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How effective is social proof in impacting purchases?

How effective is social proof in impacting purchases?

Consumers interact with many outside influences during the consumer journey. One of the largest is their interactions with other consumers. 

Psychology refers to this concept as social proof, the idea that individuals determine appropriate behavior for themselves in a situation by examining the behavior of others involved, especially if others involved are similar to them. Dr. Sunyee Yoon, Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University at Buffalo, spoke with us about the social impact of relationships on consumer behavior.

Much of consumer psychology stems from innate human responses. A need to belong is a fundamental human motivation. People desire connection and validation, often fashioning their behavior based on societal expectations.

“People typically prefer to bond with people they consider as having similar preferences and values. To get others to like them, people may try to show others that they are like them or that they have several desirable qualities,” Yoon said. “It explains why people often buy products that are popular among their peers or buy some products purely to get others’ approval.”

There are many reasons why consumers might form their actions around the opinions of others. Duncan Stevens, influence expert and author, told us that the foundation of social proof is trust. Humans are hardwired to desire reliable, trustworthy situations over those that could potentially disappoint them later down the line. 

Consumers often depend on reviews from past customers, testimonies from friends, or brand experts to determine what decision they should make. Yoon says social proof shows up differently for everyone. 

“Some people are more concerned with social relationships than others. Research shows that in general, female consumers compared to male consumers are more likely to conform to others when they make purchasing decisions. Young females tend to buy products to get others’ approval and are more sensitive to peer pressure than others,” said Yoon.

But across all demographics, some factors remain relevant for every consumer. The characteristics of a product (quality, product type, name brand, life span, etc.) can impact when and where a consumer uses it.

“When people purchase products used in public, such as bags, smartphones, cars, clothes and shoes, they are concerned about others’ judgment and tend to buy some popular products. But when they buy products consumed in private settings, such as toothpaste and mattress, they usually follow personal preference and taste. We do not worry about others’ judgment about what toothpaste we use,” said Yoon.

There are situational factors as well. When people feel insecure, they have a higher need to belong, and in turn, purchase something similar to others.

“Think about this situation: Imagine you do not have enough resources, like food or electricity, because of some natural disaster or poverty. You might feel insecure. In such harsh environments, you may want to affiliate with others because affiliation gives us some sense of security by increasing chances to survive,” said Yoon.

Fear of missing out and falling behind the pack can also lead consumers to buy products they believe will get a positive response. Yoon says this factor explains why the sales of luxury brands are especially high in collectivist cultures.

No matter the culture, time period or desired outcome, it’s clear that social proof has a large impact on consumer purchasing decisions. Understanding the influence of society on consumer behavior provides greater insight into the consumer shopping experience.  

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Picture of Lindsay Keener

Lindsay Keener

Lindsay Keener is a brand journalist for Quikly. She covers stories that help to inform and educate consumer-facing marketers.

Picture of Lindsay Keener

Lindsay Keener

Lindsay Keener is a brand journalist for Quikly. She covers stories that help to inform and educate consumer-facing marketers.