Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychology

One thing I’ve said over and over again here is that you are not in the business of selling things when you sell online. You are in fact in the business of selling solutions to problems. Regardless of what you have for sale, in essence, you are providing a solution to a problem. Even if you sell Oriental rugs, you provide a solution to the problem that someone may have of what to put on the floor of their homes so that their homes look nice.
Okay, that having been said, there are a number of psychological tricks that you can use in order to improve the number of sales that you make when you work online (or offline for that matter). These tricks are all based on one essential premise – we’re emotional creatures.
While most of us like to believe that we can think logically and dispassionately about a decision, the reality is that we are not Vulcans and we never had Surak to teach us to repress emotional outbursts.
That’s why I recently bought two beautiful Oriental rugs at a store that was going out of business – I admit it, I didn’t need the rugs, didn’t even know where to put them. However, like anyone else, I was swayed by emotion. First, I happen to love art and these two rugs are basically works of art.
Second, since the store is going out of business, I was swayed by one of the classic psychological ‘tricks’ I’m about to teach you. No, I don’t regret the decision even though I couldn’t really afford the rugs and didn’t logically have a need for them. I had an emotional need and for me, there is a value in satisfying my desire for something of extreme beauty to decorate my home.
Okay, but enough about my recent purchases. Let’s talk about how to sell more online.


There is an old axiom that the market will determine what price a given item will sell for. If there is greater demand and not enough supply to go around, the price goes up. Lesser demand and too great a supply, the price goes down. One psychological trick that you can and should be using to sell online is the idea of scarcity.
Scarcity deal
In the case of my rugs, it was legitimate – the store was selling out its inventory and will be closed completely in another couple of weeks. However, it’s possible to create this kind of feeling even without going out of business (which would kind of defeat the whole purpose of running an online business – presumably, you are not trying to liquidate but to grow).
The key here is to simply set a time limit on how long a given product will be sold for. This is done constantly and it works extremely well. You state that a product is going to be available for the next 7 days only and then it will be “gone forever.” This can and does drive sales. The catch however is that you have to mean it. If you extend it endlessly the psychological trick loses effectiveness and you will have trouble convincing customers to make purchases in the future.
Another less drastic way of doing this is to use the dime sale, where the price regularly increases by a dime (or really any set amount) every time someone makes a purchase or after every several purchases. This allows you to continue selling for the long term while also creating the psychological effect of a scarcity rush. Of course, you don’t have quite the same drama of “never being able to buy it” as you do with the sale for a limited time but it creates much the same effect.

Create Empathy

Everyone wants to make more money when selling online, right? If you are like about 99% of the population of the world, I just used a second psychological trick on you. I got you to agree with me by making a statement which almost everyone agrees is true. This can be a very powerful method for selling because you have already put people into a frame of mind that gets them more ready to make a purchase.

Think about it – I’d have a much tougher sell if I were trying to convince you of something that you are ambivalent about. If I’m trying to push something that you are downright opposed to (i.e. let’s say you are a devout Christian and I’m trying to push the idea that the theory of evolution is correct and no creator was responsible for mankind existing here on earth), I’ll have an almost impossible task in getting you to agree.
However, if I were to start my argument with something you are likely to agree with (going back to our theoretical devout Christian, if I were to start out by saying, “we can all agree that the world is an incredibly complex and wondrous place”), I’ve removed a roadblock to selling you on something else because I’ve put you into a frame of mind where you feel comfortable, as if we have something in common.
This is called creating empathy and it’s one of the best ways to start off a selling point by trying to disarm someone who may be reluctant to agree with you otherwise.

Be Negative Too

I recently read a fascinating article in The Atlantic about failures. The article suggests that, especially today, people tend to be more forgiving of failure than they once were. They mentioned there as an example the disgraced former governor of New York, Elliot Spitzer, who was caught in a sex scandal but is now trying to make a comeback.
Spitzer scandal
They go on to mention that it’s become almost de rigueur to admit to some kind of a failure when you are applying for a job today. We all like to hear stories about someone who came back from a terrible tragedy and found themselves the stronger for it. A similar concept exists when you are trying to sell things online.
While you can admit to initial failure when trying to sell a product, you can even admit to current failures and make it into a selling point. In essence, what you do is to admit that your product is not all things to all people.
You run a small advertising firm which is intended to work with small to medium size businesses and offer them personal service. You’re not running a company which handles accounts the size of Microsoft. Hey, that’s admitting to a failure – you are not equipped to handle a $500 million account.
However, by admitting that, you make it into a selling point for your primary customer base by showing them that they’re not going to be a tiny fish in a massive pond and that they won’t end up feeling as if they’re going to be brushed aside because you have other customers that are much bigger and more important to them.
You can also use this to make clear to your potential customers what the upsides and downsides of working with your company are. You’re not going to be recruiting the top talent for their TV ads because that’s not what you do. By offering a balanced view, you actually increase the likelihood they’ll work with you.

People Don’t Really Want Choices

I know this sounds a little counterintuitive. It seems every ad we ever see today is talking about how you have lots of choices, blah, blah, blah. What people really want however is the illusion of having choices rather than actually having choices.
What I mean by this is expressed best by the old car salesman’s trick – they insist that you must pick the color of the car that you want to buy. The idea is to give people the option to choose something so they have the illusion of choice even though everything else, including the decision to make a purchase to begin with, has been taken away from them.
Of course, people tend to be more sophisticated than that, especially today but the basic axiom stays the same. Most people for example who want to buy a computer are not interested in being offered 20 different choices of processors and 10 different speeds of RAM along with all the other dizzying array of choices that can be made when buying a modern computer.


You choose the color because the choice of Crocs has been made for you already.

Most people know the basics though – they know more RAM is better and they know that the processor with more cores is better. Thus offering a limited number of choices, where you suggest three options of configurations works much better than suggesting a dizzying array of choices. Again, people want the illusion of choices. They don’t actually want unlimited choices though.

Create Value

I’ve written about this in the past but it’s worth mentioning it here again because this is also an important psychological trick. In essence, the way this works is that you make the product you want to sell seem like a good value by comparing it to something more expensive.
So you might for example create a product which is more expensive and then label your middle ground product as being the “best value.” By making this comparison available, you are in essence making people believe that they are getting a relative bargain by making the purchase of the middle ground product even though it’s being sold for the same price as it would have been sold at without the comparisons available.

Rinse, Repeat

There is an old saying promulgated by the infamous Nazi, Joseph Goebbels: “Repeat a lie often enough and people will begin to believe that it’s true.” Now while I’m certainly not suggesting the idea of following his sick ideas about Jews and other minority groups, nor am I suggesting that you tell grand lies as he did, he does have a point to make.
People often need to see an ad at least 7 time before they begin to remember it and act upon it. This means that it behooves you to repeat important selling points in different ways and to keep up a certain frequency of advertising in order to keep your customers interested in whatever it is that you have for sale.

Buy More and Save!

You’ve likely seen some kind of ad in your local supermarket where you were offered the option to purchase 5 of something and save money. What many supermarkets won’t tell you is that they’ll actually give you the discount even if you just buy one. The reason they advertise it that way is that psychologically, when you see “5 for $5” you are more inclined to buy five of the item even if the regular price is $1.
Family Dollar
You can use a similar technique when selling online by in essence suggesting people buy whatever it is that you have for sale in bulk. This works best when you can offer a comparison and actually show that buying more saves them money however, even simply advertising your product the way supermarkets do it can and does work to get more sales.

Tell a Story

Look at a good newspaper sometime and read an article about pretty much anything, especially economic news. If it’s a long form article, they will inevitably tell you about some random everyday person that they interviewed. For example, rather than simply telling you that food prices are going up, they’ll show you an American mother struggling to put food on the table with rising prices.
The reason is simple – data is dry and boring but stories sell. Thus if you really want to make more sales, consider telling a story. Tell a story about how this one customer of yours was able to triple his income by purchasing your magic product. Even if you don’t necessarily have a story to tell, you can use the same principle by creating a fictional character.

Be Authoritative

People like feeling secure and knowing that they got a great deal from someone knowledgeable. Thus your best bet for selling a product online is to make yourself into an authority on whatever it is that you have for sale. Let people know that you have the expertise to offer them the best of whatever it is that you happen to have for sale.
For example, if you are selling a service which helps people to protect their credit, you can create authority by explaining that you have on your staff two dozen people with a combined 200 years of experience working with various credit reporting agencies. This makes people feel that much more confident in their purchase of whatever it is that you have for sale.

There are Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

That’s a very old saying but it’s true – statistics are often made up. In fact, 87% of all statistics are based on nothing but supposition, that statistic included. However, even though the statistic I just quoted is based on utter nonsense, it sounds authoritative and gets people to feel more secure. Thus my final psychological point is to include statistics.
However, the best way to do this is to include an actual source for the statistic rather than simple make something up out of thin air. While  the above joke might be funny, it’s much more likely to be valuable as a selling point if I actually had a real basis for saying it.