ZyseMe | How better e-commerce can encourage better consumer habits
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How better e-commerce can encourage better consumer habits

It’s that time of year again. Black Friday is here and isn’t going away until his little brother Cyber Monday joins the party. This four-day rush to consume obviously does our environment no favours, but is it even economically sustainable?

The marketing says Black Friday is for consumers, but it’s really there to boost retailers’ end-of-year revenues. Discounts are sold like products – the products themselves often incidental. How long can retailers rely so precariously on one long weekend deciding the colour of their annual turnover?

It’s easy to blame consumer demand, but these behaviours were created by design. Black Friday once meant waiting in long lines to fight (often literally) for the best deals in-store. It was also largely contained within the US. In the internet age, however, well-designed e-commerce means no queues and bigger discounts to be had all over the planet.

Increasingly, algorithms are able to show us products we want before we even know what we’re looking for. Size- and style-recommendation tools add to an experience more personalized than in most brick-and-mortar stores. Online shops seems to know you better than you do and the distance between browsing an item and confirming payment is shrinking by the minute. Throw in irresistible discounts and it’s easy to lose sight of our needs and principles. We all know “a discounted item costs more than the zero dollars that buying nothing costs,” but there’s something about the words “50% off” that makes us forget it.

Can e-commerce do better than this? Can the same design principles help shape better consumer habits? Behaviour that benefits both retail and the environment?

Millenials are already pushing back. 75% say they’re willing to pay the extra cost for sustainability. As their spending power increases, retailers need to get out of this sales-culture rut before it’s too late. Millenials prefer online shopping, but they’re also less obsessed with ownership. This is a very different consumer and retailers can’t afford to keep doubling down on the same old strategy.


Blame dopamine!

Black Friday provides a rush. Our thrill-seeking consumer brains are pushed into poorly thought-out purchases in exchange for a short-term high – a feeling of winning, often followed by regret.

Dopamine is just one of three happiness-neurotransmitters in our brains. However, activated without its two siblings, oxytocin and serotonin, dopamine alone can cause serious trouble. Ultimately, dopamine is the root of all addictions.

Activated by feelings of novelty and rush, it’s no surprise that dopamine can be triggered by time-limited sales like Black Friday (buy now!), stimulating our brain’s reward center – the same place drugs go to work – to provide a thrill we immediately want more of. It doesn’t last long. For the longer lasting, more authentic pleasure we’re actually seeking, it’s crucial to involve oxytocin and serotonin too. They keep things in check to avoid making impulsive, dopamine-only decisions.

When serotonin (activated by a sense of meaning), oxytocin (touch), and dopamine (novelty and rush) come together, that’s when we begin to feel genuine satisfaction. All three can be triggered in harmony through a sense of genuine value – not just a too-good-to-be-true price, but a product that means something. One that makes you feel as amazing as it makes you look, because it’s good quality, well-made, and comes from a brand that aligns with your values – one you don’t regret having given money to!


Reframing value

It’s easy to see how big discounts serve as a superficial, short-term stand-in for genuine value. But how can real value translate to the online shopping experience? How can the feeling you get putting on that favorite sweater you’ve had for six years possibly translate to a user interface?

At ZyseMe we believe giving your customers more input can do this. By enabling them to alter designs that are then produced to their demands – from size to fashion tastes – we can increase the actual value of a garment to that specific customer, but also their perception of value prior to checkout. (Browse custom-made shirts at Hirmer to explore just some of the possibilities.)

This means the customer has fewer compromises to make between what they want and what’s available. They can turn a shirt they like into a shirt they love. And now they’re winning! No more waiting for something to come on sale because you don’t quite like it enough. Buy what you like, but knowing you’ll also like what you buy. For retailers, that also means fewer returns!

Better choices can also educate consumers on a product’s true cost. Why, for instance, would you spend more on this cotton shirt than that cotton shirt? We’ll soon launch a collaboration that enables customers to upgrade to a higher quality fabric, but also the information necessary to decide themselves whether the extra cost is worth it. After all, if you’ve never spent more than 25 on a shirt, how would you know what 50, or even 150, gets you?

It’s time to encourage this shift in behaviour, not merely react to it. The demand for sustainable fashion can translate to better business year-round, not relying on four days of the year to compensate for the other 361. It’s time to start thinking about connectivity beyond just existing on the internet. You need to connect your customers to clothes on an emotional level. Remind them that your clothes have value.


Stephanie Wacker splits her time between roles as Executive Assistant at ZyseMe and as a Clinical Psychologist. She has an M.Sc. in Psychology and a passion for sustainable fashion.