In my book, Neuro Web Design: What makes them click, I have a chapter on Social Validation: When we are uncertain we look to others to see what our behavior should be.
Now some new research tests this idea online. In a series of research studies by Chen (see end for full reference), visitors to a simulated website were given two holiday traveling books to choose from. Both had similar sounding titles, were hardcover, showed similar number of pages, list price and availability.
In the first study Chen showed different consumer ratings. In some cases people saw that one book had 5 stars and the other had 1, or one had 4 and the other had 2, or both had 3 stars. The books with more stars were chosen signficantly more often. Ok, it's not a big surprise, but it's good to have some actual data. But read on, the rest of the studies got curiouser and curiouser...
In the second study Chen compared book sales volumes instead of star ratings. People chose the book that was selling the best.
In the third study Chen tested consumer recommendations vs. expert recommendations. One group got this info: “Name of Book Here" is the leading book in the tourism area as voted for online by readers” vs. “Our advisors, experts in the tourism area, strongly recommend "Name of Book Here”. People chose the book picked by consumers more than the book picked by experts.
And in the fourth study, Chen tested a recommender system, ("Customers who bought this book also bought") vs. the recommendation of the website owner, ("Our Internet bookstore staff strongly recommends that you buy...") People followed the recommendation of the website owner 75% of the time, but they followed the recommender system 88.4% of the time.
Consumer recommendations are powerful. Social validation at work. Welcome to the herd!
Reference: Chen, Yi-Fen, Herd behavior in purchasing books online, Computers in Human Behavior, 24, (2008), 1977-1992.