Tuesday 24th November 2020

Social Proof In eCommerce: What Is It and Why Do You Need It?

Amba Wilkes

The way we shop has drastically evolved. With today’s technology, saturated online markets, social media channels and review sites, customers have the ability to research, find, compare and purchase in a matter of minutes.  

In a competitive eCommerce world, how do you leverage this process to stand out and get more sales?  

By gaining the trust of your customers.  

How do you gain the trust of your customers?  

With social proof.  

An effective ally for eCommerce businesses, social proof can drive awareness, build trust and convert users into loyal customers. In this blog, we cover what it is, how social proof in eCommerce works and how you can use it to influence your audience.  

What is social proof?

The social proof theory uses human tendency to adapt our opinions, behaviours and actions based on what others do.  

Whether you know it or not, you’ve most likely been influenced by social proof in one way or another. Consider this concept in real-life circumstances: 

  • A product you’re considering has been endorsed by a trusted expert or relevant individual – if they say it’s worth it, surely it must be?  
  • A restaurant has a long line of eager customers waiting outside – this proof of demand only makes you want to join the queue even more, after all, the food must be great.  
  • A new skincare item you’re browsing has over 50 five-star reviews from likeminded, verified buyers – it obviously works, sign me up!  

This mass appeal of a product instantly boosts the want of that product. Social proof in eCommerce validates a choice. It assures your customers that your offering is worth their time, money or interest by showcasing the experience of others as proof. 

The principles of social proof 

The social proof theory was first publicised by psychologist Robert Cialdini and is based on four core principles:  

  • Uncertainty: When faced with a situation, an unsure person often leans on the guidance of others for support in making a decision. It is this uncertainty that is all the more present in eCommerce shopping and activates the need for social proof.  
  • Similarity: A person who is inconclusive on a decision they need to make is more likely to adopt the behaviour of similar, relatable individuals. Factors including age, gender, physical appearance and common experiences have all been found to motivate and enhance the use of social proof. In fact, research shows that 83 percent of consumers say that peers, particularly those who are important to us, can make them more likely to make a purchase.  
  • Expertise: If a person is knowledgeable or familiar with a situation, product or service, the power of social proof becomes even greater.  
  • Number: The more people who find a concept to be ‘correct’, the more validated it will be for the person considering the decision. It has been found that social proof works best when the proof is provided by behaviours and actions of multiple people. 

Why is social proof in eCommerce important?  

We’ve heard the horror stories – the outfit you ordered online and patiently awaited, arrives and looks nothing like you expected. With high street shopping trips stalled once again, the sway to online buying has only accelerated. But the experience isn’t quite the same.  

Without the ability to see, feel and try before we buy, we need assurance before a purchase is made. How do you do this online? By offering real reviews, real photos and real feedback from other customers.  

There is no better advocate for your brand than a happy customer. And there is no better way to improve your brand’s offering than by listening to and addressing the concerns of an unhappy one.  

The social proof principle continues to be one of the most persuasive and effective methods of influencing a user to buy a product. Supporting products and services with taglines such as ‘90% of expert dermatologists recommend…’ or ‘the most popular…’ alongside testimonials from real customers can significantly increase the chance of a purchase.  

So, is social proof really effective? Simply put, yes! Building trust between you and your audience through reviews, ratings and other forms of user-generated content (UGC) provides the validation needed to inform buying decisions. Fortunately for eCommerce businesses, there are plenty of ways you can implement it.  

Types of social proof in eCommerce 

While there are many types of social proof, there are three which are core to eCommerce:  

Customer reviews and ratings 

Did you know that 88 percent of customers trust user reviews as much as personal recommendations? But just one isn’t enough. The average customer reads 10 online reviews before making a decision. Your focus needs to be on collating as many genuine, positive reviews as possible.  

Positive reviews and ratings can be promoted as social proof across your marketing. For example, if you have multiple five-star ratings on a product, why not include this on a relevant landing page for others to see?  

Green People do this effectively on their homepage by showcasing their ‘most-loved products’. Clearly highlighting the product rating and how many people have given a review strengthens their social proof even more.  

Another method of leveraging social proof on your eCommerce website is through the use of a well-known review platform, such as Trustpilot, just like Highgrove have done on their homepage below. Considering that 57 percent of customers will only buy from a business if it has at least a four-star rating, this is an important metric to grow and promote.

Fake reviews

A topical subject to consider when it comes to customer reviews and ratings are false ones. In recent months, retail giant Amazon has been under attack due to false reviews. In some cases, the BBC reported that the online marketplace has seen a rise in independent sellers using one-star reviews to harm their rivals. In others, consumer group Which? claimed that the website had been “flooded with fake five-star reviews for products”.  

These fake reviews can damage your brand’s authenticity, harming the trust between you and your customers. Many customers will be on the lookout for false reviews so it’s important to filter and remove any unverified reviews while openly showing a balance of positive and negative ones such as beauty brand, Glossier. We would also recommend using a platform that verifies buyers next to reviews such as Yotpo.

User-generated content

Memorable, trustworthy and best of all, free! UGC has become a powerful form of social proof for eCommerce businesses and is an effective method to meet your user’s online expectations.

UGC is defined as any piece of online content that has been created and published by a user outside of the brand. Organic and authentic in nature, it can cover a whole host of formats from reviews and hashtags to photos and videos.

This often takes the form of customers sharing posts that detail their experience with your brand on their personal accounts, tagging you in the post. If you can find this content and gain the permission of the person posting, be sure to share it across your own channels to up your engagement.

Health and wellness brand, NEOM, leverage their UGC effectively by regularly reposting imagery from their customers and tagging them in the post.

Today the most popular - and arguably the most influential - format of UGC is visual content like this. Visual UGC includes the images, videos, reels and live streams that people post to their social channels. This content has become one of the most trusted and effective resources for brands to leverage.

Integrating an eCommerce marketing platform such as Yotpo or Feefo with your online store can help you leverage UGC, increasing engagement and conversions. Partner Manager at Yotpo, Ellys Childs, advocates for the use of UGC across websites today, stating:

"Today's eCommerce buyers are savvier than ever and expect brands and retailers to have UGC on-site. It's crucial for turning browsers into buyers, whether they're just getting to know your brand or already loyal customers." – Ellys Childs, Partner Manager, Yotpo

Using Yotpo’s solution for Green People’s review system enables customers to filter through reviews based on ratings, skin type and specific issues before making a decision. This platform also allows Green People to respond to reviews directly helping them develop a better connection with their audience.

To get started with UGC, you need to make it as easy as possible for customers to share their content with you. When asking for a review, ensure the process is quick and encourage them to submit a photo too. Another great way of gathering UGC is to run competitions designed to encourage users to share their content. A promotion, loyalty scheme or discount code could be used to incentivise this.

Testimonials

Testimonials offer more detailed stories about the full customer experience and form brilliant marketing material that can be leveraged across social media channels, product pages, landing pages or simply anywhere your audience may need persuading.

Slendertone are an example of a brand who use the power of social proof in multiple ways across their website to build trust with their audience. On their ‘Real People, Real Results’ page, they showcase multiple written testimonials, featuring the person behind the story and the results they have achieved.

Even better, Slendertone have leveraged the rising popularity of video content to create short, snappy video testimonials which run through the customer’s ongoing experience and results using the product.

With 2 out of 3 people saying they’re more likely to make a purchase after a watching a testimonial video that demonstrates how a product has helped someone like them, this is a form of social proof worth investing in.

How to use social proof on your eCommerce store

Your homepage is your digital storefront. Inspire and influence site visitors by placing your best social proof on your eCommerce homepage.

Get the most out of those positive reviews you’ve worked so hard to get by displaying them centre stage. Slendertone use a scrolling functionality on their homepage which features multiple reviews and ratings from a range of customers to build trust in their products.

Don’t be afraid to ask for reviews from your customers through a post-purchase email. Seeing that someone else has had a positive experience with your product or service will give them more confidence to make a purchase themselves.

Another way of promoting social proof on your homepage is to use that all-important visual UGC mentioned earlier. The UK’s number one brand for roof tents, TentBox display their Instagram gallery featuring real customers using their products along with the official hashtag to encourage others to get involved.

On your product pages

There are a number of methods to leverage social proof across your product pages including:

Showing how many people have purchased an item

Showing how many people have purchased an item can increase the urgency that a purchase decision is made. If the number of purchases for a specific product is high and you clearly display this on a product page, your audience is more likely to be influenced into purchasing knowing how many people have already made this choice.

Renowned fashion brand, Pretty Little Thing, use this across their site to highlight fast selling products. Take a look at the example below which effectively leverages this feature along with UGC from influencer Molly-Mae Hague.

It’s worthwhile considering whether this tactic is appropriate for your brand and if you do use it, ensure the numbers are always true. If you prefer a softer approach, we often recommend to our clients to focus on delivery benefits instead such as, ‘Order in the next two hours for free next day delivery’.

Highlighting bestselling products

Use a bestselling tag to show your customers which items have been the most popular among customers. This is a common feature used across Amazon which provides customers with the confidence to make a purchase decision.

Promoting customer reviews

You’ll often find that customer reviews are one of the last features on a product page. Save your customers the scrolling and promote a selection of reviews higher up the page, directly below the product. Users will be more likely to read and engage with these reviews if they are placed above the fold.

Lush does this extremely well, showcasing three different reviews before jumping into the ingredients and how to use.

Another marketing platform designed to promote social proof including product reviews and ratings, customer photos, Q&As and UGC is Okendo. Integrating this app with your Shopify store, you can even capture customer content through post-purchase emails and forms.

Recommending similar products  

An effective method of continuing the shopping journey, many brands deploy the ‘Recommended For You’ technique. Tailoring the product selection to show what other, similar people have bought provides more specific and relevant options that encourage conversion. NEOM leverage this across their product selections with their ‘We think you’ll love…’ feature.  

Display visual UGC  

Did you know customers are six times more likely to purchase a product if the web page includes pictures from social media? Yep, UGC strikes again! This nifty technique is not only ideal for your homepage but can also be used across your product pages.  

Fashion retail giant ASOS have taken this sentiment one step further, using real-life customers to show how their products are worn.  

Content from social media can be showcased ina number of ways across your website. CovetPics, an app designed to produce curated, shoppable Instagram galleries is a must-have for eCommerce businesses today. This app can not only be used to curate homepage hero galleries and automate product pages, but it can also be used to invite customers to upload their own visual content. Ideal for brands that rely on visual content such as Cloud Nine, we integrated this app across their blog pages for a more interactive, inspiring experience.

FourSixty is another platform used to make UGC shoppable. This Shopify app makes it easy for customers to shop Instagram posts and UGC across your website. Merchants are even given the ability to find brand advocates and influencers to track their Instagram activity. 

During your checkout process  

Engage with converted customers  

The aim is to convert your one-time customers into loyal customers who make regular repeat purchases. Your checkout process is a great place to do this.  

Throughout the checkout, consider displaying a recommended product feature such as ‘people who bought this item also bought…’. 

This functionality encourages customers to make another purchase by using the actions of similar shoppers to influence their decision. Displaying this throughout the checkout process can encourage the customer to make further purchases without distracting them from making the purchase they’re already set on.  

Key takeaways  

This year, increasing numbers of people have bought from brands they’ve never previously used making social proof more prevalent than ever before. As new trends and social media continue to take the world by storm, brands today have an online community at their fingertips who are eager to engage through a like, share, comment or follow.  

Integral to eCommerce brands, social proof is about showcasing this interaction to sell through trust and authenticity. Using written and visual social proof across your digital presence, you can quickly start turning browsers into loyal customers. Even better, the more value you can provide your customers, the more likely they are to engage with you as a brand, supplying even more UGC, reviews and ratings to use as your social proof.  

As an eCommerce agency founded by an eCommerce business, we understand the selling power behind social proof. Regularly considering social proof within our clients’ websites, we leverage the functionalities of Shopify Plus to build trust and rapport with an audience.  

If you need further advice on this topic or how to get started with social proof, get in touch with our team of Shopify experts

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