The proof is in what the crowd says

By Leslie Weller on April 1, 2021

How retailers use social validation to grow online sales

Shopping is intrinsically a social experience. The automatic images that come to mind when visualizing the retail industry are all vibrant and group-centered (pre-pandemic, of course): teenagers shopping for prom dresses, parents taking their kids to buy new clothes, small children being kept occupied by food courts, sports teams congregating to purchase gear, and such. Much of the enjoyment of shopping comes from remaining socially relevant, exchanging purchase ideas, and receiving peer acknowledgment. “Fitting in,” no pun intended, is a constant, unspoken aspiration, and we seek affirmation when people give a thumbs up (like) to what we buy, and vice versa.

So what happens when an obstacle (say, a pandemic, for instance) looms in the way of this social experience? E-commerce channels explode, and will likely continue to do so even when the obstacle has passed. In fact, Nike recently announced that more than 33% of their sales in 2020 were generated via Direct-to-Consumer (DTC), largely ecommerce, though Nike has traditionally been a wholesale brand. Where does this digital commerce revolution leave consumers who now cling to a seemingly out-of-reach idea of buying “together”? Tapping into the wisdom of crowds is an inherent aspect of retail; to leave it behind as the digital transformation continues, would be a lamentable oversight. After all, 66% of consumers say that social proof’s presence increases their likelihood to purchase.

How can brands rebuild the social buying experience and translate it to digital channels? How will social commerce become social ecommerce? How do brands make their site visitors feel as if they are not alone when they shop online—giving them the sense that, with every purchase they make, they are part of a community?

The approach to creating this online social shopping sphere is essentially a more proactive take on mechanisms that are already in place for a lot of retailers, where site visitors are notified if the items they are viewing are dwindling in stock (“Only 5 left in stock! Order soon!”). This final push once visitors are already considering a purchase is no doubt effective. Still, to take advantage of crowdsourcing, we must build up the momentum leading to that ultimate moment of decision. By proactively letting visitors know what others are drawn to, brands can allow social interactions to have a hand in every step of the process, rather than just in the final purchase push. From the moment visitors arrive at a site, giving them access to peer reviews (“86 people are also interested”) and telling them which items are creating a buzz (“Top-Rated”) will give them confidence that they are in good company in choosing the right products.

Social proof

We can even take this one step further by tailoring social proof to customers’ zip codes—their local communities. Using in-session marketing, businesses can tap into feelings of excitement and anticipation. For instance, if an unexpected surge in a particular product is trending, notify visitors that it’s selling out fast. Or perhaps with a particularly exciting 49ers football game coming up, those in the San Francisco Bay Area will want to know if their favorite team jersey is in stock.

tailoring social proof to zip codes

Like how painters use brushstrokes and colors to draw viewers’ eyes to specific focal points, brands can use site visitors’ viewing and purchasing activities to attract others to view and buy specific products. To do so, they need to answer questions like these at the beginning of the customer journey:

  • How many people have this item in their carts?
  • How many people have purchased this item recently?
  • Which items are trending?
  • What items are being viewed/bought by people in your area?

By providing such points of traction, brands can guide customers towards the products they desire and further improve their experience by creating a virtual social experience with peer validation. How are you using social proof to support your customers’ digital buying experiences?

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