School of Soft Nudges - Lessons in Online Persuasion from Booking.com

Booking.com has somewhat of a reputation for having excellent online persuasion. Here we’ll look at their checkout page – one of the most important pages for a site’s conversions. It’s the finishing line where mere prospects become (hopefully loyal) paying customers. Pictured is an above-the-fold screenshot and there is an obscene amount of persuasion. I’ve highlighted nine components here, but there are more which are repeats from previous pages in the user journey.

checkout screenshot

1) As soon as the page loads, three sliders appear with info on ratings and recency. This may be overkill, but they quickly and automatically fade away.

2) Here it highlights that nothing needs to be paid today. We humans have are naturally short-sighted so it’s a nice incentive that the customer can delay the pain of parting with their cash to some future point in time. Booking.com doesn’t mind. They’ll still get paid in the end.

3) The progress bar at the top is a nice touch which shows that there are only a few steps in the booking process, removing the uncertainty of what’s to follow in future pages. It automatically starts the user on step 2 which gives an instant sense of progression. It taps into our natural urge to feel more committed to things we have already started, i.e. a feeling of “I’m halfway through already so I may as well finish”.

4) Prominently placed and styled in green is another message of encouragement hammering home that the room is available and ready to be booked.

5) “Congrats! You picked the cheapest room”

This short piece of copy achieves a lot in a small space. It reinforces the sense of accomplishment and reflects the shift in the consumer’s mindset. Before, they were choosing between a vast array of hotels and room types. Now the decision is simply “do I book this one or not?” This message releases any concern by assuring the customers that they’ve made a great choice – in fact, they’ve been wise enough to pick the cheapest one.

6) “Don’t miss out, book now!”

A reminder of loss aversion combined with a strong clear call to action.

7) “Book faster by signing in”

The choice of words is interesting here. Although it definitely benefits Booking.com for its customers to be signed in so their data can be more robustly tracked, they haven’t gone with “Sign in and book faster”. They’ve put what’s in it for the customer first and foremost – faster booking – and signing in is merely the means.

8) “You’ll receive a confirmation email”

This is a good addition. One of the biggest problems is getting people to give their personal information, and for emails, giving their primary email address. By displaying a clear reason right next to the email box it encourages people over that barrier and increases the likelihood of a primary email address being given – key for future email marketing. In tests psychologists found that giving a reason – any reason – significantly increases the chances that a request will be granted. It was tested in asking to cut in queues. Although plausible reasons such as “my friend is inside waiting” were effective, nonsensical reasons like “I need to get in faster” worked well too. Give people a reason.

9) Finally, there is a price guarantee. You can hover over that text to see a text box with a full explanation. With this arrangement the user can get the extra info without leaving the booking page. And the ‘hover over’ mechanism is less intrusive than a lightbox that dims the rest of the page.

Key Points

  • Almost all of the persuasion is delivered subtlety via the copywriting. No flashy images and few moving objects.

  • The copy is succinct. It often leads or contains imperatives such as ‘Book now’ and ‘Don’t miss out’. It is placed in strategic positions – especially during checkout and payment.

  • A variety of psychological tools of persuasion have been combined into a potent mix: social proof, loss aversion, clear reasoning, commitment (a corollary of confirmation bias).