Hooked: a magic formula for powerful e-shops

Johan Verhaegen

UX Strategist

Hooked. That’s what I want to be. I love websites and applications that are so good I can’t resist using them every day. Multiple times. And miss them when they’re not around.

Hooked. That’s what companies wish their customers to be. Offering websites so good that customers simply can’t resist checking them multiple times a day. And crave for them so much they even use them while on vacation, at the Christmas table, or during a romantic dinner…


The habit-forming formula

The good news is that it is possible to lay the foundations of such habit-forming products, by using a simple formula: B = MAT. Sounds too good to be true? It seems far-fetched, but I think it has potential.

The formula B = MAT is based on a behavior model developed by Dr. B.J. Fogg, Director of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University. It states that - take a deep breath:

A behavior (B) will occur when motivation (M), ability (A) and a trigger (T) are present at the same time and in sufficient degrees.


In human speak: when you want a certain behavior from your customer (buying things), you need:

  • to have something that motivates him (attractive things he wants)
  • give him the ability to perform that action (a website)
  • and provide a trigger that will entice him to take action (a voucher).

When you juggle these 3 elements (motivation, ability and trigger) perfectly, you might be on your way to get your customers hooked on your e-shop.


Usability, the fourth ingredient

However, simply offering your motivated customer a voucher and an interesting website to shop takes you only so far. It doesn’t guarantee that your customers will come back regularly. This is the point where usability comes into play: usability is in my view an essential ingredient of the formula, in particular of the element ability. Ability without usability is a recipe for failure.

Most e-shops I visit lack good usability. Companies tend to make their product pages overly complex and incomprehensible. And they add things to their checkout flows they find important and forget to remove things that aren’t. Why make it so hard? If you design your product pages and checkout flows right, you’re already halfway there.


The good product page

But what is a good product page? A good product page should only contain the following elements:

  • a recognizable layout: people have learned to use product pages on other websites, not on yours
  • elaborate product information: this is the only place on a website where you can unleash your inner writer– with moderation
  • very large product images: in a physical store you don’t decide on the quality of a product from 2 meters away either, do you?
  • product videos: optional today, elementary in the near future
  • easy accessible customer support: easy to find, just like you expect from real-life shop assistants
  • a clear and simple call-to-action (‘add to bag’): how long are you willing to search for the cash register in a bricks-and-mortar store?

A good product page as seen on mrporter.com


The successful checkout flow

In addition to a good product page, you need a good checkout flow. A good checkout flow is built on the principle of ‘reduction’: Remove things that stand in the way of the user and that will make him think twice (and consequently doubt).

Lots of checkout flows contain extra promotions and extra offerings, even in the last step. Don’t do that. During usability testing we often see that when customers see this ‘added’ stuff, they suddenly start to hesitate and look around for extra information or missed promotions on the site. And gone is your customer. The moment your customer clicks ‘buy’, he wants to buy. Simple as that.

A good checkout flow as seen on bilborecords.be


The magic recipe

So are informative product pages and a simple checkout flow sufficient to get your customer hooked on your e-shop? No they aren’t. But next to offering attractive products and relevant triggers, flawless usability is an essential ingredient for the behavioral formula to work on your e-shop. And that’s the magic recipe of a healthy relationship with a loyal, returning customer.

Interested in how you can add good usability to your e-shop, as an essential aspect of getting your customers hooked? Then get in touch!


Johan Verhaegen
UX Strategist – Human Interface Group

PS: Want to learn more about building habit-forming products? Then check out Nir Eyal’s excellent work on this topic: http://www.nirandfar.com


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