Why People Buy Anything Online


Why People Buy Anything Online

- by Jim Edwards

© Jim Edwards – All Rights reserved

There’s a mental "hump" over which everyone must jump before they buy anything online. It doesn’t matter what you sell, every single customer must throw a little switch in their minds before they pull out their credit card to buy. What makes them throw that mental switch? Anyone who buys anything online does so because of 2 basic emotions and one (or more) of four basic buying motivators.

People buy 99% of everything sold online for one of 4 basic reasons.

First, they buy because of money.

They buy based on how much money they can make or save as a result of purchasing. In fact, making money is the number one reason people buy just about any "info-product" online.

Now, you might say, "My product has nothing to do with making money! How does this help me?" Well, could you put a spin on your product that would help people save money or make money?

For example: if you sell anything to do with golf (equipment, videos, clothing, etc.) you could add a report that explains how to get more business by playing golf with clients. I bet Realtors, insurance agents, and investment advisors would buy whatever product you sold just to get the bonus report about making money while playing golf.

The second reason anybody buys online involves time and effort.

People simply don’t have enough hours in the day to get everything done. They buy products in the hope of saving a few minutes or alleviating some mundane task.

Saving time and effort is one of the reasons software sells so well online because people hope (sometimes in vain) to offload tasks to their computer.

Show people how your product saves them time and reduces effort and you’ve got a great angle to help increase sales.

The third reason people buy online is to escape either physical or mental pain.

Online pharmacies succeed, even though they represent a risky proposition, because people with physical problems need medicine and can’t afford to get it any other way (adding mental anguish to the mix).

One way to position your product or service to alleviate pain is by explaining how you take the worry out of the transaction. Explain how others put all the risk on the customer while you actually remove it through your guarantees, testimonials and proof that your product delivers as promised.

The fourth biggest reason people buy online revolves around the promise of increased popularity and social success.

Why do you think people buy stylish clothes, perfume, books on how to pick up women, or acne treatments? They buy these, and thousands of other things, because they want to feel better about themselves and operate more confidently in social situations!

You can help increase sales of just about any online item by explaining to your customers how smart they’ll look or how they can brag about the money they saved. No matter what you sell, take a little extra time to explain to your customers how they will look good and feel smart purchasing from you.

No matter which of these four buying motivators you invoke, two emotions will intensify their effectiveness: "fear" and "greed."

Normally fear in online selling revolves around fear of loss. Offline retailers try to invoke fear of loss by holding sales (deadlines with financial incentives), but they hold sales so often they lose much of their effectiveness (example: the weekly furniture ads on TV declaring once in a lifetime deals this weekend only).

Online, you can effectively use fear of loss by threatening to raise the price at any time, only offer a limited number of bonuses, or only make an offer good until a certain date.

Greed will also intensify the buying motivation by giving people a self-serving reason to buy now. Greed can be as simple as telling them how much money they can make / save as a result of making a purchase now as opposed to waiting.

But greed can also take a more emotional form where customers covet the feeling they’ll get by making purchase. Whether it’s a good feeling from buying a loved-one that perfect toy or gift, or the feeling of smug satisfaction from snagging one of the most popular gifts this holiday season, consumers are greedy for both material and emotional gain. Explain to them how they can satisfy their greed and you win!

Now, you might say, "Gee Jim, this sounds great, but I don’t see how all this comes together to sell online. Give me an example!"

Okay, let’s take one of the most mundane yet competitive items of the Christmas season: gift cards.

Everyone sells them, yet the marketing for gift cards both online and offline absolutely stinks. Retailers hawk gift cards by either hanging them on a rack or putting a button on their website that says "We have gift cards." Yet every single one of them misses an opportunity to cash-in with gift cards if they would just explain to people why they should buy in terms of the four motivators.

In fact, gift card retailers make the oldest and most fatal mistake in all of sales: selling on features rather than on benefits.

In other words, they try to sell based on what the gift cards do (let someone pick what they want) rather than on what gift cards do for the person who buys them. Gift cards actually help you save on gas (save money) because they don’t necessitate you driving all over town trying to chase down a gift (save time / avoid wasted effort) the person you’re buying for may not want anyway (mental pain of rejection). In fact, a gift card from a store your friend or loved one really likes will make your gift the most popular one under the tree (social success).

You can increase your online sales just by shifting the emphasis off what the product or service does and onto what it does for the person buying it, along with putting your message within the context of as many of the four main reasons people buy as you can.

Then, by intensifying your prospects’ desire through the effective use of fear and greed, you can truly explode your sales over the competition.

All it takes is a little bit of careful thought, some basic explanation to your customers, and the motivation to do a tiny bit more that others are willing to do in their marketing.

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  • Eileen

    November 29, 2007

    Hi Jim,

    This is not a criticism of you, but because I have to decide what to put my attention on I often find that when I have to mouse a link rather than keep reading the e mail I just don`t do it as it is becoming just one more thing I have to do And yes I do realise maybe I might be missing out, but I am prepared to miss out.
    I enjoyed your article and its spot on where human nature is concerned. Best regards

  • Lynda

    November 29, 2007

    There are some instances, in my opinion, where you try to ease fear and greed to make sales effective. For instance, people buying online clothing or lingerie, or something of a personal nature, you want them to feel no fear whatsoever, you want to make them feel fearless in their decision, and, as far as greed goes, that is more effective if you can ‘read’ the greed in said customer. Not all customers are full of greed, but, more of need… So, while I understand and agree with your 4 points, there are exceptions as always… Anyway, it is a useful article and you are far more experienced than I, still, in different markets, there exists different sales tactics and incentives…

  • jim lehman

    November 29, 2007

    Good articale

  • Mary Austin

    November 29, 2007

    Hey Jim,

    There is another reason why more and more people are buying online. There are lots of aging Baby Boomers who have no choice because they can’t drive anymore. Somebody took away their car keys but not their computer.

    Online shopping is a big plus for these people. They are learning how to use their computers to keep a sense of freedom.

    Thanks for the good article.
    Mary Austin

  • Buddy R Age

    November 29, 2007

    That sounds great on the 4 reasions to buy.

  • Affiliate Marketing Guide

    November 29, 2007

    You are so right!
    Find what needs your target market has and feed that need directly.

  • Delton

    November 29, 2007

    Hi Jim,

    I enjoy all your articles even those I disagree with
    some things.

    I realize there are those that buy before they stop
    to think and you can get them to buy most anything
    using the 4 points you mentioned.

    Then there are some of us that can’t be pressured
    into buying anything and if we find someone telling us
    we must buy now because something bad is going
    to happen if we don’t, we find ourself distrusting that
    marketer and probably won’t buy anything from him.

    I could give you a list of lies some marketers tell trying
    to sell their secret information but I’m sure you know
    most of them.


  • Merry Makowski

    November 29, 2007

    Wow, you are so right!

    To put your words another way, I have been thought that our job as marketers is to help people FILL the VOID or SATISFY their CONFUSION.
    For today, all of us suffer from confusion, “People are CONFUSED and DISSATISFIED about a lot of things in their lives and will seek a solution until an answer is found that satisfies them”.

    The other side of confusion is the VOID or EMPTINESS that we feel in our lives.

    I don’t want to get into a metaphysical discussion here, but the void in people’s lives creates demand for products of all kinds to “fill the void or emptiness. It demands something to FILL IT, this is why “entertainment” is the HIGHEST paid profession in the world.

    To be a “consumer” means to literally “eat something” … to “consume.” An analogy could be made that “consumers” EAT (consume) products and services to FILL THE VOID (or emptiness) in their lives and to end their confusion.

    So our job as marketers is to FILL the VOID and SATISFY their CONFUSION.
    In doing so we are making their life better, richer, happier and of course, we are making our lives richer too.

  • Bling Sity

    November 29, 2007

    Great stuff!

  • Michael

    November 29, 2007

    Actually there are only two reasons people buy (or don’t buy):

    1.) To obtain pleasure

    2.) To avoid pain

  • BigJim

    November 30, 2007

    @ Michael,

    You are right, however those two very basic reasons don’t allow most marketers to narrow in far enough to create a compelling sales message.


  • Shari Thomas

    November 30, 2007


    This article arrived at a perfect time, as I’m launching a site designed to kick Amazon’s butt.

    I’m re-reading every page to make sure I’ve emphasized the benefits rather than the features.

    Thanks all to the comments, also… as you’ve brought up excellent points. It’s always a learning curve, isn’t it…


  • Carrie Wigal

    November 30, 2007

    Yes, Jim, this came at a timely moment for me. I’m taking the 20/20 Challenge and putting the finishing touches on my salesletter for my first info-product.

    I found myself mostly promoting the subject of my info-product and the benefits of that and neglecting the benefits of my info-product itself. Thanks for sending out this article when you did. ;)

  • david forer

    December 5, 2007

    Very nice article. It will help to remember these points when developing a website and sales letter. sometimes we worry to much about computer stuff and not on human nature.

  • Sarah "SarahsSoapBox" Torres

    December 8, 2007

    Great info.
    At first glance I said to myself gotta print this & read it fully.
    Once I did I passed it on to my sis as a must read and told my dad about the great article.
    It’s idea inspiriing.
    Sarah :)

  • Jim-

    very well stated. You really nailed it
    in your response to Michael–
    With just a few real factors involved
    in the buying thought-process,
    marketers MUST make sure
    to address their prospects on at least one,
    if not more, of these levels!

    Keith deBolt

  • Dave Rydell

    December 17, 2007

    Hey Jim,

    Another great article! I hope everyone who reads this understands the power and importance of putting all your advise into action.
    People buy on emotions and the most powerful emotion there is revolves around what we can get for ourselves!
    Thanks again,
    Dave Rydell

  • Yves Marie Danie Baptiste

    August 19, 2008

    This is why I keep coming back to this blog and re-read all the products I’ve bought from you, Jim — Because one’s learning should never end. I find that I pick up a little bit of a very useful tip that I can immediately apply to achieve my goals. Thank you for helping us become better at what we do.

    Re-fried beans & ice cream for you! :-)

  • Squirrel Baffles

    September 1, 2008

    In addition to all above, with the price of gas I’m finding that I actually will think about how far to drive to save $5 or $10 these days, and buying online can cut that out completely.

  • Zed

    November 3, 2008

    I am looking for info on, what time people buy online?

    I would assume there are stats. eg the best time to place google ads for the best results with the lowest cost etc…

    Can anyone pls help!!