According to new data released by the e-tailing group and PowerReviews, nearly two-thirds of online shoppers now spend a significant amount of time reading consumer reviews before making a purchase. Dubbed "social researchers," these shoppers rely on advice and feedback from others to help them decide which products or services to buy. 86% claim these reviews are "extremely important" to their buying decisions.
That should be a powerful message to retailers. While we've always known consumers look at marketing messages with skepticism, the growth of consumer generated content online has now given shoppers a nearly endless supply of unbiased information about every product under the sun. Spend all the time and money you want on your marketing message...but know that it might be completely ignored.
So what's a small business marketer to do? Well, you can start by giving the people want they want. Access to customer reviews. Adding consumer review capabilities to an e-commerce site isn't generally a difficult task. In fact, even if it will cost you some time and money in development, the pay-off in terms of increased time on site and conversions can be well worth the investment.
As a shopper who falls into the "social researchers" category myself, I can't even tell you how much time I spend reading product reviews. It's one thing to get the specs on how large or small something is, or to read about what material was used to make it. It's an entirely different thing to hear someone else tell you how horrible it was to put together, or how well it stood up to hard-core usage.
In the world of online retail, the only way to "handle" the merchandise is through the words of total strangers. Give those strangers a voice and your customers will walk away from their shopping experience feeling like you have nothing to hide. Even better, give those strangers a voice and they may make the sale for you.
Of course don't discount the other benefits of adding consumer reviews to your web site. Apart from working as a sales and information tool, customer reviews can also do a great job of helping you target the keyword long tail.
After all, one of the most common frustrations I hear from small businesses who run e-tail sites is how difficult it is to generate keyword rich content for their product pages. Sites that integrate customer reviews can find themselves swimming in keyword rich reviews. An added bonus is those reviews tend to focus on the words customers use to describe your products rather than the words your marketing team may have pushed. Keyword rich content that's highly targeted to the words and phrases your customers use and that didn't cost you a thing?
How could you go wrong?
This is the point at which at least a dozen readers are shaking their heads and thinking "but what if they write bad things about us?"
That means this is the point where I respond to say "who cares?"
No company has ever sold a product that made every last customer completely and unequivocally happy. It simply hasn't happened. Chances are good your company won't be the first.
People realize there's always at least one person who will find fault with a product, no matter how wonderful that product is. In fact, the occasional negative review can actually lend credibility to your products. It's a lot easier to believe reviews are un tampered with if the occasional criticism shows up. You also shouldn't overlook the benefit of negative reviews when it comes to improving your products. After all, if you don't know what people dislike about them, how can you make them better?
The new data from the PowerReviews report simply adds to what many businesses already know. Consumer reviews are a powerful tool, both for bringing traffic in and for converting them once they're there. What are you doing to leverage this technology?
Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.
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