Understanding Mental Shortcuts and How They Increase User Engagement

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Everyday we are faced with the decision to choose between a Yes or a No. In this case, we are often using our past experiences to decide. This tremendously decreases our cognitive load and ease the decision process. Below is an explanation on mental shortcuts, it’s usage in the E-Commerce industry, how you can trigger user behaviors and increase their engagement.

Increasing Sales in E-Commerce

If you are one of those who are using GoDaddy for managing your domains, you are probably getting emails with the subject “Save 35% today” almost every few days. Nonetheless, if you navigate to the website right away, you still can get the 30% off for all domain purchases or other products. But why does GoDaddy still sends emails to their users shouting about their sales?

I as a user already know that certain items are priced at the same price, but I am still more likely to buy that item under the “Save 35% today” campaign rather than purchase it at a non-sale time. The simple reason is the usage of the word “Save” gives us the idea of a Sale. This indicates a discount in our daily life. Every time we see this in any shop online or offline, it triggers our behavior to purchase an item despite it being the same price or a higher price because we feel that we are getting a benefit out of it.

Mental shortcuts can be found in different places and situation. For example, a person may have experienced meeting a smart individual dressed in a sharp suit. The next time he or she encounters an individual in a sharp suit, they will automatically perceived that person as smart. GoDaddy does the same thing here too. They remind us every few days that they have a discount, which is fake, but still your mind triggers to open the link because you immediately believe it is a Sale.


Why “Representativeness Heuristic”

First described by psychologists Tversky and Kahneman in the 1970s, the representativeness heuristic is a decision-making shortcut that employs the use of past experiences to guide the decision-making process or automatic behaviors.


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When judging the representativeness of a new stimulus/event, people usually pay attention to the degree of similarity between the stimulus/event and a standard/process. It is also important that those features be salient. Nilsson, Juslin, and Olsson (2008) found this to be influenced by the exemplar account of memory (concrete examples of a category are stored in memory) so that new instances were classed as representative if highly similar to a category as well as if frequently encountered.(Wikipedia)


Good Practices

Visuals & Content: There is always a judgment during an experience, and we need to make this easier and better for our users by decreasing their cognitive load. A good shortcut can be shown by visuals or simple text explanation.

We assume that you want to get the users trust in your online shopping store. We are not telling them to trust us explicitly, we are simply showing them our SSL Certificate, Payment Icons and recent user reviews to gain their trust.

Micro-Interaction: It is always good to research about common micro-interaction patterns, so that we know how micro-interaction works in similar websites and apps that we will be building. This can help the user to get started with their tasks faster when using your designed application. Zerb Foundation is a good source to start with understanding micro-interaction patterns.



Our job is to minimize the decision making time for our audience and make the task easier and measurable for them. It is always good to know their habits and bring them into our scenario to ease their tasks.