Studying human behaviour is an essential part of every successful marketing strategy, including those related to online sales.
We often fail to take into account the fact that our customers are human beings. They hide behind numbers and statistics we often use, but they are still human and as humans they behave according to fixed action patterns.
In one of my previous articles I mentioned the Principle of Scarcity, which was theorized by one of the most famous social psychologists in the world: Robert Cialdini.
In that article I explained how the lack of a certain product works as an incentive for customers to buy it, which is the same train of thought behind the success of timed deals and offers.
I’m going to use this article to talk about another fixed pattern of our human brain: the Principle of Social Proof.
The concept behind this article is that: people tend attribute a higher value of importance to the behaviour of the masses rather then the one of single individuals.
You might have heard the expression “Collective knowledge is better than individual knowledge”. We tend to give a higher value to an object simply in case other bought it as well.
This same way of thinking is what lies behind fashion, for instance: if many people do it, it must mean it’s a good thing.
Human and Inhuman
In order to explain how this line of thoughts works, here is an experiment that was performed by Latane and Darley.
The “social experiment” genre has recently become popular on youtube, a kind of video in which people are put into some unusual situation in order to display their reaction.
For instance some could show a person suddenly feeling bad while walking down the street in order to display the reaction of passersby.
What’s shocking and often causes indignation among viewers is that often people involved don’t intervene but just walk past or stop and look.
What happened? Have we completely lost our empathy? Our human heart?
On the contrary: we are more human then ever.
Imagine being suddelny invited to a gala dinner. With no knowledge on how to properly behave in this kind of situation, once you sit at the table, what are you going to do?
That’s right: look at others and imitate what they are doing.
This desire to comply is so strong that if others would start having soup using forks, you would do the same. Which is pretty much what happens in the aforementioned social experiment.
If one person is the only one to see a stranger suddenly feeling bad, there is an 85% chance they are going to intervene. However, if others are around, everyone will stand and observe how others are acting in that situation.
The Principle of Social Proof in Marketing
This process can naturally apply and be adapted to web marketing, just like the Principle of Scarcity that we have seen before.
When customers enter a shop or your online store and find themselves in an unfamiliar place, they instinctively tend to emulate the behaviour of those who were there before them.
Which is why bookstores have a Best Sellers section, or one that shows the weekly chart of the top selling books: the fact alone that those books belong into a specific category leads customers to pick them over others.
This triggers a chain reaction that allows a given book to receive more interest than others from the masses, which will generate more sales, which will generate more interest and so on.
It works in the same way both in the small and in the large scale: gaining your customers’ trust is never easy, and we try out many different systems in order to achieve it.
We may invest in customer reviews, a good customer service, discounts that may attract new customers and keep regulars coming, but whenever a customer approaches your store there is one main thing they want to see: which products other customers have bought. Even better if many of them did.
And even better if this is somehow visually displayed as a piece of information that is separated from the rest of product related information.
Both to exploit the Principle of Social Proof and to attract the attention of new customers it would be a good idea to:
- Add a chart of the top selling items in your e-commerce store (weekly, monthly, yearly).
- Show an image of your best selling products with a mark that will show that they belong in one of those charts.
Ultimately, if your store is built using WooCommerce, you can implement this function by using the WooCommerce Best Sellers plugin.
This will allow you to insert charts wherever you prefer in your WooCommerce based e-commerce store, this plugin also allows you to enter charts as a sidebar widget in your store page as well.
Another wise move would be to create a best seller category for each kind of item available in your WooCommerce based store, for instance a clothing shop could display its best selling trousers, shirts, shoes, etc.
Fixed Action Patterns of the human brains are powerful tools for online marketing: it’s best to know what they are and how to use them wisely.