The #1 Marketing Platform® for Small Business

Access Plans & Pricing Now

Contact Info

What services are you interested in? (Select all that apply) *

(Access code sent via text)

Business Info


No credit card required

Already have an access code?

Marketing 360® Blog

Kindness Sells: Using Likability & Reciprocity in Ecommerce

Post By Scott Yoder | eCommerce Marketing

Recently, my wife and I visited some vineyards near Palisade, Colorado.  We stopped at a small vineyard where the tasting room was the converted living room of the owner’s home.  He invited us in with all the warmth of an old friend.

He offered a small cheese plate, then showed us some of his wines and invited us to sample a few varieties.   We were eager to do so.

We sampled several wines as the owner entertained us with stories about his “retired” life on the vineyard.  He was clearly proud of his work and a genuinely funny guy.

Then we started looking at the prices of his wine.  They were much higher than I’d usually pay for a bottle, and the truth is the wine wasn’t all that much to my liking.

But I realized something.  There was no way I was leaving this place without buying a bottle.  This guy was so nice to us, and he’d given us free samples and food.  I felt like I had to buy a bottle, even though I didn’t really want it.

The sales tactics of likability and reciprocity persuaded me.


We Buy From People We Like

In face to face or phone sales where there is direct communication, the salesperson creates a connection with the lead.  They want the relationship to feel friendly.

This is not just being courteous.  It’s a sales tactic.  We are, by nature, more inclined to buy from someone we like and feel an affinity with.

This carries over to online sales, but it’s not as direct with digital content.  So, when you’re selling online, how do you get people to like you?   Here are some ideas.

Create a Social Media Personality

One of the big problems with digital content is that much of it lacks personality.  And it’s hard to like someone with no personality.

There is really where social media marketing has the chance to shine.  Your social media channels are the best place to create a kind of “personality” for your business.  You can share funny, interesting, even peculiar content on social.  You can talk about real people – both your clients and staff – in ways that make your brand feel human.

In fact, this is not just a part of what social media marketing is – it’s the primary strategy for business marketing.

It’s well established that promotional, “salesy” content doesn’t do well on social media.  People are not on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest to get sales pitches.  They want to socialize with their networks and be entertained.

A great example of a “likable” social media brand is Red Bull.  In fact, their online content is more of a human interest magazine than sales or advertising material.

red bull likes facebook

What does jumping a skateboard through fire have to do with selling an energy drink?  Nothing…directly.  But nearly 50 million people “like” their page.

That says it all, really.  People “like” and “follow” social media channels.  These are the places to create content that develops an affinity with your audience.

To get people to like your brand on social media, do this:

  1. Create useful, interesting content that focuses on human interest instead of selling products.
  2. Interact with clients and leads through messaging and response features.
  3. Comment, like, and share content from other pages that relates to your offer.
  4. Be active.  Try to post daily on your main channels.
  5. Be bold, funny, unique, and provocative.  Being liked on social equates to gaining attention.

Use Hero Images that Reflect Your Typical Customer

There are a number of ways in which hero images – which show your product in context of use – are essential to your eCommerce website.  We usually note how the hero image visually communicates the benefit of your offer.

But another important aspect for website sales is when the image mirrors your typical client.

I was recently shopping for adventure road bikes.  This caught my eye:

image with voice

This image is a reflection of how I see myself.  I’d like to be friends with the guys in this picture, out doing this very ride.

A hero image used in this way makes me like this product more.  It creates an affinity where I feel this bike is part of the lifestyle I want to lead.  I have a vision:  I like myself riding this bike, as I like others who ride it.  This is what people like me do. 

Mirroring the main target demographic is an underused strategy on most eCommerce websites.  That’s a missed opportunity because there is nothing people like more than seeing themselves living life in a way they enjoy.

Create A Brand Voice

The personality you create for your social media marketing should carry over to your website content.

Your brand voice is, literally, the personality behind your business messaging.  If you want people to go on your website and say to themselves “I like these guys”, your content needs voice.

The voice on your website is likely to be more reserved than what you do on social media, but it still needs to be genuine and engaging.  The reality is that most eCommerce websites have zero voice at all.

You’d think, for example, that an online store selling skateboards would have some voice.  But The Longboard Store offers this introduction:

The Longboard Store stocks the largest selection of longboard skateboards with Free USA Shipping.

Family owned and operated since 2006.

Choose from more than 400 complete longboards, custom build a board from over 3000 longboarding products, or visit our Historic Old Mill Warehouse in Bend, Oregon USA.

Free Standard Shipping (1-5 days) on orders shipped to the 48 contiguous United States. No Sales Tax.

3-Day shipping for $15 and 2-Day shipping for $25 (business days in transit, Monday thru Friday).

Wow.  From this intro, I’d assume these guys must be the most boring skateboarders on the planet.  They might have a board I like, but they’re doing nothing to make me like their store, and that hurts their chances.

Voice comes through in text, images, and videos.  I’m an older skateboarder, so you know this video from skate legend Steve Caballero connects with me in a way that makes me love his skateboards:

To create brand voice that connects with people, do this:

  • Go Big:  put your product or service into a bigger context that goes beyond just features and benefits.
  • Be Brave:  develop a story with a point of view, humor, tension, or unexpected surprises.
  • Be Bold:  create a voice that gives your brand a unique feel as recognizable as a logo or tagline.
  • Know Yourself:  If you masked all images, logos, designs, and colors from your content, would you recognize yourself?  Do you sound like you, or do you sound like any other competitor?


The Pull of Reciprocity

I was recently shopping in REI when a real friendly guy invited me to try his snack bar:

free product

Tasty little snack bars.  He encouraged me to try all the flavors and asked with interest about what outdoor sports I liked.  So happened his bars were perfect for throwing into my bike shirt pocket or backpack.

I didn’t go into REI to buy snack bars, and in fact, I didn’t need any.  I had a box of Cliff bars at home already.

But I felt this tug…he was cool and he’d given me a lot of samples.  I felt it would be rude to walk away without buying anything.  So I did.

That pull is the human tendency to want to reciprocate when someone gives us something.  It’s an ingrained behavior that stems from how early agricultural and hunter/gather communities survived.  If you had a good day hunting, you’d share your food with others who were unlucky that day.  You’d expect them to do the same later when their luck was better than yours.

The wine guy we discussed knew this.  So does Estee Lauder, the cosmetics company that seems to give away an enormous amount of product yet has a loyal audience of buyers.

Ostensibly, they’re letting you sample the product to see if you like it.  But in reality, they’re putting the principle of reciprocity to work.  We don’t like to feel indebted to others.  When someone gives to us, we feel obligated to return the favor.

Not to mention that we like people who give us things.  After all, who’s more popular than Santa?

There are several ways you can use reciprocity on your eCommerce website and sales process.

Give a Free Gift

As we mentioned, Estee Lauder is a master at this.  You can tempt people with the “spend more, get more”, but the real goal here is to lure people into becoming a repeat customer because of their gratefulness at receiving free merchandise:

free gift

Packaging Inserts

The best way to surprise a customer is with a free gift included with their shipped purchase.

This can be a simple gift, or it can be a product sample.

For example, one online retailer managed to garner considerable social media attention just by putting candy in with the product:

free giftIf possible, give a free sample like you’d do at a retail location.  This can actually work better when you do it as a sort of surprise; we all like unexpected gifts.

The type of gift or sample you include will depend a lot on your product line.  I recently ordered a set of golf clubs online and was nicely surprised to see they included a free pack of golf balls.  A nice touch I’ll remember the next time I need to buy anything for my golf game.



Reciprocity and likability work well together.  When you give someone a free gift, they’ll like you for it.  Use these together when you can.

Note that much of the reaction you’re going for happens at a subconscious level.  When people set out to shop, they pre-rationalize.  We all think we’re going to go for the best deal and get the product with the best utility.

But emotions are what actually drive the purchase action, and emotions are guided by much more than rational thinking.

Given a choice, we’ll buy from a website we feel an affinity with.  One with a voice that connects to our lifestyle and that seems to be run by interesting, cool people.   Your website is a salesperson, and the best salespeople get leads to like them.

Likewise, when we get something for free we feel that tinge – I owe these guys some loyalty.  We don’t think about it consciously, but it’s a factor in choosing the businesses we go back to again and again.

Work these sales angles to your advantage.  They can be the competitive edge you need to be a winner in your market.