“Why Retailers Should Focus on Online Reviews to Improve Credibility and Drive More Sales” by Heidi Sullivan via Total Retail

“Why Retailers Should Focus on Online Reviews to Improve Credibility and Drive More Sales” by Heidi Sullivan via Total Retail

Credit: Getty Images by Kiyoshi Hijiki

It’s not a novel concept anymore, but in an age of instant gratification when consumers have all the information they need right at their fingertips — and at a moment’s notice — many retail businesses are finding that sometimes it’s best to let someone else do the talking.

That’s not to say retailers shouldn’t advocate for themselves, but as service providers and restaurant owners have known for some time now, online reviews carry more weight than ever before, and they can have a very real impact on the bottom line.

Online reviews shape a retail business’ reputation more quickly and more significantly than, say, sponsoring the local Polar Plunge or donating supplies to aid disaster relief. Again, those are important activities, but when it comes to conversions, consumers are looking to see what others think before reaching for their wallets.

Trust and Credibility

recent study showed that 72 percent of consumers trust a business more after reading positive reviews. That should be reason enough to pursue online review generation. If you don’t have potential customers’ trust, what do you have?

That said, an online review is simply a technology-fueled version of word-of-mouth. Your neighbor sees your new lawnmower and wants to know where you got it and what you think of it. Online reviews are no different, and folks don’t even need to know the person. In fact, 89 percent of consumers trust online reviews just as much as personal recommendations.

What does it all mean? Online reviews beget trust. Trust begets sales.

Related story: Want to Drive More Sales? Use These 4 Digital Merchandising Strategies

The Total Package

On the other side of the coin, a level of distrust is now involved when the public consumes advertising messages. What’s the catch? What’s this retailer up to? If all your reviews are positive, consumers begin to think “surely what they’re saying is too good to be true.” Retailers can talk all they want about their quality, but who is a potential new customer going to believe? Spoiler: it’s the person who made a purchase, not the business.

Potential customers want to know what it’s like to do business with a particular retailer. Is it going to be awkward? Are they going to feel pressured? Are the prices fair? Are the products of good quality?

All of this is conveyed in online reviews, and as we’ve seen, people are hungry for the details. And they’re not just stopping at a couple; on average, consumers are reading seven reviews before deciding about a particular business or product.

Much like perusing a menu online before a nice anniversary dinner, people want to know what a product or the retail business itself is going to be like before walking through the door.

Online reviews complete a consumer’s research routine and serve as a catalyst for the final stage of the buyer’s journey. They also offer peace of mind that isn’t found anywhere else.

A potential customer has narrowed down the product, has compared features, and has determined value specific to them, but they still want to know how others feel about the product and the retailer. Online reviews bring it all together, and now that new customer feels like they’ve done their due diligence and have justified their spend.

Paving a New Road

Don’t feel shy about asking your customers to review their experience. We’re pretty used to it by now, anyway. In fact, your business might not be able to afford not to spend time on review generation.

More and more consumers want to know the full story before making a purchase decision. And with all the options we’re given for just about anything these days, it makes sense. Without previous customers telling their stories and hopefully singing your brand’s praises, chances are the shopper still deciding is going to move on. You may even find that after a positive experience, customers are enthusiastic about leaving a review upon being asked.

It takes some time and some figurative elbow grease, but gathering reviews is going to help your retail business in the long run and be well worth your while.

Heidi Sullivan is senior vice president of product and marketing for UpCity, a company that creates and empowers successful relationships between businesses and service providers.

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