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Retailers take heed: curvy ad designs will get you further than straight-edged ones

Credit cards lying on a keyboard
Pratchaya/Getty Images/
A study finds online shoppers are more likely to click on curved buttons rather than those with sharp angles. USF researchers tracked digital call-to-action buttons like "Shop Now" and "Add to Cart."

A new study finds online shoppers click on digital ads with curvy call-to-action buttons at a higher rate than those with straight-edged designs.

Buyers beware and retailers take heed — a new study from the University of South Florida Muma College of Business finds online shoppers are more drawn to digital ads with curvy designs compared to those with sharp angles.

Frank Harvey Endowed Professor of Marketing Dipayan Biswas says the reason is an age-old psychological response.

"The curvy non-consciously in our mind is visually more appealing because it's less threatening. Anything that's more threatening, we tend to perceive it as visually less appealing. So it's more deep-rooted, like an evolutionary sort of aspect," he said.

The research tracked call-to-action buttons online, like "Shop Now" and "Add to Cart."

Digital ads from popular stores and white text with a mauve background.
Meghan Bowman
A new study finds online shoppers are more drawn to curvy buttons rather than sharp-angled ones. Retailers Amazon and Walmart utilize round-edge buttons, while Ebay and Food City have sharp-edge. The research tracked buttons like "shop now" and "add to cart."

Biswas added it's important for consumers to stay vigilant while shopping online.

One of the field studies used a hotel chain to see what people preferred. It found people spent about 14% more on average with curved buttons than with sharp-angled ones.

And while the Florida Retail Federation predicts state consumers will spend an average of nearly $900 on gifts this holiday season, Biswas has a warning:

"The only thing consumers need to be aware of is unintended purchases, it's fine to click on something to get more information, nothing wrong with that, and current elements might non-consciously make you do more," he said.

"But when it comes to the final purchase, as long as it's part of planned spending, it's fine."

Although people are more drawn to curvy designs on digital ads, Biswas said sharp-edge designs work better if a website is trying to send a negative message.

"Sharp angles are associated with threats (and) dangers," he said.

"Those kinds of messages — like don't drink and drive, stay away, danger — the sharp-angled call-to-action buttons are likely to do better than curved ones, because curved is too friendly. You don't want that, you want people to be alarmed."

The research was published this month in the Journal of Consumer Research.

It took over three years to complete. Biswas said 16 experiments are included in the paper, including some that tracked people's eye movements while they browsed online.

Nothing about my life has been typical. Before I fell in love with radio journalism, I enjoyed a long career in the arts in musical theatre.