In today’s online retail environment, the important of online reviews cannot be overstated.
Not only are they good for encouraging sales, but reviews shape your reputation as an online seller and help build trust and loyalty with your current and future customer base.
So, what are the advantages and disadvantages to online reviews? How should you respond to them? What can you do to encourage more online reviews? How do you handle negative ones?
In this article, we discuss the importance of online reviews and how to respond to both positive and negative comments. You’ll also find out the pros and cons that reviews bring your business.
Advantages of online reviews
Did you know that 93% of people say online reviews impact their purchasing decisions?
And that 90% claim positive online reviews influence whether or not they buy from you?
Online reviews are an important part of the journey a person takes to becoming a customer.
If he or she has never shopped with you before, it’s likely that they’ll want to:
- Verify your status as an online business
- See social proof
After all, this person doesn’t yet know whether to trust your brand or not.
Providing that you have plenty of positive reviews, potential customers will more than likely follow through with their first purchase, leading to an increase in sales.
As an online business, you will rarely come into direct personal contact with your customers.
Shoppers have very little to go on when questioning the validity and integrity of a new or unfamiliar brand, which is why online reviews play such an important role in building trust.
First-time customers can quickly determine whether or not your business is one that they can confidently trust and complete their transaction with.
Credibility leads to conversions. Positive reviews reassure potential buyers that the product will fit their needs and is worth the money.
Enabling online reviews both on your product pages and on external platforms showcases your business as being transparent with customers – not afraid of criticism.
It also suggests that you are honest and open about all aspects of your business, which is something that all customers are likely to appreciate.
And that’s not all.
Transparency in customer feedback can lead to positive experiences that reinforce trust and encourage ongoing engagement.
Improve business from feedback
There’s a lot you can learn from online customer reviews.
Good or bad, reviews can highlight areas that your business needs to improve upon, such as customer service, shipping and delivery or the quality of your products.
In other words, negative online reviews create positive opportunities for business owners.
As it takes such a huge amount of energy to ensure the smooth running of a business, it can be easy to miss customer-level problems – online reviews help you to become aware of them.
Try to take bad online reviews in your stride.
Think about how you can improve or mitigate the problem from happening again and then communicate the action taken to the customer who left the review.
Not only does this give the unhappy customer a chance to reconsider your company, but it also shows to future customers that you value their business and input.
For example, a common problem many shoppers experience is the item not being in stock, even if it is listed in stock (e.g. overselling). To alleviate this issue, you could investigate and implement inventory management software.
Disadvantages of online reviews
Lack of control
Something many online retailers often face is a lack of control over what people say about your business in the public domain, which can affect business growth.
If there are too many negative reviews, then you may experience a down-turn in sales or find yourself struggling to reverse the harm done to your brand.
It is inevitable that you will encounter negative reviews, especially as a growing business. It’s impossible to please everyone all of the time.
However, it doesn’t have to be the end of the world.
Constructive criticism can actually help your business to grow, especially if there are recurring themes within the online reviews.
Negativity gives you something to work towards. Try to take complaints in your stride and communicate how you plan to resolve the issue with the reviewer in question.
How to respond to online reviews
When responding to online reviews, a good habit to get into is to personalise your response.
This extends beyond simply using the customer’s first name.
Using the same cookie cutter response to reviews tends to look lazy or like the employee writing them doesn’t care for its customers – an image you’ll want to avoid.
Your customers have taken time out of their day to leave you feedback so the least you can do is write a unique comment. Even if it’s just the odd tweak here and there.
Consider your writing style
How do you want customers to feel about your brand?
The language that you choose, along with your tone of voice, goes a long way in eliciting positive emotions from your customer base when it comes to online reviews.
These positive emotions then build trust and loyalty which ultimately leads to brand advocacy.
Think about it.
Let’s say you were responding to a positive review. Look at the following responses:
“Dear Sir, we’re simply thrilled to hear that you are happy with your purchase from <brand name> retail store. We truly value our customers and hope that you will continue to do business with us for many years to come.
Kind regards, XXX Customer Service Department.”
“Hey Andy, it’s great to hear how happy you are with <product>! It’s definitely one of our more popular items. Thanks for being an awesome customer and we hope to see you again soon.
All the best, Natalie (Customer Service).”
Neither of these responses are incorrect, yet they both evoke very different emotions.
The first is formal, impersonal and strictly professional. The response appears to be written for an older audience who may expect this level of formality.
The second is much more human and friendly. It personalises the review with the use of first names and even mentions the product purchased, along with using active language.
How you respond to online reviews should match the writing style of your product descriptions, blog articles and any other customer-facing content.
You should aim for consistency across channels to create a strong brand image.
Expressing empathy in your online reviews shows that you understand the feelings of your customer. It’s the act of putting yourself in their shoes and seeing their point of view.
Empathy is especially important when dealing with negative online reviews.
It’s important to acknowledge the feelings of your unhappy customer and show that you understand their frustration. Being empathetic does not mean that you agree with them, rather that you simply understand their truth.
Empathetic responses can help build the image that you are a brand that cares about its customers. It also acts as a way to diffuse the potential of further conflicts arising.
No matter how negative a review might be, it’s always best to approach it with as much positivity as possible.
You want to come across as a brand that listens to its customers and acts accordingly – not one that is cold or aloof when it comes to dealing with an unhappy customer.
We’re not saying that you need to bend over backwards to appease someone, but you should give an adequate response that focuses on action being taken to resolve any issues.
How to gain more online reviews
Email marketing campaign
It can be challenging to gather online reviews, especially when you’re fairly new to the scene.
One way in which you can generate some reviews is through an email marketing campaign.
You could set up an automatic email to be sent a few days or a week after the product has been delivered to a customer, encouraging him or her to leave a review.
Alternatively, if you’ve experienced many sales but haven’t been following up with these sorts of emails, you might want to launch a separate email campaign targeted towards all customers.
You could state you’re looking to improve your business and want to hear honest opinions about your products and overall services, or you might want to consider offering some sort of incentive in exchange for the review.
However, do be mindful of incentivising the process – some review sites may not allow for this.
Personalised card sent with order
Another creative way to get more online reviews is to send a personalised card with an order.
For example, you could add in a business card with a couple of lines asking him or her to leave a review when they have the time.
If you have the time to spare, a handwritten note thanking them for their purchase and asking for a review may be even more effective – but this will become more challenging the bigger your business gets.
Offer discount or incentive
To encourage your customers to share their experiences of buying products from your business, you could incentivise the process or offer a discount with their next purchase.
This can be a great way to accumulate many reviews in quite a short amount of time; however, you’ll need to weigh up the costs incurred to see if it’s a viable strategy for you to take.
As we mentioned earlier, if you’re seeking reviews for a third-party website, you’ll need to make sure incentivising the process doesn’t go against their rules. If it’s simply for your own website, then you should be fine to offer discounts or coupons.
On the phone
A simple way to receive more reviews is to ask your customers directly over the phone.
If you’ve been dealing with and resolving a customer complaint and manage to turn an unhappy customer into a happy one, try asking them to leave you a review.
Be careful not to make it sound mandatory, rather that you would really appreciate it if they have some time after the phone call to share their experiences online.
What to do when negativity strikes
Identify the customer and reach out
Negative reviews are inevitable – every online business will experience them at some point.
What’s the best way to react?
For starters, you should try to identify the reviewer as an actual customer.
This may be simple in that they may have left their name, which you can then look up in your customer relationship management database. If not, then message them directly on the review site (such as TrustPilot) and try to verify their purchase.
You may find that they are not actually a customer, and you can then apply to get the negative review removed entirely and repair your reputation.
Once you know what they purchased, when they purchased it and how long delivery took and whether or not they contacted customer service and how they were treated, you are much better equipped to respond to the negative review.
Respond directly to the review
Once you’ve verified their status as a customer, the next step to take is to respond to them.
It may be tempting to ignore the review and pretend it doesn’t exist, but that’s the last thing you should do. Leaving negative reviews to fester only serves to damage your reputation in the long run.
Even if you don’t manage to resolve the issue, showing that you are a proactive brand that seeks to remedy negative situations, you can actually influence how potential customers perceive your business.
How should you respond?
First, it’s important to show empathy to the situation, as we mentioned earlier.
If you are the one in the wrong, the best thing to do is to admit fault, apologise and get in touch with the customer privately (e.g. email) to diffuse the negativity and offer compensation.
However, if it’s factually incorrect (e.g. their experiences with your customer service team) or your business is not to blame, then tread carefully.
You don’t want to look like a brand that places blame on the customer, but nor do you want to be accepting fault and apologising for false information.
The best course of action to take is:
- Address them by their name
- Express empathy to the situation
- Apologise where necessary
- State your case honestly but not aggressively
- Ask them to get in touch with your team to take the situation private
Remove any offensive reviews
While customers complaining and leaving negative reviews is to be expected, outright offensiveness or personal remarks should not be tolerated.
If any online reviews contain accusatory, defamatory, violent, coarse, sexist or racist language, you should appeal to have the review removed.
At the same time, if any review contains personal information that might be used to identify, track or contact someone else (e.g. address, phone number, email) then you’re likely to be able to appeal it and have it removed.
Look for recurring themes and learn from them
It can be easy to get bogged down by negative reviews – especially if you receive a number of them fairly close together. Try not to get disheartened if this happens to you.
Instead, look at it like a learning curve.
Try to identify any recurring themes and see what you can do to make improvements.
For instance, are a lot of reviews calling out your customer care team?
Maybe there’s a problem with the quality of your products?
Or perhaps people are complaining about the delivery service you’ve partnered with?
Although negative online reviews can be disheartening, treat it as a positive. Now you have actual feedback that you can work with and make your business better than ever before.
Online reviews build trust and encourage sales
Although dealing with online reviews can be overwhelming, they remain a powerful tool to fuel your reputation, increase sales and build trust with your customers and potential customers.
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