The role of ‘social proof’ in shopping experiences

The role of ‘social proof’ in shopping experiences

Knowing that other people (like you) have made the same decision you’re about to make and have had a good outcome is very persuasive. It’s the concept of ‘social proof’ – coined in Cialdini’s book “Influence: The psychology of persuasion’. It’s something we often see online – but how does this manifest in in-store experiences?

Enter Amazon’s new store which opened in Soho recently.  We wrote about this store recently – the concept is that only products rated 4-stars or higher are featured – allowing consumers to trust in the curated assortment of products. Add to ihat the ability for consumers to physically see the products in-store – something we know that customers look for – and you have a winning combination.

Jason Goldberg highlighted the impact of the store on retail in a recent Forbes article where he pointed to how Social Proof was being used in the store – and how it’s a powerful tool for the purchase process. “This model is upending competitors’ ideas about assortment, social proof in-store, and new discovery experiences.” he writes.

While social proof in the form of ratings and reviews has become one of the most important factors in driving online purchase behaviors (above and beyond branding!), it’s almost always devoid in in-store experiences. So this new format introduced by Amazon is changing that. Furthermore, they have added the element of live, up to date updates, by replacing traditional paper fact tags, with electronic shelf labels reflecting reviews and ratings in real-time.

This store format is not a novelty, but will be around for a while, and gives retailers ideas on how to integrate social proof into their in-store experience. 

Amazon expands to physical retail and shows us what multibrand retail could look like

Amazon has opened a physical store in Soho, NY which is filled with products are trusted — they either are rated 4-stars and above, or top sellers, or are trending.

The company claims to have created a space which is a direct reflection of their customers – what they’re buying and what they’re loving.

Starting with some of the most popular categories on, and layering on zones in the store for ‘Most-Wished-For’, ‘Trending Around NYC’, and ‘Frequently bought together’ – the space is designed to allow customers to discover products they love – and reflect Amazon’s online shopping habits, but in a physical environment. There are even customer review cards to accompany products.

As Digiday pointed out,this is a look at how Amazon is shaping how the department store of the future looks like, where customers decide on inventory, not buyers – putting pressure on big-box retailers to curate selections based on customer feedback. The use of real data – and stocking products that will have guaranteed success is truly innovative.

Techniques retailers are using to drive customers in-store

There are many techniques that retailers use to continue to drive foot traffic into their physical stores. In this article, we share just a few to get you thinking.

Turning a shopping trip into a destination through events

By bringing educational classes, or other experiential elements to your store, you can get customers thinking about a shopping visit as a desirable event outing instead. And as we know, the longer your customer spends in-store, the high probability they have of making a purchase.

For example, Williams-Sonoma offer cooking classes-instore where people can learn how to use products and sample the merchandise. Home Depot offer kids craft and building classes on the first Saturday of every month. And Lululemon has also found success in holding free yoga classes during slow business hours to drive traffic in-store. Classes feature products sold by Lululemon and this increases basket size in the process.

Offer services to complement your products

For retailers whose products require maintenance, offering services for free to in-store customers to encourage people to stop by. For example, Tanzanite Jewelry designs provides in-store services such as jewelry cleaning and battery replacement to help increase traffic and sales. In the cosmetics space, personal stylist consultations or makeovers can help drive shoppers instore. For example, Sephora offers free mini-makeovers where their highly trained make-up artists teach you how to use their products, often leading to not just sales, but repeat purchases by shoppers who are extremely happy with their selection.

Provide personalized recommendations and advice in-store

One of the leading benefits of making purchases in physical retail stores is that your customers get to physically experience the product before making a purchase, as well as access to sales staff who can help with personalized recommendations. Retailers are tapping into this benefit, as well as introducing technologies which can mirror the benefits of online shopping, such as self checkout or sales staff having access to a customer’s past shopping history or preferences before offering advice in-store. All of this is helping bridge the gap between the online purchase experience and the instore shopping experience.

Rethinking the grocery store experience

Rethinking the grocery store experience from being a transitory destination to becoming an exploratory destination full of discovery is proving to be a worthwhile approach for grocery retailers.

Here are a few techniques stores are using to encourage shoppers to stay in store and elevate the in-store experience.

  • Lucky’s market are letting customers take a beer or glass of wine with them when they shop in a program called ‘Sip and Stroll’ – which comes complete with a cupholder in shopping carts.
  • Some grocers are holding ‘Meet the farmer’ events, partnering with vertical farming operations like Bright Farms and Gotham Greens to source produce from only miles away. This taps into the trend towards hyper-local produce – a phenomenon that Packaged Facts estimates will hit $20billion by next year!
  • A variety of grocery stores are experimenting with growing produce in stores! For examples, a Whole Foods that opened earlier this year Bridgewater, New Jersey features a mushroom farm that generates up to 120 pounds of fungi a week for the store. A Hy-Vee store in Iowa provides up to 15 pounds of herbs and lettuce for the store each week with eight-foot tall hydroponic grow walls.
  • Other grocery stores are bringing in an educational element to the grocery shop. Basics Market in Portland, features a large culinary classroom where shoppers can learn everything from knife skills to diabetes management. At select Martin’s stores in Indiana seniors can learn how to cook with local ingredients, while kids can take brownie-baking classes. Hy-Vee offers store tours with its many dietitians while Dave’s Supermarket in Rhode Island runs support groups and seminars for shoppers with celiac disease.

What L’Occitane’s new store concept means for retail

L’Occitane en Provence has opened up a new retail destination in New York in the form of an interactive boutique. Following the experiential retail trend, the new store is 1,870 square feet of sensory delight. Designed by international artistic director Daniel Contorni and Blackburn, it’s a step into the cobblestoned streets of Provence and all that this entails.

So what does move towards experience this mean for retail? It means the bar has been set higher for in-store experiences. Here’s just a few things that are inspirational about the L’Occitane retail experiences that other retailers can learn from and be inspired by.

A glocal approach



In addition to providing an immersive, delightful experience in New York, L’Occitane has adopted a ‘glocal’ approach, creating customized experiences tailored for local clientele – whether that be in Brazil, Paris, London, China, Singapore or Toronto. These experiences have worked hard to turn each L’Occitance location into a destination, showcasing the local portfolio of services on offer.

An evolutive space

Each location is seen as an ‘evolutive space’ – which continuously changes with the seasons to reflect different campaigns. This continuously change helps keep the physical retail locations fresh and relevant, giving customers a reason for repeat visits, and avoiding a ‘been there, done that’ attitude.

Experiencing it live

From in-store cafés and macaroons to customized products and complementary beauty treatments, L’Occitane provides even more reasons for customers to visit the physical store while telling the brand’s story through these physical experiences. For example, the new flagship on Regent Street in London offers personalised product engraving, complimentary hand and arm massages and beauty consultations in private rooms, as well as an in-store café offering limited edition Pierre Hermé macaroons. Delightful.

Why POP strategies drive the ‘Impulse Purchase’

An upsurge in impulse buying mean that the point of purchase (POP) is playing a more important role in consumers’ decision making than ever before.  

So why are consumers open to impulse purchases, despite their best intention to seek special deals or wait for sales?

There are many reasons. Here, we cover just a few behind the continuing and increasing success of the POP strategy in driving the impulse purchase.

  1. Improving the shopper experience:  When done right, POP strategies can occupy consumers whilst they’re waiting for sales help – presenting enough useful information in an efficient format to drive an impulse purchase. This can reduce some of the frustrations associated with the shopping experience as well as make the retail experience more entertaining.
  2. The ‘Vicarious ownership’ theory: Ian Zimmerman Ph.D writes that “when we’re connected to a product, it literally changes the way our minds perceive it. Our minds essentially start acting like we already own the product, which makes it harder to go without buying it”. How do you make that connection? Zimmerman continues “A physical connection with a product is created when we’re close to it – and when we’re able to touch it. A temporal connection is created when we’re able to purchase it immediately.”  POP strategies are specifically placed to be able to provide these connections.
  3. The ability to provide speed and convenience: Quelch and Cannon-Bonventre write about consumers who value speed and convenience becoming more open to helping themselves as the point of purchase – and as a result, more likely to make an impulse purchase. We see this in the increase in use of vending machines and the rise of self service store formats.




Is there really a Retail Apocalypse?

No doubt you’ve come across headlines in the news about a ‘retail apocalypse’ – the claim that physical retail is dying. At the same time, there are just as many headlines that speak to physical retail’s growth.

We’ve seen e-commerce brands such as Casper and Everlane launching pop ups and other new store formats to engage with their customers in physical locations. Store advisors have been identified as playing a critical part in the consumer decision making process. Let’s also not forget that alongside announcements of store closings, a number of brands have announced the widespread opening of new stores across the US in 2018, including Ulta (100 new stores), Dollar General (900 new stores), Ross Stores (100 new stores).

As Steve Dennis wrote in a recent Forbes contribution “Physical retail is not dead. Boring retail is”.

Here’s a collection of just a few pieces of advice we’ve found on becoming part of the retail renaissance.

Think Experiential

Experiential may have become a retail marketing buzzword – but it’s an important one. It means using sensory inputs such as visual merchandising, sound, smell, touch and taste to create emotional memories. Or providing other reasons and experiences for customers to visit a store and engage with your brand.  You can see this already in trends such as the rise of ‘grocerants’ – changing a simple visit to the grocery store into an attractive place to explore food and dine as you would a restaurant. Or other stories such as STORY – a gift retail establishment in the meatpacking district that hosts events such as yoga classes and healthcare panels.

It’s personal

Customers respond to personalized experiences and personalized offers that are tailored to their needs. In a research report by Segment, it was found that personalization presented a huge in-store opportunity, as physical stores are more likely to drive last-minute purchases over $50. A simple way to improve personalization could be to allowing sales associates to be able to see customers online shopping history instore to help them provide better recommendations. Or using apps in-store to help push in-store discounts.

Intuitive is best

The most important factor to be successful in physical retail is to be intuitive – allow the customer to find what they want, and check out with ease. Regardless of what technologies or experiences you bring in-store – this must be the priority, and in the quest to incorporate the latest retail trend or technology, it’s at the risk of getting overlooked.

We don’t believe there is a retail apocalypse. Instead, we simply see an increasing need to shift the way brands do retail to meet rising consumers expectations.