What I Learned About “Social Proof” From My Trip to Total Wine

Total WineThe other day I was at Total Wine, a wonderful store. I don’t know anything about wine, which is why this store is perfect for me. They have so many features on the shelves that help me pick out a wine. They tell me if the wine has won any fancy wine awards or if it has a high rating from those people who rate wines. I told you, I know nothing about wine!

What I love the most about Total Wine are the “staff favorites.” “Staff favorites” are marked throughout the store with a picture of the staff member and a callout that says, “[Staff Person]’s Favorite.” Then, the staff member will personalize it by writing a short statement about why they love that particular wine. For me, it’s a no-brainer: If the price is right on a bottle of “staff favorite” wine, that’s the one that’s going in my shopping cart. It saves me from spending hours wandering around the store trying to find the right wine and it cures me of the uncertainty that I’ve just purchased a crappy bottle. If someone who works at a wine store recommends it and it’s a style of wine I know I like, I’m willing to give it a try! And I’m not the only one – there were consistently less bottles left on the shelves where the little “staff favorite” cards were positioned. Some of the staff-picked wines had already sold out, or only one or two bottles were left.

It is obvious that personal recommendations are extremely important for businesses today, whether or not the store has a physical location. I’d say it’s even more important for an online business to eliminate customer doubt because of the lack of physical evidence when it comes to online purchasing. Everyone needs assurance that what they’re buying, whether it’s a bottle of wine or a bigger commitment like a car, is going to be a good investment. As I looked at the dwindling inventory of staff picks at Total Wine, I wondered what the best way would be to create an experience like this online where the customer feels more assured of their purchase. What was the answer? More reviews on Yelp? More Facebook likes? I wasn’t really sure.

About a week later, I read an article on Fast Company by Russell Kogan that identified what I’d experienced at Total Wine as “Social Proof.” The article talks more about how people tend to follow a crowd (i.e. pick a crowded restaurant over an empty one) because if other people are doing something, it lets our brains know that it is safe for us to do the same thing. That’s because we assume that the other people have assessed the risk and deemed the action as safe or good. In the case of Total Wine, it only took one person (a staff member) to say that a certain bottle of wine was good. However, coupling that with the missing bottles demonstrated that lots of other people agreed, making it more likely that I would trust the recommendation and buy the wine myself.

The problem for an online business is that people can’t see whether or not you have a crowd. Reviews and likes on social media are definitely a great way to show people that you’ve built a community and that people trust you . One way to get more reviews for your site is to ask your customers for them. You can prompt them to write a review after they make a purchase, for example.

While reviews on social media are important for any business (not just ecommerce sites), there are a lot of other methods you can use to “Social Proof” your business’s online presence. For example, Kogan uses a live sales feed on his business’s website. Having a live sales feed creates an environment where the customer feels less alone in their shopping experience. Seeing that others are making purchases at the same time will make them feel more at ease that the products are good and the site is trustworthy.

Do you have any ideas on how you can “Social Proof” a website or get more online reviews?

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