Shop Direct has increased its sales conversions by 2.7% by using social proof messages informing customers of how many items have been sold and if the item is close to selling out.

Working with digital start-up, Taggstar, Shop Direct has implemented a set of algorithms which inform Shop Direct's 500,000 users per day about products they are browsing on Very.co.uk and Littlewoods.com.

Shop Direct reported aggregate annual sales in the region of £700 million for both websites, an uplift which equates to £14 million over 18 months.

Over Black Friday 2014, 400 messages per second were generated and the messages – which include phrases such as 'Going fast!' and information on how many people are looking at the item at the same time – are now shown to Shop Direct customers on average 80% of the time to influence their buying decision.

Jonathan Wall, Shop Direct's eCommerce director, said: "The customer is at the heart of our business, and real-time social proof messages help us to build a stronger relationships by building trust and confidence in online shopping. Our tests are conclusive that customers seeing the messages are more likely to checkout and spend more. The 2.7 per cent increase we’ve added to our sales conversions is incredible given the scale of our retail sites. Adding Taggstar has been the single-biggest driver of incremental revenues in our financial year 2014/15."

Taggstar managing director, Marjorie Leonidas, said: "Taggstar gives people a sense that others are shopping with them, giving them a virtual ‘thumbs up’ as they browse online. This creates confidence in the choices they are making as they click to buy. Our technology essentially turns the large amounts of data collected by online retailers into useful, actionable shopper information."

Q&A with Sam Barton, head of user experience at Shop Direct

Why do you think these social proof messages are so effective? Why do customers choose to read/act upon them?

We found the messages helped in two ways: firstly, in presenting social proof to people that usually searched for this information, the experience was improved by making the information they needed more easily accessible. Secondly, through presenting this information to people that found it useful but did not normally think to look for it, we were able to inform the decision and provide reassurance where needed.  

Do you think the messages will help with big sale events as you approach peak times?

These messages provide value all year round, but 2014's Black Friday experiment with Taggstar proved the opportunity during big events is massive. The number of people visiting the site is one factor which cannot be denied. However, by the nature of the sale events we can really harness the power of Taggstar’s algorithms and let people know about our hottest selling items. For this reason, we were confident in the value of the tool, and included Taggstar’s messaging on Very’s Black Friday pages at 100% of traffic.

How does it tackle your efforts in personalising the eCommerce experience?

The tool already has the intelligence to show a message with the right product, but we are working with Taggstar to build on this. We will be creating a more personalised experience for each of our customers by presenting them with the most relevant, useful information, when and how they need it. Our User Experience team is pivotal in working with Taggstar, to use more varied messages, different methods of delivery, while better understanding our customers using data and user centred research.

What is the future of this type of messaging technology?

We are continually looking for opportunities where we can integrate this technology into all our platforms, one area which is on our horizon is the integration within our apps.   

Why did you choose to work with Taggstar over competitors? Where did you find them?

We have worked with many emerging companies over the last few years, focussing upon innovative technology and methods. Taggstar’s platform was of interest and when we learned about the science behind the tool, and with their professionalism and support, the decision was an easy one.

Was Taggstar's technology easy to integrate with the Shop Direct platform?

We introduced Taggstar’s persuasive messaging through our world class ‘Experimentation at Scale’ programme enabling us to learn more and faster through A/B experiments. Experiments enable us to make quick and nimble changes to our websites, removing assumptions, to learn which ideas improve key metrics that should be iterated upon, and which ideas need to fail fast.

What is the Shop Direct policy on using start-up technology? How do you go about finding start-up innovation?

Shop Direct works with a lot of start-up companies, who tend to drive innovation on niche or specific elements of the onsite experience. We identify them through multiple sources, and discussions typically advance where they can clearly evidence that the technology will solve a business or customer problem.

What are the biggest eCommerce challenges facing Shop Direct at the moment?

We now employ over 4700 members of staff across the UK, Ireland and Asia. As the business continues to go from strength to strength we need to ensure that we have the right resources to help support this growth. Therefore it’s important for us to attract the best possible talent to our business which means focusing on building the brand and raising the profile of Shop Direct so that we are front of mind when candidates are looking for their next career move.      

Where else do you look for innovation?

We look for innovation in many different places and sectors. We take part in knowledge shares and spend time with non-competing organisations from outside retail such as the gaming and travel sectors to look for examples of best practice and the use of innovative concepts.