More purchase impulses “for free” – Psychology meets email marketing, pt. 3

More purchase impulses "for free"

Shopping makes people happy. It is rewarding to treat yourself or others with new, little presents you found on your shopping tour. The trigger for this happiness is the “nucleus accumbens”, a spot in the brain that activates the reward system. Special offers and discounts stimulate the brain even more, making customers lose all restraint and shop uninhibitedly.

That means, that wordings like “gratis”, “for free” or “no charge” trigger irresistible buying impulses; discounts and other price promotions are just as attractive. We show you how you can increase your sales “for free”, as well!

Purchase impulse 1: The “for free”- activation

Special offers and price reductions are effective triggers that make your recipients open an email and purchase items on sale. Dan Ariely, psychologist and author of the book “Predictably Irrational – The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions” calls this the “free”-effect. During a comparative experiment, he found that “zero” is a very special price: when offered two different pralines, one for 25 cents and one for 1 cent, the majority (60 %) of his subjects chose the more expensive option. However, as Ariely lowered the price of both the pralines (25 cents vs. 0 cents), 90% of the participants chose the free product. Arielys hypothesis: people will choose the option with the highest cost–benefit difference. However, when confronted with free (zero price) products, people feel that the “zero” pricing of a good not only decreases its cost, but also adds to its benefits.

Price point zero – irresistable!

People find free offers so alluring that they would even get a tattoo, if it was free of charge. Given the opportunity, subjects of that “free tattoo” experiment, also executed by Ariely, would get tattooed – although 68% admitted that they wouldn’t have done it if they had to pay for it.

Every gratis offer activates your customers. Use this knowledge to generate more registrations, addresses, participants. One good practical example can be found at Amazon: since they introduced their free delivery for orders over 20 EUR, their sales have almost doubled because customers actively increased the value of their carts to save the cost of delivery.

Service providers can also profit from the “free”-effect. For example, dating sites attract new customers with free registration. Streaming services or gyms offer you a free trial month, and online news services and magazines send certain information directly to their readers via newsletter. If you also work with a subscription system, you might also want to offer these free treats to your customers.

More examples, how the “for free”-activation can be utilized:

  • Real estate brokers acquire the addresses of home owners with an offer to value the property free of charge.
  • Antique dealers can offer free expert tipps by newsletter, may it be trend reports or depreciation possibilities
  • free give aways; a free case for new glasses at the optician, a shoehorn for that new pair of slippers…

Purchase impulse 2: The hunt for sales

If we like a product, which is also reduced in price, it is almost impossible to resist. The commodity does not even have to be on our “wishlist”. Neuroscientist Bernd Weber from the Life & Brain Centre of the university of Bonn proved that one glance at the prominent percentage sign already activates our reward system. During tests with several subjects in the computer tomograph it became apparent, that product images with percentage signs and reduced prices immediately activated the reward system of the viewers. Not only does this create an already positive attitude toward the product, but also reduces self- and error control. Weber explains that “the expectation of a discount triggers impulsive behavior”. In the first 10 to 20 seconds we decide from our gut and give ourselves to the uninhibited joy of shopping. That’s why many people buy things they didn’t need or searched for.

Use these findings for your email marketing! Make your discounts and special offers as obvious as possible and try to implement even more promotions. Seasonal sales, jubilees and (unusual) holidays are great opportunities to let your prices plummet. For example, why not just make a mailing specifically on the topic of international lipstick day? Unusual occasions have the advantage that not many other competitors use these for their marketing, so it is easier to stand out of the emails your recipients get in their inbox every day.

You can plan your promotion very individually. For example, you can either reduce prices, ideally with a two-digit percentage. Or you can increase the quantity of a product one can purchase for the same price – “3 for the price of 2” promotions are very popular. Yet another idea is to cross-promote certain products, for example offering coasters for free with the purchase of drinking glasses. Vouchers will also please your customers.


Whichever strategy you want to use; always make clear how much money your customers can save with your promotion! Bold percentage signs and the comparison between the old and new price make the savings apparent. In combination to little gratis presents and clever promotions, the “for free”-activation will boost your sales!

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