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I recently read a report outlining the big e-commerce trends for 2015. The report was extensive and focused on ways e-commerce retailers can improve their social proofing and in turn their conversions. Hidden within the report was a statistic about buyer behaviour that threw me: on average, an online shopper will visit a website 9.5 times before making a decision. House hunters don’t even inspect a home 9.5 times before making a decision.   I translated this online phenomenon to the offline and thought about the last item I bought in-store, which happened to be a pair of swimming goggles. I visited the store once, had a 5 minute conversation with the shop assistant and within 10 minutes had made my purchase.  

Within that brief conversation, she was able to answer all the questions I had about the product: she compared the two brands and gave me some feedback based on her own experience and the feedback of other consumers. Her comparison and personal feedback endorsed my decision.   Social proofing is not a new concept: it’s existed since the dawn of the crowd. Cast your mind back to your early teens, your most fashionably tragic years. A safety in numbers approach to surviving the awkward double-denim years. Social proofing in the offline world is the space where crowd meets peer pressure. In the online world the absence of the collective is filled by content.   Here are a couple of ways you can social proof your ecommerce site, create a sense of crowd and aim to bring the decision making process down from 10 visits to 1.  

Reviews - embrace the negatives

  Just because it’s written doesn’t mean it’s sincere. Consumers are discerning enough to see through fake reviews written by fake people. Don’t delete negative reviews because you’re worried about customer’s being put off. The whole point of a review is to let customers speak freely and honestly about the product or service. Over 90% of customers will return if their complaint is dealt with promptly. Use negative reviews to your advantage by responding to the customer instantly. In a competitive environment, customer service is a winning differentiator.  

Airbnb are an excellent example of how customer reviews and social proofing can weigh in on decision-making. In a similar style to Ebay, both the host and guest are able to leave reviews, therefore encouraging more social interaction on site.   Users are also verified and reference checked by Airbnb – giving a sense of trust and reinforcement.  

Using the power of the crowd

  There’s nothing more persuasive than the collective yes and a great way to harness the crowd is to engage it. eBay are the masters of social proofing, intentionally answering and reinforcing all crowd based trust markers above the fold. The product page creates the perfect sense of urgency by using a livestock counter showing only 3 left and 17 sold. It points out that there are 31 other people interested in the remaining 3 pairs of shoes. Trust is built by highlighting that the seller is experienced with a 99.7% feedback rating and over 20 thousand reviews.   A common strategy amongst fashion retailers is to curate a range based exclusively on customer demand i.e. re-releasing a limited edition of sold out best sellers. This mechanism builds consumer confidence by implying that the items sold out due to popularity and creates a sense of urgency by being a limited release.  

ASOS do this well – this campaign gives you 50% off their 250 best sellers – for one day only.     Think about the Mexican wave – its success relies on audience participation. The same can be said for e-commerce. Letting people know they’re not alone is an excellent opportunity to cut down decision-making and improve conversions.   A great on-page way to encourage community and eliminate isolation is a live notification feed. Barilliance is an excellent example that presents live notifications to visitors.   There are instances where trying to attract a crowd can have a negative impact. Social sharing buttons often appear on product pages with the intention of encouraging interaction, but what happens when no one likes or shares?

Does it give mixed messages?   On the site, it shows that this necklace has been liked by 258 people but 0 people have shared it on Facebook.     I was in Circular Quay recently and I walked past a busker swallowing a giant balloon, which he intentionally popped in his throat. (I’m still wondering what happened to the balloon remains) Aside from being repulsed, it occurred to me that the giant crowd was what sparked my intrigue. If he was alone and swallowing balloons, I probably wouldn’t have stopped, applauded and rewarded his bravery with gold coins. This is the greatest example of crowd-sourced social proofing.  

There are many different ways to implement social proofing in your e-commerce store. Spend some time thinking about the most relevant strategy and what your customers will benefit from and engage most with.    

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