One-third of consumers report checking reviews of businesses and services more frequently than they did before the pandemic lockdown."

“Trust, but verify.” The Russian proverb made internationally known by President Ronald Reagan could serve as a rallying cry for today’s empowered consumers.

Strategic online ad placement and relatable content create visibility and provide information, but online reviews are playing an increasingly integral part in consumer decision-making — and, consequently, managing reviews has become a business imperative.

With the pandemic driving ever-more shoppers online, brands can no longer afford the absence of credible reviews across retailers. When consumers aren’t able to hold or inspect a product, they increasingly look for the nitty-gritty product details and rely on sound advice from others in the form of trustworthy reviews. Facing financial challenges and altered product-return processes as businesses close, reopen and close again, shoppers are even more determined to make a “good” purchase the first time around.

One-third of consumers report checking reviews of businesses and services more frequently than they did before the pandemic lockdown, according to Trustpilot. And according to Power Reviews, review content is much more influential on the path to purchase than it was before the pandemic, with overall engagement up around 1.5 times from “normal.” There are plenty of reasons why this is the case, from increased vetting by consumers of where and how they will spend their money to increased fear of scams in the online world.

But not all reviews are created equal. Surveyed just before the pandemic, nine in 10 Amazon shoppers (93.8%) said they trusted product reviews, but nearly one-fourth said they trusted only those from verified users, according to Statista.

Even so, the sheer quantity of reviews a potential customer wants to see before considering a brand or business credible remains important. Between March and late May, the number of reviews consumers said they wanted to see on a Google My Business profile before considering a business legitimate more than doubled, from 21 to 45, according to Market My Market. Asked how much time they’re willing to spend researching an item prior to making a purchase, the most common answer was 30 minutes.

Adapting to the Change

Under-investing in review management can weaken a brand. Here are a few getting-started strategies to consider:

  • Start now. Actually, start yesterday, but now works. Don’t wait for a volcanic eruption of lost sales or negative reviews to align your focus on consumer feedback. Four in 10 shoppers say product reviews are the online shopping feature they rely on most for making an informed purchase decision faster, according to Bazaarvoice.
  • Dedicate a small team or agency to monitor reviews and actively engage consumers on those reviews. Half (51%) of consumers trust companies that make it easy for visitors to contact the people behind the company, according to a study by KPMG. Beyond solid reviews, consumers want to rest assured the people behind the brand are accessible and will be able to quickly remedy any issue they may encounter with a product.
  • Don’t focus solely on gaining positive reviews and responding to negatives. Too often I come in contact with brands who are only interested in focusing on what I like to call, “Stopping the bleed.” Insights gained from positive reviews can be just as valuable. A consumer may love a product, but there might be an improvable aspect about it that they list in that 4- or 5-star review. Be open to honest conversations with your consumers.
  • Review your FAQs. Most brands have a website or brand guidebook FAQ fleshed out, but taking time to look at what consumers are asking about your brand on retail sites is important, too. Sometimes consumers miss details that could be highlighted better. Often, shoppers are looking for information that isn’t listed on product pages. Reviewing questions and updating content is a great way to show consumers that you’re listening and to potentially avoid negative reviews from a lack of content or communication.

Reviews matter. Reviews are pervasive in Google search returns and across multiple retailers. Reviews are also a great opportunity to engage in two-way dialogue with a brand’s consumers. In many ways, it’s best to think of them as digital focus groups, ones that are answering questions that haven’t been asked yet. Even if a brand isn’t paying attention, potential customers are.

Maya Lichter
E-Commerce Brand Strategy Manager
Sage Tree

Maya Lichter joined Sage Tree, an Advantage Digital Commerce agency, in 2017. Her career has been focused on consumer relations and brand reputation.

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