7 Marketing Tricks that Amazon Use to Hack Your Brain

The most successful internet powerhouses use marketing tricks that are born out of behavioural science.  Amazon, Google, Youtube, Facebook, Instagram all locked in a battle for your time, attention and money. It is often the small margins that make a big difference in selling your products online. In this series of posts I will be revealing the brain hacking tricks that these companies use. Here are 7+ marketing tricks that Amazon use to help separate you from your money. Whatever you are looking to achieve with your marketing/communications goal – you can take these lessons and apply them to your business to supercharge your sales.

  1. 30-Day Free Trial of Amazon Prime. Try Now Pay Later – Impeding Your Self Control.

    An interesting concept in human behaviour is that we are psychologically ‘detached’ from our future selves. This
    ‘detachment’ explains our inability to exercise self control even when immediate gratification has consequences for our future self. Eating bad foods, failing to save an adequate pension and excessive alcohol consumption are all examples of this phenomenon in full flow.

    10 Amazon Marketing TricksThere are several models that look to better understand the relationship between our myopic doer and the farsighted planner. The ‘Dual-self model’ or the ‘Planner-doer model’ are two examples for those interested in some further reading.
    The theory explains a key concept – we are much less likely to exercise self control when choices and their consequences are separated in time.  The greater the consequence the greater the period of time required to weaken our self control. Though with ‘small sacrifices’ very little time separation is needed to weaken our self control.
    Amazon utilises this in another marketing trick, offering a ‘benefit now – pay the consequences later’ approach to on-boarding of Amazon Prime customers. A free 30 day free trial places the burden of consequence on our future self leaving our current self with all the benefits. This lowers our guard, weakens self control and reduces resistance to a purchase decision. Ker-ching!

  2. Cancel Anytime. The Status Quo Bias – Using your Inner Laziness

    Status quo bias is our very human preference for doing nothing or persisting with a bad choice even when a more optimal choice is available. The reason that we favour the ‘status quo’ is thought to centre on ‘Loss Aversion’. Loss Aversion studies have suggested that we feel greater regret for bad outcomes that result from new actions taken than for bad consequences that are the consequence of inaction. So we may favour doing nothing because doing something may leave us open to greater regret. “What if I cancel my subscription and then I end up needing it?”.  We also have a tendency as humans to give value to previous decisions and ‘support’ them, the Sunk Cost Fallacy. Cancelling a subscription is an admission of having made a bad choice previously.
    Amazon uses the Status Quo Bias in conjunction with a free trial to keep customers subscribed. No problem here if you are receiving value for money. However the Status Quo bias insures that even if you do not get value from your subscription you have at least one motivating factor to keep it – inactivity.

  3. Smiling. The Affect heuristic. Making You Feel Good.

    Count the smiles you can see on their sign up page.


    I counted 12/13 ‘smiles’ within the image – granted I did also interpret the cat to be smiling, this still makes a significant number of smiles for one promotional image. Amazon are deliberately including them in their branding – but why? What is in a smile?

    I am sure you feel somewhat cheapened if I suggest that some ‘subliminal’ messaging has the ability to influence your purchasing decision – please go ahead, feel cheapened. Research has shown that even if a you do not consciously process a smile – it has an effect on your subconscious that influences your decision making. A smile can facilitate a choice because of the Affect Heuristic. 

    Can you see a face? Classic Pareidolia

    The Affect Heuristic is a psychological shortcut that humans take to allow efficient choices – how we are affected by stimulus effects our assessment of risk vs benefit. If you experience a positive ‘affect’ then you will feel more comfortable with a impending choice. If you experience a negative ‘affect’ then you are more likely to resist or question a forthcoming choice. Affects are shorter than emotional responses and occur in direct response to a stimulus – something like the image of a smile.

  4. Pareidolia.

    Another marketing trick being deployed is seen in the Amazon logo itself. The logo takes advantage of pareidolia our tendency to see familiar patterns where none exists. We do not have to see a real smile to be influenced by the Affect Heuristic – we can see a representative pattern and it will also influence us.

  5. You Save X amount. The Framing Effect & Talking in Gains.

    In behavioural science ‘Framing’ describes the way in which information is presented – different presentations of the same information can hugely influence a response.

    Framing a cost into a saving.

    Studies have shown that framing a choice in a positive light increases the chance of that choice being taken. In the medical world this is a key concept and the framing of information relating to the risk of medical procedures hugely influencers the patient choice.  A surgeon may say to a patient that “this procedure is successful in 85% of patients” or they could say that “this surgery is unsuccessful in 15% of patients” both statements are identical yet when information is presented positively the more positively framed statement increases the uptake of that choice. In the consumer world, the cost of a product is an essential piece of information in any transaction and absolute largest barrier to our buying decisions. If everything you wanted was free you would not hesitate in ‘buying’ it. The problem with cost information is that it emphasises the ‘loss’ to the consumer which is unavoidably negative. Amazon actively frames cost information in a more positive way – increasing your chances of committing to that buying decision. If you look at the example given the price of the product is struck through, subconsciously disarming our internal loss alarms. The next cost information simply does not include the words price or cost, it simply states Sale: £6.99 and highlights free delivery (very positive). Finally Amazon emphasis the discount (You Save: £3.00), this is very positive framing of cost information that is deliberately ambiguous. The statement actually means that against the RRP of £9.99 you make a relative saving of £3.00, Amazon use this discount information as an opportunity for some very special framing. You Save: £X.XX suggests to your subconscious that purchasing this item represents a gain of £3.00. In reality this purchase still represents a loss of £6.99.
    Retail outlets should learn from this and instead of simply writing the new cost of an item on the label – they should write the amount ‘saved’  by a discount.

  6. Only 2 Left in Stock. Scarcity and FOMO (fear of missing out).

    Amazon highlights when there are fewer items left in stock another clever marketing trick. Revealing when stock levels are low exploits two traits of human behaviour that will encourage us to buy. The Scarcity Heuristic and FOMO.

    Scarcity & FOMO behavioural Economics
    Only 5 left in stock – Scarcity & FOMO

    The Scarcity heuristic is a mental shortcut that humans take to determine the value of an object. Broadly speaking the more scarce something is then the more value us humans perceive it to have. This is often true of course (think diamonds and gold) and the knock on effect is that low stock levels subconsciously increases the worth of a product. If we perceive something to have more value then we are more likely to buy it.
    FOMO  is a well accepted psychological phenomenon where by a human experiences psychological discomfort at the thought of missing out on a positive or satisfying event. The thought of missing an opportunity is uncomfortable and this motivates us to take preventative action. In the case of an item you desire that has dwindling stock levels, this is often enough of a motivation to expedite your purchase.
    Both of these tricks are particularly effective in tackling purchasing procrastinators! If you are sceptical of this tactic then please ask yourself why Amazon do not detail the stock levels when they have a hundred left in stock?

  7. Amazon’s Choice – How Overchoice is Overcome by Amazon’s Choice!

    One of the largest challenges for Amazon comes as a result of having such a massive number of products and a psychological phenomenon called ‘Overchoice’.

    1-16 of over 50,000 results for “world map” is a lot of choice!

    When a human is presented with many similar choices, they become less motivated to make any choice at all. For a site like Amazon this represents a problematic paradox, the more similar items you list (>6) the less likely you are to sell any of them.  This phenomenon is reportedly due to buyers remorse and cognitive dissonance – in a nutshell, choices lead to a greater risk of a suboptimal choice and a subsequent feeling of regret.  Pre-empting this feeling of regret demotivates a buying decision. Amazon uses marketing tricks that give us greater confidence in a buying choice, neutralising this phenomenon. Star Ratings are one way of overcoming choice overload used almost universally among online retailers. Yet these offer a somewhat diluted effect on Amazon where so many similar items exist with so many similar ratings.

    Amazons Choice a Sign of Quality?

    Enter Amazons Choice, a clear label which denotes a good purchase. – though some argue it was introduced to facilitate voice purchases through Alexa smart speakers it really is a facilitator of buying decisions. “Amazon’s Choice recommends highly rated, well-priced products available to ship immediately”. There is only one Amazon’s Choice per item category and that is an extremely useful marketing trick in neutralising overchoice and reinforcing a buying decision as a good one.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of marketing tricks used by Amazon but the largest companies in the world are definitely using behavioural science to boost their sales. You can do the same by adapting some of these techniques to your products. If you do not have your own business then knowing these marketing tricks may keep you from those impulse buys.

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