The psychology behind deliveries & shipping

Understanding what makes the human brain tick (or buy) can be the difference between a shipping strategy that wins customers or turns them away.

Every decision you make about shipping speed, cost or method is a decision that is influenced by psychological theories, studies and research- whether or not you realise it.

If you want to understand why fast shipping is so popular, when free shipping becomes irrelevant and how branded boxes change customer perception, join us as we step inside the human mind.

Online shopping and the subconscious mind

If you’ve ever made an impulse purchase you questioned immediately after clicking the buy button or received an online delivery you don’t remember ordering, it was probably your subconscious at work.

According to Harvard professor Gerald Zaltman, 95% of purchasing decisions are subconscious. While savvy consumers like to think they conduct extensive research, compare multiple prices and evaluate their need for a product, the reality is their subconscious mind is influenced by tactics targeting its urges and emotions.

So, what is it that gets the subconscious mind going?

Humans are driven by feelings, emotions and instincts as small as “I’m getting a bargain here” to as large as “this is going to increase my status.” While your marketing and sales team are doing all they can to trigger emotional responses that compel customers to click, buy and return, there’s a lot of emotion tied up in shipping.

eCommerce shipping and human emotions

If you’ve ever dealt with a customer who hasn’t received their order on time, you’ll know just how much of a rollercoaster of emotions the delivery process can be. But this ride starts long before the postman knocks (or not) on the door.

Pre-purchase – free and fast shipping

Free and fast shipping are big purchase motivators – not necessarily because they save money and time, but because they influence the following:

  1. Risk aversion
    The human brain naturally attempts to lower any risk or uncertainty it’s exposed to. Shopping online is inherently risky – shoppers can’t physically touch or view products before purchasing and don’t know when orders will arrive.

    Free and fast shipping help customers avert this risk because you bear the financial responsibility of the delivery fee. Your customer can rely on your delivery dates to ensure orders arrive on time.

  2. Loss aversion
    Consumers routinely show a preference for avoiding loss than acquiring equivalent gains. Fast shipping triggers this need to prevent loss, especially when accompanied by a cut-off time or countdown timer. Shoppers become more concerned about losing their delivery slot than they do about making the purchase, which helps them over the sales line.

  3. Choice
    Choice is interesting. Humans love choice because it increases the chance of satisfying their needs, but, give someone too many options, and they’ll suffer choice paralysis and be unable to decide.

    Many retailers overcome this choice conundrum by providing a small variety of delivery options, with one option automatically defaulted.

  4. Instant gratification
    Temptation is a big eCommerce sell, and it stems from the immediate gratification theory. People often forego a future benefit to obtain a more immediate but less beneficial outcome.

    Fast shipping satisfies this need for instant gratification, even if it costs more.

  5. Value
    Most consumers crave value, and both free shipping and fast deliveries can increase the perceived value of a product – either encouraging urgency of purchase (before losing out) or increasing basket size (to take advantage).


With the current pressures on consumer budgets, it’s possible to offer the choice of fast or free (slower) shipping, providing value that suits the consumer’s needs. 60% of consumers reported that slower shipping options should be free, while 40% are happy to page for express delivery. 

There is also a growing trend in the desire to align purchasing behaviour with individual values as we continue to see the increased pressure on retailers to provide more sustainable shipping options.  

Post-purchase – tracking and unboxing

Do you ever feel more excited in the run-up to Christmas than on Christmas day itself? It’s all to do with anticipation dopamine, which works similarly for online shopping too.

A study by Robert Sapolsky found that the brain releases dopamine in anticipation of a reward rather than in receipt of an award – making the order transit process the most exciting part of the customer journey. But, this only works when a customer knows their order is coming, which is why confirmation emails, delivery updates and parcel tracking are vital in the customer experience.

Expectations directly influence levels of personal satisfaction. Therefore, if you promise fast and secure deliveries, you must deliver them or outsource to an eCommerce fulfilment partner that can.

Positive surprises create an unforeseen stimulus in the brain that triggers positive emotions. Therefore, when an order arrives on time, is perfectly packaged and is of a quality superior to your competitors, you automatically deliver positive feelings to your customers too.

We are always happy to talk about your needs, so if you want to improve your customer’s shipping experience, contact us and see how we can help. 

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Gary Rees

Gary Rees

Gary Rees is the owner of Synergy Retail Support, one of the leading SME fulfilment centres in the UK. Having successfully grown the business for over 30 years and with relationships with most household brands, he now looks to partner with customers rather than just act as a supplier so that both parties can grow together. Gary has extensive knowledge in retail compliance, production technologies, shipping details and customer service.

Feel free to contact me personally if you’d like to discuss your business.

01604 412 290