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Six ways to use social proof to transform your e‑commerce sales

What’s the link between how you get people to pay their taxes on time and getting them to purchase products online? The answer is social proof (and we’ve got some pretty exciting news about it too).

A theory from behavioural economics, social proof is the idea that we look to what others are doing to help us in decision-making, and it boils down to ‘everyone else is doing it – I should too.’

Put simply, as much as we’d all like to believe we’re as individual as our fingerprints and that no amount of peer pressure will influence our decision-making, the truth is that we humans – far from being unique butterflies – are really just sheep. We like to be part of the herd, and if the herd is doing something – whether it’s paying taxes, promoting towel reuse in hotels (!), or buying a product online – we want in.

This idea of social proof, if deployed skilfully, can be used to the advantage of e-commerce brands to encourage consumers to make purchases on the spot and reduce website abandonment.

Why use social proof on an e-commerce site?

E-commerce marketers know that getting people to their site is half the battle. But the other half is encouraging them to browse, nudging them towards adding products to their basket, going through the sales funnel, and finally, hitting ‘Buy Now’.

There are many tools in the savvy marketer’s kit that can be used to help guide users through this journey – including optimising the visitor experience, great UX design, interesting copy, strong product pictures and descriptions, and personalised messages.

All these things help with conversion rate optimisation, but social proof is one of the most powerful ways of helping users reach this end goal by ‘nudging’ in the right direction.

What does social proof look like on a website?

Visually, there’s a huge range of means at your disposal to create social proof for your visitors. It might come in the form of overlays or notifications, enhanced images, highlighted text within product descriptions and other attention-grabbing features on the page.

But what about what actually constitutes ‘social proof’ messaging? We’ve broken it down into the six key types widely used by e-commerce retailers to boost their conversions…

1. Build trust through reviews and star ratings

A classic example of social proof in e-commerce is putting customer reviews and star ratings alongside products to help the visitor feel confident in the product. In fact, one study found that nearly 70% of customers base their purchases on reviews from a site with user reviews.

New Zealand wine merchant Advintage, selling a premium (and very subjective) product like wine, uses a range of social proof metrics on product pages, including a rating out of 100, a star rating, awards won and reviews from both professional wine critics (where relevant) and customers.

These third party ‘trust signals’ can be at their most powerful when it comes to high-ticket items or other big purchasing decisions. Take Ovo Energy, for example – they’re trying to get their visitors to switch energy providers, which is a pretty substantial purchase to make. So they showed their visitors social proof in the form of their Trustpilot ratings to help give them the confidence to continue on to conversion (resulting in a conversion rate increase of 18%):

So when your visitors can’t touch and feel (or even taste test) the item, or speak to a sales assistant, social proof in the form of reviews can help:

  • Promote trust with a sense of transparency
  • Create a sense of confidence: “if someone else loved it, I might too”
  • Answer questions the visitor might have about the product that will help them decide whether it’s right for them

2. Create urgency by showing the number of people viewing a product

We all know that a sense of urgency drives purchasing decisions. When deployed well, it can be used to encourage the user to make a purchase where they otherwise may have put it off or left the website, increasing the risk that they will fail to return to the sales funnel.

Using this social proof feature, brands such as Kickers and Butterfly Twists have seen how this sense of urgency creates an online shopping FOMO (fear of missing out) and can increase conversions.

In brick-and-mortar retail stores, it’s easy to see how many people are looking at a product – queues, crowded stores, people browsing the same racks. All of these things pique interest, and shoppers come in to see what people are looking at, creating a positive cycle.

E-commerce retailers can simulate this experience online, recreating the sense that the consumer is in a crowded store with others vying for the same products. Ebay uses this technique multiple times on a product page, combining statistics on numbers sold with information about how many are watching the product and how many units are left in stock.

Showing how many people are viewing a product:

  • Creates a sense of urgency: “Someone else might take this if I don’t act now”
  • Proves the value of the product: other people are interested, too

3. Boost urgency by showing stock levels

Along with urgency, scarcity is one of the go-to tactics for marketers everywhere as it creates a desire for immediate action.

Again, in a traditional store, you can physically see how much stock is on the shelf. Digital shopping experiences erase this physical visibility, but e-commerce retailers can replicate the experience by alerting customers to when stocks are low – whether by giving a specific number (i.e. ‘Hurry – only 3 left!’) or simply indicating a low stock level, such as in the example below from French Connection.

Highlighting stock levels:

  • Encourages people to act immediately, reducing website abandonment
  • Creates a good customer experience by reducing frustration

4. Drive interest with ‘best seller’ tickets

Consider the New York Times Best Seller list. Often considered the highest accolade a book can receive, it’s plastered all over the merchandising for any book that can make the boast. The logic is of course that if lots of people like it, it must be good.

E-commerce retailers can use the same principle to help sell their items. It might be a search filter, as in the below example from beauty retailer Kiehl’s, which also uses a header image with compelling copy to emphasise the popularity of the products. It can also be highlighted in the product description or as a design feature on product images. Presenting items as ‘best sellers’:

  • Helps people select an item they’ll feel they’re more likely to enjoy
  • Assists consumers in sorting and searching through products on your website more easily

5. Give recommendations through showing what others have purchased

Showing products that others have bought or viewed alongside the item a customer is already viewing is a true ‘one-two punch’ of an e-commerce technique.

Why? Not only does it remind the user that people have bought the product they’re viewing, providing social proof for the product they’re already considering, but it introduces a sales funnel for further products, giving those products social proof as well.

This is best known as an Amazon technique – but considering that 35% of Amazon sales are driven by their recommendation algorithm, it’s an extremely valuable practice to adopt. Suggesting items based on the purchasing behaviour of others reduces website abandonment by helping users explore further products

6. Build interest with curated lists and endorsements

Another source people look to for social proof is in well-known identities and experts. Celebrity endorsements are an enduring marketing phenomenon for a reason: they work. If people perceive that a product is being recommended by someone they know and like, it builds trust and a sense of quality.

But you don’t have to get a Hollywood A-Lister to endorse your product: experts and influencers work in a similar way. For example, the Sweaty Betty website features a Top 10 list from founder Tamara Hill-Norton – a major part of the brand identity – each season. Using expert and celebrity endorsement:

  • Is memorable – recognisable faces help sell products
  • Creates trust and assurance through positive association with people they like and admire
  • Helps people feel an affinity with the brand and its products

In conclusion…

Social proof is a powerful means of encouraging consumers to act with immediacy. It’s important to select the right kind of social proof to use on your site: not all will be appropriate for every kind of retailer or product. And social proof in itself is just one of many ways to improve conversion rates and reduce website abandonment.

So here’s the exciting part.

We’ve just launched our very own social proof feature: Dynamic Social Proof, which is now ready to be used on the Conversion Platform. If you’d like to hear more about it, leave your details and we’ll be in touch to tell you more.

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