The psychology behind deliveries & shipping

An understanding of 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 plays around with centuries of psychological theories, studies, research and findings – 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 being wooed 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 to target too – more than you might realise.

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 a rollercoaster of emotions the delivery process can be. But this ride starts long before the postman knocking (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:

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 they 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 and your customer can rely on your delivery dates to ensure orders arrive in time.

Loss aversion

Consumers routinely show a preference for avoiding loss than acquiring equivalent gains. There’s a popular story about a telecoms company that retained more end-of-contract customers by telling them their renewal discount was about to expire, compared to those they offered a new (but the same) deal to.

Fast shipping triggers this need to avoid 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.


Choice is interesting. Humans love choice because it increases the chance of satisfying their needs, and they don’t like being told what to do. But, give someone too many choices 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.

Instant gratification

Temptation is a big sell in eCommerce, and it all stems from the immediate gratification theory. People often forego a future benefit to obtain a more immediate, but less beneficial outcome – you’ve probably all heard of the marshmallow test.

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


Value is another interesting one and works differently depending on what you sell and who you sell too. 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).

However, be careful – value can also work in the opposite way too. Many attribute more worth to expensive items, and free or fast shipping can diminish that perceived value.

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 so 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. This is especially important with luxury fulfilment, where attention to detail, quality control and superior packaging can make all the difference.

Interesting reading: Branded packaging: is it really worth the cost?

Look into my eyes…

If psychology has you thinking of laboratories, mind control and experiments, think again. A basic understanding of consumer psychology can positively influence your fulfilment strategy and customers at the same time – positively impacting your sales.


Synergy Retail Support is a full-service eCommerce 3PL that helps brands delight customers every day. We invest intelligently in our people and resources to deliver outstanding services and processes to maximise efficiencies, and we share our knowledge and experience to help you deliver success too.

Find out more by getting in contact.

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Gary Rees

Gary Rees

Gary Rees is the owner ofbob官方地址, 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.

+44 (0)3453 402 980