Getting Customers Hooked to Your Online Store

Posted by Eman Abulmagd on

If you were asked how exactly did you tie your shoelace this morning, can you recall the steps immediately? or can you remember exactly where's the first U-turn you took yesterday on your way home? Probably you won't recall it immediately. This happens because tying shoelaces and commuting to and from work are from your habitual behaviors, or what we call habits. The step by step know-how of how you do these things is buried deep in your subconscious, that it's easier to do these things than it is to recall the steps of doing them. Nir Eyal, author of the New York bestseller Hooked: How to build habit-forming products puts it this way

"Habits are behaviors done with little or no conscious thought"

A habit is formed when you repeat an action so many times that your brain does it automatically without you having to make conscious decisions in the process. You have been tying shoelaces nearly every day ever since you were 6. And you've been commuting nearly the same road daily for the past few months at least, that it got etched into your brain.

Habit-formation in business

What if a website, a tool or a store became a habit for its customers. Sounds strange? You bet! How many times did you want to buy a certain item and the next thing you know is that you're scrolling down reviews and comparing products on Amazon? do you remember consciously deciding to buy this product from Amazon? probably not. A question popped in mind and you automatically started Googling it. That's what we call a habit. You didn't put much mental effort in "deciding" to open this website. You didn't stop to compare if it's better to order this product from Amazon or if AliExpress would be a better alternative. Major companies like Facebook, Amazon, Google or a host of others built their success upon integrating their products and services into people's lives as habits.

Get your customers HOOKED!

According to Adobe's Digital Index report, for eCommerce online stores, only 8% of the customers (the repeat buyers) generate on average more than 40% of the company's revenue. Statistically speaking, as a marketer or a business owner, you must bring 5-7 one-time buyers to bring a revenue equal to that generated from only one repeat customer.

When you design your online store's experience around creating a habit of shopping on it, you can turn occasional customers into people who are addicted to your website. It's about influencing your customers to use your products, or shop on your online store in this case, on their own again and again, without relying on pricey call-to-action through ads and promotions (you don't need someone to remind you of Googling things instead of using Bing. ). It can also generate a stream of unprompted engaged.

The Habit Quadrant

So how do you design hooks to form a habit? according to Nir

"Hooks are experiences designed to connect the user’s problem to a solution frequently enough to form a habit "

You'll need to design your product, or website in our case, to take your customers through the four phases of habit formation again and again until eventually a habit is formed.

a 4-quadrant shape that illustrates the "hooked" model

The four phases are


Triggers are something or someone reminding/prompting us to do a certain action. There can be external triggers like a pop-up advertisement, a Coca-Cola vending machine hinting you into popping a can of Soda or a friend recommending a product. And there are internal triggers, and these are the heart of the matter. Internal triggers are thoughts or emotions that trigger a certain action. You feel nostalgic so you go open photo albums that are decades old out of nowhere, no one mentioned anything about the past and you didn't see anything that prompted you to do that.

You just had a feeling and acted on it. Another prominent example is opening your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram feed when you feel bored or lonely. This is when a product becomes attached to a thought or a feeling. And this is the kind of triggers that you want to instill into your online store. You decide on a certain feeling and design an experience that scratch the itch of this feeling. So that every time they get this feeling they go to your website for the psychological reward. For example, the internal trigger Amazon worked on was "wanting things". For an online store selling books, it can be "deciding to buy a certain book", so this thought makes the customer automatically open your online store without needing to tell to do so.


This phase is all about simplicity and ease. If you designed the world's most sophisticated trigger for your website, whether it's internal or external but missed on designing the action phase right, nothing will happen. You need to design the action you want your users to take after responding to the trigger to be as easy as possible with minimal effort required. For an eCommerce store, this can mean among many things, to minimize the needed steps your customer needs to take to finalize their order and make sure the process is smooth and intuitive.

Variable Reward:

The reward is basically about scratching the customers' itch. And giving them extra rewards in variable time intervals. In Instagram for example, you search through dozens of photos till you find a photo that you really like (this gives you a psychological reward) in a non-predictable pattern. Applying it to online stores, does your store fulfill what it's supposed to do very well? and it's not only about seamless shopping experience (checkout, fulfillment,..etc.) but also the psychological part of it.

A part of the reward can be an interactive website experience, top-notch visuals, a comfy feel about the website,.....etc. this varies a lot from one store to the other, but in general, it is decided based on the desired feeling that you choose to relate to when you designed your triggers. For eCommerce, a non-negotiable reward is delivering the product itself, but you can't vary this one, just like you can't vary how smoothly the Instagram App itself works on smartphones. But you may make a part of the variable reward about giving them unexpected gifts or free samples with orders.


"We irrationally value our own efforts"

This is what Nir said when he talked about this phase in the Hooked Cycle. It's one of the truest facts about human nature. In order to make the habit cycle flow, again and again, you need to put the cycle itself on autopilot. This is done by making the users make several time or effort investments into your website. When making investments of money, effort or time, our brain starts to irrationally value what we are investing in, not only that but it also rationalizes this investment being the best possible one. Their investments can be purchases, meaningful engagement or even consistent activity. For your online store, this will cause customers to start valuing your online store's experience more. On the other hand, our human tendency towards being consistent with our own actions creates a bias that pushes us to repeat our past investments again.

If you want to apply the habit-formation method in your online store, you can find a workbook on Nir Eyal's website that will take you through the whole habit design journey step by step with simple questions. You can access it here on Nir's website

Do you think this habit cycle can be used in things other than business? tell us your opinion on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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