Conversion Optimization

Peak-End Rule Effect: How to Use it to Sell More

by Robin Nichols
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Think about your last trip to the dentist. Was it a painful one? What if I told you that your memory of that event probably wasn’t entirely accurate.

What I mean by that is that how we remember experience is largely skewed towards what happened at the very end of that particular event. In other words, when recalling experiences, we don’t usually judge them based on how we felt overall – a sort of average of our feelings from start to finish – but rather on the very last part of the experience.

So, if you spent the better part of an hour in discomfort in the dentist’s chair, but during the last five minutes the discomfort subsided, or on the contrary, if most of the visit was agreeable except for a couple of final, painful minutes, you’re likely to remember each experience as comfortable and painful, respectively. This is the Peak-end Rule Effect.

Origins of the Peak-end Rule Effect

It was psychologist Daniel Kahneman and his colleagues who, in 1993, wrote about the Peak-end Effect in an article published in Psychological Science. They had conducted a study which involved asking participants to dunk their hands into buckets of water chilled to painfully cold temperatures. What they found was that participants preferred the experience of dunking their hands into painfully cold water for 60 seconds, and then leaving their hand in the bucket for another thirty seconds as the water was gradually heated to a less chilly – but still uncomfortable – temperature, over simply leaving their hand in the very chilly bucket for 60 seconds. [Ashley Hamer, “The Peak End Rule Says Experiences Are All About The Ending,” Curiosity.com, February 7, 2017]

After repeating the experiment in various ways, Kahneman and his team concluded that, “when asked to judge an experience in retrospect, people’s ratings could be predicted by a combination of the overall discomfort level and the discomfort level at the end of the experience. It didn’t matter how long the experience lasted; people mostly remembered how uncomfortable it was near the end.” [Ashley Hamer, “The Peak End Rule Says Experiences Are All About The Ending,” Curiosity.com, February 7, 2017]

The Peak-End Rule Effect Applied to Conversion Optimization

For conversion rate optimization, the relevance is clear: for key parts of the customer journey, make the last step the most enjoyable.

That’s what AB Tasty helped American home decor leader Ashley Homestore do. As an e-retailer, it was essential for Ashley Homestore to perfect a quick and painless online checkout process. However, they had a feeling that this process was a hair too lengthy, causing customers to feel frustration as they completed the order transaction.

Using the AB Tasty platform, Ashley Homestore decided to test whether transaction rates would increase if they removed friction during the checkout process.  Originally, it was difficult and time-consuming for customers to indicate their preferred shipping address. This could potentially mean that the last feeling customers would have after purchasing via the Ashley Homestore site was one of frustration – and we know from the Peak-end Rule that this feeling is likely to dominate their recollection of this experience.

So the Ashley Homestore team decided to use AB Tasty to test a simplified checkout process (a snapshot of which is seen below). Instead of having to fill out a shipping address in the checkout phase, they made it mandatory during an earlier account creation phase. This reduced friction during the final checkout phase, boosting conversions by over 14%.

Peak-en Rule effect in use for conversion optimization

Applying the Peak-end Rule Effect to CRO strategies is almost limitless. The main idea is always: during key stages of the user journey, leave consumers on a high note. For example, you can create an enjoyable post-subscription message; or a cheerful post-purchase message; or provide transparent, real-time information about purchases and delivery…and the list goes on.

Peak-end rule effect in ecommerce

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