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 showroom is the more effective selling space?

BMW and Mercedes Benz showrooms performed poorly!

These ultimate Path to Purchase audits reveal precisely how real customers perceive real products in real ‘stores’. We compare individual brand performances against our central database of 800+ proven and validated psychological and behavioural insights compiled during the last 30 years of analysing shopper psychology and shopping behaviour. This powerful resource is further enhanced with key learnings from leading psychologists from around the globe.

This next post compares car showrooms: Specifically BMW vs. Mercedes Benz. So, how ‘retail’ are they?

BMW vs. Mercedes Benz

2 Leading car brand showrooms were compared and analysed across 12 different psychological metrics. From their ability to gain meaningful attention, through showroom design and vehicle layout, to emotional engagement and the communication of price. In summary, how well does each of these 2 leading car brands align with the psychological drivers and motivations of real people shopping for real cars?

The overall headline finding was that BMW and Mercedes Benz showrooms performed poorly! When it comes to the showrooms being psychologically effective selling spaces, both brands scored just 34%. In other words, for every psychological aspect they got right, they got a further 2 wrong.

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


Firstly we analysed attention: How effectively do BMW and Mercedes Benz emotionally and instinctively grab the attention of potential customers as they enter the showroom. BMW returned a score of 41%, while Mercedes Benz scored slightly better (47%). The typical human brain processes emotional stimuli 3,000 times faster than more rational inputs, yet the modern car showroom is an area bereft of anything emotional. Rows of cars, frankly uninspiring images of cars or parts of cars and a décor that is more in keeping with an operating theatre. Based on how much most car brands spend on emotional advertising, the showrooms certainly should be more emotionally engaging, they just aren’t!

From cars to cards, toffee to coffee, How would your brand perform in this respect?


Secondly, we turned our focus to how well each of the research brands initially appeals to shoppers as they enter the showrooms. BMW scored just 30% and Mercedes Benz, slightly better at 37%. Apart from the cars themselves, a number of visual aspects of each showroom are somewhat similar to each other: White walls, light coloured floors and exposed aluminium present a clean and clinical backdrop on which to present cars. Psychology suggests that there is an opportunity for either brand to drive appeal (pun intended) by tapping into the mirror neuronal activity of the potential car buying visitors. These cold showrooms really lack any form of meaningful humanisation: It’s all about the car, but what about the customer?

 Does your brand appeal as much as it could on in-store/in showroom?


Next, engagement: How psychologically engaging is each brand showroom as it sits there displaying cars? With this metric, BMW (27%) was slightly less engaging that Mercedes Benz (36%). Once again, not all that impressive from a psychological perspective. Mercedes scored better because at least that marque taps into the brand heritage by effectively branding (in direct eye line) the reception desk (first point of contact a visitor has).

Incidentally, if you look at these psychological scores, you’ll see that the showrooms aren’t all that good at attracting psychological attention, they are less effective at being mentally appealing and even less effective when it comes to engaging with potential customers. But what they are is very, very similar to each other: Almost as if each is copying the other.

Ever wondered how engaging potential customers perceive your brand to be?


Moving our attention to the showroom layout, the scores were BMW (32%) and Mercedes Benz (37%). With such a naturally aesthetic range of products (cars), both brands could perform better in terms of how they present their wares to potential customers (location in showroom, graphic support, up-selling and cross-selling price logic, etc.). With such a small selection of models to choose between, there has to be an opportunity to create a more psychologically oriented layout. Such a tactic can significantly reduce cognitive load so that the purchase decision become easier.

” When a store or showroom is easier to shop, shoppers misattribute that ease with liking the products on display more”

Purchase conversion

Next is the browse to purchase conversion ability of each showroom: How well do these premises actively help in closing sales for the staff doing the selling? From a conversion from engagement to purchase, these brands were once again below what we would have expected: BMW 26% and Mercedes Benz 32%.

Psychology has identified that shoppers buying luxury products can sometimes perceive an inner feeling of guilt. Actively managing this psychological barrier can ease up selling and make closing the sales considerably easier; “Yes, you really are worth it”

Do you know the conversion rate for your brand?


In showroom imagery: BMW scored 20% and Mercedes Benz 23%. From a psychological perspective, these showrooms provide weak emotional ‘humanisation’ making them visually functional and emotionally neither appealing nor engaging. In such retail outlets as these, is it really a selling aid to support real cars with images of… …more cars (or bits of cars)? And your journey: Don’t stop believin’.


Concepts that are learned by viewing pictures are more easily and frequently recalled than are concepts that are learned by viewing their written word. Is your brand imagery in-store as good as it could be?




What about the showroom and product (car) colours: BMW 70%, Mercedes Benz 50%. The first positive scores and they show a significant difference between these 2 car brands. So much white as a backdrop and so many white cars on display, at least BMW introduces some colour if only in terms of the colours of some of the cars.

Shopper attention is naturally drawn toward stimuli that are visually salient (Definition: most noticeable or important). 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. So what about white cars on a white background???

What’s the best colour for your brand in-store?




In showroom product information: How well do the words presented by each of these car brands communicate with shoppers? Answer, not very! BMW 19%, Mercedes Benz 21%.

It’s well-known is psychological circles that words can be made much more impactful if they resemble what they are talking about. Angled letters to simulate speed, thin letters to signify lightweight, etc. And by increasing the surface size of text, especially emotional words (if there were any), these showrooms could definitiely enhance the impact of their (potential) customer facing copy.

What do the words your use in-store say about your brand?


We then went on to analyse the psychological effectiveness of the fonts used on showroom customer facing communications. Both brands returned identical scores (31%). Although the fonts used are clear and easily legible, they psychologically send out messages of function without any feelings.

Psychologically, there is an opportunity for either or both of these brands to introduce more creative fonts within the showrooms. When people exert greater effort processing information, they encode the memory in greater detail. So not only would obscure fonts enhance the perceived uniqueness of each brand, 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 BMW scored 24% and Mercedes Benz 31%. The techniques these showrooms used to display car prices is frankly, poor! There are many opportunities to make the car prices psychologically more appealing and less visually ‘painful’. From the location of the price on or by the product, to how the price is written and right down to the physical colour and shape the prices message itself. For example, Human judgements of numerical differences are disproportionately anchored to the left-most digit. ‘Reduced from £31,000 to £29,000’ is psychologically perceived as being a better deal than a price cut from ‘£29,000 to £26,000’. All because of left-digit bias.

What does the way the price is communcated say about your brand?


What about the non-price related numbers used by each of the brands? Car showrooms have plenty of numbers in them. The psychological scores were BMW 32%, Mercedes Benz 30%. Neither BMW nor Mercedes Benz appear to be strategic with locations of customer facing numbers at all. Take a look at the following (and this is the order it is presented in too. BMW 7-Series RRP: From £60,360, Dimensions: 5,098-5,248 mm L x 1,902 mm W x 1,478-1,485 mm H, Kerb weight: 1,800 to 2,255 kg, Fuel economy: 22-61 mpg combined (15-52 city, 29-67 highway), Max speed: 152.2 to 155.3 mph.

The biggest number in the spec details I’ve just shown you? The price, by some margin (not good for selling value for money). The smallest number was fuel economy related. Believe it or not, the psychological take out is a very expensive car with poor fuel economy, oh and by the way, it’s a certain size (no context) and weighs a bit too.



In summary, both could be made more appealing just by changing the way numbers are displayed on or next to the vehicles.

Can you count on the effectiveness of any numbers relating to your brand?




What about the psychological effectiveness of the promotional messaging? BMW scored 46% and Mercedes Benz 40%. In summary, the promotional mechanics are relatively effective, but the presentation could be improved. What’s more it would be easy to improve them and give away less margin at the same time. The car retailers need to consider how offers are communicated and not just what the deal is. For example, certain numeric messages are processed by the rational parts of the brain, while others miss reason out all together and go straight to the heart of the reward centres. Or to put it another way, if you can bypass reason, you can sell the dream more easily.

So there you have it: Car showrooms analysed as psychological selling spaces. Some might say this is all ‘psycho-babble’, while others might be offended. But, what if, just what if, introducing more psychology into car showrooms is actually a massive opportunity?

These retail effectiveness audits, are designed to help brands like yours increase sales, grow categories and enrich business relationships. The recommendations have been disseminated from a database of 800+ psychological insights specifically relating to shoppers and shopping.

Access to this database of priceless human (shopper) understanding is now available from our sister OCmany SBXLto you in the form of ultimate Path to Purchase audits. If you would like to know how your brand compares with your competitors, let’s talk. Also, if there’s a specific in-store comparison you’d like us to consider making, drop us a line.

Finally, before blaming Brexit and a host of other possible reasons for under performance of your brand, consider these following questions: Are you losing sales and share because your brand communications aren’t as psychologically effective as those of the competition? Is the performance of your brand suffering because it isn’t aligned with the minds of customers? Would you like to simply and effectively increase sales, grow your brand and enrich trading relationships?