The Why #02: Why do people queue up outside full restaurants?

Dan Monheit, 14.08.2020

“Why do people queue up outside full restaurants?” From Laurence, Elizabeth Bay

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Yes Laurence. Why oh why do we wait outside full restaurants, while empty ones across the street, that would happily exchange some of their food for some of our money, go wanting?

Of all the things we do, this waiting — outside restaurants, bars and even shops — has got to be one of the least efficient and most ridiculous habits we’ve formed. Surely there’s nobody lying on a deathbed, wishing they’d spent just a little more time waiting in line?

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One of the most compelling pieces of research on social proof was undertaken by Solomon Asch in 1951. In Asch’s ‘Conformity Experiment’, a subject was asked to participate in a vision test, alongside seven other people. The group was shown three sample lines of differing length and was then asked one at a time to state aloud which was most similar in length to a ‘target’ line shown directly beside them.

Unbeknownst to the subject, the seven other participants were paid actors and instructed to all choose the same, clearly incorrect answer on 12 of the 18 rounds that made up the ‘vision test’. The researchers were interested in whether the subjects would choose the correct answer alone, or the incorrect answer and conform with the group.

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As it turns out, conforming with the group is pretty bloody important. One in three people who did the test gave what was clearly the wrong (but popular) answer, every single time, while three quarters of participants did so at least once. These results highlight just how important a sense of social inclusion is, and demonstrate that often, we consider being together more important than being right.

Social proof is why leading online retailers like show subtle notifications about other purchases being made while you’re browsing around their store. It’s why news websites tell you how many other people are currently reading the same article and why user reviews have become a critical success factor for many industries in 2020.

For brands, showing prospective customers that people who are ‘just like them’ are already on board, can dramatically increase preference and conversion — even if it means leaving people out in the cold for just a little longer than needed.

Behaviourally Yours,

Dan Monheit

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PS. If you missed last week’s, you can still find out why people keep the boxes from expensive shoes and handbags here.

Bad Decisions Podcast
Learn more about Social Proof and how brandscan use it on episode 5 of the Bad Decisions Podcast.

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Check out Dan’s short write up and top three takeaways from Google’s gigantic ‘Messy Middle’ research project.

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