Best Practice in Social Proof Messaging

A news piece was published last week, widely-covered by the major UK media, providing an update on the UK Government’s Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) investigation into the selling practices of online booking sites. It’s something Taggstar has written about before.

The CMA is concerned that some travel sites, for example, are putting consumers under pressure, by giving a false impression of room availability and “rushing” customers into booking decisions.

The investigation, which launched in October, is also looking at broader issues around transparency of information, and whether availability and discounts are presented accurately, or whether they give a false impression, making it difficult for people to make truly independent buying choices.

Today’s news concerns gives more detail about the concerns surrounding pressure selling, and whether claims about how many people are looking at the same room, same concert ticket, about how many are left, or how long a price is available for (for example), coerce consumers into buying before they’re ready.

Taggstar has been the social proof messaging leader since we began in 2013. We actively advise the large travel brands that we work for, about what constitutes responsible selling, and advise against any message that could be read as applying pressure or hurrying the buyer.

The example that we like to quote is a typical hotel product message: “Only 3 rooms left at this price.” On the face of it, most consumers would assume that room availability is running low and, if you really need a place to stay on a particular date, you’d better book quicker to the worry is that you could miss out.

The trouble is, and why the CMA is concerned, is that this is sometimes not the case. A site might have 3 rooms left according to their quota, but that’s not to say that there are plenty of other rooms available via other OTAs (online travel agencies), or if you went to the hotel directly.

Moreover, the rooms might also be available from these other channels at the same, or a cheaper rate.

We’ve always thought that the investigation is a positive move for the industry. We recognize competition, and the pressure to improve conversion rate, but customers shouldn’t be pressured into the wrong decision or into spending more than necessary.

As consumers have more product choice than ever before, and less time to shop, social proof product messages (messages containing aggregated data describing the behavior of the crowd, stock levels or other product data), are now used by many of the leading websites to help to improve the online shopping experience.

Taggstar’s software is a complex, purpose-built technology which mines, aggregates and displays factual behavioral or stock data within our social proof messages.

This gives consumers using the travel and ticketing sites that work with us, 100% surety that the product message that they’re reading, reflects what other buyers have really done, or is a true reflection of room, flight or package numbers. Using inaccurate information is not responsible sales practice.

Best Practice

Best practice social proof messaging helps consumers make better buying decisions and retailers to sell the most suitable product.

Data sources must be factual and accurate, whether using audience data (live website visitors and order data), or third party review data from review aggregators.

This shows a real-time, real-life picture of how other people are shopping, and is one of the most effective eCommerce strategies to increase consumer confidence. Our messages are based on real-time behavior, so we can be even more specific.

Before any messages are delivered eCommerce sites must perform a data validation exercise to be sure that product messages are error-free.

At Taggstar, we validate by collecting data such as page views, sales, revenue, number of items ordered, etc. and cross checking with the OTA’s own analytics. Our data is accurate to within 5% of the retailer’s data, so no website showing our messages can ever claim that a product is more popular than it is.

Language and tone of voice is also important. Phrases like ‘You’re Missing Out’ ‘Buy Now’, or ‘Hurry’ increase pressure on the customer to make a decision and can be construed as pressure selling.

Compare this to an authentic social proof product message like “125 sold in the last 24 hours.’  The crucial difference is that it’s factual, and gives consumers maximum information using a numerical count of sales within a certain timeframe. It’s an important difference.

Find out more

Taggstar is developed with the goal of helping consumers to make better buying decisions, helping retailers to improve the online customer experience, and improving their online conversion rate.

We won’t use false information, and avoid words like ‘Hurry’, which apply pressure. We use factual messages about what is happening on an eCommerce website, so if a product is popular or lots of people are booking a particular hotel, or stock is running low, it will be clear to online shoppers – without pressure.

For best practice advice about using social proof for eCommerce or for a Taggstar product demo, contact the team here.

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