The Emotional Journey: Moving Customers Toward the Sale


thumbnail series2This is the fourth article in a five-part series on website conversion.

To improve website conversion, you need to provide an emotional journey for visitors. Let’s explore.

Emotion is messy, contradictory… and true. ~Nigella Lawson

Merchants long ago realized that the act of purchasing is an emotional experience. The emotional level rises throughout the shopping process, hitting a peak as money changes hands.

Why? It boils down to two things: desire and risk.

In their book, Rethinking the Sales Cycle, John Holland and Tim Young describe how the awareness of risk continues to rise throughout a customer’s buying experience.

If you think about it, it’s a natural human reaction as the moment of commitment draws near. It essentially asks whether the right decision is being made and whether the buyer can live with the results.

Successful ecommerce websites address this emotional journey. And so should you.

As you lead visitors down the path of conversion, you need to provide emotional support at each step. And to do it, you’ll need to incorporate the five concepts highlighted below.

By the way, if you missed the first three articles in this series, you can find them here: Performance Tuning, Logic and Direction and User Interface.


What’s in a brand? Everything! A company’s brand is the symbol of its sacred promise to its customers. It’s a promise of continued value and security.

Companies work hard to deliver on the promise symbolized by their brand. In fact, many companies consider their brands as bankable assets.

For example, when Hostess filed for bankruptcy in 2012, it still had a lot of equity in its brands. Apollo Global Management purchased Twinkies and other famous Hostess snack cake brands for $ 410 million.

There was literally nothing tangible in this purchase—it was all branding. But Apollo now owns the hearts of loyal Twinkie lovers.

Hostess brand

The Hostess brand was so valuable, people missed it when it disappeared.

Though your website may operate on a smaller scale, its brand is every bit as important as it is to big companies, and you should, therefore, consider it a bankable asset whose value can increase over time. As people begin to understand your company and trust it, your brand will increase in value.

Your brand, as symbolized by its logo, will provide a recognizable sense of value and security to your visitors. Over time, your customers will develop an emotional attachment to it—and their loyalty will result in sales you can bank on.

Action – Ensure your logo appears on every page of your website. Consider reinforcing that logo on your home page with a one-sentence testimonial from one of your customers.

Tip – People generally will not look at a stand-alone testimonial page; however, you can still feature testimonials by sprinkling them in the margins of your pages.


Honesty in business dealings is not only a part of your brand, it’s a concept you must prove daily within the structure of your website.

For example, off full disclosure before a purchase:

  • Provide shipping and handling costs up-front, before asking for your visitor’s credit card.
  • Indicate out-of-stock information before the visitor puts the item in his cart.
  • Provide shipping information as soon as the item ships.

Amazon is a master at this.


Notice the alert that only 18 are left in stock, highlighted in green so it stands out. Just below that is the reassuring, “ships from and sold by” message. Additionally, shipping information is presented here, before you add the product to the cart.

This type of full disclosure is one way to increase trust. Another is customer support.

Use your website to allow your customers to login and track their grievances online and receive status updates. Believe it or not, many of these customers can be turned into advocates for your company. As you close each support issue, ask customers to rate their satisfaction, and if they’re very satisfied, ask them for a testimonial.

Many companies use a star rating system to allow their customers to express their level of satisfaction with a product or service. Do not alter this information as you tally up the score and present an honest sense of feedback to new prospective customers.

Maybe you don’t always get a five-star rating, but the sense of trust and honesty you convey through a transparent presentation of your true rating will make up for the difference.

Action – Turn your website into a trust-machine. Tie your website database to the shipping department to provide updates on shipped products. Also tie your website database to the support department to publicly show how well you’re being perceived by other customers.

Tip – When an embarrassing issue arises, don’t attempt to cover it up by denying its existence. People are far more willing to forgive a mistake when followed by a genuine confession. Not so much when it’s denied.


Visitors to your website have already given you the gift of their precious time, so your site should respect that gift by making the most of it.

For example, don’t ask for superfluous information before allowing visitors to join your mailing list, download a white paper or purchase your products. You should collect only the minimal information necessary. Some sites actually demand that you sign up and create an account before purchasing their products! Is this really necessary?

If visitors sense that you do not respect their precious time, they will find some other ecommerce site that will.


Do you REALLY need all this information just so your visitor can download a white paper?

Action – Use Google Analytics (or similar) to see how many visitors leave your site after being asked to fill out a form. Experiment with forms that require less information and compare the resulting abandonment rate. (You can use split-testing for this purpose.)

Tip – Visitors generally understand why you want their information, so don’t try to window-dress it as anything other than a sales tool.


People have a strong tendency to follow the crowd. Each sale on your site increases the size of the buying crowd. Make good use of this crowd by providing a way for them to interact with your company and each other.

For example, provide a five-star rating mechanism on each of your products. Allow visitors to sort your products on popularity.


Note the 5-Star rating and in-stock information within the order page from Yankee Candle

Additionally, you can provide a forum for users to interact and help each other or address questions directly to your company. Often by interacting with each other, they will encourage one other, making company input to every problem less necessary.

Action – Audit your site and make a list of ways in which your customers can interact and provide feedback to your company as well as with each other.

Tip – A site forum provides a great way for your customers to interact with your company as well as with each other; however, it can also require a lot of time and resources. Staff your forum with qualified support personnel to respond to questions and issues within 24 hours.


Ecommerce websites must provide their visitors with a strong sense of security.


Reassure visitors that all purchases are secure.

In light of recent events regarding stolen credit cards at major retailers, people are understandably concerned about their credit cards. Using a reputable online merchant credit card system like PayPal or can assuage these concerns.

Security is an area where you may not want to go with the lowest bidder. Screen potential merchant credit card vendors to ensure they have a recognizable brand and can provide protection when (not if) problems occur.

Once you find a trustworthy vendor, display their security logos prominently on your site, particularly on the shopping cart pages. For added trust, create a privacy policy page and ensure visitors have easy access to it. (Ask your lawyer to help draft your privacy policy.)

Secure and implement a certificate for SSL/TLS connections. Customers should never send their credit card information “in the clear.” They may not be savvy enough to know the difference between SSL/TLS and “clear text,” but you must!

Create security logs and review them often. Look for potential security breaches. Expect attempted break-ins. (They happen several times an hour, on average.)

Finally, ensure all your website software is patched to the latest build and has incorporated all security updates. Retain the services of a reputable security auditing company and have them evaluate your network and policies.

Action – Audit your shopping cart page to ensure it has the merchant security logo prominently displayed. Periodically review your privacy policy page with your lawyer to ensure it remains valid in the face of a continually changing security environment. Retain a professional security auditor to help keep constant watch for security vulnerabilities.

Tip – Security breaches are typically due to human complacency, not a failure of equipment or security policies.


Purchasing any product, online or in-person, is an emotional experience. As the time of purchase draws near, customers develop an increasing sense of risk. To improve your conversion rate, you must understand this sense of risk. Remember, it’s a natural human emotion that must be addressed.

Before customers can feel comfortable making a purchase from you online, they must first trust you. You can reassure them by addressing five important areas: branding, honesty, respect, community and security.

Only by incorporating these elements will you experience high satisfaction and optimal conversion.

Teaser: In the final installment on this series of articles on website conversion, we’ll take an analytical approach to conversion optimization by briefly looking at split and multivariate testing.

In the meantime, what are your favorite ways to engage visitors emotionally and move them through the sales funnel?

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