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Harness the power of online product reviews

Most consumers admit they are influenced by online reviews – positive and negative. How do you harness the potential of public customer feedback?

When was the last time you booked a holiday without referring to Tripadvisor or bought a kettle from Amazon without scrolling down to the reviews? Other people’s opinions have become a central part of our online shopping experience. As a result, consumers hold more power over retailers than ever before.

Online product reviews increasingly inform purchasing decisions. This summer, market research firm Populus asked 2,000 British adults to share their experiences with reviews, focusing in particular on their fashion, footwear and accessories purchases. The results, shared exclusively with Drapers, suggest more than half of consumers (59%) are influenced by their peers’ opinions. This rises to 63% of women, compared with 55% of men. And around a third (32%) claim they take online reviews into consideration when browsing in stores.

Populus customer reviews graph

Populus customer reviews graph

“Consumers claim to engage with online reviews considerably more than most other marketing activities, suggesting they trust their peers more than brands to give an honest evaluation of a product,” states the report, Tricky Waters: How Retailers Can Safely Navigate the World of Online Consumer Reviews.

Negative reviews can of course be impactful, but they do also allow a company to react immediately

Mark Ashton, chief executive of Little Mistress Group

Little Mistress Group is testing consumer reviews in two different ways. First, it has introduced an “abandonment layer” to its site, which triggers if the customer has been browsing and then decides to exit the site. A pop-up asks the customer why they are leaving.

“This is proving extremely insightful particularly in terms of product range and sizing,” explains Mark Ashton, chief executive of Little Mistress Group. “The next stages with this test are to increase the show probability and to also move it to mobile.”

The company is also testing surface reviews through Qubit, so a star rating will appear underneath the product image.

“We believe this will help drive conversion rates by reassuring users about key elements of the product such as the size and fit,” Ashton adds. “Regardless of whether a company has reviews on their website, people will look to social media and search engine reviews or forums, particularly if they are not familiar with your brand.

“Negative reviews can of course be impactful, but they do also allow a company to react immediately, as well as the opportunity to show how strong your customer service is.”

We know how much customers value the view of other customers who have brought the product

Zoe Ashford, head of online marketing at John Lewis

This opportunity to engage with customers and demonstrate the ability to listen and learn is the biggest advantage of online reviews. More than half (54%) of respondents to the Populus survey say they would be more likely to shop with a retailer that provides a lot of helpful reviews on its site.

Zoe Ashford, head of online marketing at John Lewis, agrees: “Customer feedback is extremely important to us and we have seen a significant increase in customers leaving product reviews on johnlewis.com during the past 12 months. We know how much customers value the view of other customers who have brought the product which is why we’ve started to proactively encourage shoppers to write reviews of recently purchased items and this has been well received.”

Footwear retailer Charles Clinkard launched a loyalty programme last year, and it is now considering offering customers loyalty points in return for leaving reviews.

Graeme Boulton, ecommerce multichannel development manager, explains: “We’re always keen to understand what our weaknesses are.” The firm sends two emails to a customer post-purchase: the first asks them to review the product, and the second asks them for their views on Charles Clinkard itself.

“We’re not really price competitive, so service is where we stand out. It’s good to know what we’re doing well and what not so well, so we can improve in those areas,” says Boulton.

Research shows it’s better not to be too squeaky clean

Alan Duncan, marketing director at reviews platform TrustPilot

“From a product perspective, a high number of negative reviews can reveal quality issues and we can then be more proactive. We can ask customers secondary questions about quality and fit, price, again giving us more insight. ”

Some negative reviews are not a bad thing, agrees Alan Duncan, marketing director at reviews platform TrustPilot: “It’s all about trust, not just about five-star reviews. Research shows it’s better not to be too squeaky clean. If you have a smattering of bad reviews that have been responded to on a personal level, it shows you can listen and learn as a business.”

The best way to deal with negative reviews is quickly and publicly, Populus concludes: “Make sure one of your team is always on hand to post an immediate response. Not only will whoever wrote the negative review appreciate your prompt attention to the issue they’ve raised, but others reading the review at a later stage will be impressed by your dedication to getting the matter resolved as quickly as possible.”

As people become ever-more confident about buying fashion online, product reviews will only grow in importance. Many consumers believe online reviews provide key insights into products that retailers do not. Although it can seem like a risk, opening your business up to negative and potentially damaging feedback, in the long run, it is better to let your customers do the talking.

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