‘Everybody Does It’ – Why You Should Turn to Social Proof Theory When Designing Ecommerce Websites

‘Everybody does it!’ – when I was a child this was one of the strongest arguments to convince my parents that what I did or was going to do was right. Though many years have passed since that time, I still follow that principle more often than I would like to admit. In fact, everybody does it. Instead of denying, learn how to use this psychological phenomenon when designing ecommerce websites.

Goldman’s Clever Idea

Sometimes even a truly clever idea needs a little trick to catch on.Let’s start with a short story about a man who invented the shopping cart – Sylvan Goldman. As an owner of a local chain of grocery stores, Goldman noticed how inconvenient it was to his customers to carry heavy shopping baskets around. This observation resulted in the invention of the device we can’t imagine our lives without. Interestingly, at first Goldman’s customers weren’t thrilled at all with the idea of shopping cart – despite the sales assistants’ encouragement, they simply refused to use it. A clever businessman didn’t give up, though. He hired a bunch of models to walk around the supermarket with shopping carts. Guess what happened! Seeing other people using carts, the customers followed their steps.

How social proof theory worked in Goldman's grocery store.

If No One Reacts, Why Should I?

The behaviour of Goldman’s customers isn’t a mystery. Robert Cialdini’s theory of social proof comes as a lucid explanation. According to the professor, we tend to assume that the behaviour of other people in a group is the right one. ‘One means we use to determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is correct.’ The degree of this conviction increases proportionally to the number of people in the group.

Bibb Latane and John Darley did a series of experiments in which an individual was told to do a questionnaire in a room with a broken air wet that emitted a dense smoke. The room was either filled with researchers who pretended to be participants or the individual was sitting there alone. What was his or her reaction to the smoke? If the room was crowded, in most of the cases he or she did not react at all, assuming that since others didn’t there was nothing to worry about. The more people were in the room, the less likely was the participant to react. If left alone, however, he or she immediately left the room to notify someone about the potential danger.

What Are They All Queuing for?

If something is popular, we are naturally inclined to see why.‘That’s some kind of crazy research’ you may think. ‘Such things don’t happen in the real life.’ Well, they do. Can you recall any situation when you saw a long queue to a food truck or checkpoint in a newly opened shop? What did you thought at that time? Did you get interested in it somehow? I bet you did. Maybe you didn’t stand in the queue right away but you at least tried to see the name of the place. Probably you thought you may come there someday to see what is this fuss all about. But first you decided to type it into Google. Sounds familiar? That’s Cialdini’s social proof theory in practice! Not only did you assume that there must be something interesting in the place with a queue but you also decided to look for confirmation on the internet.

Online Queues

The theory of social proof is of great importance on the internet. Before customers make a purchase decision or choose to use a particular service, they research it online. Reviews, testimonials, social media channels, certificates and notable partners – all these play an important role when assessing any business. It is even more crucial when we take ecommerce retailers into consideration. In that case the customers can neither visit the shop in person nor can they see or touch the product. What they mainly refer to, thus, are online reviews at which we take a closer look now.

Online reviews are in a way an equivalent of a queue. A bunch of positive recommendations on the product page will surely encourage customers to do shopping. But, as in the case of queue, if they are really supposed to work, they have to stand out. And here is where UX designers move in.

Review of Better Reviews

A good UX design facilitates users’ research process.The first goal UX designer has is to make reviews truly visible. At least few of them should appear on the product page, just as the average note in the form of number or stars should. But what if the reviews say nothing more than ‘Great product’? Does it really help customers? Well, not necessarily. Good news is that a well-thought-out UX design can facilitate the customers’ research process. There are at least few ways to make reviews more user (and business) friendly.

Text Reviews with Focus

Text reviews are the most common and so the customers are used to them. However, as mentioned before, they often prove meaningless. If you leave an empty input, most of customers will type just few words. The solution is to divide the input into few sections each focusing on the different aspect of the product. If an ecommerce shop sells only one category of products these can be very detailed. For example in the case of clothes such aspects as size, colour, length and quality of fabric can be assessed by customers. If a shop sells various products, the focus of sections can be more general: quality, value for money, look, usability, general satisfaction – these can work for practically all ecommerce shops. Additionally, it’s a good idea to put microcopy in the input field so that the customer don’t have to wonder what they could write. If it’s written in a clever way and accommodated to the target customers as well as shop’s personality, microcopy can not only make it easier for customers to review the product, but can actually encourage them to do it. For example, the microcopy below should work perfectly for a young customer of a hip electronic shop.

Online reviews divided into categories with customised microcopy.

Product Picture Comments

Another idea to make reviews more detailed and entertaining is to allow customers to comment on the selected elements in the product picture. Have you ever visited Sound Cloud? If so, you definitely noticed the comments that appear below the recording. That solution enables listeners to refer specifically to a given fragment in the song. Clever, isn’t it? Similar solution could work equally well in the case of product reviews on ecommerce websites. After a selected element of the image is clicked on, an input box can appear allowing customers to share their thoughts on it and read comments others put in. Alternatively, comments can be replaced by emojis directing to full reviews. Such way of reviewing a product is not only fun and innovative but, what’s the most important: very precise.

Heat Maps

‘Best sellers’ or ‘Other also bought’ sections are getting old. They start to be like banners – customers no longer pay attention to them. It’s much better to present shoppers with something more eye-catching and fascinating such as heat maps. These show spots on the website which are most often clicked on. Majority of ecommerce owners use heat maps in order to monitor the effectiveness of their websites. Why not to present them to customers? If implemented as a feature that appears on the product listings page on user’s demand, this can be really helpful. By seeing what others clicked on, the customers will know which products are in demand and worth taking a look at. That’s social proof theory at its best.

Online reviews in the form of heat maps.

Video Reviews

Video reviews are nothing new, they have their firm place on YouTube with thousands of viewers consulting them each day. If video reviews succeed on YouTube, why not to use that idea on a product page? Since in the video, a reviewer can be seen and heard, he or she is no longer a distant, abstract concept, but a real human being. As a result it’s much easier to trust their opinions and identify with them. Video reviews are precise, fun to watch and convincing. Yes, they’re more difficult to get but the effort pays off – ‘1 video is worth 1.8 million words.’ It may be much more efficient to present customer with three video reviews than with 13 text ones. If the shop provides a basic script as a guidance on what to focus in a video and appreciates every review submitted with a thankful comment, there’s a high chance the number of customers willing to record them exceeds the expectations.

Two Birds with One Design

A truly good UX design takes into account both: the users’ and the business’ needs. An ecommerce website that presents their users with comprehensive and at the same time entertaining reviews does exactly that. The user is satisfied since he or she has vivid proof of the product quality close at hand and the business is thriving. Social proof theory can really be useful in web design. Admit it, everybody does it!

Author: Anna Kulawik