Warby Parker (a US brand of glasses) has a “Home Try-On Program”. The program allows customers to order 5 sample pairs of frames that they like the look of, which are then shipped to them for free. The customer can keep the sample pairs for 5 days before shipping them back, again for free, and ordering their favourite pair. This program makes use of Cialdini’s principle of commitment and consistency. Note, it also probably makes use of the reciprocity principle (they were kind enough to send us the sample glasses for free so we should return the favour by purchasing a pair) but for the sake of this blog post we will concentrate on commitment and consistency.
The principle of commitment and consistency relies on the idea that people are motivated to appear consistent in their words and actions. Therefore by ordering the sample pack of glasses the consumer is clearly expressing an interest in the brand and a possible intention to buy. Accordingly they should be far more likely to follow through with a purchase compared to if they hadn’t ordered the sample glasses in order to remain committed to their original interest.
The effectiveness of this principle has been demonstrated by Moriarty (1975). In the summer of 1972 a series of thefts were staged at Jones Beach, New York. In these “thefts” a portable radio was stolen from an unattended beach towel. The confederate ‘victim’ would place his towel within around 1.5 meters of the participant and recline with his radio on fairly loudly for a couple of minutes. The confederate would then speak to the participant before walking away until he was out of sight. For half of the participants the confederate said "Excuse me, I'm going up to the boardwalk for a few minutes . . . would you watch my things?" (commitment condition) whilst for the other half they said '"Excuse me, I'm here alone and have no matches . . . do you have a light?" (control condition). Shortly after this the confederate ‘thief’ would walk up and take the portable radio from the victim’s towel before quickly walking away again. The response of the participant was noted by an observer, positioned behind the participant on the beach.
All participants in the commitment group agreed to watch the victim’s things for them. Responsiveness to the thief was demonstrated by the participant getting up from his towel and running after the thief to demand an explanation. As shown in the figure above, 95% of those participants in the commitment group responded to the theft compared to only 20% in the control group. This is therefore evidence making a commitment to do something results in an increased likelihood of a person actually doing it.
Accordingly, in Moriarty’s (1975) study those participants who agreed to watch over the possessions felt a greater need to stop the thief in order to remain consistent with their original promise. The same process occurs in Warby Parker’s customers. They should experience a greater need to buy a pair of frames in order to remain consistent with their original interest / intention to possibly buy.
Reference: Moriarty, T. (1975). Crime, Commitment, and the Responsive Bystander: Two Field Experiments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 31, 370-376.