Nov 19, 20185 min read

The Fear Factor, and how to avoid it.


Do your visitors ditch carts and run? Find out what’s scaring them off and how to reassure them throughout a sale.

Hardwired for fear

We can blame our cave-dwelling ancestors for fear. A primordial emotion, it’s hardwired into our brains. Protecting us and helping us avoid danger.

Rather than lions and bears, our fears today are fed by media, experience and imagination, and triggered by everyday stresses like free-floating anxiety, worry, and insecurity.

In fact, some neuroscientists claim that humans are the most fearful creatures on the planet.  Because we can learn, think, and create fear in our minds.

Online fear triggers

Shoppers often browse happily online, feeding their ‘pleasure centres’ and happily filling their baskets. Then they hit the checkout.

The checkout is often the first place they come face-to-face with the reality of the cost of their purchases. Where their identity is exposed and they feel most vulnerable.

Some of the most common fear responses at the checkout are:

  • Fear of Harm: “Is it safe?” “Can I trust this site will send my goods?”
  • Fear of Failure: “It won’t fit?” “I’ll lose my money.”
  • Fear of Consequence: “I’ve spent more than I should”. “I’ll have to re-budget.”
  • Fear of Regret: “Will I like it?” “Maybe I could get them cheaper elsewhere.”

Fear feeds into shoppers’ ‘adrenal’ response system. Creating unconscious and automatic actions – freeze, fight or flight.  In the online world, this translates into dropped baskets, timed out sessions and lower sales.

According to new research from Visa, almost three-quarters of UK online shoppers have abandoned their shopping simply due to “basket anxiety”.

Preventing flight

So, if you suspect ‘user-fear’ is interfering with your sales conversion, what can you do about it?

First take a hard look at your site. Get into the consumer mindset and try to understand what fears they potentially face during their online shopping trip. Determine what reassuring ‘nudges’ you can introduce along their path to diffuse anxiety, and prioritise those that will significantly boost your business.

To help get you started, here’s some tips for reducing fear at the checkout:

  • Be consistent in look, tone and style
    Any disconnects in how your business is presented can throw users into a trust-panic. If the checkout page is visually different from the rest of the website, it will cause them to think twice.
  • Reassure with easy-to-access reviews and information
    There is no worse fear than fear of the unknown. Offering expert advice, reviews, price comparisons and price match guarantees at the purchase point can minimise decision regret.
  • Make sure security logos are prominently displayed
    Privacy and security concerns are paramount in the minds of online shoppers. These can supersede concerns over products and services. Assurance statements and third-party seals can help to allay consumer fears.
  • Include a ‘try-before-you-buy’ option

Pay later also enables shoppers to try their goods before they part with any cash. This reduces fear of getting it wrong and of financial consequence.

  • Offer visible and cost-free return policies
    Focusing on easy return policies can remove fear of getting it wrong. And once they have the goods, the ‘endowment’ effect normally reduces their desire to make a return.
  • Take card data out of the decision loop
    Reduce the amount of data you collect with deferred payment. 33% of online consumers believe this would improve payments. Options allowing the customer to pay after they have received can also allow for one-tap ordering which reduces security concerns, particularly on mobiles.

Can’t eliminate fear? Then use it! For instance, suggesting only a few items are left or that specific price will only be available for a certain time. ‘Black Friday’ and ‘Cyber Monday’ are great examples of how ‘fear of losing’ a deal can be used to motivate consumers to spend more than they initially thought, whilst incorporating the excitement of catching great deals.


1) Mousavizadeh, Kim, & Chen, 2016
2) Özkan, Bindusara, & Hackney, 2010
3) Censuswide, 2017