In this six-part series on social commerce rules of thumb (heuristics), I have discussed following the crowdfollowing authority figures, the added value offered by relative scarcity and, most recently, affinity. Today, I discuss the consistency rule and how getting a consumer to take a small step, such as Facebook like, can lead to he or she following through with a bigger one – a purchase. 

There must be consistency in direction. -W. Edwards Deming

“Creatures of habit” is one way to characterize most humans. We like routines, or if don’t “like” them, at least they are tolerated. Neural patterns get carved into our brains that cause us to act in ways that are consistent, not only with routines, but with beliefs and values.

That same mindset translates into purchase activity, as well. That’s why we fly the same airlines, visit the same websites, buy the same style clothes, eat at the same restaurants, purchase gas from the same stations, etc. To do otherwise would push us outside our comfort zones and into a realm of uncertainty. “Terra incognita” is not a land where most of us care to travel.

That is not to suggest consumers should be mindless dullards when making purchase decisions. As Oscar Wilde said, “Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.” However, the purpose of this post is not to debate the value of consistency versus change, but to describe how the consistency rule works, especially as it applies to social commerce.

How the Consistency Rule Works

To explain how the consistency rule of thumb works, let’s say I ask you for $100. There’s a very good likelihood that you will say no. However, if I ask for one dollar, you’re more likely to oblige. Later, if I ask for $100, you’re less likely to object.

It’s a brainwashing technique, really, one that marketers have been using for a long time. Free trials are one example – get something free and there is a chance you’ll continue to use the product.

My favorite example of this consistency heuristic is razors. Companies like Gillette will practically give away the razor along with an extra set of blades to entice consumers to try the product. But, when you visit the store to purchase more blades, plan to empty your wallet! Yet, because you purchased the razor, it’s consistent to buy the over-priced blades.

There is another aspect of the consistency rule of thumb: saying something out loud publicly causes change. When we do something publicly – such as sign a petition or rate and review a product – we are more likely to remain consistent with that particular stance.

Consistency and Social Commerce

Facebook Like

As we will see in a moment, research shows that getting consumers to like a fan page has some positive effect on conversion rates. In fact, where commerce is concerned, Facebook could replace the thumbs up icon with a foot – as in “foot in the door” – because that’s what brands are getting with the like. It’s a social gesture that potentially manifests in the consistency rule kicking in (yes, pun intended).

Social commerce platform provider 8thBridge wondered just what effect the “like” had on purchase behavior, so the company conducted a survey to find out. Here’s what was discovered:

Why consumers click Facebook "like" button

Percentage of people who are more likely to buy liked items

The same could be said for Facebook shares, as well, as in sharing an item in a newsfeed. Dr. Paul Marsden, editor of Social Commerce Today (the “other” Paul), says that doing something publicly (and what could be more public than a “like” or “share”) means that there are greater odds consumers will remain consistent with that particular stance.

ShoeDazzle as Evidence

Fashion retail brand ShoeDazzle utilizes this “small step, big step” approach by enticing visitors to its Facebook Page to like the page in order receive personalized product recommendations from fashion curators, including co-founder Kim Kardashian. Once the like button has been  clicked, products containing “buy now” buttons are revealed.

Shoedazzle Facebook page uses consistency rule of thumb to increase conversions

Like Shoedazzle's Facebook page to receive personalized product recommendations.

Once a user likes the page, she is presented with product recommendations.

Conclusion

The “cha-ching” of the virtual cash register ringing is a sound every retailer wants to hear. Where social commerce is concerned, before the big step, a smaller one must be taken. In the case of our example, it’s the click of the like button.

The key for brands where the consistency rule is concerned is to make actions public (social gestures); get the consumer to take a small step first (like), which will increase the chance he or she will take a bigger one (purchase).