Skip to content

I Need Your Opinion! Social Validation Applied to E-Commerce

No matter what we may think of the situation, we are (for the most part) all conformists. As a whole, we act upon what others do. We use social validation as a means to fit in with others around us. You can see evidence of this in areas of education, business, and yes…even the Internet.

Why Won’t You Help Me?

Great example of the Bystander Effect (source: carbonsmart)
Great example of the Bystander Effect (source: carbonsmart)

A couple of teenagers start a fight in the hallway at school. We’ve all been in this situation, whether we were a part of the fight or we were witness to it. How many people do you think will intervene and break up the fight? Very few. More often than not, others willl group around and witness the fight unfold before their eyes. We’ve all been there at some point in our life.

The Bystander Effect refers to the phenomenon in which the likelihood of someone acting upon an emergency situation will decrease if the number of people around the situation is larger.


Videos are posted all over the Internet about experiments and even real-life situations caught on camera where people simply ignore distress calls. At first, you probably would laugh at the situation but in reality it is pretty sad how we are hardwired to react a certain way based on our surroundings.

Why do we ignore? Put simply, it’s a matter of trying to fit in with the crowd. If everybody else is just watching and not doing anything, therefore, I should act like them to fit in with the social norm.

A study on the bystander effect, Markey (2000) tested how it played a role in getting help online through a chat service. Markey had three primary goals:

  1. Would gender determine the response time in receiving help?
  2. Does the amount of people needing help affect the response time?
  3. By asking help from a specific individual, would it decrease the response time?

The results validated the bystander effect by proving all three questions. Gender did not have a distinctive effect on response time. The larger the number of people in the chat room increased the response time per person. By asking someone specific for help, the response time was rapidly reduced (as if nobody else were in the chat room).

Only 5 to 10 percent of the population engages in behavior contrary to the social norm. Because we want to fit into these groups and maintain our membership with them, we conform our actions to the norm.

The bystander effect is a great way to show the power of social validation. We tend to do what we think is best to fit in with the crowd, regardless of the situation.

Online Shopping


Shopping online is becoming more popular each and every day. It’s more convenient, cost less, and with websites becoming more focused on usability, it is much easier! The real challenge is the actual shopping itself.

Questions start to come into play, such as:

  • What do I buy?
  • What color?
  • Which model?
  • Will my friends like me if I wear this shirt?

Online shopping is a great example of how powerful social validation can be. Websites that allow user feedback or shopping statistics can provide a great experience for both the business as well as potential customers. It is used as a tool to reinforce their purchase.

People look to others to decide what they should do. This is especially true when they are uncertain about whether or what action to take.

(Source: Neuro Web Design (2009), Dr. Susan Weinschenk)

Make It All About The User

So what are some ways to enhance the user experience for online shoppers? Here are just a few that come to my mind and should be relatively easy to implement:

  • Product ratings
    These are typically a 5-star scale, ranging from 1- Not Good to 5- Highly Recommend. They are straight to the point and are based on the collective average.
  • Product reviews
    Whether they are from professionals or from actual customers, product reviews can provide a more qualitative analysis of a product. Users will listen more to those who appear to be in a similar lifestyle as them. Therefore, product reviews that relate more closely to the user’s use of the product will have a better effect.
  • Similar products
    When looking at products on a site, it can be beneficial to see a list of similar products. In a store environment, you would expect similar products to be grouped and placed in the same location. Why not mimic that for the web? By doing so, you allow your users to seamlessly flow between similar products without having to backtrack or go through the search process all over again.

Hey Which Game Would You Buy?

Highly rated game and was highly well sold worldwide (source: RockStar)
Highly rated game and was highly well sold worldwide (source: RockStar)

Let’s take video games for example. I personally go out and buy the latest and greatest video games on the market. I have my sources online that I go to daily and read up about the upcoming games. This is my strategy for figuring out whether my investments will be worth it in the end. After all, spending $60 per game adds up rather quickly. So when these games get reviewed (most get a review within a few days of its release date), I’ll read it and decide whether the game is going to provide me with an amazing experience. I am putting my trust on my sources. If my sources unanimously say that a game is amazing (i.e. Grand Theft Auto 4), then I will go out and buy that game. About 9 times out of 10 my sources are correct. I like those odds. In today’s economy, every dollar counts and I want to ensure that I am making a great purchase – every time.

My strategy not only works for games, but it works for other big purchases, like a TV, surround sound, car, etc. People rely on others’ opinions in order to make an informed decision.

Your Opinion Matters


Amazon’s products have two very valuable pieces of information on their website: user ratings and similar products. As an online shopper, I find this very helpful when making a decision in buying a product. Most of the time, I’ll focus on why a product is necessarily bad rather than why it is good. It could be the functionality, the photo of the product was misleading, or the materials were below expectations. I like to do my research beforehand when buying stuff online. I’ll check professional reviews, read the product description on the manufacturer’s website, etc. I’ll know beforehand why it appears to be awesome. By reading what users rated and said about the product, I can filter out and find information that I want to know: reasons why I should not buy this product. Of course it is up to me to determine the validity of this information.

How many times have we gone to the iTunes Store with the intention of buying just one or two songs and ended up downloading entire albums? Sounds good to Apple, but not so helpful on the wallet. Happens to me all the time. Not only is iTunes addicting to media lovers, but Apple now uses meta information in which it uses to suggest similar media (music, apps, videos, etc.) that pertain to your collection. This information organizes their media by tags, such as most downloaded, highest rated, similar genres, etc. Having this information at your fingertips is helpful – or hurtful, depending on which way you look at it.

Related Articles

Time to Speak Out!

Social validation is hard at work in many ways. Ever feel pressured to buy something because everybody else has one? Did you grow up trying to be like one of the popular kids in school?

This topic doesn’t end here today. I open it up to you guys. Got any stories about how social validation has helped or hurt you in a given situation?

The Atlantic BT Manifesto

The Ultimate Guide To Planning A Complex Web Project