase at both conscious and sub-conscious levels. In a world of too much choice in-store, and when the odds of the next passing shopper buying your grocery product are on average, a staggering 500:1, it has never been more important to make the most of your packaging design and other in-store communications.

And here’s the best part: Most retailers and brands are blissfully unaware of this science fact or at least don’t really take advantage of what you are reading right now.

When a lot of designers create product images, they tend to depict the product without too much thought about psychology. But if you want to generate serious competitive advantage, design your packs so that they always encourage and stimulate mental interaction.

Want more proof? In 2012, researchers Elder and Krishna presented participants with an advert for a coffee mug. The results showed that participants were more likely to purchase the mug when the handle was facing the right (toward the dominant hand of most people looking at the mug).

The research clearly demonstrated that visual product depictions, facilitate mental simulation that evokes motor responses. In other words, viewing an object can lead to similar behavioural consequences as interacting with the object, since our minds mentally simulate the experience.

Research also identified that when the dominant hand is physically engaged; holding a shopping basket for example, participants switched and began simulating with their non-dominant hand.

What if you don’t have a handle to use in your product shot? Worry, ye not. The researchers conducted further experiments and discovered additional fascinating insights.

Just to reiterate, place any instrument or utensil on the right: And don’t worry about which hand people usually hold knives and forks in. The researchers found that regardless of utensil; Knife, fork or spoon, the propensity to purchase remained highest when the utensil was oriented towards the viewer’s dominant hand.

And here’s another example, this time from non-food. Show consumers an image of a pair of gloves and their engagement will be highest if they view them from the angle of being able to slip their hands right in.

With all the intelligence employed in retail marketing, branding and design, you’d think that this subject would have been picked up and covered off by now, yes? Simply take a trip to just about any decent store and see for yourself. Alternatively, take a look online and check out the images used. Just try to find images similar to the above for gloves, shoes etc.

Seriously, according to science, this is a massive opportunity. So do you want to be part of it? Because it will mean doing things differently. Or do you just want to know more about incorporating psychology into your packaging, in-store display and other consumer and shopper facing communications? Incidentally, I have amassed more than 250 specific psychological techniques for improving packaging effectiveness in-store.

Want better packaging? Or perhaps you are just curious to know what makes psychologically good packaging? Either way, Let’s talk.

My name is Phillip Adcock: I have more than 30 years of human behavioural research, and have developed a unique ability to identify what it is that makes people psychologically and physiologically ‘tick’.

Are you fascinated by how you and your customers think? Check out the following titles for more insightful, provocative and stimulating thought-starters.

Shoppology: The science of the shopping brain

Master your Brain: The science of your brain

The Presenters Handbook: The science of the PowerPoint brain

Price Perception More Important Than Actual Price

Stand out more, but give away less margin

It’s not the price of your product that determines how many people buy it…

…but more the prices of the products adjacent, both in-store and online.

It all has to do with a psychological principle called anchoring. Essentially, the first number you see colours any numbers that come after it.

For example, if you see a bulk stack display of champagne in the supermarket, with each bottle priced at £10.99, then an alternative on offer for £25.49 is perceived as very expensive. But if you put the £25.49 bottles next to some £50 bottles, then they look much better value.

Welcome to the retail opportunity that is anchoring. During normal decision making, individuals anchor, or overly rely, on a reference price or specific information and then compare other items against that reference.

Anchoring plays an important role in how we understand and assess the prices of products in stores and online. Psychological anchoring is particularly prevalent in relation to goods with which we are either unfamiliar or that we don’t consider the price as part of the purchase decision hierarchy.

Imagine that you decide to buy a new car for £30,000. Then paying a further £230 for a spring loaded cup holder – seems reasonable. But what of you went to Costa and paid £2.60 for a skinny latte and they wanted to charge you a further £230 for a bit of plastic to enable you to balance the beverage in your car?

Looking beyond pricing, anchoring can also influence our perceptions of whether a product is good or bad quality, healthy or unhealthy, etc. And there are occasions influenced by anchoring that dictate whether we consider it fair and acceptable to pay a certain amount for a product: A can of Coke from the supermarket, 50p, but buy the same product while at a rock concert, for £1.50: When offered next to £2.50 bottles of lager, seems a snip. This latter example shows just how powerful a simple anchor can be in influencing our perception of value, and certainly undermines the notion that decision makers are perfectly rational beings.

With respect to buying things like grocery items, research suggests that, we draw from a reference category of similar goods, which serve as our anchors. For example, when evaluating a jar of coffee, we tend to look at the prices of other jars in the same area. From that we decide whether the price represents good or bad value.

Anchoring influences our price perceptions by altering the value we attach to different objects. So, when a new and original product enters the market, shoppers have difficulty valuing it as they have no reference point. Therefore, brands and retailers are able to influence shoppers by dictating a reference price for their NPD items. This is usually done by setting a high anchor price, so that subsequent discounts and special offers make the item appear more of a bargain.

J. C. Penney thought it was a smart move to eliminate special offers and instead create everyday low pricing (EDLP). Had they been aware of the power of anchoring? Perhaps they wouldn’t have been so keen. And subsequently, when sales ‘dropped off a cliff’, they got the message. They’ve now reversed their policy and customers are returning, albeit perilously slowly.

The point of this article is to try to illustrate the importance of psychology and behavioural economics within retail. Ask yourself, at the next range review, are you considering engaging a psychologist or a behavioural economist? If not, then why not? Because I pretty much guarantee that their input will prove to be more valuable than their cost.

In summary, when determining how much to charge for our products, we should let psychology and behavioural economics help us. Shoppers don’t see items on a spreadsheet, they see them in-store and online next to other similar products and brands. And it is there and then that they anchor themselves to a perceived value and reference price. With that in mind, how appealing do your products really look?

Hmm, Something to think about

Are you fascinated by how shoppers think? Check out my books on Amazon for more insightful, provocative and stimulating information.

Shoppology: The science of the shopping brain

Master your Brain: The science of your brain

The Presenters Handbook: The science of the PowerPoint brain