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Let Interruption Improve Your Conversions With Zeigarnik Effect

It’s bedtime. You’ve done your skin care and drank a cup of Sleepytime tea. You lay down in your bed, finding the sweet pillow spot that’ll whisk you away to the Dreaming. But don’t count your sheep just yet. Remember that task at work you didn’t finish because of an unexpected meeting?

Yep, you’ve just been Zeigarnik’d. Well, you’ve experienced what’s known as the Zeigarnik Effect. That is where you remember more vividly a task you didn’t complete than one you have.

It’s a psychological trigger you can also use with your audience to help boost your conversions.

What is the Zeigarnik Effect Even?

The Zeigarnik Effect is where a task that’s interrupted is seared into your memory more readily than one you’ve finished. It’s named after the Russian psychiatrist and psychologist Bluma Wulfovna Zeigarnik. Believe it or not, she got the idea while eating at a restaurant.

Picture it. Soviet Russia. 1920s. Zeigarnik sat at a table waiting for her server, tapping her fingers and looking around the joint. Then she started studying the servers.

She noticed the servers were able to keep track of everyone’s orders. They also kept track of which table paid their bill and which hadn’t. Curious, she asked a server if he could remember the orders of a table that ate and paid already. He couldn’t.

She was sparked to study this in a lab… hopefully after she had her meal.

Releasing the Tension of a Task

Others studied the Zeigarnik Effect with varied results. Some could replicate Zeigarnik’s results, others couldn’t. To explain this, one theory proposes there is a cognitive tension between an unfinished task and keeping it in your active memory banks. 

Once you check that task off your list, the tension is released. However, if you get several surprise meetings during the day and have to push off the task, the tension persists. No wonder we get anxious and stressed out when we fall behind during the day! 

Of course, motivation, effort justification, and the time suck of a task may also affect the outcome of the Zeigarnik Effect.

How to Use the Zeigarnik Effect to Improve Conversion Rates

The Zeigarnik Effect is an excellent design trigger you can use to get your audience coming back… again and again. 

Here are a few ways you can use the effect in your product design:

  • Get your audience’s attention. Snag your audience with different tasks for them to complete. Show them the progress they’re making with the task. Progress bars are great for this.
  • Make a request. You’re asking for their time here. But you’ll want to spell out what the participation reward is for them.
Helio sign up progress.

Having to use an activation link creates a natural interruption in the signup process. The reward of doing the extra step is a continuation of the process.

  • Create an interruption. Okay, you don’t want to peeve them off too much here, but you do want to introduce a natural interruption. Remember, this creates a tension making your audience more apt to come back and finish it. 
  • Get them to come back. Notifications and email drips are standard ways to keep your audience coming back until they complete the task.
An email reminder of an abandoned checkout.

Email reminders of an abandoned checkout like this are great ways to draw your audience to complete their buying task.

  • Checklist. Nothing feels better than checking off a task.
  • Gamification. This also helps with the reward benefit of the Zeigarnik Effect. The desire for a new badge encourages task completion.
Nike's gamification.

The Nike Run Club app uses a variety of these techniques to keep their audience engaged and running. (Photo Credit: Nike)

The Zeigarnik Effect and Your Audience 

Not sure which of these techniques are good for your audience? Not to fret, you can always put these to the test before you implement them. 

You can use Helio to survey your target audience on which technique they prefer. Once you’ve wiped up a prototype, you can link your Figma file to Helio.  You can even get started with a template that puts your shopping cart flow to the test! 

Shopping Cart Flow Test

Craft a purpose-driven shopping flow for your customers by validating your designs early and often.

Use this template for:

  • Product Design
  • See where customers get stuck when checking out
  • Understand if Zeigarnik Effect has any impact on conversions
Use Template