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Online customer reviews have exploded with the recent surge in e-commerce. Marketers need to understand how to make the most of them. We’re learning that they’re about far more than just words on a screen.
Last year at the onset of COVID-19, customers moved into isolation and started shopping online, more frequently, from home. Almost overnight, the number of written product reviews on Amazon.com—where millions of people shop online—more than doubled. Retail giants like Walmart and Target also saw a surge in reviews on their sites.
It makes sense that online reviews would become more prevalent.
Customers who can’t visit a retail store in person still want to know how a product looks, feels, and lasts before they spend their hard-earned cash. They’ll look to a brand’s site for reviews before hitting the buy button.
The power and potential of online customer reviews
Online reviews are a way for new customers to manage expectations of their potential experience with a product while maintaining distance.
For marketers, online customer reviews offer a wealth of insight that can be used for a number of purposes, including:
1. Building customer engagement and trust
2. A source of competitive intelligence
3. Product development ideas
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Along with that power, though, comes a responsibility to understand some of the psychology that goes along with online reviews so that you can avoid some pitfalls.
The good news is the empirical knowledge is coming at us now at full steam. We have more than just gut instinct to go on when we’re making strategic decisions about online reviews.
Here are some of the most recent applicable takeaways.
Shameless self-promotion will get you nowhere
Negative feedback is just part of the deal with online customer reviews. In the past when that has happened, some companies have been inclined to respond by self-promoting instead of listening. You may have seen these online interactions yourself. Here’s an example:
“We are sorry for your negative experience. Here’s a coupon for 25% off your next purchase at our amazing sale next week!”
According to research, shamelessly self-promoting comes across as indulging in your own self-interest, rather than accepting of the customer’s feedback.
This study showed that self-promotion as a response to negative feedback damages customer relationships. Repurchase intentions decrease when you do that. So, don’t do that!
Instead, demonstrate that you’re listening to the feedback and that you take it seriously. Leave the self-promotion for another time.
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Mobile online customer reviews have a special power
As a customer yourself, have you ever tried to write a review from a mobile phone?
If so, then you know how much effort it takes, compared to if you were writing that same review on a laptop computer keyboard.
A study of customer reviews on a travel website found that customers were more likely to be influenced to buy based on a review when that review was written from a mobile device.
Why? Because typically, it’s harder to write a review from a mobile device. Customers perceive mobile reviews to be more credible and thus, more persuasive because they know how much effort and commitment had to go into writing the review.
So, consider using tech to make it easier for customers to write a review on your website from their mobile device. Consider a “via mobile” label for reviews received from a mobile device.
Honesty sells, even when it isn’t pretty
Online reviews can do two things:
- Make customers aware of the product
- And/or influence them to buy
Studies are mixed about which happens more frequently and why.
However, honesty and legitimacy seem to have a universal positive influence on customers’ intentions to purchase.
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For example, sometimes customers make mistakes when they order something online. Sometimes they will write in their review that they made a mistake in ordering. A marketer’s initial reaction may be to delete that customer’s review because things weren’t “perfect.”
Don’t do it.
This study found that shoppers were more likely to conclude that a reviewer was more credible, they were more likely to be viewed as an expert, and customers were thus more willing to buy themselves if the reviewer admitted they made some type of mistake.
Customers are smart – and skeptical
Customers want to trust the brands they do business with, so they’re looking for real reviews written by well-informed customers.
Across the board, studies show customers evaluate whether a reviewer is credible before deciding whether to rely on that review. When customers think reviews aren’t authentic, they become uncertain about buying.
From a marketing and sales perspective, honesty and transparency is the best policy for building trust with customers and for your brand. Honesty is what sells, and academic studies continue to show it time and time again.
Online customer reviews: Doing what makes sense
It comes down to this: customers will take other customers’ experiences seriously. It may not always make sense for certain businesses to offer online reviews. But for others, it should be and is becoming standard practice. Because online reviews aren’t going away.
It’s important to understand how to balance good marketing with how customers perceive, use, and make buying decisions using online reviews.
Here’s to getting five stars, legitimately, with every review!