Does Incentivising Customers Lead to Sales?

November 26, 2021

Ever found yourself caught up in the urgency of making an online purchase before really thinking about what you are buying? If you are nodding yes, then you are not alone!

Some websites are more intuitive and persuasive than others, yet we cannot always pinpoint why. For years, marketers have employed psychology principles to tempt consumers into clicking and buying a product on an impulse. Not only marketers, but website owners have employed these principles too to surge their sales and engagement on online platforms. There is a simple way to understand and incorporate these principles by identifying how different triggers subtly affect the consumer’s behaviour.

For decades, a renowned professor from Arizona State University, Robert Cialdini studied the techniques of persuasion and formulated six principles:

  • Scarcity
  • Reciprocity
  • Compliance (Authority)
  • Conformity (Social Proof)
  • Liking
  • Commitment and Consistency

In this article, we will understand two out of six principles of persuasion: Reciprocity, and Commitment and Consistency. We will also understand how these concepts are leveraged by LinkedIn.

In one of Cialdini’s classic studies, he approached participants and asked them if they would be willing to volunteer for a trip for children from juvenile detention centre to the zoo (smaller commitment). First group of participants were asked if they would be willing to spend the summer as an intern at the juvenile detention centre (larger commitment) prior to
being asked if they would commit to the smaller commitment. Researchers asked the second group of participants only to make the smaller commitment.

The results indicated that 55% of the participants from the first group agreed to engage in the smaller commitment task, and 17% in the second group volunteered. No participants agreed to take up the larger commitment task. Cialdini concluded that people develop a sense of reciprocity or obligation after denying someone by asking them for a larger commitment which increases the likelihood of them complying with the smaller task.

1. Reciprocity

Cialdini identified that people tend to perform an act if they feel they have received something first. This concept is known as reciprocity.

It refers to the tendency of users to give or receive something with the expectation of giving or receiving something back. For example, Prachi signs up for a one-month free trial of Amazon Prime services. When her trial expires, she moves forward to sign up for a paid subscription, even though other streaming services provide similar offers. Prachi would also feel a sense of loyalty towards Amazon Prime that she does not feel towards any other providers.


People tend to return favours, pay back debts, and treat each other how they have been treated. This leads to a feeling of obligation when someone has given us concessions or discounts. To avoid this feeling, we engage in reciprocity.


Reciprocity can also be used as a negotiation tactic with users. However, it is vital to keep two things in mind for successful reciprocity:

  • We need to give the users something
  • We need to ask the users for something

In addition, identifying what we have that might entice the user is equally essential. One can:

  • Share content by offering white papers, cheat sheets, guides, templates, and research findings.
  • Offer product discounts, free shipping or redeemable coupons.
  • Giving free upgrades to first time sign-up or on first order.

Further, the organisation should capture the user’s email address and essential demographic details to facilitate follow-up marketing of the product.

2. Commitment and Consistency

As the year ends, the tradition of new year resolutions begins. People decide to have a healthier, wiser and richer life ahead by cultivating a new positive habit, this phenomenon is known as Fresh-Start effect.

But what happens within a few weeks? The honeymoon phase ends, the motivation and productivity eventually dwindle and most of us return to our previous functioning levels, despite our best efforts. But what if I told you that there is a way to influence behaviour – to nudge people in the direction of pursuing their goals?

Behavioural consistency refers to people’s tendency to behave in a way that aligns with their past decisions and behaviours. Behavioural consistency drives our way to take mental shortcuts which, by default, eases the process of decision making. It is easier to make one decision and stay consistent to it than making a new decision every time when presented with a problem.

Consistency acts at both, individual and societal level. These resolutions, when on an individual level, the pressure to follow it is on oneself. This pressure is even stronger at the social level, that is, if the promise is public and involves others. This inconsistency with self might result in some guilt, but inconsistency with other calls for interpersonal risks. These risks create tremendous social pressure to remain consistent. Hence, people try to ensure that their behaviour aligns with their past decisions to avoid undue stress.

According to Cialdini “Once we have made a choice or taken a stance, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment. Those pressures will cause us to respond in ways that justify our earlier decision.”

Have you ever noticed Mac users who would never dream of touching a Windows laptop? Users are willing to pay more money to stay consistent with their commitment towards a specific brand.

Research indicates that when the original incentive, such as 10% off promotion is removed or the price of the product hikes, buyers would still buy the product since they have already committed and have decided to buy it. Another research found that 87% of the consumers during a purchasing process, even if they notice a small processing fee, will not bother dropping out because of the commitment and consistency rule.

Some of the ways to capitalize on consistency and commitment with your users is by:

  • Making public commitments on social media, reviews, message board discussions, and online petitions to your product.
  • Offering smaller sales that build into a bigger sale or commitment – Putting smaller products on sale and providing a larger discount on next purchase.
  • Creating a profile in the system reflects a commitment that the users have made to use the product.

3. LinkedIn Case Study

LinkedIn is one of the largest social networking services that focuses mainly on professional networking and knowledge sharing. LinkedIn thrives on many concepts of the principle of influence. It provides the opportunity for users to influence each other, get influenced by each other, and influence potential employers.

LinkedIn incorporates the concept of reciprocity by engaging in number of acts including:

  • Endorsing skills and expertise of a user
  • Providing a testimonial
  • Liking, sharing, and commenting on posts



Building a LinkedIn profile is time-consuming and may seem daunting to some users. Once users have built their profile, they are more likely to keep it updated. It serves as a recording of a user’s accomplishment – this would require the user to consistently update their profile as they achieve milestones, hence maintaining consistency and commitment with the website

LinkedIn also attempts to foster commitment by allowing users to login to other sites through their LinkedIn profile credentials, for example, Bloomberg Careers. Users logging in through their LinkedIn profile have created a deeper commitment to LinkedIn as it serves to access additional content through other products.



Providing your users with free incentives does not go unnoticed. Elements of influence have a profound impact on the user’s attitude and behaviour towards the product. Designers can positively influence users’ attitude towards the use of products by leveraging the concept of Reciprocity, by creating a sense of obligation and giving away free content, providing free or discounted trials, and offering opportunities for users to engage in liking or sharing others’ works. Principles of commitment and consistency reflect the notion that individuals want their behaviour to be consistent with commitments and with past behaviours. Thus, by offering small discounts, making public commitments, and asking the user to create a profile in the system, we can leverage this principle.

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