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The Best Time to Influence

When is the best time to offer a discount or coupon? Should users be primed before using your product or while they are doing so?

In most cases, it is better to entice users before they begin interacting with your product.

The Science

Researchers wanted to find out how supermarket coupons affect shoppers, and so they created an offer:

Buy for $6 and get $1 back (the average supermarket visit was for $4). Researchers tried offering shoppers these coupons at two different locations: either outside the shop, to those going in, or inside the shop at the back.

The results showed shoppers were far more likely to be influenced by the coupon if they received it before going into the store, rather than when already inside it.

Before going into the shop, we aren't yet thinking about what we need to buy. If we are then primed with a $6 shopping expectation, we will adjust our shopping list accordingly.

When already in the shop, however, our mind is fully engaged with the list of thing we need to buy. Changing a shoppers mind in order to convince them to buy more, is harder than priming them before they start.

The Practice

In many e-commerce websites, users are shown their discount coupon placed on top of the product image. Though that's important for letting users know the item is on sale, the reminder comes in too late in the process to make them buy more.

A good place to show your discounts is on the landing page, before visitors enter the catalog part of your site. A big sign designed to let them know about a sale, and then an incentive for buying more than one item in that sale, should do the trick nicely.

This practice is not only true for sales. It fits any goal oriented product as well.

A fitness app would do well to prompt its users to set their daily goals first thing in the morning, before the daily grind of life gets started. This way, they will adjust their expectations to include your goals as well, rather than ignore them if they don't fit the schedule.

Goals are best set before you start. When youtube introduced the 'Watch later' button, users began to watch more videos. They were now able to plan out their you tube watching list before viewing, thus setting themselves an expectation of how many videos they need to get through in a sitting.

If the list is 5 videos long, that's how many they will likely get to watch. If it is 10 videos long, just the same.

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