Of all the marketing and conversion techniques used by ecommerce retailers, building social proof has to rank as one of the most effective.

It may even be the most effective. At Growcode, if we had to suggest just one method that an online retailer could use to boost their sales, we’d tell them to include more social-proof-building elements on product, checkout, and category pages.

The simple truth is that leveraging social proof will positively impact most if not all of your key ecommerce metrics, including conversion rate, average order value, and average lifetime value.

In this post, we’re going to look at seven of the most effective ways to use social proof. By implementing these tips on your site, you’ll be replicating strategies used by some of the biggest and most successful online retailers in the game. See what we did there?

What is Social Proof and How Does it Work?

Social proof is a well-documented concept that permeates a wide variety of subjects, from the study of human societies to business strategy.

In a nutshell, social proof rests on the idea that we are fundamentally influenced by the actions of other people. As evolved human beings, we have an innate desire to follow the herd.

It was first popularised by psychology professor Robert B. Cialdini. In his book Influence, he writes: “In general, when we are unsure of ourselves, when the situation is unclear or ambiguous, when uncertainty reigns, we are most likely to look to and accept the actions of others as correct.” He also says, “First, we seem to assume that if a lot of people are doing the same thing, they must know something we don’t.” As Cialdini clearly outlines in the book, social proof is a multi-faceted concept. But it all comes down to our basic instinct to act as herd animals.

In a business setting, this equates to a simple belief on the part of customers: if a large number of people take a particular action, there must be a good reason for it! When you consider, for example, that 72% of customers trust online reviews, the relevance of social proof to online retailers becomes abundantly apparent. And even if reviews have been solicited through a post-purchase email or bought, customers will still take them on board. Most customers aren’t aware of the origin of reviews.

Social proof also helps us to understand other useful techniques applicable to ecommerce, like the “fear of missing out “(FOMO) and urgency-building. In both cases, the suggestion that the “herd” is acting in a particular way creates a desire to buy.

72% of customers trust online reviews - the relevance of social proof to online retailers becomes abundantly apparent. #SocialProof #ecommerce Click To Tweet

OK, onto the techniques themselves…

1. Leverage Proof-Building Customer Ratings and Reviews to Boost Conversions
2. Show Existing Interest in Products and Services from Customers and Potential Customers
3. Show Security Seals, Award Badges, and any Affiliate Brands to Build Trust
4.Show Expert Views, Influencer Mentions and Media Recommendations
5. Showcase Review Stories and Media-Rich Reviews
6. Highlight Social Media Activity on Facebook and Twitter to Build Social Proof for Specific Products
7. Avoid Negative Social Proof and “Neutralize” Negative Comments and Reviews

Dig in!

1. Leverage Proof-Building Customer Ratings and Reviews to Boost Conversions

The data is absolutely clear on this point: reviews work. If you do not already include reviews on your products pages, then your conversion rate is almost certainly suffering.

Here are some practical tips for leveraging the power of reviews:

  • Generate more reviews with follow-up emails – Sending follow-up emails to customers after they’ve made a purchase is one of the best ways to generate large quantities of reviews. You might even want to include an incentive such as a voucher or discount code. As always, ensure you’re testing follow-up emails to boost clicks over the long-term.
  • Include a “review badge” at the top of your product pages – This is the strategy that large online retailers like Walmart and Amazon use. Including a “badge” with an aggregated review score at the top of product pages ensures that good reviews still influence customers that don’t scroll to the bottom of the page.
  • Don’t fear bad reviews – The mere thought of bad reviews is enough to send many online retailers running for the nearest underground bunker! But research shows that bad reviews shouldn’t be feared. It’s better to display lots of positive reviews with the odd negative one than to show nothing at all. And even less-than-glowing reviews can be weakened by responding to them.

If you want to develop your review strategy even further, check out the in-depth guide we’ve written on the topic of customer reviews.

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2. Show Existing Interest in Products and Services from Customers and Potential Customers

Indicating buyer interest gets to the root of what social proof is all about. By showing that a product is in high demand, you’re hitting all the triggers that motivate people to buy based on the idea that others are doing the same.

This is the strategy that hotel sites like Booking.com and Airbnb use. Notifications appear to customers when they make a purchase or when an item is in high demand. What’s more, these tactics leverage other principles like “fear of missing out” (FOMO), scarcity, and buyer urgency.
Creating sense of urgency at Booking.comBooking.com shows how many people are looking at a room and the number that are left.

Here are four ways you can indicate buyer interest on your product pages:

  • Alert customers to limited stock – When stock is limited, clearly indicate this next to the main CTA.
  • Show out-of-stock models – By showing that certain variations of a product aren’t available – such as shoe sizes – you immediately indicate high buyer interest.
  • Display “recent purchase” notifications – Whenever a product is purchased, display a pop-up telling customers.

Pop-up with a "recent purchase" notificationProject 2 alert customers to recent sales.

  • Show the number of buyers in the last 24 hours – If it’s viable to do so, let customers know how many sales you made in the last 24 hours.
  • Highlight seasonal scarcity – If a product is expected to be popular on a buying holiday like around Christmas or on Mother’s Day, let people know! Customers are more likely to believe slogans like “While Stocks Last” if they’re tied to specific events.

There’s a reason that these kinds of practices are so widespread on travel and booking sites. And implementing them isn’t particularly complex from a coding perspective. If you test them on your product pages, you’ll more than likely see a positive change in conversion rates.

3. Show Security Seals, Award Badges, and any Affiliate Brands to Build Trust

Display security seals in close proximity to CTAs (and during checkout) to build trust, especially on checkout pages. Many security badges cite well-known brands – like Norton – and act as a recognizable vote of approval.
Secure ecommerce checkoutREI shows a “Norton Secured” seal during checkout.
Award badges, images of popular brands you stock, and notable mentions in the media also help persuade customers that you’re the real deal. Try including these on site-wide elements, such as in headers and sidebars.

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4.Show Expert Views, Influencer Mentions and Media Recommendations

People trust experts. Their opinions carry a lot of social proof in an ecommerce setting. And many large online retailers have used the strategy of citing expert recommendations to great effect, with some making it a core part of their value proposition.

Amazon, for example, cites reviews from third parties on its product pages, alongside related videos and customer reviews.

Video reviews on Amazon product pageAmazon includes related content from media publications on its product pages.

In a similar vein, Crutchfield gives customers the option to instantly ask experts for opinions and guidance. Not only does using this feature ease customer doubts, but including it also implies that these advisers are willing to stand behind products.
You can get help from an expert when shopping on the Crutchfield site. You can get help from an expert when shopping on the Crutchfield site.

Also, let customers know that celebrities and influencers love your products. This is a technique employed by Snow, a company that sells teeth-whitening products.

Reviews from celebrities on ecommerce siteIt’s difficult to disagree with a recommendation from Rob Gronkowski!

5. Showcase Review Stories and Media-Rich Reviews

Encourage reviewers to use rich media like video and images in their reviews. This makes reviews appear authentic while also building engagement.

Encourage reviewers to use rich media like video and images in their reviews! #SocialProof #Ecommerce #EcommerceTips Click To Tweet
Amazon showcases customer images as reviewsAmazon showcases customer images, leaving little doubt that the reviews are the real thing.
You might also want to display “case studies” that show how products have positively affected people, especially when it comes to more expensive products. Longer, more involved stories are trustworthy and emotionally powerful.
Customer testimonials on online store's home pageMarucci, a retailer that sells baseball bats, shows in-depth testimonials on its site.

6. Highlight Social Media Activity on Facebook and Twitter to Build Social Proof for Specific Products

Used in the right way, social media badges and mentions are among the most powerful tools for building social proof. Include a social media badge with your number of followers in your header or sidebar.

You can also show pictures of followers using or wearing products on relevant product pages. Vanity Planet includes Instagram photos of its customers on product pages.
Customer reviews as a instagram photos Vanity Planet has a section on its product pages dedicated to customer images from Instagram.

7. Avoid Negative Social Proof and “Neutralize” Negative Comments and Reviews

Sometimes no proof is the best way to go.

While proof-building elements are very powerful, they can often backfire if used in the wrong way. It’s better not to include social media badges, for example, if you’ve only got a few hundred followers. Equally, a poor-quality case study will usually do more harm than good.

It’s also important to “neutralize” those parts of your online store that might sap your social proof. If some products have a lot of negative reviews, for example, focus resources on building up positive ones and asking customers if there’s anything you can do to solve their problems and retract a review.

So here’s the advice you should always keep in mind: focus on your best assets. Don’t include things just for the sake of it. And btw, check out our article about social commerce so it will complete your knowledge about use of social proof and social media platforms in ecommerce.

Conclusion

If you implement the tips above, you will see a boost in the social proof associated with your brand, website, and products. And your overall ecommerce conversion rate will improve as a result.

But there’s an important caveat.

The only real way to know whether a change has positively impacted conversions is through testing. Always A/B test new ways of using social proof to see how the elements affect conversions. This is the best mechanism for distinguishing between those that boost social proof and those that bring it down or have other unintended negative effects.

Furthermore, the use of social proof should only form one part of your overall conversion rate optimization strategy. A comprehensive approach – that encompasses many different factors like CTAs, copy, images, and more – will have the best possible results for your online store.

Want to Boost Your Conversion Rates, Average Order Value, and Profits Even More? Download the 115-Point Ecommerce Checklist

If you’re interested in learning about all the different ways you can improve your ecommerce pages, we’ve written a 115-point checklist that covers everything you need to know. Download it for free now!

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