Digital Marketing

Rethinking Upsells & The Psychology of Opt-Ins vs. Opt-Outs

Subscribe or opt out?

Will sales increase if you provide customers with a list of items to choose from?

If you force customers to opt out or opt out of items, will you reduce buyer satisfaction?

Marketers often tell you that always Using subscriptions because opting out only annoys customers.

But this is not always the case.

Psychology research indicates that there are a lot of nuances in these decisions. And the difference can be huge in terms of customer loyalty, customer life cycle, and your bottom line.

Provide Upsells to buyers

While there are a lot of differences, e-commerce generally uses one of two methods:

Subscribe (choose strategy):

Customers can choose what they want to buy from the sale list.

Screenshots from, Domino’s, and UberEats, November 2021

withdrawal (rejection strategy):

Customers must remove or reject unwanted items from their cart prior to purchasing.

Opt-Out (Rejection Strategy) Cart Sale ExamplesScreenshots from, iRobot, and Domino’s, November 2021

On the surface, these two styles do not appear to be different or complex, but research points to the thought processes behind them.

for example:

Question number 1.

You are building a pet zoo for your favorite 5-year-old virtual daughter to play in. Which baby animal will you put first?
a) lambs
b) Children (type of little goat.)
c) chicks

Question 2.

You are building a petting zoo for your virtual 5-year-old daughter. Which one do you choose?
a) The poisonous cobra snake
b) black widow spiders
c) Piranhas

Question 3.

Your virtual daughter wants to turn the petting zoo into a zoo for Halloween. What animal would you replace the cute animal with?
a) The poisonous cobra snake
b) black widow spiders
c) Piranhas

If you keep searching (and design the questions correctly), you will likely find the answer to the first and third questions easier, faster, and more satisfying than the second.


The second question asks you to choose a (+) negative (-) option. There is a mismatch.

In more dry language, the researchers found that users (on a general population basis) make faster decisions and have less hesitation when choosing (positive action) desirable options (positive items) in a positive situation.

In negative situations, we prefer to reject (negative action) unwanted things (negative items).


Less hesitation and disruption in the flow of decision-making increases confidence in decision-making.

Positive choices or items require a choice strategy while negative choices require a rejection strategy.Graph / Angie Nikolichuk

Why does action option mismatch matter?

In the second question, there was a mismatch between the action and the item or outcome that caught you off guard. You were choosing (+) a negative (-) option in a relatively positive (+) position.

Just like your website.

And the effects can be long lasting.

Research finds that we are usually more thoughtful and careful when rejecting items. We pay more attention to our biases and try to be consistent.

It is also important to note that when we reject a choice, we focus on the negative aspects of a product, service, brand, or individual rather than the positive details that we focus on when using a choice strategy.

We also tend to engage in a little lying to ourselves. After we make a decision, we can reaffirm our choice and build our confidence in our decision by focusing on the negative traits.

“I’m glad I didn’t choose the car I originally wanted. The one I chose might not have all the features I wanted, but it’s much cheaper. It was a better choice.”

(In fun terms, this cognitive habit is sometimes referred to as our brains.)Synthesis of happiness. “)

Get more sales

When we are more satisfied with a purchase, we tend to be more loyal to that brand.

We are more likely to buy again from the company, and less likely to complain. (I know you know this but keep in mind.)

Some research has argued that hedonistic decision-making, along with goal achievement (the purchase), is independent of the consequences of the decision (the experience process).

So even if the product wasn’t that great, it was still a positive experience. The user is more likely to return for other purchases.

If that’s confusing, think of your purchase this way:

  1. Information Gathering and Discovery: The Top of the Sales Funnel.
  2. Shopping process: includes browsing and collecting information.
  3. Decision process: evaluating, rejecting, or selecting an item or service.
  4. Purchase process: from shopping cart to order confirmation.
  5. Experience process: the receipt and use of the product or service itself.

The greater the match between these steps, the better the last step, and the more likely the customer is to return.

This concept has a huge impact on e-commerce. Consider comparison websites, for example.

The psychology behind giving decisions

Research finds that our decision-making preference may change when we choose an item for someone else.

For example, we become more creative, rely on fewer biases, focus more on quality, and focus more on desirability when buying for others.

At the very least, we want to reduce the potential for negative outcomes.

Therefore, it stands to reason that when we buy for ourselves, we prefer refusal (opt-out) strategies. We arm ourselves with the information we need to feel better about our choices. We avoid an undesirable outcome.

But when we buy for others, we prefer to choose (subscribe) strategies.

Why? We focus on the positive traits, the value we place on the other person, and derive the greatest benefit from the situation.

In other words, we want to do good and look good.

What does this mean for websites?

As mentioned earlier, this aspect of decision making can be of great help when presenting competitor comparisons.

We hope your site is an enjoyable experience. Will you offer positive options to choose from or reject negative ones? Sell ​​or opt out?

If you are a retailer who primarily gives out holiday gifts, it may be more effective to offer items or upsells that consumers can add to their cart. However, if your customers are primarily buying for themselves, you may want to test an opt-out or “takedown” approach.

While these are general theories and may not work for every audience, there is certainly enough research to warrant testing.

They might even answer why you struggle to increase your average basket size (ABS) or find it difficult to convert when making sales.

More resources:

  • 9 Essential Ecommerce Website Improvements to Increase Holiday Sales
  • Complete Guide to Product Led Content Strategy (With Examples)
  • Your guide to Google EAT

Featured image: VectorMine /

Related research and reference:

Higgins, Et (2000). Make a good decision: value from convenience. American psychologist, 55(11), 1217-1230.

Heller, D.; Levine IB, and Goranson M (2002). Choosing Strategies for Narrowing Choice Options: Antecedents and Consequences. Organizational behavior and human decision-making processes, 89(2), 1194-1213.

Lu, J, Chen, Y, and Fang, Qiu (2022). Enhancing decision satisfaction: The influence of decision goal and strategy on process satisfaction. Business Research Journal, 1391231-1239.

Higgins, Et (2002). How self-regulation creates distinct values: The case for reinforcement and prevention decision making. Journal of Consumer Psychology 12(3), 177–191.

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