Online reviews and e-commerce: a match made in retail heaven

23rd February 2022

92% of online shoppers turn to online reviews before making a purchase. (Yes, really.)  You can pay through your nose for Facebook and Instagram ads, smart SEO, and a beautiful website, but if customers can’t find any online reviews about your online store, you’re already at a disadvantage. In a climate where every cent counts, today, more than ever, consumers are turning to online reviews to evaluate whether or not your product or service is worth it. The 21st century equivalent of word of mouth, online reviews are the most powerful form of marketing with one caveat: your customers are doing it for you. (Which is why happy customers are worth their weight in gold.) 

Your brand – whether you operate online, trade in a brick and mortar store, or both, benefits from online reviews in three major ways:

1. Online reviews lend credibility to your brand

If you’ve ever walked into a store and seen a swarm of people looking at a particular display case (pre-Covid-19, of course), chances are, you’d make your way over to see what the fuss was about. This is social proof in action – if your peers are doing or excited about something, you want to experience it for yourself. Online reviews act in the same way – if people are talking about a brand, you’ll want to get in on the action too. Brands that are mentioned and tagged on social media enjoy more (foot and web) traffic as a result. And the more mentions and online reviews they receive, the more customers. And the more customers….you see what I’m getting at, right? Conversely, if there’s little or nothing to be found in the form of online reviews, potential customers will a) take the ‘silence’ as a sign that your brand isn’t worth mentioning and then b) search for a competing brand that their peers are talking about. 

2. Online reviews boost SEO

Online reviews form an integral part of SEO in several ways: the more people talking about your brand, the more keywords there are for search engines to pick up on. Besides keywords, search engines give weight to authentic and user-generated content – like online reviews –  which is why Google will give preference to a brand with online reviews over one that has none. What’s more, online reviews have a massive impact on local SEO. Search for ‘hairdressers in (your suburb)’ and you’ll be served a list of hair salons, each with a rating of five stars, as well as the number of reviews the business has. Chances are, you’d choose a stylist who has a four-and-a-half star rating from 200 people over one that has a five-star rating from two people. In other words, online reviews – even if they’re less than stellar – are a valuable asset to your store.   

3. Online reviews provide you with invaluable insight into what your customers love (and hate) about your product or service

Tapping into the minds of your customers and target market is crucial if you want to meet their needs and desires. Too often, brands change their offering in the hopes that these tweaks will be met with open arms – but crossing your fingers and merely hoping that your customers will love them is a risky gamble when sales on are the line. By using customer feedback to inform any alterations to your product or service, you’re able to meet and ideally, exceed their expectations. But gaining access to no-holds-barred, genuine opinions about your brand is nigh impossible if you’re not giving your customers an opportunity to tell you what they think.

It’s clear that the benefits of online reviews are myriad, but how do you go about collecting them in the first place?

Generate online reviews to woo new customers and get an inside scoop on what existing customers think by:

Making it as easy as possible for customers to leave a review

Your customers shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to leave a review. Remember that you’re already asking them to dedicate several minutes of their time to your brand, and if you’re making the task more onerous than it needs to be, they’ll be disgruntled before they have a chance to write a review – which can inadvertently taint even the most positive feedback. Keep online forms or surveys short and to the point, and always thank someone for their feedback (especially if it’s negative*). 

Getting your timing right

The ability to garner online reviews is largely determined by timing.  Ask too soon, and you’re unlikely to receive any reviews (or ones of substance); ask too late and your efforts will also be met with minimal success as your customer might not remember what they did and didn’t like. Aim to ask for a review while someone’s experience of your product or service is still top of mind, but long enough after the fact for them to have actually used it. The sweet spot will depend on your offering, but in general, the rule of thumb is to wait a few days after they’ve received your product or experienced your service.

Providing an incentive

Few customers will take the time to leave an online review if they’re not prompted to do so. But by offering an incentive, they’re far more likely to. Think a discount on their next purchase, an entry into a competition, a gift card, or a special offer. On a similar note, resist the urge to buy a bunch of fake reviews – not only are they glaringly obvious, if you’re found out, your brand will be irreparably and permanently damaged.

Online reviews are a powerful means of marketing your brand – without having to invest a cent. While they’re certainly not a quick fix for suffering sales or minimal brand awareness, they’re a worthy investment that will continuously provide value.

*A word on negative reviews: When you receive one (fear not, all businesses do) respond as soon as possible, and in a friendly and courteous manner. When tackled in the right way, a lot of less-than-happy customers can be turned into satisfied ones.