Leveraging Peer Reviews

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If you somehow managed to miss the message that the customer is firmly in control in the driver’s seat, it may be too late for you. In 1990, Sam Walton said, “There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” His commonsense business approach has been amplified over 30 years later by the digital marketplace, making transactions more transparent and giving the consumer more vocal power to influence the purchase journey. With the explosion of user-generated content, how do you keep some sense of control over your business? Your digital footprint needs to be authentic and positive. And you need a strategy.

User-Generated Content

There are many ways to enhance your digital image and presence to sell to a wide range of customers. One key is to up your game with peer-to-peer content generation, i.e., online reviews.

[callout]An impressive 93 percent of consumers say that online reviews influenced their purchase decisions and 91percent of 18-34 year-olds trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.[/callout]

The data is clear. Today’s consumer looks for validation before they determine to engage with a product, business, or service. Reviews have become a new personal recommendation in word-of-mouth marketing. In today’s open-source online environment, one of the first steps in many customers’ purchasing journeys is to read online reviews. This is table stakes for categories of services and products including electronics, car dealers, airlines, restaurants, resorts and hotels, repair services, film, streaming, books – just to mention just a few. Yelp and Angie\’s List are both successful disruptors in the review space and have empowered consumers. According to Diana Kaemingk in “Online Reviews Statistics to Know in 2021,” a staggering “93 percent of consumers say that online reviews influenced their purchase decisions and 91 percent of 18-34 year-olds trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.”

Pros and Cons

The stakes are high. Positive reviews drive growth while negative reviews can destroy business and sales. TripAdvisor did a survey that reveals 94 percent of U.S. diners acknowledge that online restaurant reviews and content influence their dining decisions. According to eMarketer.com, four out of five consumers say online reviews influence their perceptions about companies and 80 percent report that negative online comments changed their purchasing decisions. Just to show you how this translates to business, according to Brandwatch’s “Four Lessons You Can Learn from Online Reviews,” products with an average rating of 4 stars get 11.6 times more orders than products with an average star rating of 3! Let me repeat, 11.6 times more orders! You can’t ignore this.

To pull off a consumer reviews initiative, there’s a flip side that you should be aware of to ensure your messaging and peer conversations are authentic. According to CNBC, “Since Amazon’s early days, reviews are the one big metric customers have relied on to determine the quality and authenticity of a product. Amazon’s listings often have hundreds or thousands of reviews, instead of the handful found on competing marketplaces. But many of those reviews can’t be trusted. Thousands of fake reviews have flooded AmazonWalmarteBay and others.” Furthermore, according to Review42, “82 percent of adults in America check reviews, but barely 17 percent of users fully trust reviews.” Digging deeper, “61 percent of electronics reviews have been deemed fake. Black hat companies offer as much as $10, 000 a month for a review.” Bots have been powered by AI to create reviews, both positive and negative, depending on who’s running the review show. Major influencers, once respected peer-to-peer content generators, have been caught in a public callout firestorm when it was revealed they were on brands’ payrolls to dole out positive product reviews. A review program can give you a decisive advantage as long as you manage the challenges.

Four-Point Plan

When implementing a review program, businesses must adopt strategies to cultivate and maintain positive reviews. Here are four tips on how to manage ecommerce reviews, according to the Medill Spiegel Research Center report, “How Online Reviews Influence Sales.”

  1. Products with five reviews do better.
  • “The purchase likelihood for a product with five reviews is 270 percent greater than the purchase likelihood of a product with no reviews.
  • Having more reviews isn’t necessarily better, after a point. The marginal benefit of additional reviews begins diminishing rapidly after the first five reviews.”
  1. The source of the reviews impact credibility, and purchase likelihood.
  • Reviews from verified buyers are perceived as the gold standard, they are more credible and have a greater impact on sales
  • Reviews that are syndicated or produced by the retailer, i.e., Walmart’s Spark or Amazon’s Vine program are often dismissed and are much less credible than verified reviews.
  1. Ensure that your products have reviews.
  • “Retailers that choose not to feature ratings and reviews risk losing customers to a site that does.”
  1. Keep your reviews current.
  • According to Brightlocal’s Local Consumer Review Survey, about 85 percent of consumers consider any review older than three months to be irrelevant.

There is one rule of business that is time-tested: Listen to your customer. The customer’s voice today is being amplified with a megaphone through user-generated content, and you have to develop a plan to make your online reviews an asset, not a liability.

My warning is; if you don’t have a strategy to ensure your user-generated content is positive and authentic, your customer will spend their money elsewhere.

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