A year after posting our blog Who’s a Star? A Brand’s Guide to Ratings and Reviews, we decided to repost it since it’s now more prescient than ever. Why? With the economy’s recent fluctuations, our clients have been asking us how they can make their marketing dollars stretch even further. Our number one recommendation is getting on top of their ratings and reviews. Online reputations are made on ratings and reviews, and no business can afford to ignore them. We’ll give you tips for boosting your current online presence, and how you can make managing reviews easy. You’ll learn to take your reviews and translate them into actionable items that will give you the competitive edge you need. For brands that are looking to take their online business to the next level, this blog is a must-read.

In today’s digital marketplace, so much of our experience is artificial. This is particularly true with online shopping, where what you see isn’t always what you get. Consumers are far more cynical today than a decade ago, which is why more and more shoppers are turning to online ratings and reviews for advice.

Like the rest of ecommerce, the volume of online ratings and reviews exploded during the pandemic as shoppers were prevented from entering stores and interacting with products. They needed to find another way to verify buying decisions. And based on the continued rise of star ratings, shoppers found their source. In fact, according to a study by retail software company Brightpearl and review platform Trustpilot, 95% of shoppers read reviews before making a purchase, and 92% check star ratings before making a purchase.

For sure, the star is here to stay – and by “star” we mean all user-generated content, including reviews, consumer images and online Q&As. It’s time for brands to start managing their reputation and learning to use ratings and reviews to their advantage. For many brands, the first hurdle to overcome is generating online ratings and reviews. In some categories, no feedback is nearly as bad as having a low rating.

How to Boost Online Ratings and Reviews

Before asking how to increase ratings and reviews, consider where your product is sold. There are a few different ways to source feedback depending on the sales channel. You can purchase reputation management software to crawl the internet for references to your brand. You can also ask for and incentivize reviews.

Soliciting Reviews Online

Many of Porchlight’s clients are motivated to increase reviews on retail ecommerce sites like homedepot.com, lowes.com or amazon.com. Since retailers own the shoppers’ information, the easiest way to do this is to sponsor reviews through the retailer. For example, The Home Depot Early Reviewer Program offers incentives to purchasers who submit reviews. The Home Depot Seeds Program recruits trusted shoppers, or “Seeds Members,” to review new and pre-released items. Similarly, Lowe’s has two separate programs to solicit reviews. Lowe’s Loop Program provides products to reviewers, and Lowe’s Incentivized Review Program compensates purchasers who submit reviews.

Scroll through reviews on either site, and you’ll notice several qualifiers attributed to these programs. There is also evidence that brands can solicit and submit reviews on their own. Consider reviews for products like a RYOBI Cordless Drill that attributes the feedback to a promotion on ryobitools.com. In exchange for sharing their feedback and contact information, reviewers have a chance to win a $100 gift card to The Home Depot.

The most grassroots method for boosting online reviews is simply asking shoppers to review your product. Some brands include a contact card or product registration form in their packaging. While the return on these is low, it’s the most economical way to go about it. Depending on your budget, you can incentivize these reviews or keep it simple.

Using Reputation Management Software

Another tool for generating ratings and reviews is reputation management software. These platforms monitor the internet for references to your brand or product and bring them to your attention. In some cases, you may be able to submit verified reviews found online to retailers for  inclusion on your Product Information Page (PIP). 

Reputation management platforms also offer response packages to ensure reviewers are acknowledged. While these platforms make great sense for national brands, they are less effective for smaller brands that lack brand awareness. Examples of these platforms include Mention and BazaarVoice.   

How to Turn Feedback into Positive Action

Perhaps it goes without saying, but the most important action you can take when it comes to online feedback is to respond. If you do nothing else, thank shoppers for their feedback. Beyond that, there are many ways that online feedback can have a positive impact on your brand.

Ratings and Reviews Are Real-Time Consumer Feedback

One way to think about ratings and reviews is as a free user experience focus group which provides valuable insights into your product and brand. Depending on the nature of the feedback, you can either use it to inform product development cycles, messaging or branded collateral. Look for feedback related to missing features or manufacturing issues, which are opportunities for product improvement.

Likewise, take note of things that shoppers love most about your product. Often consumers turn to ratings and reviews to voice their delight or disappointment. When this type of feedback shows up, consider how your messaging can better manage expectations and promote popular features. For instance, your users may tell you that your top-selling feature is different than what you’ve been leading with all this time.

Reviews Highlight Expectations and Obstacles

Depending on what users report, you may not need to change your product. Or you may simply need to do more to support shoppers, either through messaging or resources. For example, are you doing a good job of helping shoppers visualize your product? Does your imagery provide a sense of scale or demonstrate project application? If not, you might be seeing comments like “doesn’t even fit in my space” or “doesn’t look like the picture.” If that’s the case, consider improving your ecommerce imagery and POP. For instance, use non-silhouetted photography and lifestyle imagery to demonstrate scale and provide context for shoppers.  

Are you accurately telling consumers what your product does and doesn’t do? If not, think of messaging and PIP content that is honest about your product’s limitations. Similarly, online Q&As are a particularly great resource for understanding barriers to purchase. If your product is getting a lot of questions about a particular issue, it may be that your PIP content isn’t effective. 

For instance, while working with Eco Cork Foam, we saw repeated questions concerning installation and flooring compatibility. To support shoppers throughout the decision-making process, we created branded graphics and video and updated content for the Eco Cork Foam’s PIP.

Are you helping consumers use your product effectively? Again, consider resources to support the post-purchase experience. This might include something as simple as a FAQ page on your website, a customer service hotline, infographics on your PIP or how-to videos to help users enjoy success with your product. Video content is highly effective at supporting consumers in the pre- and post-purchase phases. Check out the video and infographics for Amerimax Flex-a-Spout that our team created. Resources like these are essential for products with a steep learning curve or that might be purchased by novice users.

All in all, user questions and comments should be the first place you go to when developing instructional copy, new packaging copy, POP and PIP content.  

Sharing Positive Reviews 

One of the wonderful surprises of ratings and reviews is that it’s not all negative. Consumer feedback is often positive, which provides an excellent resource to mine for testimonials about your product. When users post online feedback on your website or product information page, it becomes yours to share. Post it on your website. Share it on social media.

Most importantly, respond to the review with thanks. To that end, as a brand best practice, it never hurts to reach out to a reviewer to ask their permission. If you want to use a review but need to tweak the language, you must ask their permission.

Use Reviews to Improve Retailer Relations

If you’ve ever had a low rating on any of the retailers’ ecommerce sites, you’ve most likely heard about it from the merchant. Meanwhile, top-rated products often receive less merchant attention than those with challenges. However, they are watching how you handle your ratings and reviews. The timeliness of your responses demonstrates your attentiveness to their customers.

Likewise, consider how you can use reviews, questions, and other user content to back up merchandising and product improvement decisions during your next Product Line Review (PLR). Our client Eco Cork Foam (ECF) is especially good at monitoring their online reputation and using it to fuel continuous improvement. When ECF revised their product label to address confusion over compatible flooring types, the new label required merchant approval. To ease the process, ECF referred directly to user-generated content from homedepot.com to support their design.  

Use Reviews for Competitive Analysis

While you’re looking at your ratings, reviews and questions, be sure to check out the competition. As much as your consumer feedback informs how you improve your product, how you sell it and how you support it, so does the feedback your competition receives. So, what does it tell you?

Look carefully at the ratings and reviews that consumers post regarding your competition, whether on their retail PIP pages or on their private website. Do they rank higher than your product? If so, what are consumers saying that is so positive? If they rank lower than you, don’t ignore them. Look for specific features and benefits that are cited in positive reviews. Pay attention to the range of applications that users reference. Listen for clues to common pain points in negative reviews. You can use this information to inform your online content and merchandising strategies.

It’s Work Worth Doing

Managing and getting the most out of online ratings and reviews takes time. It requires regular monitoring and responding. It’s time that no one has, but it’s time worth making for all the reasons listed above. More than likely, you’re doing some of this work already. The direct access to shoppers’ thoughts, feelings, and expectations is a goldmine of insights you can use to hone your marketing and product strategy.

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