The Four Unconscious Factors That Influence Purchase Decisions

To understand how to influence customers’ purchase decisions, you must understand their unconscious mind. While people like to think they make rational purchase decisions by thinking things through, most purchase decisions are influenced by the unconscious mind. According to Philip Graves, author of Consumer.ology, there are four primary factors that preoccupy the unconscious mind during a purchase.

purchase-decisions-unconscious-mind

No Thinking, Please

I. People prefer to buy without thinking.

Thinking requires energy, literally. Every time the brain thinks, it uses glucose. The more thought an activity requires, including shopping, the more tired a person will become. If you require people to think too much to make a purchase from you, you are exhausting them, and the unconscious mind doesn’t like that. Give customers too many choices, too much information and they are likely not to make a purchase, even if you have what they want and need.

The Solution: Make the purchase process easy. Narrow your product choices, making it easy for the customer to make a purchase decision. Reduce the amount of information you provide. People don’t need to know everything about your product or service, only what’s relevant to make a purchase decision.

Risk Aversion

II. People hate losing something more than they like getting something new.

Sure, people will tell you they like to try new things. But what appears to be a taste for novelty is really a clever disguise. A customer’s first instinct is to be much more cautious. The reason is that people feel loss more powerfully than they feel gain. Graves speculates in his book that people are so sensitive to potential loss because the unconscious mind is preoccupied with safety.

The Solution: Businesses spend too much time trying to persuade customers to try something new, while people are primarily focused on not making a bad choice. Rather positioning your product or service as something new and ground-breaking, position it as the safe choice. One way to do this is convince people that they will be missing out if they do not purchase. As Graves says,

“When the fear of missing out overpowers the fear of making a bad choice, people will buy.”

First Impressions

III. People are highly influenced by what they first encounter.

People like to think they are objective and rational, but research shows that first encounters can override that objectivity. They’re primed by first experiences, first brand messages, first impressions, first sensory experiences…and the first things people say about a a product. Graves says that if consumers pick up on a message, they will unconsciously seek evidence to support it. (I’ve written about this before, see: Anchor Pricing)

The Solution: Your first encounter with a customer is critical. Carefully choose the first words you say to a customer, the first price you quote them, your first brand message and the customer’s first experience when they enter your store. Prime them with information and experiences that will lead them to seek evidence that supports purchasing a product.

Social Proof

IV. People will follow the crowd if they get the chance.

Customers like to think they are trailblazers; the first to try new things and new products. But the unconscious mind doesn’t think that way. It really likes to follow the flock and copy what other people do. Graves says that,

“…despite what most of us would like to tell ourselves, at an unconscious level, we aren’t individual pioneers, we’re sheep.”

People really want social proof before they purchase something. That’s why word of mouth is so powerful. When they see others purchasing something, they know it’s ok to buy it too.

The Solution: The cool thing about following the flock, is that customers don’t actually need to see the flock themselves. They just need the proof, and it’s enough for someone to tell them what the flock is doing. Provide the proof to your customers that other people are buying what you’re selling. You get bonus points if you can convince them that they’re also a trailblazer for following the flock.

Learn more by purchasing Philip Graves book: Consumerology: The Market Research Myth, the Truth About Consumers, and the Psychology of Shopping


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  1. […] The Four Unconscious Factors That Influence Purchase Decisions To understand how people buy, you must understand what makes them decide. See the four things that help customers decide. […]

  2. […] Graves outlines four primary factors in the buying decision in his book Consumer.ology. The first factor — that buyers prefer not to think while buying […]

  3. […] J. Ehret, (2010). The four unconscious factors that influence purchasing decisions, Downloaded on October 24, 2012 from: http://themarketingspot.com/2010/12/four-unconscious-factors-that-influence-purchase-decisions.html. […]

  4. […] The more thought an activity requires, including shopping, the more tired a person will become,” writes Jay Ehret of The Marketing Spot, citing Philip Graves of Consumer.ology. “If you require people to think […]

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