Online Reputation in Retail

Rarely does one make a purchase these days without checking product and 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 independent retailers are facing, how they should respond to them and how they can boost their online reputations.

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 purchases, 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 overall, 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 he or she delivers, among other things. These reviews are more likely to require a response than other types of reviews, since these kinds of sales are based more on individual reputation.

The last type of reviews, and those most likely to have a lasting impact on retailers’ reputations, are comments on the company as a whole. These may appear on Facebook, Twitter or Yelp, for smaller retail outlets. Customers may make comments on a Twitter feed or Facebook fan page about the “awesome new shoes” they purchased, or they may ask why their order took so long to ship and was in the wrong size. Since these are 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 for retailers online. 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.

Certainly not every product, buyer or seller review requires a response. If it did, retailers wouldn’t get much selling done. 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 they are negative, can prevent further reputation damage and may even turn the reviewer into a repeat customer.

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 the company is hearing them and that their opinions matter. 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 online retail space to think of how they are viewed by consumers, and to respond to reviews and consumer concerns and requests on public venues when necessary.

Jay Buerck is the COO of the Online Rep Management company, and has worked as an online marketing specialist for over eight years, including stints with three Inc. 500 Award Companies in the industries of Event Tickets, Internet Marketing, and Mortgages. You can find more tips and strategies by following Jay on Twitter (@jaybuerck) or Google+.