Have you ever bought something just because all your friends were wearing it at the time (here’s to you, beaded choker necklaces, shiny cargo trousers and bucket hats)?
Been overcome by an irrepressible desire to join a queue, even though you have no idea what it’s for?
Fallen prey to the shopping channel, and ended up with eight blenders, a three year supply of strawberry-flavoured dieting shakes and an electronic facial exerciser, thanks to a collection of impressive ‘before and after’ pictures?
Don’t worry, we’ve all been there.
Tapping into herd mentality is an age-old sales tactic; often employed in a negative (‘you’re missing out on something all your mates have!’) way, but also in a positive (‘you should buy this because lots of people think it’s awesome’) sense too.
It all comes down to the psychological phenomenon of ‘social proof’, which can take a number of forms - nicely covered in this Techcrunch article:
Expert social proof: Approval from a credible expert, like a magazine or blogger.
Celebrity social proof: Approval from celebrities or someone in the public eye.
Customer social proof: Approval from current customers, such as testimonials, social media endorsements, and reviews.
'Wisdom of the crowd' social proof: Highlighting popular approval using large numbers (i.e. ‘2450 pairs sold!’).
'Wisdom of your friends' social proof: Approval from those who are part of your social networks, both offline and online.
When it comes to ecommerce, building social proof into your website is incredibly important; being able to witness approval from other consumers can give online shoppers that all-important nudge in the right direction:
63 per cent of consumers indicate they are more likely to purchase from a site if it has product ratings and reviews. [source]
50 or more reviews per product can mean a 4.6 per cent increase in conversion rates. [source]
Although reviews are perhaps the most obvious method for ticking the ‘customer social proof’ box, there are heaps of other ways that you can subtly use this psychological phenomenon in your ecommerce marketing efforts. This blog post will go through some brilliant examples from top online retailers.
Today’s consumers are shrewd; they’re unlikely to just take your word for it that your product is great. Displaying customer reviews is a great way of winning round those who are sat on the fence.
Sweaty Betty & ModCloth: adding a personal touch to reviews
Both Sweaty Betty and ModCloth have a large customer review section at the bottom of each product page. What’s great is the amount of information they request from reviewers - from their height to their size to their activity preferences - making them super useful to would-be purchasers.
B&Q: dealing with negative reviews
You might not expect it, but displaying bad or critical customer reviews has actually been found to improve conversion rates. As always, context is key, but customers tend not to trust websites that only show positive reviews.
B&Q provides a great example of this below - customers can rate reviews by how ‘helpful’ they are so as to filter out any that are unobjective.
M&S & Next: using reviews outside the category page
Reviews don’t just have to be used on product pages - many retailers are using things like star ratings in other ways, for example, on the category page (M&S) and in email marketing (Next).
Following the crowd
An extension of the idea that customers want their choices to be validated by others before they make a purchase, many online stores are using social proof to suggest items that a visitor may not realise they want (yet).
Threadless: bringing back old favourites
For example, Threadless has a whole section on its website dedicated to bringing back the store’s most popular items ‘from the vault’. The message? ‘Loads of people bought these the first time round - you may have missed out then, but now’s your chance to get back in the cool kid gang’.
boohoo.com: bringing social proof to social networks
Social proof doesn’t have to stay on your website. Facebook lets you optimise your ads for ‘social impressions’ - so, like boohoo.com below, you can display a nice line at the top of your advert that features friends who have already liked a page.
eBay: using subtle social markers
In its product listings, eBay sets out a number of ‘social proof’ cues - anything from the number of people currently ‘watching’ an item to the positive feedback percentage of the seller.
Useful ecommerce marketing advice.
Sign up for our email updates and never miss a post.
Another powerful form of social proof is celebrity endorsement. And while Kerry Katona’s Iceland ad extravaganza might be the first thing that springs to mind, brands are getting a whole lot savvier when it comes to getting celebs involved.
Very.co.uk & Missguided: creating celebrity-backed ranges
One way of displaying celebrity endorsement is to give a trendy celeb du jour their own range of special edition clothing or other products; a tactic frequently used by Very.co.uk (see their Millie Mackintosh range below) and by Missguided who have teamed up with Nicole Scherzinger.
This not only adds to these brands’ cool credentials, but it also allows them to tap into the audiences of the celebrities in question.
Kick Game: leveraging celebrity followers
Brands have been quick to pounce on the product promotion potential of the major social networks’ celebrity users. For example, shoe retailer Kick Game’s Instagram page is full of pictures of celebrities showing off their trainers, from MIC stars like Binky Felstead to the incredibly dapper Ian Wright (below).
A photo posted by Kick Game (@kickgameuk) on
ASOS: bringing in the bloggers
In the world of fashion, the lines between ‘expert’ and ‘celebrity’ social endorsement are rapidly blurring, thanks largely to the growing popularity of a generation of fashion bloggers who are considered both ‘experts’ and ‘celebrities’ alike. ASOS has done a great job of tapping into the influence of these rising stars by enlisting a team of them (like Megan below) to create edits of their favourite ASOS items, as well as taking part in live chat style advice sessions.
Badges and awards
Award wins and press coverage have always played a key part in building trust for B2B marketers, but they’re also pretty useful for consumer-facing brands too (particularly those that are just starting out).
Satchel & Page and Not on the Highstreet: making the most of media coverage
Having a big media title behind your brand is certainly image-enhancing: Satchel & Page displays press coverage in a banner at the bottom of the page, while Not on the Highstreet has an ‘as seen on TV and in the press’ section.
[Satchel & Page]
Clothes have a habit of always looking great on models, and it can sometimes be difficult to imagine how an item you’re looking at online shapes up in the real world, where we’re not all blessed with long legs and real-time Photoshopping.
This, combined with a proliferation of people taking photos of themselves and uploading them to networks like Instagram, presents brands with a great opportunity to crowdsource ‘real life’ images of their customers wearing their clothes.
Free people: creating a social network of brand ambassadors
Free People lets users create their own profiles, where they can upload pictures of themselves wearing the brand’s clothes, with added ‘social’ elements like the ability to ‘like’ and comment on images.
Monki & Steve Madden: selling with user-generated images
Likewise, Monki and Steve Madden have sections on their website dedicated to user-generated content, where items are directly ‘shoppable’ within the store.
There are different types of ‘social proof’ and it’s important that online retailers pay attention to all aspects of social endorsement when designing their customer experience strategy:
Expert social proof
Celebrity social proof
Customer social proof
'Wisdom of the crowd' social proof
'Wisdom of your friends' social proof
Be sure to include negative customer reviews alongside positive ones, as it makes them seem more authentic.
Customer reviews don’t have to be limited to the product page - try using them on the category page and in other marketing collateral.
Asking reviewers for extra details (such as their measurements, how the item fitted) can be a powerful way of fostering a connection with would-be customers.
Try to build in features that demonstrate how others have endorsed your brand or product (drawing attention to numbers). E.g.:
‘8 of your friends have already liked this brand’
‘800 people have already bought this’
‘56 people are watching this item, and it has limited stock availability’
Ensure that any celebrity involvement with your brand (paid or otherwise) is promoted through all available channels.
Badges and awards:
Make the most of press coverage: if an item is featured in a prominent title or by a popular blogger, make sure you push it out on your social channels, and build it into your product pages if possible.
Consider exploring how you can leverage content created by your customers in your marketing efforts.