What’s the Barnum Effect and how it’s used in eCommerce sales

When thinking of the Barnum Effect, two things come to mind: horoscopes and generalised personality tests. Barnum Effect occurs when individuals believe that given descriptions apply specifically to them, even though the information can be relevant to absolutely anyone.

This effect was named after American showman P.T. Barnum, the founder of Barnum and Bailey Circus – a traveling circus in the United States in the 20th and early 21st centuries. Barnum’s famous quote was “We’ve got something for everyone.”

It’s not hard to identify human needs that stand behind things like horoscopes or generalised personality tests: the desire to belong, to be part of the group and the need for reassurance and encouragement. These two combined can create very powerful material for marketing campaigns – reassuring people that they can belong to their desirable social group, although it will incline them to use specific products or maintain a certain lifestyle.

In “The Fallacy of Personal Validation” (1949) – work by American Psychologist Bertram Forer, we can read about a personality test that the professor gave to his students. Instead of giving individual assessments, he gave all the students exactly the same analysis copied from a newspaper astrology column. The students were asked to evaluate the description on a scale of zero through five, with five being the most accurate. Some of these statements were:

  • You have a great need for other people to like and admire you.
  • You tend to be critical of yourself.
  • You have a great deal of unused capacity, which you have not turned to your advantage.
  • While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them.

The average evaluation was 4.26.

With this info in mind, how can we use it in our e-commerce, making users feel like they belong and fulfil their validation needs?

Generalised validation

Netflix and Spotify are great examples of this: they make you feel like the suggestions you see are picked based on your ‘unique’ taste (here comes the validation). 

And have you seen the Pinterest message when you save a new pin – ‘You’ve got great taste!’. Indeed you have (not only you, but also me, and all other users of Pinterest – although reading it is still enjoyable, isn’t it?).

Feeling of belonging

When people feel that they belong, that they relate to a certain group, the Barnum Effect can then be used to address the group in different ways. A good example can be UK-based dog food subscription Butternut Box. The moment you register and make your first order, you become a ‘Butternutter’, you receive a dog bandana that says so – and now you’re part of the pack. Being a ‘Butternutter’ means being part of the group that provides their special dogs with special organic food (because not many people understand how important it is to give your dog the best, but Butternut Box does). 

In Monsoon Consulting we create ‘logged in’ and ‘guest’ website versions, so the registered people see products, content and features based on their needs and preferences, whereas the ‘logged out’ version would be tailored to a new customer who might not know much about the company and product offering.

Showing relevant products

When possible, we have to learn what customers are looking for and show them relevant products. Our team uses tools like Adobe Sensei and Nosto to provide users with very relevant and intelligent product recommendations that are personal to each user and their needs.

Since people spend so much time on the internet, let’s make sure that we bring them delightful experiences, the ones that include validation, feeling of belonging and products relevant to customer’s interests. 


Let us know if you have any questions or would like help with personalisation for your users.


Monsoon Consulting are Ireland’s only Adobe Gold Solution Partner, focusing on delivering best in class B2B and B2C eCommerce solutions to large companies such as Uniphar PLC, Sysco (Pallas Foods), Topline, Heat Merchants Group, One4All and Central Bank of Ireland.

The team at Monsoon provide a full-service offering from business consultancy & strategic planning, UX & UI creative design, development & engineering, Infra & Dev ops to a dedicated Support team, offering 24×7 critical application support.

For more information on how Monsoon Consulting can help your business online, please get in touch with [email protected] or call +353 (0)1 4750066

With us you'll get customised digital solutions. B2B eCommerce expertise. eye-catching UX & design. streamlined on-boarding. a high-performance site. a long-term partnership. a thorough discovery. white-glove support. an amazing website. a team of experts.

Ready to transform your site?

Get in touch today!