Making sense of the irrational

As individuals, we like to think of ourselves as generally pretty rational. Nobody wants to be seen as illogical, or to admit that, sometimes, our decision making process is driven by impulsive emotions, rather than hard facts.

In reality, however, logic and carefully calculated reason are rarely the key driving force in our lives - especially when it comes to our purchase decisions.

In a survey, Clicktale found that 76% of big data professionals believe that consumers are “fundamentally irrational” when they shop. Given that these data professionals have devoted their whole careers to understanding consumer behavior, that’s probably not a good sign for those brands looking to gather logical explanations for their customers’ decision making processes.

This is not only because consumer decision making is often fundamentally irrational, but also because consumers are just so bad at self-assessing what they want and what drives their shopping needs.

A classic example of this comes from Google. Traditionally, Google has always listed between 8-10 results on every page of its search listings. Recently however, the search giant turned to its customers to find out what they thought would make its service better. A huge number of these customers requested a greater number of listings on every search results page. As such, Google obliged and trialled increasing the number to 15, or even 20 results a page.

The result? A massive drop off in the number of people accessing the results and a decline in user satisfaction levels. The additional choices were making it harder for users to know what to click and were ultimately making it more difficult to narrow down the information available to them. 

It turns out that what consumers said they wanted, wasn’t actually what they needed. By overestimating the rationality of their decision making process (assuming that more comparative options would deliver a better result) consumers actually ended up voting for something that made their experiences worse rather than better.

This is just one example in a long list of ways that consumers misjudge their own decision making processes. According to our latest stress shopping report, consumer purchase decisions can be driven by everything from boredom, to stress, to anxiety; some consumer decisions are even influenced by the choice of music played in a store. Very few shoppers however, would identify these irrational factors when explaining what makes them shop.

So faced with this disconnect, what can marketers and brands do to truly understand and predict their customers’ decisions? The first change to make, is to stop asking customers what they think and instead start observing how they behave. Listening, rather than questioning, is the secret to true consumer understanding.

In the age of big data and experience analytics, this listening is more achievable than ever before. Through heat maps, click paths and session replays, brands can now see exactly how prospects and customers are moving through their websites and mobile applications, identifying where customers are receiving a positive experience, and where the stressors are that need to be removed.

By using these insights, businesses can for the first time truly get inside the mindset of their customers, helping us to turn the seemingly irrational, into tangible, and measurable, facts.

Talk to us to explore how customer experience analytics can improve your business