So having bought a copy of ‘Negotiation Genius’ to read for this module from Amazon, I received an email from them asking me ‘How did this item meet your expectations?’. An easy, one click task (so I thought) and selected 4 stars. However, upon clicking this button I was automatically redirected to the page shown below, asking me to write a review for the book. In addition to this, I wasn’t allowed to submit my 4 star rating unless I wrote a review.
Why do Amazon do this? Why do so many people write a review (albeit usually a short one) when given this redirection link? The answer relies on the effectiveness of the persuasive technique being used here – the ‘foot-in-the-door’ technique. In this tactic, the target (here, the customer) is first asked to comply with a small request (which most people readily perform) and then is asked to comply with a related, larger request (which was the goal of the influencer all along). In the case of Amazon, the small request is clicking on a star rating and the large request is writing a review.
The efficacy of this technique was demonstrated in a study by Freedman and Fraser (1966). The basic paradigm was to ask participants to comply first with a small request and then 3 days later with a larger, related request (performance condition). Other participants were asked only to comply with the large request (one contact condition). The paradigm was employed in a field experiment in which housewives were asked to allow a survey team consisting of several men to come into their homes for 2 hours and classify the household products that they used. There were four different conditions:
Performance condition: Participants were first asked to answer some questions about the type of soap they used (small request), then were later asked to have men come into their homes (large request)
Agree only condition: Participants were first asked to answer some questions about the type of soap they used (but were never actually asked these questions), then were later asked to have men come into their homes
Familiarisation condition: The experimenter contacted the participant, but did not make the small request, then the participant was later asked to have men come into their homes
No initial contact condition: Participants were only asked the large request
Table 1: The results show that over 50% of the participants in the performance condition complied with the large request, compared to less than 25% in the one contact condition.
Thus it appears that obtaining compliance with a small request increases subsequent compliance with a larger request. The ‘foot-in-the-door’ technique works in the same way in the Amazon review email; you comply with clicking on a rating and are subsequently more likely to write a review for the product.
In the experiment, performance of the large request did not differ significantly between the ‘performance’ and ‘agree only’ conditions, suggesting that the participants only had to be asked the small request in order to later perform the large request; whether or not they actually performed the small request did not make a difference. This also can be related to the email – clicking anywhere on the email (not just on the stars) redirected you to the review page. So similarly to Freedman and Fraser’s (1966) study, you do not actually give a star rating (comply with a small request) in order to be asked to comply with a large request (writing a review).
The technique works by making people commit to involvement – they perform the first request and then feel that they are expected to perform the second (larger) request. Another possible way in which the technique has been suggested to work is by leading the target to think about the request more. In the case of the Amazon advert, thinking about what star rating you’re going to give the book also makes you think about general positive and negative aspects of the book. Now you’ve started thinking more deeply about the book, you might as well write those thoughts down in a review, right?
You might be interested to know that I didn’t fall for this technique and write a review but judging by the book’s page on Amazon, ten people have fallen for it. Being aware of persuasive techniques makes you far less likely to succumb to them. Next time I see a similar email from Amazon drop into my inbox I’ll be deleting it right away.
Freedman, J.L., & Fraser, S.C. (1966). Compliance without pressure: the foot-in-the-door technique. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4, 195.