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The Fascinating Connection Between Design, Human Nature and Buying Decisions Read on about the psychology of shopping in both the online and virtual worlds.

By Sherry Gray Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Your website may look great, but does it perform as well as it could? How do you know for sure?

Layout, design and even traffic flow influence the way consumers behave in every buying situation. The most successful business owners study these patterns carefully and use psychological cues to subtly enhance sales. Similar principles apply to physical locations, like retails stores and website design. In other words, applying behavioral psychology will help you make more sales.

Related: Selling Products Online? How to Build a Perfect Checkout Page (Infographic)

Psychology in action: Brick-and-mortar locations

Most grocery and retail stores are laid out with buying behavior in mind. Consider the main entrance to a Walmart, for example. Knowing that people instinctively move counterclockwise through the store, and that makes the merchandise to the right of the door the first thing they see.

So what's there? Baked goods, deli meats, fresh fruits and vegetables. Ditto for Winn Dixie, Publix, Target Superstores, etc. Think about every major chain grocery you've been in recently. Now consider where they put the milk, eggs and cheese. Staples are located at the back of the store, as far away from the door as possible. You have to walk past a lot of temptation to get there.

Shelves, too, have a psychological edge. It's not an accident that the most-advertised brands are at eye-level, or that sugary cereals with cartoon characters are also at eye level, but not yours. They're about two feet down. Eye level to your kids. And placement isn't the only psychology at work in the cereal aisle. Those cartoon characters? The eyes are drawn at a downward angle to look the kids right in the eye from where they would naturally stand.

Casinos are also well-known for their handle on consumer psychology. In the past, they were chaotic, busy and laid out in straight lines to maximize floor space, with machines -- and players -- shoulder-to-shoulder. Newer casino layouts give players more room, a wider array of choices and a feeling of camaraderie that makes gameplay more fun. Players in sumptuous surroundings who feel comfortable, relaxed and pampered tend to spend a lot more.

Related: Poll: Amazon Is Still King of the Online Retail Jungle

Online psychology

Savvy web designers invest time in A/B testing for layout, wording, colors, navigation, information flow -- virtually every aspect of user experience -- to discover what works best with their customer base. Sometimes, they are shocked to find conventional wisdom is wrong.

We've been told for years that graphics are crucial to readership and share count. But what if the placement or the type of graphics on your page are actively hurting your page views? To be effective, the graphics on your page need to deliver psychological impact, to tell a story that relates to the subject at hand without distracting the reader in the worst possible way.

Page elements are another consideration. Everything from the colors you choose to where you place your call-to-action (CTA) contributes to the customer's decision process; whether to buy, sign up or bounce and check out your competitor.

Using core principles of Gestalt Theory to website design can help direct the user's eyes to what you want them to see. Like the unconscious flow of movement in physical locations, reader eyes -- and attention -- tend to be drawn in predictable patterns. And since human behavior is both predictable and easily tested, you can often increase your conversion rates simply by moving things around on the page.

Human behavior is endlessly fascinating and not utterly predictable. What works for 30-something women might not work for teenage boys or even for men of the same age. User testing is key, along with knowing your customers.

Today's web is built on user experience, and the most fulfilling user experience is driven by psychological factors designed to reduce confusion, meet expectations and gently encourage the user to act.

Does your web strategy include psychological triggers? Tell me about it.

Related: How a Bullied, Dyslexic 16-Year-Old Entrepreneur Fought Back and Found His Way

Sherry Gray

Freelance Content Writer

Sherry Gray is a freelance content writer from Key West, Fla., currently suffering the suburbs of Orlando. She's a science geek, a social media junkie and an unapologetic fan of all things bacon.


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