Building trust and putting online shoppers at ease are important parts of ecommerce marketing and merchandising, since very few folks will hand over payment card information to a business they are uncertain about.
When confronted with some level of uncertainty — “Is this product right for me?” “Is this an online store I can trust?” — shoppers may use social proof to help make buying decisions. In effect, these customers are willing to put their trust in their peers.
Social Proof in Action
If you look for a textbook or even wiki definition of social proof, you’re likely to find it described as a psychological phenomenon or type of conformity.
People in all sorts of unfamiliar situations are able to quickly and accurately assess what behavior or action is best, based on how they see others acting.
From a marketing perspective, providing customers with positive and accurate social proof information about a product or about a desired action can, in fact, influence them to make a purchase or take that action.
Psychology and marketing professor Dr. Robert B. Cialdini, who is also the author of the book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, uses an example from the hotel industry.
Hotel operators wanted to encourage guests to reuse towels in order to save water and electricity and, hopefully, help the environment. To encourage their guests, these hotel operators used small signs, placards, or notes with one of three kinds of messages: (a) do this for the environment, (b) do this for future generations, or (c) co-operate with us for this common cause.
Cialdini tried a fourth message stating that “the majority of guests who stay at our hotel do reuse their towels at least once.” This fourth message increased compliance by 28 percent.
As another example, a retailer in the northwestern United States recently ran several contests in its physical stores. Shoppers could enter for drawings at any of several iPad-powered, self-service kiosks placed around the store.
Interestingly, the retailer noticed that signups for the drawings, which were recorded in a database, came in waves. There might not be a registration for several minutes, and then there would be a couple dozen in the span of one or two minutes. The waves of signups did not seem to match the store’s general ebb and flow. So what was the cause? Social proof.
Employees in the store noticed that when one person stopped to interact with the kiosks, other shoppers would suddenly seem to take notice and line up to sign up. But when the kiosks were not in use, many shoppers would walk past without taking action.
For a final example, think of your local coffee shop. If it has a tip jar, there is a good chance the shop’s employees put the first dollar in that jar each day as a social cue. They’re telling their customers that it’s a good thing to tip.
In a similar way, ecommerce businesses can use social proof to help make sales. Shoppers who might be unfamiliar with your products or your business can take cues from other shoppers’ actions.
Ratings and Reviews
Ratings and reviews may be one of the most common forms of ecommerce social proof. And there is a lot of data showing that having reviews and ratings on your site can increase ecommerce conversion rates significantly. By some estimates, a single positive review might increase conversions 10 percent, while having a half-dozen positive reviews could increase sales, perhaps, 30 percent.
Online seller Newegg is a good example of a retailer using ratings and reviews well. Some of Newegg’s products have hundreds of reviews. The company does several things you may want to emulate.
- Reviews are shown in several places on the site, including product category pages.
- Reviews are divided by rating.
- Reviews can be filtered and searched.
- Top performing reviews get special treatment.
Customer-supplied Pictures and Videos
In terms of ecommerce social proof, there are few things more powerful than seeing folks like you using a product you’re thinking of buying. Many online sellers realize this and are starting to include customer-supplied pictures on product detail pages or in special galleries.
New Balance, as an example, has an entire section on its site devoted to customer photography. Each customer post is linked to a product to buy.
Sale and Wish List Counts
Online sellers may be able to invoke, if you will, social proof with a count of the number of times an item has sold or been added to a wish list.
Groupon shows shoppers how many times a particular offer has been bought. If a shopper is uncertain about making a purchase, knowing that a few hundred folks have already made the decision to buy might help.
Be careful, though, since low social proof can have a negative impact on sales. If you decide to show how many times an item has sold, like Groupon does, consider only displaying those figures when sales have met some threshold, like 25 sales or similar.
Social Media Likes and Shares
Even the share buttons that many shoppers use on product detail pages can be a form of social proof. Consider having these buttons show the number of shares and links a product has received once the share count has reached some threshold, similar to what was suggested for sale counts.
For an example, check out the Levi’s site, below. The company includes information about how many folks have liked a product on Facebook.