When viewing an item you are interested in buying online there is often a side bar that displays what other customers who have viewed this item have further looked at. This can tempt people to also click on that item to see what it is. In turn they may decide that they themselves want to buy this product. Senecal and Nantel (2004) found that consumers who consulted product recommendations selected recommended products twice as often as subjects who did not consult recommendations.
This marketing technique engages a psychological process that promotes conformity. It provides information about what to do and think via a simple rule ‘If other people are doing it, it must be correct’. The informational value of social agreement can be seen in experiments such as Lee et al. (2006). The experimental task required subjects to decide whether to make online purchases of tickets on a cinema website. The treatment condition was required to browse through an online discussion forum comprised of other consumers’ messages about their positive online purchasing experiences. They then viewed the website and were asked whether they would make a purchase. The control condition was just told to view the cinema website and decide whether they would make a purchase. Positive informational social influence strengthened the relationship between consumers’ attitude toward Internet shopping and their intention to shop.
The more it appears that everyone is doing something, in this case buying a certain product, the more likely others will join in and copy that behaviour.
Lee, M. K. O., Cheung, C. M. K., Sia, C. L., & Lim, K. H. (2006). How positive informational social influence affects consumers’ decision of internet shopping. In System Sciences, 2006. HICCSS’06. Proceedings of the 39th Annual Hawaii International Conference on (Vol. 6, pp. 115a – 115a).
Senecal, S. & Nantel J. (2004). The influence of online product recommendations on consumers’ online choices. Journal of retailing, 80, 159 – 169.