Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Motivation: Why Is Why the Key to Understanding Your Customer?

Open the secret door of motivation and understand the customers’ behaviour. The era of simple targeting criteria is over. Knowing that the target customer of, let’s say, an ecommerce store with premium quality sweets is a female chocolate lover in her thirties won’t suffice. We have to go much deeper. Our chocolate lover’s behaviour, needs and expectations will have to be carefully thought out. Will she buy the bar online, instead of going to the nearest Tesco? Is she willing to pay more for a high-end brand? Will she make a purchase from our store and not from competitor’s? Answering such questions is necessary but before you start typing ‘yes’ or ‘no’ next to them, there’s one more issue to think over: Why would our target customer behave in a certain way?

Pure Satisfaction or Reward

In order to identify customer’s typical behaviour, we need to uncover its reasons: the motivation which hides behind why. This mystical concept is defined by Phares as forces that activate our behaviour and direct it towards a specific goal. Behaviourists psychologists such as Skinner believed that these forces were depended purely on external rewards and punishments. Around 1960s intensified debates about the sources of motivation started to challenge this view. Among the first scholars who proposed a thesis that some behaviors are independent of external factors was Hunt. It is his distinction between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation at which we take a closer look, now. Simply speaking, if we do something just for the sake of it and expect nothing more than satisfaction, it means we are intrinsically motivated. If, on the other hand, we perform an action having some external reward in mind, we speak about extrinsic motivation.

Satisfaction vs. reward: visualisation of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.

Let’s take our chocolate lover as an example and see why it’s so important to take customer’s motivation into account.

Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation in Action

Before we begin pondering on our customer’s motivation, there’s one more thing that needs to be done. We have to name her so that she doesn’t seem like an abstract concept but a tangible human being. Does Emily sound fine? If so, we can start.

Speaking about ecommerce, first question we have to answer is: Why would our customer decide to shop online? ‘It’s fast and convenient, I don’t even have to leave my apartment and risk getting cold in that terrible weather.’ If that’s the answer, Emily’s motivation is intrinsic. However, she might as well be externally motivated, knowing that her online purchase will result in some free samples or points in a loyalty program.

We can deal in the same way with the next one: Why would Emily buy an expensive chocolate instead of good old Cadbury? The internal reason would be that she simply is a gourmet who loves relishing high-quality sweets. Though, most probable, it’s not the only option. What if the only reason she opts for an expensive bar is her willingness to post its pictures on Instagram and wait for appreciation of her posh colleagues? In that case, Emily’s motivation certainly is extrinsic.

Knowing what motivates our chocolate lover’s decision to choose a particular online shop, we can also answer: Why should she actually decide to buy from our ecommerce store? Her intrinsic motivation may prompt her to choose a retailer she already knows well and has always been satisfied with or opt for one that supports some charity she cares about. Her decision may, however, be externally motivated: ‘Why not choosing a shop that would reward me for my purchase with a discount or free gift packaging?’

Find Out What Motivates Your Customers

Careful observation and analysis of customers’ behaviours is effective, but very time consuming. Fortunately there’s an easier way to find out what drives them: asking. Of course not directly, but with a survey. We’ve prepared for you a short one as an example. These few questions, which shouldn’t take more than 2 minutes to answer, will help to determine what type of motivation prevails with your customers. You can send it to them via email or use it while researching potential target of your online shop.

The interpretation of results is a piece of cake. Each answer has points assigned:1 point for ‘Unimportant’, 2 points for ‘Rather not important’, 3 for ‘Quite important’ and 4 for ‘Essential’. Features 1,3,6,8,9,11 indicate intrinsic motivation, the rest are characteristic of extrinsically motivated individuals.

While counting points, you have to consider intrinsic and extrinsic motivators separately. If the difference of points for one of the categories exceeds 5, then you can be sure the given motivation is characteristic of the surveyed person. If not you can still use the data: knowing what features are important to your customers and which are not, you know what should be prioritised in your ecommerce store.

Why Does It Matter from Ecommerce Perspective?

Uncovering the potential customers’ motivation isn’t an easy task but the effort really pays off. Why and what always go together so understanding the customers’ motivation, we already know what their expectations are and what kind of online shop would suit their needs. All that is left then, is to fulfil these by accommodating the bussiness accordingly.

Uncovering the customers’ motivation really pays off.There’s one more thing worth noting: though it may be tempting to focus on features that would please customers with both types of motivation, this really isn’t a good idea. Yes, sometimes some extrinsic and intrinsic motivators can go together, but you should definitely decide on which to focus more. In general customers motivated extrinsically are much easier to draw, however, they will leave you as soon as they find a shop with higher discounts or lower prices. Intrinsically motivated customers, on the other hand, are a bit more difficult to attract but the effort pays off: they’re loyal – if they’ll assess their customer experience in your shop positively, they will stay with you.

Author: Anna Kulawik, Alina Prelicz