Decoded: ZARA’s Ingenious Use of Consumer Psychology in Its Online Sales Funnel

How to remove customer barriers in the online shopping process

Most of our shopping will continue to take place online. So if ecommerce is your playground, then you probably already know that it’s an environment with seemingly endless opportunities. It’s also a place where many concerns can arise — with uncertainty being a major one — and its consequences could be grave. But companies can fight back and we’re ready to show you how.

In this article, you’ll discover:

  • Why uncertainty plays such a pivotal role in ecommerce;
  • How to remove customers’ barriers when shopping online;
  • How a step-by-step purchasing process can easily nudge customers to buy your product;
  • How Zara used social proof as a remedy to uncertainties.
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We’ll explore a clever way fashion giant ZARA assists its customers so that picking the right size online is not a mountain but a molehill. They do so by using a different set of metrics to determine the right size, and even by broadcasting other people’s choices, in order to drive a conviction that the size chosen by the algorithm will fit like a glove.


Kill upfront costs now, uncertain benefits later

In this piece about Netflix, we’ve already shown how unresolved questions and uncertainties can be costly when asking people to sign up for a subscription service (notice it’s not even a tangible product). Now let’s dive deeper into why uncertainty plays such a pivotal role in e-commerce; understanding and eliminating it at the right moment could mean the difference between make or break. 

Free shipping is a way to reduce the barrier of trial inconvenience as it allows your customers to experience the offering at a lower switching cost. It also reduces uncertainty. 

The secret formula to get people to click “Add to cart” has little to do with pushing and prodding, but everything to do with removing barriers for action.

But how can we help customers to even arrive at that point? How can we help them gauge whether a particular item will be a winner? They can’t touch or feel it out yet have to make a call. And that’s a pickle because nobody wants to buy a pig in a poke. The evidence even suggests we're more likely to purchase something once we have a tactile experience with it. That’s why a retailer will hand you things over at the first sign of opportunity.

Uncertainty

Uncertainty is a situation when your customer has incomplete or missing information. A situation when their questions, concerns, and fears aren’t answered.

The secret formula to get people to click “Add to cart” and “Checkout” has little to do with pushing and prodding, but everything to do with removing barriers for action.

Help customers move along the way

What’s the most profound concern you have when buying clothes online? Most of us might worry that they won’t fit. Gnawing doubts like this one could potentially crush one’s willingness to shop for even the most avid shoppers. 

That’s unless, of course, a site provides an easy-to-use guideline to help us make quick and wise decisions. The goal is to get people to act based on their knee-jerk response: “Wow I love it! I gotta have it now.” An accumulating body of research suggests that the more time we spend making a decision, the heavier it feels and the less satisfied we’ll be with it. 

If we can’t choose the right size with the least possible effort, a barrier will be erected.

An accumulating body of research suggests that the more time we spend making a decision, the heavier it feels and the less satisfied we’ll be with it.

ZARA has found a creative way to fight uncertainties and lower barriers; they understand what's happening in their customers' heads and tackle their concerns in a clever way. As a result, they designed a 5-step process to determine the right size and added a beautiful final touch with the ingenious use of social proof. 

Instead of taking the usual route and asking their customers to undertake a horrific (and often disheartening) procedure of measuring themselves and then squinting hard to find their size recommendation written in size 8 font, the company allows its customers to come to the right size in a different way.

  • HOW-TO GUIDE

Uncertainty: The Most Powerful Yet Overlooked Principle in Marketing

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Show your customers that you know their fears

First they ask about a customer’s height and weight. Next, they let them choose how they want their clothes to fit — tight, perfect, or loose. So far nothing special, but the next step is about to get real interesting.

Find my size page allow users to put in their measurements and select a prefered fit. Source: Zara

Instead of having to overcome the barrier of owning and fetching a measuring tape and becoming horrified at the results, customers will go through a 3-step process to determine the right size.

Step One: Select your figure

They select their body type or rather, their body parts relevant to the item of clothing they’re buying – for instance, when shopping for a pair of jeans, they’ll first select whether they’re the muffin top champ or muffin top free.

Users can determine the right shape simply by selecting a fiting visual. Source: Zara

Or alternatively, when shopping for a pair of slacks, customers are asked to select the shape of their hips and thighs (basically the varying stages of thunder thighs).

Users can determine the right shape simply by selecting a fiting visual. Source: Zara

Step Two: Reveal your age

Customers are asked to enter their age. This is when things can get a little strange. Why inquire about age? It's bad enough that I already picked the option on the far right and now you want to know that I’m over 50? But the task is followed by an explanation — ZARA needs to know so they can get you the best fit, because age has an impact on your weight distribution, which is basically a nice way of saying that as you age your bum gets flatter and your belly gets rounder.

Zara asks customers to put in their age and provides a handy explanation Source: Zara

Step Three: Assure your customers

In the final step, ZARA reassures its potential buyers that the chosen size is the right fit for them. What the company does differently is that along with this information, it also gives customers the reassurance that the majority of people of the same size and fit preferences bought this item and were satisfied with it. 

Social Proof

Social proof is our tendency to be influenced by what others do, how they think and behave. Especially when we are uncertain what to do.

This is social proof used in a clever way and at the right time! You might have seen or even used it before to assure customers that many others have bought the same product. 

Here, the use of social proof is extremely powerful because the reference group (84% of customers who bought the same pair of pants and didn’t return them or exchange them for the right size) feels relatable to undecided customers.

Zara uses Social proof to reassure customers the clothes will fit them. Source: Zara

If, however, the customer is still not convinced even after going through this tailor-made process of determining the right size, ZARA provides detailed information about in-store availability. So if they need to make sure that it fits, then the customer knows exactly where to find it. Last, but not least, ZARA showed its customers that they care about making a comfortable online shopping experience by dispelling all anxious feelings when choosing the right fit, sizes, and measurements.

The IKEA effect in practice

By making the process simple yet complex enough, the IKEA effect may also kick in. This effect is based on a curious finding that assembling your own IKEA furniture makes you value it more simply because you’ve put in the effort (with a bunch of curse words thrown in for good measure) compared to the same piece of furniture you didn’t have to assemble yourself. 

Ikea Effect

When you put effort into something, it becomes more valuable to you than its objective value.

Similarly in the case of ZARA, a customer who took a minute and put seemingly negligible effort into determining the size of their hips and thighs and even entered their age, might value the final recommendation just a little bit more. And that’s when the loss aversion has a chance to push them to act on the recommendation; because the more we value something, the less willing we are to part with it.

Eliminating friction is key

We’ve shown how removing uncertainties and barriers can make the buying process a lot smoother.

The beauty of eliminating friction (in this case, uncertainty) is that it can change consumer behavior in the long run; making it not only more likely but also more frequent. Once the customer learns that the process of picking up the right size at ZARA is worry-free, they might be more likely to browse through the app. They would then become exposed to more items for sale. 

The desire to have a product is just one piece of the puzzle, and it won’t be enough if friction gets in the way.

In contrast, a retail site that is selling more unique, fashion pieces in comparison with ZARA but makes it fairly hard for customers to determine the right fit for them might not be able to sell their items that easily. Because the desire to have a product is just one piece of the puzzle, and it won’t be enough if friction gets in the way.

Key takeaways:

  • Remove customers’ uncertainties and address their fears head-on across the entire buying process. Pay special care to how friction can stand in the way at pivotal moments of the size selection process and create the right workarounds (e.g. size selection without having to reach for a measuring tape); 
  • Make the process simple but complex enough for the IKEA effect to kick in. The end goal is to make customers trust and value the selection process more by feeling like it was thorough enough to allow for the best-possible size recommendation;
  • Leverage the power of social proof and make it as specific as you can. Let the customer see that other people just like them who may have found themselves in a similar situation have made the same decision and it worked out for them in the end.