Order Effect Affects Orders



The last time you bought a product online, you probably went through a logical analysis of alternative products, prices, features, and so on. And perhaps you really did. Research shows, however, that we are actually far from rational when we buy stuff online – a fact that no doubt that comes as little suprise to Neuromarketing readers. In fact, the order of presentation can be a huge factor in our final decision.

Research by Alexander Felfernig et al (Persuasive Recommendation: Serial Position Effects in Knowledge-Based Recommender Systems) tested web buying behavior of outdoor tents by presenting buyers with four choices arranged in a horizontal row. Each tent had unique characteristics. The researchers varied the order of presentation for each buyer so that they could evaluate the effect of the order of presentation. (A mention in Neuro Web Design led me to this research.)

In a truly startling result, the first choice presented was chosen 2.5 times more often than any other. Despite the fact that the tents varied in their shape, their degree of waterproofing, and other presumably important characteristics, the order of presentation was by far the most critical variable in the selection process. How’s that for logical decision-making?

Naturally, the subjects were all able to rationalize their irrational decision – they chose the best value, the most waterproof, and so on. As is typical when our conscious brains try to explain why we do things, the reasons are seemingly convincing even if mostly bogus.

What does this mean from a practical web site design standpoint? Well, for one, you could put the product you’d most like to sell in front of the others. Perhaps it’s your most profitable product, or the one in which you hold the most inventory.

From a more customer-oriented standpoint, I’d recommend putting your most attractive product up front – the one which offers the best combination of value and performance, for example. This should maximize the chance of an order actually being placed, and should also be the most likely to create a good customer experience (and repeat orders).

  1. Gene De Libero says

    Your last paragraph is the payoff here. And let’s not forget, the one which offers the best combination of value and performance once purchased probably won’t be returned. Great post.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Thanks, Gene. In my years in direct marketing, I learned that one should never confuse what one wants to sell with what the customer wants or needs. If you focus on your needs instead of the customer’s needs, you’ll fail.


  2. Michael Whitaker says

    Great stuff, Roger. I have seen similar data by looking directly at web analytics reports (e.g. from Google Analytics or Yahoo! Web Analytics). Take any product section page and you will find that most visitors will click through to the products in the first row. I completely agree with your conclusion to put your most attractive products up front, rather than perhaps in alphabetical order.


  3. Dennis says

    (Gotta tweet this)
    ANyway, the product to be offered first SURELY should be the one you want to sell the most of?

  4. Scott Lovingood says

    Were any other factors a significant impact? Primacy was the biggest but did other things play into it? (The number of recommendations for social proof?)

    Since the first item we see tends to frame the discussion in our mind, we would evaluate the other options in regards to the first item. This means the first item gets compared three times. It gets repeated most often. Repetition also helps in purchasing decisions.

    Does this also apply to two items? Three items? How does it coincide with the Decoy effect? The Decoy effect has been shown to push the buyer up the line quite often.

    We are complex decision making means even if most of it is subconscious.

  5. Chris Thompson says

    One other thing I find interesting is that personally I always am drawn towards more expensive products. It’s almost like unconsciously I think something is better just because it costs more which lately I am getting better about. This obviously isn’t always true. On Amazon for instance, also I tend to want to buy items that list more features in their listing over the exact same product which has less features listed in it’s listing. Even though they are exactly the same product from the same manufacturer I used to go for the one that actually lists more of it’s features even if it’s listed a little higher! It’s almost like instinct kicks in and says…this one is better because it lists more features. I’m getting better about this too :). I think if a product is listed make sure to list all features and then some!

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