Here’s an interesting psychological study  – a collaborative effort from the University of Dallas, East Carolina University and Texas University – published in the Journal of Marketing, looking at the impact of (fake) social features on a website – such as automated avatars (link).

What’s interesting is that the study finds that social cues in the context of e-commerce influence consumers’ affect and shopping value. Specifically, social cues lead to increased pleasure and arousal, both of which positively influence flow, hedonic (emotional) and utilitarian (functional) value, which in turn leads to increased patronage intentions.  Or in plain English, social features on an e-commerce site make people more likely to buy because they make the site appear more fun, engaging and useful.

The study concludes that there is a competitive advantage for online retailers that use social cues that provide consumers with enhanced perceptions of human connection and the formation of emotional bonds.

Interestingly, the impact of social features works best for high-involvement products for younger women. If you sell low-involvement products to older men, think twice before investing in social commerce.  But overall, if fake social features can be demonstrated to increase propensity to purchase, then the case for social commerce – selling with real social media – is all the stronger.

L C, Baker J, Wagner J A, Wakefield K. “Can a retail web site be social?” Journal of Marketing, Jul 2007, Volume: 71 Issue: 3 pp.143-157

Click here to download the study

Where's the Value in Social?