A Sea Change in Consumer Feedback

Even the most informative product page can’t completely sideline the much-feared customer review. When waffling on decisions to buy, that extra slew of information from other shoppers–people like you and me–is an enticing resource to turn to for help. Whether or not I love everything about my personal collection of Cuisinart products, for example, I still like to take a look at the reviews from my fellow opinionated, argumentative shoppers to see what they’re saying about various tiers of immersion blenders. It’s like taking your chef-in-training cousin shopping with you, except you don’t have to feel bad about tuning out all the boring culinary school gossip she tells you.

People Talking

With so much feedback circulating among social media platforms, negative and positive feedback are now part of the same discussion.

In the past, online merchandisers and marketers equated good consumer reviews with higher conversion rates and negative reviews with bad sales. But do negative reviews spell doom for a product? Not necessarily.

The rise of social media in e-commerce has upended the notion that negative feedback always harms a product. Today, negative feedback is seen as a general exchange of information. Those unfavorable reviews? If responded to properly, they can increase conversion rates.

Negative Reviews: How Much Will You Tolerate?

The shift has picked up speed over the past few months. Last April, Econsultancy published a post titled, “How many bad reviews does it take to deter customers?” This post was based on a survey conducted by Lightspeed Research, which found that it takes only between one and three bad reviews to put off a majority (67 percent) of consumers. The study found that 64 percent of shoppers trust product reviews from other consumers and 69 percent believe it is important that a product has good reviews from other consumers, demonstrating that most shoppers do pay attention to both the presence and nature of reviews.

Retailers like Newegg have shaped their response to negative feedback based on the idea that every negative review has a detrimental affect on sales. Newegg product pages all feature a Feedback tab where buyers can post their product reviews and give ratings on a scale of one to five golden eggs. If a bad review surfaces, one of a variety of teams will respond directly. The Gigabyte VIP Support Team, the Customer Service Team, or the TRENDnet Sales Team, among others, will reply to these reviews with an apology and a direct email address the reviewer can contact for further support.

Newegg Example

When troubleshooting negative feedback, retailers like Newegg respond directly to customer comments with an apology and contact information.

What’s interesting is that within the 67 percent of potentially deterred consumers, age indicated varying degrees of tolerance. For example: where 28 percent of 45 to 54 year olds and 33 percent of 55 to 64 year olds would be put off by two bad reviews, only 10 percent of 18 to 24 year olds would shy away. With their no-nonsense approach to customer reviews, older age groups similarly prefer to contact a direct phone number or email address–whether it’s the product manufacturer or the retailer–when it comes to customer service issues. Younger age groups, on the other hand, look to see what other consumers are thinking by consulting social media sites.

A New Way to Engage with Shopping

This discrepancy between age groups may explain the findings of social commerce company Reevoo‘s research: that 68 percent of consumers are more likely to trust reviews when they see both good and bad scores. What’s more, 30 percent would suspect censored or fabricated reviews if there wasn’t any negative commentary. Only nine months after the Lightspeed study, Econsultancy discussed this somewhat conflicting research in their post, “Bad reviews improve conversion by 67 percent.”

Much of this shift is likely the result of younger age brackets engaging with shopping research in new ways. The emerging class of consumers is familiar with the constant flux of information occurring on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Pinterest. Rather than distinguishing between positive and negative feedback, young shoppers want to learn as much as they can about the product they want to buy. This category of shoppers view almost four times as many products as the average site visitor and will spend more time on each product page.

Taking Advantage of Discussion

At this point, many brands are attempting to capitalize on the transition to discussion-based customer service and product reviews. A front-row seat to observe this transition is, of course, on Facebook. With such large numbers of savvy users, discussion-based customer service moves faster on Facebook and mirrors attempts made by brands outside of the social media platform. For example, clothing e-tailer Asos created a “Here to Help” page on Facebook, which allows shoppers to discuss product and service issues off the brand’s primary Facebook page. Virgin Media has a similar “Help & Support” forum that pools all service quality discussion in one place.

ASOS Example

These types of forums may not seem particularly ground-breaking, but they’re a step toward making customer service more efficient and precise. The fact that people are already talking about brands and products on social media platforms should make it easier for brands to invite direct dialogue, expanding the range of possible solutions to old and new problems.

The challenge at this point is to build out the procedures and protocol necessary to appropriately use the new technology. It’s one thing to increase your social media capabilities, but it’s another issue to maintain them in an efficient and relevant way.

The fact remains that product reviews on sites like Amazon are not social and don’t seem to be headed in that direction. For the time being, the sheer volume of reviews on Amazon is useful for consumers seeking additional information, but social media is transforming the interactions among consumers and between consumers and retailers. It won’t be long before Amazon will need to adapt so shoppers can talk to each other more, and not just at each other.

The Ping Takeaway

Social media is changing the way shoppers evaluate all forms of content available to them, including customer reviews.

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