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Social Comparison Theory definition


Social Comparison Theory, first described by social psychologist Leo Festinger in 1954, is centred on the fact that individuals have an intrinsic drive to evaluate themselves and that they prefer to do this through direct comparison with others. Humans are not satisfied with absolute merits and so make use of social comparison to reduce uncertainty and access a more trusted way to define the self.

For social comparison and self-evaluation, people tend to use a marker that they can recognise as being very similar to them to give a fairer assessment of how their opinions or actions compare. For example, if evaluating how successful a career has been so far, individuals are more likely to compare themselves to someone who is from a similar background with comparable education and social experiences to gain a more accurate idea of where their successes lie comparatively.

Consumers are also likely to compare their shopping experiences to that of others who are making the same or similar purchases. No one wants to feel as though they are missing out on a deal or paying a higher price for the same thing. Whether the price offered is fair or not is of little consequence; people will decide whether it is fair for them dependent on whether they perceive other consumers to be getting a better deal.

For example, when shopping online, people will be put off making the final purchase if it is clear that others might receive a discount, say if there is a clear “enter your discount code here” box on the final purchase page or if it is clearly stated that “Members” should enter their membership number to get free delivery etc. This knowledge can be utilised in two ways to help optimise conversions: either make the discount option less prominent or replace an open box with a question such as “Do you have a discount code?” to take away the customer’s immediate sense of being part of the group who have to pay full price for something, which should then make it more likely that they will continue on with their purchase; on the other hand, if people who sign up for newsletters or memberships etc. get some kind of discount then making this more prominent could encourage people to follow through on this Call to Action in order to ensure they’re receiving the lowest price possible.

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