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Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2008 at 9:15 am

Bridging the Psychic Pain Gap

By Jeff Sexton
November 11th, 2008

psychic painWhen people are confident of their next paycheck, they have a predisposition to buy most of their “because I want it” items that are within financial reach (and maybe even just out of reach as well – hence the credit card).  That’s because their psychic pain threshold for buying is just above their actual expendable income level.

Here’s how to visualize it: there are usually, say, 5-7 “extra-budgetary” purchases a person might have in mind for the next two months or so: nicer sunglasses, or an expensive wireless mouse, or shoes or some type of clothing, etc.  And most of those things will actually get purchased within a rolling 2-3 month time frame, without the buyer feeling that any of them represent a considered purchase – even if the sunglasses or shoes might be in or above the $150 range.

But that’s only in a prosperous and sunny economy, which we ain’t in right now.

Right now, people’s psychic pain threshold has dipped below their real level of expendable cash – they can still afford some extra-budgetary purchases, but parting with the cash feels a lot more painful.

More plainly, these discretionary items have just transformed into considered purchases.

psychic pain chart

Rather than buying these “I’d like to have” items in fairly quick succession, people will window-shop the hell out of them, mentally comparing the emotional pay-off to the price, trying to bridge the psychic pain gap.  And then they’ll buy just one of them – or maybe two by going with, say, less expensive sunglasses and slightly cheaper shoes.

What this shopping behavior looks like in the aggregate is that people are still buying, but:

  • Average order size drops, a la the cheaper sunglasses
  • Conversion rates edge down due to return window-shopping visits
  • Traffic/Unique Visitors goes down.

But wait, why would traffic go down if people are doing MORE window-shopping?

Because there’s only so much space in our mental queue of “gee I’d like one of those.”  There are thousands of things I want, but I can only actively ruminate on – and really feel the want of – a handful of them at any one time.

So if actual purchases slow down, then the rolling 2-3 month want list gets backlogged and it becomes “survival of the fittest” for items to stay active in my mental buying queue.  I’m window-shopping more, but for less things in any given span longer than 3 months.  And that means an aggregate dip in traffic for most Websites.

So what can you do about it?

How can you fight these trends and stay flat (aka “the new up”) instead of trending down?

Start acting like you’re selling a considered purchase; consciously aim to overcome the psychic pain threshold, instead of assuming the buyer has a green light for purchasing.  Here are some tips on how to do that:

  • Insist on superior product photos, descriptions, and objection-handling sales copy.  Think about how much more research you do for a car than a t-shirt.  Think about the kind of reviews written up on Edmunds.com compared to the average product description you’ll find at Target.  Emotionally, there’s more at stake so you require more information/copy.
  • Know that you’re competing well outside your category to get customers’ expendable cash  – and be compared to compete.  Build long-term perceived value around your product while lowering buyer anxiety.  Customer reviews are often far better at this than copy.  That means reviews shouldn’t be seen as optional any more, and that you should learn how to incorporate these review-elements into your sales copy.
  • Start optimizing for conversion now.  Seriously.  You’re competing for market share in a smaller market.  You only stay flat if you take customer’s expendable income away from competitors, and it’ll help if your Website is more persuasive and efficient than theirs.
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Comments (12)

  1. Thanks for grabbing the little silver chain, yanking and filling the room with illumination. This is an easy to understand explanation of what “is” and what to do about it. I’m adding this to my Sales Meeting Agenda this morning. Thanks.

  2. [...] reaches above his head, grasps the dangling silver chain and yanks it, illuminating the reality of Physic Pain and How To Bridge The Gap.  For details you’ll want to read his forehead slapping ah-ah blog post…read it now, [...]

  3. [...] This post was inspired by Jeff Sexon, who writes for our friend Bryan Eisenberg’s blog GrokDotCom. [...]

  4. This is great advice in any kind of economy. The problem is that many ecommerce sites are so far behind in implementing these suggestions and now there’s a higher sense of urgency.
    I would rather not be in a recession, but I am hoping that we will see an increase in the quality of customer service and site usability (for those companies who stick out the downturn)across the board.

  5. Good points all Jeff. As an entrepreneur *first* and a real estate agent as well, I’m seeing what you’re talking about all the time. A new home is nothing if not a considered purchase, and people are, frankly, scared out of their minds right now. A few years ago, it almost seemed like people were buying houses on a whim (which is just crazy). Interestingly, I have a house that I own on the market right now, in Maryland, and not much is happening despite “under market” pricing. Another project I’m working on, however , provides employment information and job search to online users. In this particular instance, traffic and unique visitors are, in fact, going up (WAY up). Not exactly a purchase, of course, but as part of the overall online model, it’s definitely a “space” where traffic is increasing.

  6. I must say, I have a bit of a problem with spending more than I can afford these days. I find myself at near over-draft every paycheck.

  7. [...] applying a considered purchase mindset to much lower price-points than ever before.  And most websites’ copywriting is coming up short in the face of this new [...]

  8. [...] applying a considered purchase mindset to much lower price-points than ever before.  And most websites’ copywriting is coming up short in the face [...]

  9. [...] Bridging the Psychic Pain Gap [...]

  10. That’s why we have to identify our “Needs” and “Wants”. I, too, sometimes experience the urge to buy what I want because I’m confident for my next paycheck. There were times that I told myself, “hey this is only $20″…I thought it will not hurt my budget but after some time I realized that I have been buying items that I thought were affordable only to realize that they will still all sum up into one big amount. Now, I learned my lessons and I only buy the “Needs” first…then if there are still few amounts left in my budget, that’s the time I will buy some of my “Wants”.

  11. These are good tips that hold true in any market, good or bad and will help an online marketer improve their sales in any climate.

  12. [...] This post was inspired by Jeff Sexon, who writes for our friend Bryan Eisenberg’s blog GrokDotCom. [...]

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Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

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