How the Inventor of the Shopping Cart Built a $400 Million Dollar Empire with Social Proof and How You Can Too

By | Small Business


Have you ever shopped around looking at products and just weren’t sure if you should buy it or not.  Buyers remorse is real and people are leery as to whether or not they should spend their hard earned dollars on something they just aren’t sure will make them happy.

Manufacturers aren’t going to tell you that their products are garbage.  It’s other people who have bought a product or service that can give an unbiased opinion on it’s worth.

Consumers want assurance from other people before they take a blind leap of faith.

Sylvan Goldman employed social proof as far back as 1938 when he paid people to push around his shopping cart invention around in grocery stores for 2 years to get hesitant shoppers onboard with using one.  And it worked.  When he died in 1984, he was worth over $400 million.

Social proof comes in a variety of forms and you should be implementing it at every opportunity.

Open Up the Opportunity for Word Of Mouth Advertising with a Referral Program

Word of mouth is one of the most powerful forms of advertising.  Yet, unbelievably, it is one of the most neglected by businesses.

McKinsey Quarterly has stated “As consumers overwhelmed by product choices tune out the ever-growing barrage of traditional marketing, word of mouth cuts through the noise quickly and effectively.”

This is why referral programs are also highly effective.

The Plastc card consolidates debit, credit, loyalty and similar cards in a single payment device.  Plastc was confident that the pre-holiday announcement of their Plastc card would go viral.  In preparation of their pre-order campaign, they invested in a referral strategy to increase sales

With the offer of just one product in a pre-order campaign, store credit wouldn’t work as an effective advocate reward. Due to it’s flexibility in reward fulfillment, Plastc implemented the Talkable referral program platform into their campaign.

This platform was able to fulfill cash equivalent gift cards to advocates.  Each friend that was referred received $20 credit towards a Plastc card.  The advocate that made the referral received a $20 cash equivalent pre-paid gift card.

The results were impressive.  47% of Plastc’s customers shared the offer with friends.  28% of referred customers made a purchase.  Each advocate, on average, referred 2.7 friends that became actual customers.

Within just a week of the launch, pre-orders brought in $5.2 million in sales. The campaign that was managed on the platform was ultimately responsible for 36.8% of that total revenue.

For optimal results, the solution shares an interesting ebook on how to deploy an effective referral marketing program.

Showcase the Praises You’ve Received

Testimonials are those glowing snippets of praise told by pleased customers.  

A study by TechValidate revealed that when comparing 3rd party analyst content to content provided by customers such as testimonials, 94% of B2B marketing and sales professionals rated content from real customers as “extremely” or “very” effective.  While only 54% felt the same about 3rd party content.

Adding faces increases credibility

Sometimes it’s hard to know if a testimonial is actually real.  Adding a photo of the person making the testimonial has been shown to increase conversions because the testimonial becomes more believable.

Basecamp conducted this split test on the Highrise site that revealed that the version with the face of the person making the testimonial increased conversions by 102.5%.


Videos increase credibility even further

Video testimonials may have an even greater impact at increasing credibility.

Unbounce conducted a split test to measure the impact of video testimonials.  In it, they compared this page with testimonials accompanied by photos…


Against this page that provided visitors with a video testimonial.


Conversions increased by 25% on the page that showcased a video testimonial.

With so many people already creating photos and video with their mobile devices, it’s not an outrageous request to ask them for a photo or video testimonial.  In fact, they are probably more willing to submit their creation than you think.

Tools like Boast make it really easy for businesses to request and gather text, photo and video testimonials with an app and then integrate and display them on their website with a snippet of code.

Display Real Time Social Proof Notifications So Visitors Can See Who Else Is Buying

Being a personalization platform, it’s been interesting to see Barilliance jump on board with increasing social proof for businesses.

The company recently launched Live! in 2015.  The solution presents real time notifications of shopper activity on ecommerce sites.

Since they are a personalization platform, it makes sense that the social proof notifications would be powered by algorithms that would present the most effective messages based on each visitor’s buying intent and conversion barriers.

Australia’s largest online motorcross parts and accessories store, MXStore has seen a 10% increase in conversions since adding the personalized real time social proof notifications to their website.


Satisfy the Audience That Is Seeking Out Customer Reviews to Make a Decision

It’s important to give detailed information about your products so that visitors can make an informed decision.  But a survey conducted by EXPO revealed that consumer reviews are nearly 12 times more trusted than those product descriptions.

If you’re having a hard time getting customers to leave a customer review, incentivize them to do so.  

If you’re still having a hard time, there are other alternatives to provide customer reviews.

Trustpilot is an open review driven community that connects online consumers with companies. Here, consumers make reviews on thousands of products.  With their 3rd party widget in place, you can share those reviews with visitors so they can see what other consumers think about the latest Nike running shoes or Dell computer.

Express Watches was able to increase conversions by 58.29% after implementing the 3rd party customer review widget.


Experiments have proven the power behind social proof. If you want your visitors to know that your products or services are good, they’re likely to have more faith in what other people have to say than they are in your own sales pitch.

Testimonials, customer reviews, referral programs and real time social proof notifications are all effective ways to increase your brands credibility.  When you are able to increase that credibility, you’ll see an increase in sales and revenue.

Marie Dean is the Innovation Director at ConversionLifters.  She has helped businesses increase their conversions, sales and revenue with website audits, heat mapping, split tests and user testing for over 10 years.

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