Cialdini’s principles of persuasion – Reciprocity

This first part in a series of 7 articles on Cialdini’s principles is about reciprocity. What exactly does it mean and how do you apply it?

You decide what you decide? Think again. Most choices we make unconsciously. And that’s not surprising considering we live in a fast-paced and increasingly complex world. We just don’t have the time, capacity and energy to consciously respond to all the stimuli. Therefore, we have learned to rely on our own mental shortcuts.

“This product is expensive, so it must be high quality” is one such shortcut. Because it takes too much time to extensively research exactly what something is worth with every purchase, we (unconsciously) use this rule of thumb. We often make the right decision quickly this way. But this also leaves us vulnerable to those who skillfully exploit the way our brains work.

American psychologist Robert Cialdini thus discovered a total of seven principles of influence. In this series, we’ll take a look at them one by one and show you how they work, how to recognize them and how to apply them.

The 7 principles of influence:

  1. Reciprocity
  2. Authority
  3. Scarcity
  4. Commitment and consistency
  5. Social proof
  6. Sympathy
  7. Unit

The principle of reciprocity

Pay every debt, as if God wrote the bill. – Ralph Waldo Emerson –

When you get something, you like to give something back

As soon as you receive a favor, a guilt to do something in return automatically arises. When someone invites you to their party, you invite them to your party. Do you follow me on Instagram? Then I’ll probably follow you back. Do you send the neighbor a Christmas card? You understand what’s happening.

Salespeople have also long discovered the workings of influence principles. Online retailers in particular make eager use of Cialdini’s research, and for conversion specialists, his book “Influence, the Psychology of Persuasion” is required reading. Thus, the principle of reciprocity is a widely used technique in marketing.

A real-life example

Chances are you’ve found a discount voucher from Zalando in your mailbox before.

“You hereby receive a discount code of €20, because we missed you so much.”

Very coincidentally, the weather outside is just getting nice and your wardrobe could use some fresh spring clothes. A perfect example of timing combined with the power of reciprocity will make you order your new summer coat from … Zalando! And oh well, throw in that shirt and those trendy sunglasses, too.

Workshops and trainings are also an excellent way to use reciprocity to your advantage. Are you a specialist in a particular field? Give a free training session at a client or prospect. You provide them with some valuable insights that they will no doubt think back to when they have a new assignment to outsource. That is the power of reciprocity.

Be sincere and take the first step

It may feel a little awkward, but reciprocity only works if you are the first to give something away. Furthermore, it is important that you do this unexpectedly and your favor is personal and meaningful. Don’t expect immediate consideration either. If you do, it arouses suspicion about the sincerity of your intentions and may actually work against you.

The rule may provoke unfair transactions

What was the value of the Zalando voucher again? And with what “favor” do we answer the giver? Exactly. Probably with a substantially higher order value.

Cialdini’s research shows that a favor must be repaid with a favor. However, a small initial favor can elicit a considerably larger quid pro quo! Reason enough to think of ways you can start giving. You won’t regret it.

Want to learn more about the power of Cialdini’s influence principles and his experiments? Then sign up for our newsletter to be the first to read the next part!


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