From the moment a person enters an e-commerce store to the moment they open a package, and even after that, consumers are exposed to variables that prompt both conscious and subconscious purchase decisions. Understanding what those factors are should be a priority in determining how you create, program, design, market and otherwise run your business. Here are four top factors worth digging into.


Anyone who's taken a business 101 course has walked away with at least one memorable lesson: the KISS principle. KISS--short for 'keep it simple, stupid'--states that most systems work best when kept simple. It applies to virtually everything, design included.

There's actually a term in psychology that measures how easy it is to think about something: cognitive fluency. Unsurprisingly, it's been determined that people prefer things that are easier to think about, for reasons ranging from comfort to safety to efficiency. So, it stands to reason that if something is hard to see or read, it becomes harder to buy.  On the contrary, the easier something is to understand, the more likely it is to be purchased or engaged with.

New York University psychologist Adam L. Alter calculated the performance of roughly 700 stocks on the New York Stock Exchange over a 14-year period and found that companies with simpler names tended to perform better. That example is on the more extreme end of the spectrum, but the principle of simplicity can and should be applied across every channel and touchpoint.

Website layout

Most people are visual creatures; they absorb something more quickly and efficiently when it is pleasant to look at. That's why, as we all know, people eat with their eyes first. When it comes to your website, from an experiential standpoint, the layout it as important as the content, truly influencing the customer's digital journey. A good e-commerce website layout improves navigation; in other words, it allows visitors to understand where they are and easily determine where they need to go next, ultimately delivering a positive user experience.

Again, it comes back to simplicity. Make sure the main navigation bar is populated with clearly defined parent categories near the top of the page; prominently display a search bar for consumers to easily find what they're looking for; and feature promo codes and other offers so they can't be missed. Working with a web designer or team who has experience with your industry and customer base can yield innovative ideas and solutions you may not be able to come to on your own.

Checkout process

There's not much more frustrating in e-commerce than moving a customer through the sales funnel only to have them abandon items in their cart. Creating a frictionless checkout process requires eliminating any potentially confusing, cumbersome, or misleading elements that could drive a customer to lose interest or desire.

There are various reasons an online shopper might abandon items in their cart, but the main one is extra shipping costs, either because they are too high or unexpected. In our own research in early 2020, 78 percent of shoppers reported leaving items abandoned in their online carts upon discovering unanticipated shipping costs. A study from The Baymard Institute, an organization focused on web user experience, discovered that extra costs such as shipping, taxes, and fees were the leading cause of cart abandonment. Subsequent notable factors in the Baymard study included being required to create an account (24 percent) and a too long/complicated checkout process (18 percent).

The cart is the last place you want to lose a customer. Make this stop as expedient and logical as possible. Be transparent about added costs, provide ample payment method options, provide order and shipping details prior to order completion, and make any live chat or other customer support options evident and accessible.

Package appeal

Here's something to really think about: the package an online order arrives in and the materials it's packed with are often only physical touchpoint a customer has with a brand. Essentially, packaging is the factor responsible for making a first and last impression on e-commerce customers, so you need them to remember that unboxing moment fondly. There are so many packaging options available today that upgrade the customer experience, and they don't need to be expensive.   

You can do something as simple as replacing brown kraft paper with branded or seasonally inspired tissue paper, or seal things up with a logo sticker or custom packaging tape. It all starts with understanding your customer. For example, we found out through our annual consumer study that across all shopping categories, online sporting goods consumers are the group most likely to report that gift-like packaging encourages them to purchase from a brand again.

In today's increasingly eco-conscious society, sustainable packaging is really the key area where brands and consumers alike are setting their intents. In that same consumer study, of all environmental and packaging factors considered, sustainable packaging was the most attractive feature across the board.

There are about a million things we don't know about how human minds work. Likewise, consumers make purchasing decisions for reasons they can't even grasp. So, focus on the knowledge at your disposal to create environments and experiences that appeal to you customers. We know more today than we did yesterday, and we'll learn more tomorrow.