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GUEST COMMENT Retailers shouldn’t underestimate the power of online reviews

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The web has changed the retail landscape on a fundamental level, allowing online retailers to have an even bigger audience to tap into. In a network where everyone is connected, it has become common practice for consumers to post online reviews on the products they buy and the service they receive.

The Unfaithful Consumer, our research into the UK’s shopping habits has revealed that customers write a collective total of 119 million reviews a year. Because more people post reviews, more people read them, and in turn they give their own feedback, which is picked up by a new group of customers. As a successor to forums, online reviews have become a tool of choice for shoppers and a key part in the process of discovery and purchasing.

Shoppers feel reassured by other people’s experiences and this is becoming a powerful influencer in the decision making process. According to The Unfaithful Consumer report, 76% of online shoppers said they discover new products through reviews and recommendations on websites and social media channels. In addition, more than half said they base their purchasing decisions on customer reviews.

Despite the fact that customer satisfaction in retail is on the rise, according to the latest UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI), our data shows that positive reviews have fallen from 6.9% from last year whilst negative ones have increased by 6%. Although they are on the right track, retailers remain under intense scrutiny from shoppers who will not hesitate to blame and shame. In such a large marketplace, where the competition is so fierce, online retailers need to make sure they meet their customers’ changing needs.

Online reviews and word of mouth have become powerful marketing tools and a real benchmark for consumers more so than television advertising, mentions in the news or ratings from official bodies like Which?, according to our Unfaithful Consumer report. Therefore, it is crucial that retailers deliver a customer experience to the highest standards because shoppers won’t hesitate to make their opinions visible for the world to see and share. Clearly this could have a devastating impact on sales and brand popularity.

Retailers have got all the right tools to make sure that the reviews posted online are positive. They need to focus on delivering a personable, customer centric and engaging experience to keep their customers happy, and deliver competitive edge through customer advocacy.

Guy Chiswick is managing director at Webloyalty Northern Europe

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