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14 Ways to Apply Social Proof to eCommerce Websites
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The web is full of guides to eCommerce website design, with endless templates, tutorials and design agencies. These guides are devoted to your site’s visuals, without considering the most important issue of all … sales. 

The key to selling more online is persuasive content and, to get that, you need to understand how people think. Social Proof is one of the most significant factors in shaping our decisions. It is also an important part of the way consumers make choices.

Social Proof and eCommerce

Social Proof is a type of conformity. When a person is unsure how to act, they will often look to others for cues. Because of this, Social Proof is one of the strongest tools of influence and persuasion for eCommerce websites.

Surveys and reviews in the last couple of years have confirmed the importance of social proof to eCommerce:

  • 95% of 18-35 year olds read reviews before trusting a local business (2018 consumer review, BrightLocal)
  • 63% of all customer check Google reviews before visiting a business (2018 internet survey, ReviewTrackers)
  • Purchase likelihood with five reviews is 270% higher than with no reviews (2017 customer survey, Spiegel)

using social proof for ecommerce websites

There are certain circumstances under which social proof works better than others, such as when the right course of action is particularly unclear or when we perceive ourselves to be similar to those already engaging in the behaviour. To increase the impact of social proof, four factors should be considered: 1. Uncertainty 2. Similarity 3. Attraction 4. Desire

Most of the techniques on our list simply apply Social Proof to eCommerce website design. However, some incorporate other psychological principles. Here is a quick summary of the other psychological effects to look out for:

  • Base rate fallacyBase Rate Fallacy occurs when contextual or general information is neglected when analysing more recent information.
  • Commitment and ConsistencyOnce we have publicly committed to something, we are more likely to carry through and deliver on it.
  • Mere-exposure EffectThe Mere-exposure Effect is the way a positive reaction can be induced simply from familiarity.
  • Self-efficacy TheorySelf-efficacy is a person’s belief in their own competence. Remarkably, this belief is one of best predictors of success or failure.
  • Social CognitionSocial Cognition explains the way most people gravitate to things that resemble themselves.
  • Social Comparison TheorySocial Comparison Theory describes how individuals evaluate themselves through comparison, rather than absolute terms.

Social Proof and eCommerce: Home Page Design

social proof testimonials ecommerce websites

Used by: Scott Dunn
Impact level: High
Difficulty: Medium

If you have positive reviews about your products or services then display them on your homepage. 

Research has shown that we have a strong tendency to copy others’ choices when we are hesitating. Moreover, seeing that someone else has had a positive experience will give your visitors more confidence to purchase, subscribe or fill in a form.

Principles

  • Social Proof (Sherif, 1935; Asch, 1956)

Social Proof and eCommerce: Product Page Design

popularity proof for ecommerce website design

Used by: Booking.com
Impact level: Medium
Difficulty: Easy

We automatically presume that our peers have a good reason for doing something or buying a particular product. So, if you have a popular product, let potential customers know it!

If the number is high, then display how many people have already bought a certain product. Your customer will certainly be influenced by knowing that a large number of other people have already chosen to buy this product.

Principles

  • Social Proof (Sherif, 1935; Asch, 1956)

user reviews ecommerce websites

Used by: Tripadvisor
Impact level: High
Difficulty: Medium

It is much more powerful to show visitors how many previous customers recommend your product rather than recommending it yourself. Saying “We recommend…” or “We advise…” will immediately set a commercial tone and will not inspire confidence. Instead, showing them that their peers have recommended a certain product or service will be more trustworthy and will have a greater impact.

People also feel inspired to carry out an action (like making a purchase) when they see proof that it has been done many times before, meaning there haven’t been any snags in the process and that they can confidently carry out these same actions themselves.

Principles

  • Self-efficacy Theory (Bandura, 1984)
  • Social Proof (Sherif, 1935; Asch, 1956)

best selling products social proof

Used by: Amazon
Impact level: High
Difficulty: Medium

Presenting your product as the #1 (be that the best rated, best selling or fastest growing etc.) immediately gives your customers confidence and satisfaction with their purchase decision.

Principles

  • Social Proof (Sherif, 1935; Asch, 1956)

social media for ecommerce

Used By: Apple iTunes
Impact level: Low
Difficulty: Medium

Displaying the number of people who have already “liked” your product is an effective persuasion tool.

This form of Social Proof taps in to our desire to follow in the behavioural footsteps of our peers and will automatically attach a positive bias towards a product.

It may also encourage your customers to “like” the product themselves which will augment your product’s visibility online.

Principles

  • Social Proof (Sherif, 1935; Asch, 1956)

people also viewed social proof

Used by: Amazon
Impact level: Hard
Difficulty: Hard

Adding a “People who viewed this product bought…” feature is an effective persuasion technique.

People can find a vast product selection overwhelming. Tailoring their choices by showing them what other, similar people have brought gives them fewer, but more specific, options.

Principles

  • Social Proof (Sherif, 1935; Asch, 1956)

testimonials under product social proof

Used by: Argos
Impact level: High
Difficulty: Easy

If you have positive reviews about your products or services then make sure they are clearly displayed; showing this “social proof” from your customer’s peers is an effective persuasion technique.

Principles

  • Social Comparison Theory (Festinger, 1954; Thorton & Arrowood, 1966)
  • Social Proof (Sherif, 1935; Asch, 1956)
  • Base rate fallacy (D. Kahneman)

expert reviews social proof ecommerce

Used by: Odeon Cinema
Impact level: Medium
Difficulty: Medium

Displaying expert reviews is an effective way of endorsing your products. The positive feedback and opinions of customer’s peers is incredibly important as we often rely on this “social proof” in order to make decisions.

When it is an expert or someone who we expect or presume to be more knowledgeable than us their opinion holds even more weight and there is then an increased likelihood that we will copy their actions and purchase the same items.

Principles

  • Social Proof (Sherif, 1935; Asch, 1956)

social proof facebook

Used By: Wowcher
Impact level: Low
Difficulty: Hard

If you offer your customers the option to sign in using Facebook then make the most of this advantage. Indeed, using Facebook is a good way to quickly access data about a customer but that’s not the only benefit. You can also use it to help persuade them to make a purchase, by displaying those of their Facebook friends who have liked, used, talked about, or purchased the products from your site.

When we are unsure on which decision to make, studies show that we tend to imitate others’ behaviour – and none will be more persuasive than that of people we know. We will automatically think that if one of our friends purchased or liked a particular product, then it must be good. The product is given immediate credibility and extra desirability, which will influence conversion rate.

Principles

  • Social Proof (Sherif, 1935; Asch, 1956)
  • Mere-exposure Effect (Fechner, 1875; Zajonc, 1960)

Social Proof and eCommerce: Category Page Design

category page ecommerce websites

Used by: eBay
Impact Level: High
Difficulty: Easy

Marking your best products as a “Popular Choice” is an effective persuasion technique to encourage more people to make the same purchase.

Principles

  • Social Proof (Sherif, 1935; Asch, 1956)

Social Proof and eCommerce: Search Bar Design

popular option social proof

Used by: Booking.com
Impact level: High
Difficulty: Medium

To help your visitors make a decision that they feel confident in (or to sway them towards a particular product or service) make it visually obvious which option is the most popular choice. Your customer will certainly be influenced by knowing that a large number of other people have already made the same selection.

Principles

  • Social Proof (Sherif, 1935; Asch, 1956)

Social Proof and eCommerce: Checkout Process

people also bought social proof for ecommerce websites

Used by: Amazon
Impact level: High
Difficulty: Medium

On the confirmation page after purchase, display “people who bought this product also bought …” This creates a double funnel.

The secondary funnel will encourage your customers to make another purchase after completing their first. Indeed, people are more likely to make the second purchase due to the Consistency principle; we like to stay consistent with our own actions.

We also tend to be swayed by the decisions of others and so showing visitors what other customers have purchased can be highly influential. Displaying this on the confirmation page means you can encourage them to make further purchases without having disturbed their intention to make the first purchase.

Even if the customer doesn’t make any of the additional suggested purchases immediately, it will still give them ideas of products to buy in the weeks or months ahead, increasing the average basket amount. 

Principles

  • Social Proof (Sherif, 1935; Asch, 1956)
  • Commitment and Consistency (Cialdini, 1984)

More Specific Elements for eCommerce Website Design

contextual information for testimonials

Used by: Booking.com
Impact level: Medium
Difficulty: Medium

Featured testimonials will be more credible if your users can identify with the reviewers and view them as real people rather than just disconnected words on the screen.

Contextual details like location or name will help evoke an immediate connection from users and they will be more inclined to trust the reviews and therefore base their purchase decisions on them.

Principles

  • Social Proof (Sherif, 1935; Asch, 1956)
  • Social Cognition (Pelham; Carvallo & Jones, 2003)

personalise social proof testimonials

Used by: Tripadvisor
Impact level: High
Difficulty: Easy

Adding human pictures to your testimonials will lend them extra credibility and lead users to place more trust in them.

People are likely to connect more immediately with a visual image than simply with a name and seeing human pictures evokes emotional responses.

Principles

  • Social Proof (Sherif, 1935; Asch, 1956)

Conclusion: Social Proof and eCommerce

eCommerce website design is a form of sales pitch. Muddle your words and your audience will lose interest. Get the pitch right, and your audience become valued customers. Social Proof is one of the most consistently effective tactics to use when presenting your products. 

Persuasive content is decisive in the success or failure of an eCommerce website. However, design is only one part of the puzzle. To make sure your website is as good a salesman as you are, you need to optimize your structure, copy and visuals

Our CRO experts have produced a series of articles on how to produce irresistible content. To apply persuasive techniques beyond your site, download the free eCommerce Marketing Guide

Stephen Courtney

by Stephen Courtney

Stephen is a Copywriter and Digital Marketing enthusiast, working with Convertize. He began his career doing academic research on technological systems and now communicates insights and market research to professionals.

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