Jeremy Smith Apr 7, 2016 4:30:33 AM 26 min read

Optimizing For Conversions: Reducing Anxiety During Checkouts

Part 5 of 5 - Optimizing For Conversions - Reducing Anxiety

What You'll Learn In This Post

How to find and eliminate anxiety-inducing pain points on an e-commerce site.

It’s a heck of a thing we do when marketing websites: ask people who have never seen or spoken to us to give us personal information and money over the Internet.

If you take a step back, you’ll recognize that some anxiety among the customers you are trying to reach as a digital marketer is to be expected. Part of the job of marketing your company’s products and/or optimizing your e-commerce site is to ensure that site users’ level of anxiety is as low as possible.

anxiety kidAnxiety in an online shopper is often a result of internal factors going on with them, but a bad user experience (UX) on your site will exacerbate, if not create, those feelings.

To increase conversion and online sales, you must be aggressive about reducing the potential for your site to increase customers’ anxiety. Otherwise, you are losing money, plain and simple.

Because anxiety is internal to the user, you will never be able to eliminate it completely. However, there are practices online that cause more anxiety for users than others. And, through a little diligent effort, we can reduce anxiety levels in our site users and potential customers.

Read below to learn:

  • What we mean by “anxiety” in digital marketing and conversion optimization.
  • How user anxiety adversely affects conversion rates and online sales revenue.
  • How to identify anxiety-inducing elements of your website.
  • Where customers are likely to experience heightened anxiety while on e-commerce and SaaS websites.


Anxiety in E-Commerce: The Need to Address Users’ Worries

A feeling of unease in certain situations is part of humans’ innate survival instinct. Feelings of anxiety warn us when we need to take action to get out of harm’s way.

Online, it may not be our lives at risk, but we do put personal and financial information, as well as money, on the line if we engage in e-commerce.

In the context of e-commerce and SaaS websites, we are concerned here with anxiety as a form of friction that slows or stops site users from converting. (In another context, you can instill anxiety, or FOMO, fear of missing out, to help make the sale.)

We discussed anxiety and friction in a prior tutorial about the Conversion Triangle, the basis of optimization, which comprises relevance, motivation and the value proposition. Friction can destabilize the foundational triangle that your digital marketing campaigns rest on.

As I stated in a previous look at user anxiety and its impact on conversions, anxiety is the No. 1 form of friction.

In that piece, I said: “Anxiety is any psychological discomfort that a user experiences when they are visiting a website at any stage of the buy cycle. Anxiety results in no conversion action taken.”

Elsewhere, we see that:

  • MECLABS says “anxiety refers to the psychological concern stimulated by a given element in the conversion process.”
  • For my earlier article for Crazy Egg, optimizer Rich Page commented that “the underlying problems some refer to as friction are more related to anxiety-causing elements.”
  • ConversionXL advises that “anxiety is an emotion characterized by an unpleasant state of inner turmoil, often accompanied by nervous behavior, such as pacing back and forth. It is the subjectively unpleasant feelings of dread over anticipated events.”
  • QuickSprout calls anxiety a “feeling of worry, nervousness or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. In an e-commerce setting, users will seldom convert if they are experiencing anxiety.”

People become anxious when confronted by the unknown, which often accompanies change. For example, an avid online shopper who is use to a nearly flawless experience with site searches and resulting product depictions (e.g., Amazon), will immediately be uneasy if they encounter a site with subpar performance.

Anxious online shopper

This unpleasant experience causes the user to stop instead of moving forward in the purchase funnel.

Even the “back and forth” of a customer who is deciding whether to make a purchase, while normal, is due to anxiety, which can be mitigated. This is possible whether their anxiety is a matter of cost vs. value, site security concerns, or how the purchase, say of a faddish jacket, will affect their personal image.


Steps Marketers Can Take To Reduce Anxiety On A Website

Anxiety, quite simply, is a lack of trust. If a customer trusts your company, your website and the value of the product you’re selling, they won’t be anxious about doing business with you.

The antidote to anxiety among online shoppers is to increase their trust. You can inspire trust with the words you use to describe your products and services. You can inspire trust with specific elements of your site, such as SSL certification, contact information, and customer testimonials and reviews.

And because anxiety is a psychological response, we can research the types of people in our customer base and, with the customer personas we devise, determine how to reassure certain user segments.

The young woman looking at the aforementioned faddish jacket, for example, will like knowing about the slimming effects of its colors and design. A testimonial from another young, female customer who loves hers, and a paparazzi pic of a hot celeb in one will assure her that she can’t go wrong buying that jacket.

Without customer personas or customer journey mapping (CJM) already done, we can only turn to analytics and qualitative testing to judge how visitors react to and use our websites.

Since anxiety is a type of friction, as we discussed above, the work to discover a site’s potential causes of user anxiety is the same as it is to identify points of friction. It consists of:

  • Analytics reports. In particular, exit-page reports show where users leave the site. On pages with high exit rates, something may be causing user anxiety.
  • Customer mapping tools (Hotjar, et al.). Heat maps show points of focus on your webpages, and recordings of users’ movement on your pages show you how your site actually works. Other site-testing tools can be useful, as well.
  • User surveys. You can ask site users what they do and don’t like about your site or each page and each step in the purchase process. Ask specifically about trust and anxieties or concerns.

The end result is to gain an understanding of your site’s landing pages and buyer funnel and how well they fulfill:

  • Users’ search intent (how and why they come to your site), and
  • Users’ site intent (what they want to do on your website).

This understanding is crucial to developing the elements of relevance, motivation and value proposition, which combine to form the Conversion Triangle.


Common Anxiety Points On E-Commerce and SaaS Websites

Anxious man

In our piece about the Conversion Triangle, we suggested that e-commerce and SaaS marketers can inspire trust and thereby alleviate user anxiety by offering a valuable product or service at a reasonable price and treating customers fairly.

Let’s look at some common ways websites that represent solid, upstanding businesses undercut their messages and raise anxiety levels instead of building trust:

Site Design

An e-commerce site that does not focus on the best possible user experience is immediately worrisome. Users will rightly question a site that does not contain standard page elements, like:

  • Prominent brand and product names and images
  • Navigation menu
  • Site search
  • Obvious access to checkout (often a shopping cart or bag icon)
  • Links to contact information, and return and privacy policies in footers or headers
  • SSL and security icons.

Poorly designed pages, especially pages cluttered with product images, also cause stress and anxiety.

It’s also important that your site is compatible with browsers that are in wide use, as well as with a variety of mobile platforms. Any website that is behind the times technologically does not inspire confidence when it comes to providing credit or debit card information.

Landing / Product Pages

Lack of clear, relevant information (text and photos) about the products or services you offer raises suspicions. This includes any websites that don’t clearly indicate the difference between free, purchased and premium versions of their wares, or the terms and conditions of “trial periods.”

A user is left to think that either you’re not saying because you have something to hide, or you are incapable of saying it (i.e., incompetent), or you just don’t care enough about the buyer to do so.

Poor writing, misspellings or grammatical errors in descriptive copy, poor-quality photos and/or mismatches among information points show a lack of professionalism. This inspires anxiety and can raise concern about who or what kind of organization is really behind such a shabby site.

Site Search

Lack of site search capability is a lack of customer courtesy. (It’s also punting a huge opportunity to learn about what customers are looking for.)

A site search that returns irrlevant results or fails to compensate for searches that contain small errors smacks of incompetence. It’s worse if the user knows a particular product exists and is available, but they can’t find it with a search.

If search doesn’t send me the right item, will the company send me what I buy?


Obviously cost vs. value is a standard point of anxiety in any sales transaction. It’s your job as a marketer to persuade your customer of the value of the purchase.

I won’t address pricing, but will say that no one likes surprises when it comes to cost. Springing additional fees, like for shipping and handling, on a customer at checkout almost guarantees they’ll bail before completing the transaction.

State all costs as far up front as possible. If there is a range of prices, due to shipping options, for example, keep in mind that you can reduce anxiety by also mentioning that “discounts are available.”


Forms are unavoidable in online commerce and are an important focal point for optimization efforts.

Forms that are hard to use or do not work cause tremendous anxiety, particularly if they freeze or reset after the user has entered information. Was that information submitted? To what end? Have I already bought and paid for my item?

Forms that won’t allow the user to progress because of an error that is not clearly identified and easily corrected cause frustration as well as anxiety.

Failing to acknowledge a successful form submission — a “thank you” page or message — also needlessly creates an anxious customer.

This example of a "thank you" is informative as well as appreciative:

website thank you message

(Image source)

Checkout Process

We addressed the pain points found in the checkout process in our earlier post about friction and in my e-book about shopping cart abandonment.

But specifically in terms of addressing user anxiety, various elements should appear in the checkout process to help assure the customer that they’ll get what they pay for. They include:

  • Prominent display of item number and current charges
  • Prominent and clear explanation of shipping options (and costs), and delivery expectations
  • Security icons, such as for SSL certification, BBB or professional organization membership
  • Customer service contact information, online and offline (telephone, physical address)
  • Links to clear and reasonable return and exchange policies.

More often than not, the shorter your checkout process the better. An indication of the number of steps and where the buyer is in the process reduces weariness and feelings of unease about not knowing what’s ahead.

Disk's checkout process

(Image source)

As you request personal information, make it clear to the user why you need it or what you are going to do with that info. If there is a step in the checkout process that’s unusual or specific to your industry, a complete explanation is almost always necessary to reassure the customer.

Customer Testimonials

Customer testimonials have become a standard trust element online and are useful in many ways.

A 2014 survey found that 88 percent of consumers had read online reviews to determine the quality of a local business, and 39 percent did so regularly. That survey also said the trend was for more consumers to rely on online reviews.

Lack of customer reviews or testimonials on your website raises anxiety. Why will no one say they like your products and services?

If you do have testimonials, their lack of visibility could be a problem. Don’t segregate them to a single page reached by a single link. Users might not find them.

Throughout the buyer funnel, place snippets of testimonials that link to the main testimonials page. If the snippets are relevant to that part of the purchase process, even better.



You’ll never completely remove anxiety from among the factors that hurt your conversions and online sales revenue. People have anxieties, and spending money as well as releasing information associated with identity theft will always cause concern.

But through quantitative (analytics) and qualitative (behavioral) research, you can identify prominent anxiety inducers that are costing you money. From there, you can repair what’s actually broken or develop hypotheses and run tests to determine how best to modify what can be made less stressful for your customers.

Learn more from our series about the Conversion Triangle — how to use relevance, motivation and the value proposition to boost conversions, and how to eliminate conversion-killing friction and anxiety.


Jeremy Smith

Digital marketer with a penchant for dance; helping clients see the light through the jungle of tweets since before Twitter was cool.