Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Why did I just buy a jumpsuit I am not sure I even want?

For anyone who knows me, I am IN LOVE with online shopping. Most of my student loan goes into funding my 'hobby' and it is one I am so not ashamed off. Online shopping really kicked off around 2003 (“The History of Online Shopping in a Nutshell”, 2010) when Amazon posted their first yearly profit, although it had been around prior to this; and it was only a few years after this it found a place in my heart...

I think it all started when I was 8 and watched my dad buy our new trampoline online. I was sat with him and helped him choose it and I was SO excited for it to arrive. This excitement got even greater when he told me we didn’t even have to go to the shops to pay for it, his little plastic card had done it for us! The trampoline was to arrive in a week or so.

My dad probably regrets letting me sit in on the purchase, for about 4 months afterwards I was buying toys online and getting them delivered home with his ‘little plastic card’. I obviously pretended I had nothing to do with the strange packages arriving at home most weeks, but soon enough I was caught out. Online shopping is great, you don’t have to traipse around the shops getting hot and bothered trying to find an outfit that might not even be there; everything the store has to offer is on one handy web page.

As the old ‘endowment effect goes’ – consumers value products more once they actually own it, and simply touching an item may increase a shopper’s sense of ownership and compel the consumer to buy the product (Gregory, 2009).

An Ohio State University study demonstrated this effect using coffee mugs (Wolf, Arkes & Muhanna, 2008):
  •           Participants were shown an inexpensive coffee mug and allowed to hold it for either 10 or 30 seconds.
  •           They were then allowed to bid for the mug in a closed (bids cannot be seen) or open (bids can be seen) auction.
  •           Before bidding, the participants were told the retail value of the mug ($3.95 in closed auction, $4.95 in open auction)
  •          Results = People who held the mug for longer bid more
  •          Results = People who held the mug for 30 seconds bid more than the retail price 4 out of 7 times

However, with online shopping you don’t even come close to the product, so how do they persuade us to buy anything? This was answered for me a few days ago when I was once again online shopping.
I wasn’t really looking for anything in particular, just browsing, but each time I opened a new item I noticed these pop ups appearing. This is definitely a new feature of the Missguided website, as a loyal customer I know their site inside out, but this was the first time I had seen them use this nifty persuasion technique – Social Proof.

Social proof is a phenomenon whereby people assume the actions of others in order to ensure or attempt to reflect the correct behaviour in certain situations. It is a type of conformity, we believe that others have interpreted a situation in a correct way and so we follow their lead. A notable study by Asch demonstrates this effect

  •  A group of 8, 1 participant and 7 confederates to the study, viewed 3 lines
  • They were asked to say which of the 3 lines matched the target line in size
  • This was a very unambiguous task, there was only one line which obviously matched the target
  • The true participant answered last on all trials and the confederates consistently gave the wrong answer to the task
  • Results = 1/3rd of the time, participants conformed to the wrong answer of the confederates

This study shows we base our ideas of what must be correct on what other people seem to be doing, it doesn’t matter what we think is true, it matters what everyone else thinks. So how does this fit into online shopping?

Well, when I saw the jumpsuit I wasn’t sure if I liked it. It was a bit different, unlike most things I owned and I just all round wasn’t sure about it. However, the minute I was told ‘5 people are checking it out now’, ’26 purchases in the last 48 hours’ it was sold. Only after I received it today and realized that it is in fact not very nice at all did it sink in, I had been victim to Missguideds’ social proofing persuasion techniques.


Gregory, S. (2009, March 4). Breaking news, analysis, politics, Blogs, news photos, video, tech reviews - TIME.Com. Retrieved November 17, 2016, from,8599,1889081,00.html

Wolf, J. R., Arkes, H. R., & Muhanna, W. A. (2008). The power of touch: An examination of the effect of duration of physical contact on the valuation of objects. Judgment and Decision Making, 3, 476.

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