Online apparel retailers face two hurdles that are traditionally considered tough to overcome. For one, almost 20% of UK consumers are reluctant to shop online for products like clothing, shoes or jewellery, because they cannot try the items on. Secondly, apparel has a much higher return rate than products like electronics, books or beauty products, because customers will almost always return items that don’t look or feel how they expected them to.
The solution to both problems may lie in online customer reviews – but only if e-commerce stores understand how to capitalise on consumer feedback.
According to Statista.com, 66.5% of UK consumers in 2015 read reviews before purchasing an item online. People shopping for fashion goods on the web read an average of 1.7 reviews before buying a product. The UK Competition and Markets Authority released a report last June stating that around £23 billion per year spent by UK consumers is potentially influenced by online reviews.
Customer reviews bring the online retail environment closer to an in-store experience. People who shop for apparel online want to be reassured of the fit, look and feel of the product. Reviews answer questions that buyers have about quality, materials and size – as well as the store’s level of customer service.
“But there are additional steps you can take if you want reviews to positively impact your sales and returns,” says Gary Ingram, CEO of the online jewellery retailer, TheDiamondStore.co.uk, that was recently awarded its third consecutive Gold Merchant badge by the review site Feefo.
Ingram has six tips for online retailers who want to leverage their reviews.
1. Invest in a ‘closed’ review system. On ‘open’ sites like TripAdvisor or TrustPilot anyone can leave an opinion, whether they’ve purchased or not. Because of recent press, UK consumers are highly aware of how exposed these sites are to fake reviews. By contrast, on ‘closed’ review systems like Amazon or Feefo, you must make a purchase before being allowed to review. This reassures customers you haven’t manipulated the results.
2. Publish review details, not just the star rating. Customers want the nitty gritty to help them make a decision. This also plays in your favour if you have a five-star product that’s dropped its rating because of one negative comment. The customer who leaves an angry one-star review because he hated “the wavy pattern on the soles of the shoes” was probably having a bad day. Trust your customers to be discerning enough to read reviews within their context.
3. Generate reviews, don’t wait for them. It’s been proven that most consumer reviews are prompted by post-sales emails. Follow up each purchase with an email that looks attractive and makes reviewing as easy as possible with a direct URL link to the review page. This also means making your review system accessible via mobile devices.
4. Mobile optimise your review system. According to the Centre for Retail Research for RetailMeNot, UK shoppers will be spending £60 billion online this year. 36% of these will shop via their mobile phone or tablet. 77% read online reviews while they’re out shopping. If you mobile-optimise your ratings system your customers can access information while they’re out shopping or leave a review while watching TV.
5. Analyse reviews. If you study your customers’ comments, you’ll understand their shopping habits. Reviews also give you a unique opportunity to fix issues. For example, if you consistently get the same complaint about a flaw in one product, you can address the problem with your supplier or manufacturer before your returns rate soars.
6. Reply to reviews. It’s simple. If you take the time to respond to reviews, good or bad, your customers will feel you value their opinion.
The conclusion? A review system is a great tool for customers to leave opinions about your products and services. But it’s a two way street. If you take an active approach, invite comments, analyse information, and respond to issues, you can harness reviews so that they have a positive impact on your bottom line.
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