The Anchoring effect

Most company websites display a very clear and prominent message on their landing page, telling the visitor why they’re the best. E-commerce websites also use call-to-action buttons that stand out from the content, screaming “click me!” to the user. This is a good strategy since the most important message is highlighted and lets the user know what their next action should be and that the company is serious and professional. But because of the fact that this information is highly prominent, it’s also extremely important to phrase the text and display the button in a good way. There is a cognitive bias called “Anchoring” (also known as “Focalism”), which means that people tend to rely heavily on pieces of information that are first collected when making decisions.

For example, have you ever thought “Oh man, it’s so expensive buying clothes these days. It was soooo much cheaper when I was younger…”? Or “Damn, I’ve become so fat recently!”? These are both consequences of the anchoring effect, where we form our opinion on previously attained information (the cheap prices from when we were younger and the slim bodies we had in our youth). Another example that might be applicable in real life comes from negotiation techniques. Studies have shown that setting high initial offers (anchors) tend to make the final price higher than if the anchor was low.

If you ever want to test the anchoring effect on your friends, you can try this classical experiment: Let your test subjects give an estimated sum for a multiplication, and the answer must be provided within 5 seconds. Half of your subjects should be shown 1x2x3x4x5x6x7x8, and the other half 8x7x6x5x4x3x2x1. If you try this, you will notice that the average estimation will be lower for the group that was shown 1x2x3x4x5x6x7x8 where the anchor was low (1).

So getting back to web design; If the highlighted text/button is a bit off for some reason (e.g. too little/much information is displayed, wrong information is displayed, the graphics are ugly, the text is meaningless, the text is poorly phrased and/or has spelling errors), then these errors will form the baseline and set a low anchor from which the user will interpret the rest of the website, and thereby the credibility of the company (unless they have encountered your company before and gotten another anchor, that is). And it is important to remember that the anchoring effect is not just set by your website. It comes into play at the first interaction between you and your customer. So don’t just settle with optimizing your landing page, also make sure to improve your customer support, commercial banners and other interaction points where your customer is likely to first come in contact with your company.

To sum up; make sure that the first interaction with new customers run smoothly to increase the probability of giving them a good first impression. Otherwise, you will set a low anchor and your customers will underestimate your company and what you have to offer them.

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