The social psychology of commerce

Every day we make buying decisions. Whether we are considering relatively small decisions like where to go for dinner or what movie to buy and watch, or larger decisions like a large consumer electronics purchase, we all have a process for making those decisions. And that process is highly influenced by the people around us.

The social aspects of the buying process came into focus for me after reading an article by Brian Solis entitled The 6 Pillars Of Social Commerce: Understanding The Psychology Of Engagement. Referencing an infographic entitled Social Commerce Psychology, Solis highlights the 6 highly social methods we use to make buying decisions:

  1. Social proof – In the absence of certainty, we seek out others who have faced similar decisions to see what they did.
  2. Authority – Along the decision-making path, certain well-informed people emerge as authorities and we look to them for guidance.
  3. Scarcity – People respond with greater urgency when supply is deemed low and demand high.
  4. Like – We have a tendency to agree with people we like and admire, so we seek out our influencers and see what they would do.
  5. Consistency – When faced with uncertainty, we tend not to take actions perceived as risky (like changing brands or doing anything that goes against the wisdom of the crowd).
  6. Reciprocity – When we are the beneficiary of a good deed or see one done, we feel a strong sense of reciprocity to the doer.

Social media offers an abundance of opportunities for us to interact with our social networks on a regular basis and tap those networks to help us make important buying decisions. And we do. We Google and do research before buying. Google’s socially filtered search results now tell us who in our network may have already been down this path. And we reach out on Facebook and Twitter seeking input into our decision process — who do people use for this service, what has been people’s experience with that service, etc.

What does all of this mean? Quite simply, it’s becoming increasingly important to engage in social activities that position you and your business strongly within the social graph. Strategies to achieve this include:

  • Building deeper engagement with your clients and developing brand ambassadors among them;
  • Contribute to helping people understand the buying process for your product/service — without pitching them directly;
  • Focus on being knowable, likeable and trustworthy by sharing your personality, not just your knowledge;
  • Strive to always be giving and helping and approach your online activity with a “pay it forward” attitude.
By focussing your strategy on strengthening the fabric of your social network, you will position yourself and your business strongly for reaping the benefits of an increasingly social world of commerce.


About Jay Palter

Jay is a social media strategist and personal branding expert specializing in building and growing social networks for practice professionals. His experience spans two decades in financial services, software development and marketing. Jay is the chief editor of Accretive’s Investor Insights & Opinion website and maintains his own blog at

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