Ownership before purchase

Make people feel ownership before they’ve bought. They will value the item more, increasing their desire to purchase.


  • Three months prior to releasing the game Spore in September of 2008, Electronic Arts made the Spore Creature Creator (a way to build characters for the game) available as a free download. The Creature Creator was a game in itself. After choosing a body, limbs, features and decoration, users could make the monster that they had plugged together dance, sing and react. This was one of the first times that players could easily build their own fully rendered game characters from the ground up. Experiencing the smooth animation of a custom-built monster fuelled desire among potential customers to see how the character they’d built would perform in the game world. This in turn drove sales of the game, which moved more than two million copies in the first three weeks, and was a top-10 PC game through 2009.
  • Kickstarter’s whole business model could be described as making people feel ownership before they’ve bought a product, or indeed before it’s even been made. The idea is that you pledge money and become a backer of a proposed creative project. Obviously, if the project doesn’t meet its funding goals you aren’t billed. That means that if you want the product, it’s in your interest to persuade as many other people as you can that they too should get involved.


In his book Emotional Design, Don Norman states that we are much more emotionally attached to products for which we feel some involvement. This is true even before we own the product. Clever sites invite us in and make us feel like a member of the family before we even part with our cash.

How to encourage ownership before purchase

  • Show people how your product will apply to their lives so that they get and remain excited about it through the pre-purchase phase.
  • For products that have yet to be released, provide frequent status updates, teases and reveals (“leaks”). However, never over-promise.
  • For physical products, provide a configurator that lets people play with product options and swap pieces in and out. This allows people to personalize the product, which will give them greater attachment to it. Make the configurator as visual as possible so that people can easily fall in love with their creations.
  • Offer demonstration versions of your product so that people can give it a trial run. Although you might feel the urge to remove some functionality or create a time limit on the demo version’s life, users must be able to create and share output from the demo in order to feel real desire to own the full product.
  • Less sexy products can also create pre-purchase desire. Testimonials, reviews and white papers serve this purpose so long as they describe real use cases and quantifiable outcomes.
  • Encourage potential customers to participate in a forum where they can get their questions answered by people who already use the product. When they feel like part of the community, they’ll slip more easily into the purchase process.
  • Create different levels of reward for different levels of engagement – the more you engage, the closer you get to being “family.”