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When flashy website banners backfire

Dynamic website banners (e.g. countdown timer, bouncing banner) can hurt sales ~10% for high-involvement products because they distract shoppers.

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📝 Intro

You’re about to launch your largest sale of the year for your online travel site - a 24-hour special discount on all hotel bookings made through your site. You want to make sure your customers know about the sale and that it’s only for a day, and you think you’ve found the perfect ad to show it off.

Whenever a visitor comes to your homepage, a pop-up banner announces the sale. After they close the pop-up, a countdown stays at the top of the page, with animations of an airplane taking off and the words “Special Sale” in flashing neon lights. You’re convinced there’s no way anyone visiting the page can miss it.

On sale day you’re surprised - people are visiting your page, but conversions are lower than you expected.

This scientific study shows that your impossible-to-miss banner may be the problem after all.

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Dynamic website banners hurt sales of high-involvement products

Topics: Website/App | Ecommerce | Promotions
For: B2C. Can be tested for B2B
Research date: May 2022
Universities: Huazhong University of Science & Technology

📈 Recommendation

If your product is a high-involvement purchase - which requires thought and research (e.g. a holiday, expensive furniture, a smartphone), don’t use dynamic website banners (e.g. moving banners, countdown timers).

If your product is a low-involvement or impulse purchase - which requires little thought (e.g. a t-shirt, shampoo), dynamic website banners might work.

People will be more likely to buy.

🎓 Findings

  • Dynamic website banners (e.g. countdowns, moving ads, and flashing promotions) are harmful for high-involvement, planned purchases and have a negligible impact on impulse buys.

  • As part of a series of 5 experiments, researchers found that:

    • When buying a laptop (a high-involvement purchase people usually research and think about beforehand), a static banner highlighting a ¥500 discount increased purchase intentions by 9.6%, while a dynamic ad for the promotion had no impact 

    • When the same promotion was presented as a limited-time offer, 65% of people viewing the static ad correctly remembered the price, while only 48% did so when shown a dynamic banner ad. Those seeing the dynamic ad also had a 10.3% lower intention of buying the laptop

    • When buying an electric toothbrush was framed as a difficult decision (the customer had no previous experience buying an electric toothbrush and had to spend time researching which one to buy), a countdown timer decreased purchase intentions by 9.7% compared to a static countdown

  • The effect disappears

    • When people are shopping for items that don’t require research before buying. (e.g. purchase intentions for a USB flash drive increased the same amount regardless of whether they were shown a static or dynamic ad

    • For limited-time promotions with a specific end time (e.g. “deal available for 3 minutes more” instead of “deal ending soon”). Dynamic banners were more effective in driving sales for both low and high-involvement products

🧠 Why it works

  • Dynamic banners capture our attention more as they’re more stimulating and engaging.

  • When we’re buying a high-involvement item, we want to make sure we’ve researched it properly and have all the information we need to make the best decision and avoid making a mistake.

  • Since dynamic ads capture our attention, we’re less able to process or focus on other product information. 

  • This makes us less confident in making a decision, as we know our attention is distracted.

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  • The experiments looked at purchase intentions in artificial environments - it’s unclear how this would carry over to actual sales, as well as real-world browsing behavior. 

  • The research looked at highly dynamic website banners, compared to static banners. It’s likely there is a middle ground in how dynamic the banners are, where people’s attention to the ad is maximized but without disturbing their focus to buy the item.

  • The studies focused on three products - laptops, USB drives, and an electric toothbrush. It’s unclear whether the effect would hold in the same way for other products like luxury goods, or pleasurable products or services.

🏢 Companies using this

  • E-commerce stores often use dynamic banners, especially for promotions of low-involvement products. For example:

    • Fast fashion online retailer Shein uses a countdown timer for limited-time promotions.

    • Chinese e-commerce site Suning uses a display banner that bounces up and down to highlight their discounts.

    • During special promotion days, Best Buy and Amazon use dynamic countdown timers highlighting the time left till the promotion ends.

    • ThinkPad uses a zooming banner ad for their coupon promotions, with the display zooming in and out to attract attention.

Alibaba’s Ali Express uses a dynamic countdown, as well as highly distracting pop-ups, to highlight upcoming promotions to shoppers.

⚡ Steps to implement

  • Think about whether your product is one that customers usually research or plan before buying, or something that people are more willing to buy without extensive research. Based on this, you can decide whether dynamic ads would distract them from completing their purchase.

  • If you must use dynamic banner ads, make sure you include options for customers to pause or close the ad, so they can focus on the content of the page once the ad has registered.

  • Be careful with your standard banners as well -  repeating your ad too often can annoy customers and turn them away from your product.

  • In general, try to make sure the tactics you use feel trustworthy and not sketchy.

🔍 Study type

Online experiments

📖 Research

🏫 Researchers

  • Zihe Chen. Huazhong University of Science & Technology

  • Dong Hong Zhu. Huazhong University of Science & Technology

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