Show your product’s ‘viewed’ or ‘purchased’ numbers

Showing how many times your product has been viewed or bought increases purchase intentions. ‘156 views’ had a +30% effect and ‘390 bought’ gave a +53.5% boost to a digital camera.

When others want something, we’re naturally attracted to it too. Some retailers even pay actors to stand in line to attract real customers. Orange (a telecom operator) did this when the iPhone launched in Poland.

Today we look at how you can produce the same effect online, without faking it.

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Boost sales by showing the number of product views. Switch to purchases when sales pick up

Impacted metrics: Customer acquisition
Channels: Ecommerce sales

Tip type: New research (January 2021)
Previous tip: Say “I” not “We” when speaking to customers (All tips here)

Recommendation

When selling a product online, increase sales by showing how many people viewed and/or bought it before. 

To maximize the effect:

  • Start by showing only the number of views

  • Switch to showing the number of purchases once the number is large enough (depending on product type, usually a few hundred)

  • Show both purchases and views if your conversion rate is 5% or better (1 purchase out of 20 views)


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Effects

  • The number of views or purchases of a product is a social signal that increases purchase intention. Showing one or both metrics is always better than not showing them.

  • The effect changes depending on which metric(s) are shown:

    • Product views has a positive effect early on but then weakens as the number increases (see graph below):

      • 156 views: +30%

      • 1560 views: +56%

      • 15600 views: +27%

    • Product purchases has a strong effect only once sales have picked up and keeps getting stronger (see graph below):

      • 39 bought: +6%

      • 390 bought: +53.5%

      • 3900 bought: +58%

    • Product views and purchases together, compared to views or purchases alone, have a:

      • Positive effect if views to sales conversion is 5% or higher (high conversion rate, happens to top 25% of products, on average)

      • Negative effect if views to sales conversion is 1% or lower (bottom 25% of products)

      • Insignificant effect in between

  • What’s a high number of purchases depends on your product category (e.g. higher for post-it notes, lower for niche lighting equipment). The experiments used a digital camera and coffee machine.

  • People trust the numbers provided, even when websites do not reveal what a view is (e.g. 3 seconds or 30 seconds on the product page?).

(Purchase intention curve based on number of views displayed)

(Purchase intention curve based on number of purchases displayed)

Why it works

  • Product views or purchases by others are a signal that we use to make assumptions about the product’s quality. If others have checked it out or bought it, it must be good.

  • Views are a weaker signal than purchases and as the number gets larger it has less meaning, in part because numbers are harder to process the larger they are (and views are 40x bigger than purchases, on average).

Limitations

  • Measured purchase intention, not actual sales. However, results were strong and consistent across 5 experiments and about 3,000 participants.

  • Experiments were on ‘neutral’ products, that have both practical and experiential aspects (e.g. camera, coffee machine). The effect could vary by product type. Previous research suggests popularity increases sales of utilitarian products (e.g. 726 people bought this screwdriver), while scarcity boosts hedonic products (e.g. only 2 hotel rooms left).

  • It’s unclear how people compare products when they show different metrics (e.g. one shows views while another shows purchases). However, if no metrics are shown for a product when they usually are, previous research suggests people will assume it’s a bad sign (i.e. nobody else bought it so you’re hiding that).

  • We don’t know if people choose retailers that show the number of product views and/or purchases over those that don’t.

Companies using this

  • eBay sometimes shows how many people have purchased a product or how many have viewed it (e.g. 22 viewed per hour). 

  • Travel websites like Booking.com sometimes use views (e.g. 12 other people are looking at this property) but then switch to scarcity (e.g. only 2 rooms left).

  • Youtube’s follows a similar principle when showing how many people have watched a video.

  • A large proportion of online retailers don’t seem to be using this technique.

  • No company appears to be showing both the number of views and purchases at the same time.

Steps to implement

  • You can find your product views and sales data in Google Analytics’ Product Performance Report.

  • Show product views and determine a cutoff number of sales for when to switch to showing purchases, depending on the product category

  • If you have a conversion rate of 5% or higher you can optimize further by showing both.

  • Try to always show at least one metric across all your products. If some products have the metrics while others don’t, people will assume the worst (e.g. that nobody has bought it, hence the quality isn’t great).


Study type

Online experiments. United States

Source

Das, G., Spence, M. T., & Agarwal, J. (January 2021). Social Selling Cues: The Dynamics of Posting Numbers Viewed and Bought on Customers' Purchase Intentions. International Journal of Research in Marketing.

[Link to paper]

Affiliations

Indian Institute of Management Bangalore; Bond University; and Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary. India, Australia, and Canada.

Remember: Because of the groundbreaking nature of this paper, it could be disproven in the future (although this is rare). It also may not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.


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