Psychology of an Online Shopper: 14 Reasons Why People Buy

Psychology of an Online Shopper: 14 Reasons Why People Buy

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Why do people buy stuff? What are the reasons why people buy?

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As an entrepreneur, understanding the psychology of people is the foundation of your success. It helps you identify that sweet spot that triggers a site visitor to make a purchase.

I sat down to think about this. And I also asked my relatives and friends the same question. Some provided a straightforward answer, some gave me a situational answer, and some said they had no clue.

So far, here are the 14 reasons why people buy stuff:

  1. Basic Needs
  2. Replacement
  3. Novelty
  4. Emotional void
  5. Scarcity
  6. Prestige
  7. Convenience
  8. Great Value
  9. Trend
  10. Identity
  11. Indulgence
  12. Guilt
  13. Fear
  14. Addiction

Today, I want to share with you what I have found out and explore these 14 reasons why people buy.

As you dig deeper to understand the motivations of your consumer, you can strategically create your ads and call to actions to improve your sales.

Warning: some of these reasons and examples may overlap.

Let’s dig in!

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1. Basic Needs

This is a no brainer—we buy things because we need them. Our universal basic needs are the same. We need food, shelter, and clothing.

If you live in a more advanced society, you really have no need for food.

Pretty much, nobody goes hungry in a progressive community where food stubs are handed to our unfortunate brothers and sisters.

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As such, items like clothing in a society like that may turn into a lavish purchase but not as a basic need.

How to apply it in e-commerce

If you are selling any of these items—food, shelter, and clothing—you have to understand that the underlying cause of these basic needs is survival.

Survival is closely tied with good health and longevity, so you need to capitalize on that.

When creating your marketing copy, your target is not just the basic needs of an individual, but his health and survival.

Security is an implied basic need, so you have to focus your ad copy on the benefits of what you are selling, in relation to the root causes.

This is why food companies put a heavy emphasis on the vitamins that their food contains—vitamins equal healthy bodies. Clothing companies focus their ads on warmth, and real estate companies focus their ads on security.

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2. Replacement and Repair

Things break. They deplete. Natural wear and tear makes a product old. If this happens, a customer has to buy a new one. Examples of these are slippers, clothing, make-up, lipstick, deodorant, and so much more.

In the toy space, people need replacement parts, batteries, wires, and a whole lot of stuff. At one point or another, a customer who loves a product would certainly buy a replacement, either for the entire product or for replacement parts.

How to apply it in e-commerce

If you have an e-commerce business, you have to offer options to offer replacements for parts that can easily get worn or depleted.

For example, batteries for toys. Not all toys come with rechargeable batteries, so it makes sense that you make an upsell for replacements.

People who buy toys powered by AAA batteries know that they would need a new set soon. Even if this item is something they can buy anywhere, it still makes sense that they buy extras from your store, along with the main item.

This is also the perfect reason for you to upsell parts like wings for remote-controlled helicopter toys, patches for swimming pools, extra make-up brushes, extra controller for gaming consoles, extra smartphone casing, and so much more.

3. Novelty

Novelty refers to items that are unique. Sometimes, this reason for buying overlaps with trend, but we will talk more about that later.

What is a novelty?

A t-shirt that has a unique print is a novelty item. The same thing goes with customized or personalized notebooks, pens, coffee mugs, decors, and a lot more.

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A novelty item is something fresh and unique that is best purchased to decorate a house or to give as a gift.

How to apply it in e-commerce

Sell products that are unique to your store. Capitalize on the customer’s desire to own something that can serve as a social ice breaker, like shirts with unique prints, or personalized clocks with their photos.

Generally speaking, novelty items refer to pretty much anything that has little to no practical function. To give you more ideas, see the examples below:

  • Bubble pipe
  • Chinese finger trap
  • Big Mouth Billy Bass
  • Crookes radiometer
  • Deely bobber
  • Cheesehead
  • Horsehead mask
  • Drinking bird
  • Chattery Teeth
  • Dehydrated Water
  • Bobblehead
  • Magic 8-Ball
  • Expandable water toy
  • Groucho glasses
  • Joy buzzer
  • Kit-Cat Klock
  • Garden gnome
  • Lava lamp

You are not the only person selling a novelty item. To improve your conversion rate, you have to make your items unique. If possible, find a supplier who can do print-on-demand services for these items.

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4. Emotional or mental void

Yes, a lot of people shop because of an emotional or mental void. This should not be viewed with a negative perception because each person has a void in his or her life to fill.

As you must know by now, most buying decisions are emotional, and you need to use this to your advantage.

A person who has a longing for mental fulfillment is going to buy books, while a person who wants to look great—for self-validation—is going to buy jewelry.

How to apply it in e-commerce

Understand the void that your product is trying to fill. Once you know what this is, you can build your ad copy around that, or hire a copywriter to make a targeted product description.

Your product page has to focus not on the features of what you are selling, but on the benefits that it has to offer.

Here are some examples of mental and emotional voids that you can fill:

  • Self-esteem – jewelry, beauty products
  • Skills – sports goods, guitars, how-to or academic books
  • Mental – novels, educational books
  • Happiness – comic books, family games

There is no limit to what you can offer here. If you know what a product does to a person’s mental and emotional health, use that reason to convince the customer to buy.

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5. Scarcity

Products that are manufactured in limited quantities sell. The thing is, you do not have to look for vintage products to be able to sell these type of stuff.

Scarcity, as a reason for the purchase, does not only refer to limited-edition products.

It also refers to a mindset and a marketing strategy. People would buy it because they do not want to miss out on the opportunity.

This is also called FOMO, or fear of missing out.

The trick here is to play hard to get. A customer gives more value to a product if it is perceived to be rare, or if the opportunity to buy it is rare.

How to apply it in e-commerce

To make a product look scarce, there is some technique you have to apply to your marketing and product pages.

Below are some examples:

  • Only a few stocks left – add bars or announcements that this product is going out of stock soon
  • Use countdown timers – effective for products that are on sale; make the countdown timer believable. It does not make sense having a timer that lasts for several days
  • Limited-time offer – offer a product only for a few days and make it known; offer it again after a few months

For more examples, visit the blog post 18 Scarcity Examples that Can Boost Sales.

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6. Prestige

We all know there are only two reasons why a person would buy an Apple product—technical need and prestige.

People buy expensive items to elevate their status symbol, even if they do not need it. You do not buy a Ferrari for speed—all highways have speed limits; you buy it for prestige.

The same thing goes with wristwatches. The time on a Patek Philippe watch that costs $2.5 million is the same with a $20 watch.

Prestige as a reason overlaps emotional void, but prestige comes closer to lavishness and bragging rights. In the psychology of an online shopper, this is nothing short of narcissism.

How to apply it in e-commerce

Sell branded products that appeal to this type of customer, and make sure you only sell original ones, not fake imitations. Pre-loved goods are also great if you can find brokers for branded second-hand goods.

Here are some types of products to get you started:

  • Wristwatches
  • Phones
  • Clothing
  • Make-up kits
  • Bags
  • Gears

Marketing branded clothes are not as difficult as it seems. The brand name justifies itself. What you have to prove to your customer in your online store is credibility.

How exactly would the customer know that your products are authentic?

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7. Convenience

In customer service, there is a thing called “effortless experience”. Studies show that if a customer spends less effort to do something, the happier they become.

What does this mean? It refers to the actual product experience or the customer experience upon purchasing goods. Let us take a look at both.

  • Product – an example is microwave because microwaves offer convenience; the customer would buy anything that would make their lives easier.
  • Experience – customers do not want to fill out a thousand boxes and several pages on the checkout. The faster they can complete a transaction, the happier they would be.

Now, both of these must be applied you your online store to help you convert leads into paying customers.

How to apply it in e-commerce

You can apply this principle in both aspects of convenience. Let us first discuss products that offer convenience.

Below are some examples:

  • Kitchen gadgets
  • Plumbing tools
  • Frying pan magic cleaners
  • Lint rollers
  • Egg white separators
  • Zip-lock bags

As you can see, most of these are products that you typically see on TV shopping networks. They work, but they do not necessarily make a huge difference in a person’s life. Yet, they are convenient.

For experience, just make sure that you check out your customer within one page.

Avoid checkout systems that require multiple pages of sign-up.

Also, make your website easy to use and navigate. Studies show that a website that is easy to navigate has a higher conversion rate.

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8. Great Value

Value is based on perception. While not all of us can sell products that are worth thousands of dollars, we can provide customers with great value is several ways.

In marketing, there is a thing called a value proposition. It refers to the value that a company would deliver, which its competitors cannot.

If you are a dropshipping store or e-commerce store operator, this is a tad difficult to do, especially so if you do not manufacture your own products.

On the flip side, you do not have to create something revolutionary to create perceived value.

The way to get around it is to use the bundling technique so you can offer great value, or appeal to the customer’s emotions.

How to apply it in e-commerce

There a few ways to increase your product’s perceived value. You should take inspiration from companies that do this all the time, like McDonald’s and Amazon.

Here are some examples:

  • Bundles – bundle several products at a lesser cost than if bought separately
  • Free shipping – people love to get their items without paying for shipping fees
  • Freebies – offer a free item that comes with the original purchase
  • Discounts – slash your prices to something that customers cannot pass on
  • Buy 1 Take 1 – taking two of an item for the price of one is something that customers cannot refuse

When you do these things, make sure that you have done the math. Offer value to your customers but never at the expense of your profitability.

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9. Trend

Ever heard of fidget spinners? These little things were once the craze in the whole world. Estimates show that roughly 12 million fidget spinners were sold worldwide in 12 countries.

A trend is a little different from a novelty item. It can be a novelty item, but may not be a trend for a long time.

You see, trends are seasonal, and there is a chance that they will never come back in popularity.

People buy trendy items because they want to be in touch with society. As an entrepreneur, you can take advantage of this behavior, but you are advised to stay cautious.

How to apply it in e-commerce
To find out if there is a trend, you need to be in sync with your niche. You need to subscribe to websites and magazines that cover your market space. Read the news every day and act quickly.

A tool that can help you in determining a trend is Google Trends. Here, you can find out how a certain item is tending over time.

Take a look at this screenshot below:

google trends 8

As you can see, we made a comparison between searches made on Google for blue sandals and red sandals.

The study is based on worldwide searches, for 12 months, and only for web search. From this, we can see that over the last 12 months, there is not much demand for this type of product except in June.

Google trends score search terms from 0 to 100. A score of 0 means there is no interest in that.

A score of 100 means that the search term is in high demand—that people around the world are actually typing these words in the Google search engine.

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10. Identity and Belongingness

People need an identity, not just in terms of being an individual but because they want to belong to a group.

A great example of this is religion.

People who belong to the same religion are going to buy similar products. Catholics like to buy a necklace with a crucifix pendant. Religious people buy things related to their beliefs.

This does not only happen in religion, but also in sports. Fans of Chicago Bulls would buy jerseys, Chicago Bulls coffee mugs, etc.

How to apply it in e-commerce

Find a niche market where the customer is easily identified. Cosplayers would buy costumes, hockey fans collect pucks, and people who love baking would buy baking novelty items.

A word of advice: do not sell imitation products, as this will only get you in legal trouble.

If you take this approach, you are going to build a store that is called niche-based. Most entrepreneurs today go for a general store, without realizing that a niche-based store like this is easier to market.

If you build a niche-based store, you already have a group of buyers. All you have to do is to find them, build your credibility, and lead them to your sales funnel to convert them into paying customers.

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11. Indulgence

If we think about ice cream, we can perceive this purchase as a need, an emotional void, or as an indulgence.

Technically, a purchase of indulgence means you are buying something even if it has negative consequences.

Ice cream, for one, is not healthy. It also means buying something that you do not need like a diamond necklace or a video game.

It is a little bit different about prestige because prestige has to be shown off. If a person buys for indulgence, it basically leans towards fulfilling a desire.

How to apply it in e-commerce

If you want to target this reason for improving your sales, you need to write ad copy or product description that highlights a person’s desire.

In most cases, marketing strategies that target indulgence couple it with value.

For example, a customer does not really need to eat ten cupcakes, but you sell that at a bundled price and then tease the target customer that he can enjoy more for a lesser price.

Here are some examples:

  • Everything in a pack – sell all your products in a bundle; customers do not need all of them, but they would buy the entire package
  • Participation – give your customers the privilege to customize their goods; they are more likely to respond positively to this type of product because they are involved. An example is a print-on-demand t-shirt business where the customer uploads his own design.

The keyword here is desire. You need to market your goods in such a way that you are fulfilling a desire.

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12. Guilt

A guilt purchase happens of you gave something to a customer. In this case, the customer would love to return the favor by making a purchase.

And it is all about guilt.

Think of marketing activities in a grocery store where you can get unlimited freebies of a product, say, hotdog.

If the hotdog tastes good, the customer is likely to buy even if he does not need it. He is doing it because he ate free hotdogs, and he wants to compensate for this guilt.

How to apply it in e-commerce

So, how do you apply this in e-commerce, knowing that you cannot give free stuff away?

Here are some ways to apply guilt marketing in your e-commerce store:

  • Causes – sell items for a cause. If you donate 1% of each sale to charitable organizations, a customer is going to be more responsive. Every human is guilty of not doing enough to help.
  • Vindication – sell products that help the environment or products that help save the fish or the world. Purchases of products like this make a person feel that he is making a contribution.
  • Health – every person is guilty of doing something that is bad for his health. Use this in your guilt marketing to sell vitamins and even products that make a person healthier, like vape or an electronic muscle stimulator.

One great example of guilt marketing or a guilt-product is the Ocean Bottle store.

For every purchase of the ocean Bottle product, the company collects about 1,000 plastic bottles and recycles them, preventing them from entering the ocean.

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13. Fear

Fear is a powerful motivator to buy. People do not want to get hurt, and they would do what they can within their purchasing power to prevent that from happening.

A great example of this is an advertisement for a shaver.

In that ad, the company made it look like shaving is a dangerous thing that can lead to the stoma. After establishing fear, they sold a product that prevents stoma from happening.

How to apply it in e-commerce

To use fear as an effective marketing strategy, the first thing you have to do is to create a perceived threat. Second, create a perceived severity of the threat.

  • Perceived threat – what is going to happen to me?
  • Threat severity – how bad is this going to hurt me?

Once you have established these two things, you can move on to provide a solution. A great example is a vape.

We all know that smoking causes cancer, so vape companies used this threat for fear marketing.

The solution they provided is a vaping device that makes people still get that nicotine high, without the dangers of tar and other chemicals found in tobacco.

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14. Addiction

The last on our list is addiction. The human brain has a weakness that, if not controlled, leads to addiction. This weakness is called pleasure.

Some cases of addiction are so severe that they debilitate a person. Some, on the other hand, are still within normal expectations — for example, binge-watching.

Addiction-marketing is a subject of ethical debate. Should companies do this? Would customers love the product if the company stopped its addiction-marketing campaigns?

Social media and gaming companies are taking the heat on this. They create products that always send updates to remind a person to access the platform all the time.

But how does it work?

How to apply it in e-commerce

To make a person addicted, he or she has to experience something pleasurable. A person who experiences pleasure is going to come back for more once this pleasure has subsided.

So, how do you do this?

  • Royal treatment – the way you answer inquiries have an impact on your customer’s buying decision. Treat them like royalty, and they would love the feeling. They would rather buy from a place where they are treated well than get the item for a low price and be treated horribly.
  • Loyalty programs – create loyalty programs where customers are rewarded for their actions. Give them points or credits that they can use in your store, or convert these points to discounts.

Addiction always happens because of instant gratification. Always find a way where a customer’s action is immediately rewarded with a result (like showing his available points).

Gamification is also a great marketing tactic where you give your customers goals to achieve. For example, reach 1,000 loyalty points and get free stuff.

Learn the Secrets to Writing Copy That Converts.



People have a myriad of reasons to buy. As an online entrepreneur, you need to paint a picture of your customer and try to identify what motivates this target customer to desire your product.

When doing this exercise, you also need to take your products into consideration.

Product types and reasons for buying are like loose ends. Tie the knot to understand your customer psychology, and create your marketing strategy from your findings.

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