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Reciprocity Principle

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Have you ever felt the need to return a favor when someone has helped you out? Or maybe felt obligated to say 'yes' to someone who has done something for you in the past? This behavior is called 'Reciprocity' in social psychology. It means that we feel compelled to repay someone for their kindness or generosity. This concept is deeply ingrained in our social norms and values.

Reciprocity plays an important role in our daily lives, whether we realize it or not. It can be a powerful tool for businesses to create positive relationships with their customers. By offering valuable resources or experiences to their audience, businesses can trigger the sense of reciprocity, which can lead to increased loyalty and engagement. Understanding the concept of reciprocity can also help us in our personal relationships by strengthening the bond with our friends, family, and colleagues. Overall, reciprocity is a fundamental aspect of human interaction that can bring many benefits to our lives.

Table of contents:
  1. Why is Reciprocity important in website designing?
  2. Psychology and Reciprocity
    1. Make the First Interaction Surprisingly Simple
    2. Be quality-oriented with quality information
    3. Give more than expected
    4. Free information is invaluable
    5. Assist the users with a live demo
    6. Let the customers start right away
  3. Conclusion

Why is Reciprocity important in website designing?

The user experience generated by a website has a direct bearing on how a visitor may act, whether it creates a positive or negative impact. Any first user who lands on your website has a low trust level on you, and it happens unintentionally. The challenge is to make them feel that they are valued and you're capable enough to give them what they seek for.

To leave a positive impression, you can use the principle of Reciprocity. You can respond to the users by generating a positive value for them before attempting to bother them with too many requests such as to sign up, to fill a form etc. The smart way is to make the user feel that they have been given a favour by your website, so they are obliged to return it. This way, Reciprocity can be used to enhance user experience followed by Conversion Rate Optimization. (CRO)

There is another aspect of this concept that can't be overlooked. Just like we tend to return a favour, we tend to return revenge too. If a visitor feels like he was tricked by your website to sign up but provided them with no value. In such a case, there's a high possibility that he/she may leave negative feedback on you. Therefore, understanding the principle of Reciprocity is important to know how social psychology can be used for your advantage or to avoid any disadvantages accompanied by it.

Psychology and Reciprocity

Make the First Interaction Surprisingly Simple

Creating a simple first interaction is absolutely vital to stop your visitors leaving the site in no time. Your focus should be on setting a positive tone before a user spends too much time or provides information on your site. For example, your website should be designed in a way that any user is led to their expectations without too much interference which will enable the visitors to return the favour by signing up, purchasing your product or service etc. It's one of the secrets of popular websites for conversion rate optimization. (CRO)

Be quality-oriented with quality information

Make sure the information provided is accurate, complete, fit the purpose, consistent and timely. Quality information contains all these characteristics. It's one of the best ways to persuade your visitors to engage positively. Also, with quality information, you can present yourself with authenticity towards conversion rate optimization. (CRO) After all, nobody likes to waste their time or efforts on unreliable information.

Give more than expected

Creating more value than expected is an ideal way to invoke Reciprocity. Enabling you visitors to use your products or services free for a certain period of time has a greater impact to enhance conversion rate optimization than you can ever imagine. Once the user feels that you've created a great value for them beyond their expectations, they don't have other options than returning the favour by engaging positively.

Free information is invaluable

Providing free sources of content is another way to make people feel valued. You can integrate a newsletter, valuable articles and other types of free content to your website and studies have shown that free contents are appreciated by many users. Such users are more likely to visit your site again and again as the result of the concept of Reciprocity.

Assist the users with a live demo

This may not be applicable for all the sites but is great for businesses who sell products or online tools and software. By integrating a live demo you tell people that you understand their needs. This will save time and also help you to generate more value. So, they tend to return the favour by signing up, purchasing your product, subscribe to the newsletter etc. Seeing a demo has a great power to increase positive user engagement towards conversion rate optimization.

Let the customers start right away

This is a clean-cut example of how Reciprocity can be used to your favour. Let's take the example of an online app. Some applications ask to accept push notifications right after we download them disabling us to use the app effectively if done otherwise. This can make people reluctant to cooperate. Who would ever want to accept all push notifications even without knowing whether they're going to use the app or not? This can create a negative effect on your business. The ideal way is to let the people start right away with the app and experience it before stuffing them with too many requests. This way, you can build trust and create a satisfying user experience. Once the users are happy with the clean start of their experience, they will definitely reciprocate by accepting your requests.


Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) is the ultimate concern of any business when creating their website. More the people visit your site repeatedly, the more business opportunities you create. According to social psychology, Reciprocity principle explains the tendency of the people to respond positively to the favours we create. Knowing this behaviour of people can be used effectively in website designing to enhance CRO. There are plenty of ways to create value by using the concept of Reciprocity to enhance user experience. Authentic user experience creates invaluable business opportunities. Therefore, using Reciprocity in website designing is important to enhance positive user engagement and to block negative user effects.

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Example of hypothesis applied

  1. Based on research that shows people are more likely to reciprocate after receiving a personalized message, we believe that adding the customer's name to the homepage greeting will increase the likelihood of them making a purchase. For returning customers, we will also include a personalized message based on their previous purchases. This change will be implemented for all visitors to the webshop.

  2. Based on the principle of reciprocity, we believe that offering a free e-book download to customers who sign up for the newsletter will increase the likelihood of them making a purchase. This change will be implemented for all new visitors to the website.

  3. Based on research that shows people are more likely to reciprocate after receiving a gift, we believe that offering a free sample product with every purchase will increase the likelihood of customers making a repeat purchase. This change will be implemented for all customers who make a purchase on the webshop.


Would you like to go more in-depth? Here are our recommendations:

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini Buy this book

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the reciprocity principle?

People feel obligated to return a favor.

How does reciprocity work in marketing?

Offering a free sample or gift can increase sales.

Is reciprocity cultural or universal?

Universal, it's a human behavior observed across cultures.

Can reciprocity be used in social influence?

Yes, it can be used to influence behavior or attitudes.

Does the size of the favor matter in reciprocity?

No, even small favors can trigger the sense of obligation.

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