Back-to-School Spending and the Power of Peer Reviews

This article appeared in the E-commerce Times on August 17, 2021, authored by Paul Kirwin.

We’re in the dog days of summer and back-to-school promotions are in full swing. In any other year, we would share a collective sigh of annoyance as these early sales impinge on our summer vacations. But there’s a strong sense of anticipation for students to get back into the classroom after more than a year of remote learning.

This year’s back-to-school season is a true “Back to School!” that’s driving increased spending and demand for clothing, school supplies, computers, athletic equipment, and other products.

According to Deloitte, back-to-school spending is expected to reach $32.5 billion. That’s an increase of 16 percent from 2020 and — a better comparison — up 17 percent from 2019.

While these numbers give us a reason to be optimistic, retailers and brands are also dealing with new challenges. Supply chain woes and significant labor shortages are reducing stock and driving up prices.

Because of these external forces, converting visitors into buyers is dependent on surrounding the consumer with the information and options they need to make confident buying decisions.

Think about it. Over the next several weeks, parents and guardians will struggle to find the right item and, in many instances, will have to shift from their first choice to their second or even third choice, all in real-time, while being asked to pay a higher price.

Shoppers Value Reviews

Without any guidance, the likely end result will be an abandoned cart rate that’s even higher than what we experienced earlier this year — according to a recent report from Salesforce, the global cart abandon rate in Q1 was 87 percent, and the global mobile abandon rate was 93 percent.

While the picture I’m painting certainly seems grim, there are ways for retailers to reduce friction across the buying journey. One key element is providing consumers with real and relevant reviews at the exact moment they need to validate their buying decision.

To successfully navigate this chaos, shoppers will turn to these reviews from their peers, who have first-hand experience with these products and are better armed than anyone to help shoppers buy confidently before the item in their cart is gone.

If you’ve ever wondered just how influential a review can be, consider the following:

  • Three out of four shoppers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
  • Fifty-six percent of consumers read at least four reviews before buying a product.

Consumers clearly see the benefit in product reviews, but how about the retailers?

More Reviews = More Revenue

A recent study shows that brands with more product reviews experience a 54 percent lift in revenue. So if more reviews equal more revenue, the answer is simple: Brands and retailers need to use all of the product reviews available online to their advantage. Easy, right? Wrong.

While it’s clear that customer testimonials are critical for businesses looking to drive sales, the average retailer site only features 15 percent of their own reviews in the total product review ecosystem.

That’s right. Brands today do not have access to a large percentage of reviews for their own products featured on other major sites. Every one of these includes valuable customer sentiment and feelings towards the brand and its products that you cannot get from your call center or a customer survey.

Consumer reviews also drive three vital customer actions: sales, trust, and loyalty.

Review Blueprint

So how can you drive more revenue by utilizing more reviews? There are some key steps:

First, you need to understand your current review ecosystem. Where do your product reviews reside: your website, major retailers, Amazon? We call that your review blueprint and it’s critical to start with a real assessment of the untapped reviews in the marketplace.

With your blueprint in hand, the next step is to aggregate, verify and clean the reviews to avoid duplication, fake reviews and other distractions to the consumer. In most cases, this is the stage when retailers will identify the up to 85 percent of product reviews that weren’t being measured and used to their advantage.

This increased volume of reviews also provides businesses with direct insight into their customers, their likes and dislikes, how they shop and more. As mentioned earlier, marketers cannot get these insights through a survey or their call center agents.

By collecting and measuring these reviews, brands gain incredible insights into what products to fix and which ones to leverage through marketing. In the end, these actions lead to further positive reviews that will ultimately influence the buying decisions of their fellow consumers.

The good news is that companies can take back control of one of their biggest assets by leveraging customer satisfaction and loyalty to attract new customers and turn them into advocates — and success breeds success.

How To Get Started

For the past few years, the focus has been on reducing cart abandonment and increasing conversion rates. While those are still good ways to measure success, the focus needs to be on creating a positive buying environment, while remaining transparent and authentic.

This is now achievable by aggregating all of the reviews for your products from other credible e-commerce sites including Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, Target, Zappos, and others directly into your business intelligence. Chances are, there are more reviews of your products on Amazon than there are on your own site. What if I told you that there were 10 to 20 times more reviews on Amazon?

Following aggregation, each review must be cleaned and validated. These two steps are important because they allow you to examine the reviews through three different lenses: all reviews, non-syndicated reviews, and reviews from verified purchasers.

Next, give each review an independent verified score, or what I like to call a “Consumer2Consumer Score” or “Trust Badge.” With these badges, a customer who is looking at their second choice in a laptop for a college freshman can quickly check the score. Subsequently, they can easily assess the device’s star average breakdown, how consumers rate price, quality and performance, and the independent company behind this research.

With these details, they can quickly and confidently make their purchase, even if the price is slightly higher than what they were expecting.

Coming out of the pandemic, the number of online shoppers is higher than ever. Retailers who use these strategies to leverage reviews have a huge opportunity to meet the growing demand for back-to-school items and capitalize on the massive digital investments made over the past year.

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