The Role of Online Reputation in Retail

Online Retail ReputationRarely does one make a purchase these days without checking product reviews, company reviews, searching for online coupons, and reading sellers’ and buyers’ opinions of previous transactions. No longer can retailers rely on foot traffic, word of mouth and basic advertising to grow their pool of shoppers, as online business and the reputation that comes with it becomes more essential every day. In order to help both retailers and shoppers in the Internet age of purchasing, here’s a look at the types of reviews retailers are facing, how they should respond to them, and how retailers can boost their online reputations.

Types of Reviews

Before the dawn of online retail, one might ask a friend before visiting a store what they think of the shop, or query a shopping partner on their opinion of a clothing item before purchasing. But now one’s shopping partners include a seemingly unlimited pool of fellow shoppers online. For basic purchasers, the most important reviews are individual product reviews. Someone buying a new dress first wants to know if the color and description online match the actual product, and if previous buyers have any complaints or concerns. Companies can use these reviews to improve products in the future, but it is probably inefficient to respond to these individually, and most of them do not require a response in the first place.

On sites such as Amazon, seller reviews also come into play, as buyers rate previous transactions as a whole, rather than just individual items. Reputation is key on these sites, and relates to a seller’s timeliness, reliability and the quality of the product they deliver, among other areas. These types of reviews are more likely to require a response than other types of reviews, since these types of sales are more individual reputation based.

The last type of reviews, and those most likely to have a lasting impact on the reputation of retailers, are comments on the company as a whole. These may appear on Facebook, via Twitter, or on review sites such as Yelp, for smaller retail outlets. Customers may make comments flippantly about the awesome new shoes they purchased from a store on their Twitter feed, or they may ask a company why their order took so long to ship, and was in the wrong size, on the company’s Facebook fan page. Since these are so public and can be seen by both existing and prospective consumers, and concern more than just one item or service, they are key to establishing a good reputation online for retailers.

Responding to Reviews

Certainly not every product, buyer or seller review requires a response. If it did, retailers wouldn’t get much selling done, since their time would be consumed completely in responding to every consumer request and comment under the sun. But many reviews present an opportunity for retailers to build or repair a relationship with new, old or prospective consumers. This is especially important for small sellers and buyers operating on sites such as Amazon and eBay. Responding quickly, publicly and appropriately to reviews, especially when negatively, can prevent further reputation damage from one small negative comment from a consumer, and may even turn him or her into a repeat customer.

Another important review venue that all businesses must pay attention to is the social media scene. Reviews posted on Facebook and Twitter are the easiest to respond to, and can be seen by all the company’s “fans.” Social media is one of the most important sources of online reputation these days, and retailers should be mindful of the comments and concerns posted by consumers, and when they require a response. Consistency should be maintained so all consumers are treated equally. This means a company can choose to acknowledge all reviews publicly, whether positive or negative, or can choose to only respond to negative ones, and should stick to whichever strategy is chosen.

How To Boost Your Online Reputation

Businesses of any size can incorporate positive reviews into their own websites and marketing materials, with proper permission from reviewers. They can be put on the front page of a retailer’s website, or in a separate section set aside for reviews. Besides building online reputation on their own, posting reviews informs customers that they are being heard by the company and that their opinion matters. But almost more important than stacking up positive reviews is how a company responds to negative reviews. Since it’s pretty much impossible that every customer in every transaction will be 100 percent satisfied, consumers both old and new want to know a company can respond to their legitimate concerns, and the concerns of other similar consumers, in a timely and respectful fashion.

While one may not automatically think of the words “online reputation” when buying a new pair of sneakers online, it is becoming increasingly clear that it plays a role in each and every purchase consumers make. So it’s essential for companies operating in the online retail space (or considering doing so) to think of how they are viewed by consumers, and respond to reviews and consumer concerns and requests on public venues when necessary.

Jay Buerck is the COO of the Online Reputation Management company.