Dec 12 2011

How to Design Social Proof That Drives Sales

How to use social proof to drive salesIf you run an ecommerce site, you know that in every visit there’s a moment where your visitor chooses to buy or bail. If they buy, you win. If they bail, you lose. Simple, right? Since the very first ecommerce transaction, site owners have been trying to optimize the user experience to get more people to check out before they bail out. Today’s successful ecommerce sites are using social proof to help drive more conversions and revenue for their business.

What is social proof? And how can it help your business? In this article we’ll show you examples of social proof on ecommerce sites and break down the mechanic at work. Use these as inspiration and look for ways that you can benefit from integrating social proof into your ecommerce user experience.

Social Proof Defined

So what is social proof exactly? Our trusty friend Wikipedia defines social proof as:

Social proof, also known as informational social influence, is a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others reflect correct behavior for a given situation. This effect is prominent in ambiguous social situations where people are unable to determine the appropriate mode of behavior, and is driven by the assumption that surrounding people possess more knowledge about the situation.

The effects of social influence can be seen in the tendency of large groups to conform to choices which may be either correct or mistaken, a phenomenon sometimes referred to as herd behavior.

To get down to the essence of it, social proof is what people use to help them make decisions in situations where they’re not quite sure which decision to make. And the more you can present to the user that shows other users making the desired decision, the more likely they are to do it. In other words, show a buyer that many people have bought the item before him, and he’ll be more likely to buy, too. Remember those old shopping networks on TV? They always showed how many waffle irons they sold on the screen, and it was always ticking higher – that is social proof.

The Home Shopping Network uses transparency in sales numbers to motivate action

So how do websites use social proof to reinforce the behavior they want visitors to emulate while on their site? Let’s take a look at some popular sites and find out.

Social Proof in Action

Orbitz – Orbitz leverages scarcity and the fear of missing out by showing you how many tickets are left at a given price. This compels users to act quickly before they’re gone.

Orbitz creates urgency by highlighting the scarcity of the product

Basecamp – 37Signals takes a page from McDonald’s with their “Millions of people use Basecamp…” tagline. Just like “Billions served” appears on every McDonald’s sign. Why? Because they make you think “If it worked for so many others it must be good, right?”

Basecamp uses the weight of its userbase to convince visitors to sign up

Gilt Groupe – Ever wonder why flash sales sites leave items that have sold out up on their site? It’s social proof pulling double duty. First, it lets you know that a lot of people are buying, which means its safe for you to buy. Second, it creates the fear of missing out. You missed out on that item, you don’t want to miss out again.

Gilt Groupe displays their items even after their sold out, to show their popularity, and urge people not to delay their purchase

Hotels.com – Hotels.com builds in the wisdom of the crowds by showing you how many times a hotel room has recently been booked. It feels safer to buy knowing that many others have gone before.

Hotels.com exposes the live activity that's happening on the site, as you browse

ScoreBig – ScoreBig’s activity feed shows what tickets are being bought and which events are selling out. This shows visitors that it’s safe to buy. And showing events about to sell out triggers the fear of missing out instinct, driving visitors to act quickly.

ScoreBig's running list of realtime activity on the site shows buzz around the events they're promoting

Groupon – Groupon uses the number of deals sold to trigger the wisdom of the crowd. If so many people are buying it, it must be a good deal. Combined with their urgent count down clock, they create a very powerful buying motive.

Groupon uses a variety of techniques, including the number of deals sold, and a countdown timer

Fab – Fab.com uses quotes from the designers to reinforce the curated nature of their collections. Buyers know that the merchandise was selected by someone with a design sense they respect. They’re buying design that has credibility with people in the space.

Fab.com features quotes from designers who have curated the items in each sale

ModCloth – ModCloth uses “Be the buyer” badges to identify crowd-sourced favorites. These items sell at twice the rate of non-badged items. The social wisdom of the crowd lets buyers know that their fashion sense isn’t leading them astray.

ModCloth encourages visitors to curate the items they stock for other customers

Threadless – Facebook Like buttons on product pages show shoppers how many people, including friends, like the item they’re thinking of buying. Friend validation at purchase time is powerful social proof.

Threadless is one of many ecommerce sites using the Like button to drive purchases

Putting Social Proof to Work

Social proof helps you convert site visitors to customers by reinforcing their decision to buy with information from other site users, their friends or trusted experts. By playing off of the “me too” validation of the crowd, the trusted expert, or the fear of missing out, you can compel more visitors to take the last step and complete their purchase. So when you’re looking for ways to optimize your conversion rate, think of how social proof can work in your favor.

Hopefully some of these examples will inspire you to integrate social proof into your own site. Have you seen any novel uses of social proof in eCommerce? Share them in the comments and we’ll update the post with your examples.

About the Author:

Morgan heads up marketing at digital-telepathy. Find me online at Google+.

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5 Responses

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  4. Feb 20 2012
    Jayson Shawver

    Fantastic read! Thanks for sharing. I knew about social proof but this article really expanded on the concept and you guys gave some stellar examples. Thanks again!

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  7. Mar 20 2012
    Pauly C

    Thanks for sharing all of these great examples. I find one of the important aspects of social proof when it comes to the average person who runs their own web site is the number of comments they have on their posts/pages, etc. Adding this element of social proof in my business has made a world of a difference, which I can probably thank to a side project called the Blog Commenting Tribe.

    The subtle ways that social proof is demonstrated in the post really gets me thinking of ways to add new aspects of social proof in a very discreet manner – so thanks for all of the great ideas and strategies.

    Paul

  8. Aug 19 2012
    Sreenath

    Good job ! Nice to see how using social proof aids may turn out to be the tipping point of sales. Keep up the good work.

    • Aug 20 2012
      Jason Amunwa

      Thanks Sreenath =)

      Yep, it’s definitely a growing trend that needs to be accounted for in designs.

  9. Feb 11 2013
    Mash Bonigala

    Excellent post and great examples! The use of social proof in website design has its roots in social psychology. The concept of social proof says that people are more likely to do business with you if there are clear indicators that other people are also doing business with you (and that doing business with you is safe). Read more at http://goo.gl/qvCyz

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