The Power of Reciprocity-Learn how to benefit from this principle of influence

If you are like me, you would have made your annual visit to a large jewellery showroom by now and bought some jewellery. You would have seen that, of late, most of these showrooms offer you a cup of coffee or juice to you during your shopping. Mostly this will be around the time that you are looking to finalise a purchase (notice it is never done as soon as you are seated; almost always it is well past the mid-way point of your shopping experience).

You may think that the shop is being courteous but this small gesture serves a much bigger purpose

Power of reciprocity

By nature, human beings don’t like to be indebted and would quickly want to ensure that they are no longer beholden to anyone. If you recall, in Indian households, we have this tradition of noting down the value of the gifts we have been given.

This is to ensure that we repay their debt by giving something of higher or similar value(depending on how close they are). This kind of reciprocity has been hardwired into our brains for centuries and is the basis for humans to flourish as a race. However, there is a small little detail to this which you may not have noticed.

When we are indebted to someone, it is harder for us to say no to their request! This is the power of reciprocity used by many smart marketers/sales folks. As humans, we are wired to release our indebtedness at the very first instance, which is why we will be willing to make more significant concessions than what the other person has done for you. This is the insight that smart salespersons use. The same hardwiring also makes us do larger favours to people who have done you small favours. Robert Cialdini summarises this principle in these simple words:

Reciprocity: a small favour can trigger a much bigger return favour.

Jewellery shops invoke the power of reciprocity

Once you know the principle and power of reciprocity, it is now easy to see why they offer you a coffee or juice midway during your shopping sessions. By giving you a small concession in the form of coffee, the salesperson is making sure that you are indebted to them. This simple act, which seems like basic courtesy, will dramatically increase their chance of closure in the sale.

I saw this being used very effectively at one of the shops I recently visited. After 15 mins of showing us various designs, the salesperson asked us if we would like a cup of coffee, which we refused (again because we didn’t want to feel indebted to them). However, she insisted that we have the coffee as they make really good coffee (she was selling coffee!) and made sure we enjoyed our cup of coffee and juice for the kids. My wife finally decided to buy at the same shop without realising the power of reciprocity.

FREE samples – remember buying stuff which you don’t need?

The power of reciprocity is invoked in many spheres by smart sales folks. You might have noticed department stores and grocery stores often handing out FREE samples of a product. Let’s say you agree to sample. That’s it. You are hooked! They then immediately follow up with a request to buy the same product.

Sales folks have found that the conversion rates of buying a new product are far higher after a FREE sample was distributed. You are hardly likely to buy a new product when shopping with a grocery list, but the FREE sample enhances your chances of buying a new product. Here too, the powers of reciprocation are at play.

The principle of Reciprocity is powerful and have many ways in which they can be used by leaders to influence people.

PS: This post is part of a series of posts, which I am writing after reading the book ‘Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion’ by Robert B. Cialdini.

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