Consumer Psychology Social Commerce

Social Commerce Rule of Thumb, Part 1: Social Proof, Following the Crowd

“I get by with a little help from my friends.” – The Beatles

Paul, John, George and Ringo were onto a truth that has bearing on social commerce – that is, from to time, we can all use a little help from friends in making product purchase decisions.

In his December 2009 post, How Social Commerce Works: The Psychology of Social Shopping, Dr. Paul Marsden, editor of Social Commerce Today, categorized it this way: “To resolve uncertainty of what to do or buy, we often look to what others are doing or have done, and take our cue from them. When something stands out as particularly popular or dominant, we instinctively perceive this as social proof that it is the correct, most valid option – it’s classic peer power in action.”

The key term to consider in that statement is “social proof,” which, according to Wikipedia, is a “psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others reflect correct behavior for a given situation.” Another term for it is “social influence.” Essentially, this reliance on the advice and influence of peers is at the nexus of social shopping.

Dr. Marsden cites five social commerce technology applications that serve to foster this social proof way of thinking:

  1. Pick Lists – wish-lists and gift-lists offer social proof about what people want and what is desirable
  2. Popularity Lists – allow shoppers to view options by ‘most popular’, ‘most viewed’, ‘most favorited’, ‘most commented’ etc.
  3. Share-Your-Story – tools for publishing customer testimonials, which provide social proof with a human-interest angle
  4. Social Media Reviews – reviews from other customers provide trustworthy social proof about product or service quality
  5. Social Recommender Systems – provide social proof through personal recommendations derived from people with a similar profile.

Amazon Facebook Page

A prime example of this reliance on friends is Amazon’s Facebook integration, which allows me to see birthday and gift suggestions (pick lists) for friends and see what’s popular among my friends (popularity lists).

Wish Lists

For instance, today is my friend Euna’s birthday. While my connection to Euna is both personal and professional, I don’t know her well enough to make an intelligent selection of a gift that I’m certain she would like. The technology tie-in between Amazon and Facebook solves that dilemma by recommending certain books, music and movies for me.

I can see that Euna wants a copy of album The Music of Phillip Glass. which she had indicated was a Facebook “like.” From what I know of Euna, that would seem like a perfect suggestion. My decision-making process is simplified and I can get on with the rest of my day.

Popularity Lists

If I’m in the mood to get something for myself, I can see what my friends are reading. The tacet peer pressure exerted by people whom I consider to be influential is often enough to stimulate a purchase decision.


Another line from the above referenced Beatles’ tune says, “I’m gonna try with a little help from my friends.” To cite Dr. Marsden’s post yet again, social shopping “harnesses the human capacity for social learning, learning from the knowledge and experience of others we know and/or trust.” The social proof provided by friends helps to fortify my thinking and remove doubt about a product I intend to purchase.

Paul Chaney's Amazon Facebook Page

Amazon Facebook Page wish list suggestions

Amazon product selection based on Facebook likes