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Ladies and gentleman I present ecommerce psychology 101 lesson 4, reciprocity! In this lesson we will go over how to improve your sales with the principle of reciprocity. This principle is from the teachings of Dr. Robert Cialdini on influence. In these lessons we will adapt his teachings to the ecommerce world.

Thus far we have covered, consensus (social proof), scarcity, and authority. So let’s take a look at how to use reciprocity in ecommerce.

What is the Reciprocity Principle?

The reciprocity principle is a social psychology principle based on the idea that we as humans feel obligated to reciprocate (pay back) those who do something for us. It is in our nature to help those who have helped us, and savvy ecommerce marketers can use this principle to boost sales.

reciprocity reciprocity principle

Many people use the reciprocity principle every day to influence behavior without ever knowing they are doing it.

If you want to take an extra day off to extend your weekend you would likely try to go above and beyond for your boss in the weeks before making your request. You are hoping that your boss notices the extra effort and repays you (reciprocity) with your request.

Another common way reciprocity is used in retail is with freebies or samples. Have you ever gone to pay for something and the owner of the store said “don’t worry about it this one is on me?” Chances are you have, and chances are you have returned to that store and made another purchase or even became a repeat customer.

reciprocity desire to pay back

As humans we have a powerful desire to repay someone for what they have done for us!

Tactics to Use Reciprocity in eCommerce

Now that we know just how powerful the reciprocity principle is, we can begin to look at some ways you can use it on your ecommerce site. The goal of these tactics is to give your customers something that they subconsciously feel obligated to repay you for.

Here are 3 tactics you can use to harness the power of reciprocity:

1. Ship a Surprise

This tactic will not help you with the initial sale, but it will help you create repeat business, establish customer loyalty. and even increase the marketing reach of your brand.

A fantastic example of shipping a surprise is Gameklip. Every Gameklip order that was shipped had everything the customer would expect, and one extra they did not. Each order included a pack of Smarties (Rockets for Canadian readers).

reciprocity gameklip

You may ask if candy is really able to influence a customer that just made a $20 purchase. The answer is yes! The customers who received the extra gift felt obligated to share the good deed with their friends. This caused a huge awareness spike for the company as customers shared their experience on Reddit and other gaming forums.

reciprocity gameklip smarties review

The comments above are from pikdt which the Gameklip smarties were upvoted over 1000 times and this Reddit conversation has over 300 comments about the candy. A small surprise lead to a ton of value.

There are a tons of ways you can ship a surprise to establish reciprocity including: free samples, thank you notes, and discounts. To learn more about each you can read “5 ways to include packing inserts.”

Key Aspects of Shipping Surprises:

reciprocity shipped surprises

Don’t be greedy: You are giving them something so they feel the need to return the favor. Don’t add things that only further your agenda, make sure you are providing the customer value that they will view as a gift.

Match your demographic: Be sure that the surprise you add matches your customer demographic. If you are selling high end ties a 20% coupon is not going to be as effective as a tie clip you include with the order.

2. Points Programs

Another way to establish reciprocity is with an online points program. A points program allows you to reward points to your customers for different actions, and when they are given points they feel the need to give something back (their loyalty).

This is arguably the oldest reciprocity technique used in business dating back to the 1700’s. It is also one of the most effective. When your customers are given points they now have to make a decision to forgo those points if they choose not to shop with you again. This creates a reciprocity opportunity and establishes a strong switching cost.

reciprocity PK loyalty programme

The strongest thing a customer can reciprocate to your store is their loyalty! A returning customer is much more valuable to your store. A points program is one of a few customer retention tools that can get your customers reciprocating their loyalty.

Key Aspects of Points Programs:

reciprocity points programs

Give points early: If you want customers to reciprocate you need to give them value early. If you are starting a points program be sure to give them points when they sign up. This accelerates the process.

Make sure it fits: A points program is not the best fit for every store. It requires products that have repeat purchasability and an understanding of your customer demographic. The best way to know for sure is to assess it with “Is a Loyalty Program Right for Your Store.”

3. Content

They say knowledge is power, and in ecommerce that is definitely true! Stores that provide customers with knowledge in the form of content are much better off than those that don’t.

Education is the best thing you can give your customers if you want them to reciprocate with a purchase. There are tons of potential customers out there looking for answers you can provide.

For example, I discovered white spots on one of the cigars in my humidor the other day. This is something I have never seen before, so I did what anyone in my position would do, I googled it.

reciprocity cigar white spots research

I naturally clicked on the first result which took me to Neptune Cigar, they explained that this is totally natural and is actually a good thing. I was given the information I was looking for and then began to browse the site.

I particularly like the staff pick section. It helps customers by making a decision easier. The staff pick plays on both social proof and authority to influence my purchase decision.

reciprocity cigar staff picks

Providing information or knowledge is the ultimate form of reciprocity and is an extremely effective way to position an ecommerce site. In fact there are numerous examples of using content first before introducing a product.

Key Aspects of Content:

reciprocity content keys

Don’t be pushy: Providing knowledge or content is a great way to get shoppers to your site, just don’t be too pushy. Your content should not always be focused on selling product it should be to inform potential customers so they buy from you in the future.

Don’t expect immediate results: A content marketing strategy does not provide instant gratification. It can take months before you build up the SEO and credibility to make your content relevant. But don’t get discouraged the results are worth it!

Persuading in eCommerce

This lesson has armed you with three ways you can encourage reciprocity from your customers. By leveraging these tactics you can encourage more sales and increase the frequency at which customers purchase from you.

There are 5 more principles of persuasion you can use in ecommerce, and you can learn more about each by clicking on the images below.

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