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Chances are you may have heard of the Butt-Brush Effect, from Paco Underhill’s seminal work, “Why We Buy.”

A brief synopsis of the Butt-Brush Effect: Underhill observed women shopping for neckties at a department store (not in a creepy way, he was conducting research). He noticed that the racks were really close to the entrance and at peak times, women looking at ties might get brushed from behind by a passer-by. When that happened to one of the women, she would almost immediately stop shopping in that section and either go to another or just leave the store.

This is a phenomenon that occurs frequently in stores, but what about online? Is your website guilty of creating “butt-brush” moments of anxiety for your customers? Does your website violate your customers’s sense of security, comfort and control? Here are five common examples of online butt-brush moments that you should immediately purge from your website:


I’m not talking about the standard spammy pop-up ads. Obviously those are bad. They’re so flagrantly bad that there’s no point in discussing them. I’m talking about the well-intentioned pop-ups like customer service chat windows or moving-target survey solicitations; obstacles that interrupt the persuasive momentum of focused shoppers.

Be extremely careful in how you use chat windows. While they can be helpful for visitors that are genuinely lost or confused, don’t interrupt a focused customer on a path to their destination. Be selective about the pages that can trigger a pop-up. Check your analytics data for high exit rates and restrict the use of interruptions to pages that are already failing.

A similar problem exists for survey solicitations. There are ways to invite visitors to take a survey without taking the entire screen hostage. A tool like KissInsights allows you to ask survey questions with a noticeable but modestly placed question box. With this type of approach, you don’t risk frustrating your website visitors to gather a little intelligence. You still want the sale, after all, right?


Auto-play music and video

Sometimes this works for shaping the conversation and producing the outcome you want from your website visitors. For a LOT of people, it’s on par with dumping a bucket of cold water on them or – wait for it – unexpectedly smacking them on the butt.

We’ve all seen it: your default action when a video starts playing without your permission is not to watch, but to turn it off and reestablish control of your experience with the website. Make your video conspicuous enough that people will choose to start it on their own. Assuming control over your visitors in this way is bad manners.

Mind your manners. Let your visitors choose whether or not they’ll watch the video.

Kanye West interrupts Taylor Swift's acceptance speech.

Dramatic changes in design between pages of your site

This often occurs when shoppers go from a custom landing page to the main website, or if your website uses a third-party shopping cart with low customization capabilities.

Consistency in design is a strong comfort signal to shoppers as they progress from one page to the next. Abrupt changes to the site layout, color scheme, images, font styles/sizes, etc., can spook customers and cause them to abandon the buying process. Make sure that you maintain visual consistency from start to finish in order to keep customer anxiety as low as possible.

Concealing shipping costs until late in the checkout process

Shoppers aren’t stupid. If your shipping prices are really high, shoppers are going to abandon the buying process regardless of whether you show them shipping price in the shopping cart or on the last page of the checkout process.

When you withhold this information on the shopping cart page, shoppers aren’t thinking, “Oh that’s OK, I’ll just keep going and they’ll show it later.” They are thinking, “Yup, the shipping is a rip-off. If it wasn’t, they’d show it right away.” It’s an instant red flag that will have your customers on high alert for the remainder of their experience with your company.

As online shoppers get more savvy, your only hope is transparency.

What other “butt-brush” moments have you noticed in your own personal experience? Please share in the comments and help us all improve the experience we provide to our customers.