While the retail landscape has transformed significantly over the years, one core truth remains a constant. Consumers want to hear authentic opinions to validate their purchasing decisions. Not that long ago, this was often an in-person exchange of information — chatting with friends, family, or store employees about their favourite products and services. While the core tenets of word-of-mouth remain true, e-commerce and digital marketing have allowed brands and retailers to facilitate those same conversations at a much larger scale, through consumer-generated content (CGC) like customer ratings, reviews, Q&A, photos, and videos.
Consumer reviews continue to transform the way we shop. Whether online or in-store, consumers have come to expect authentic content before qualifying a purchase. At this point, brands and retailers understand the value of CGC and are looking for ways to amplify it further. In our survey of 400+ global brands and retailers, 73% said they plan to increase the usage of CGC across the customer journey. In the world of retail, consumers are the most authentic influencers. Based on my work with our top European clients, these are the three areas where brands and retailers can use the power of reviews and other CGC to further engage and convert consumers.
Amplifying CGC across the marketing mix
Once companies have invested in collecting consumer-generated content like reviews, the next step is to make sure it is available for consumers whenever they need it. In addition to your owned website and retailers’ websites, CGC should be integrated throughout your marketing mix, including the store environment, online search platforms, and social media.
For example, CGC, like ratings, reviews, and customer photos, can be incorporated into print and digital advertising. The purchase likelihood for a product with five or more reviews is 270% higher than that of a product with none — consider highlighting real ratings and reviews in your ad creative to further sway shoppers. For our clients, these word-of-mouth ads have been seen to perform 2X better than ads that do not feature any CGC.
Similarly, visual CGC (photos and videos from customers) about your brand and your products offers an opportunity for brands and retailers to merge e-commerce and social media behaviours. Visual CGC allows shoppers to see how real customers use your products, which gives them more confidence about making a purchase.
With influencer marketing falling under scrutiny for inauthenticity, brands and retailers should rely on visual CGC from real people, incorporating it into both e-commerce and social media platforms. 66% of consumers are more likely to purchase a product if the website has social media posts with pictures and videos from real customers, and visual social content has the highest conversion and revenue per visitor lifts of all customer content among our clients. Leading brands and retailers are realizing that visual CGC bolsters the impact of ratings and reviews; among our clients, 80% report that they either have a visual CGC program or plan to implement one in the next year.
There’s a big reward for brands and retailers who not only authentically engage their shoppers in conversation but who also go one step further to amplify that conversation for others to benefit from.
Building loyalty with existing customers
Because of the unpredictable customer journey, retail players can struggle reaching and converting consumers. However, what might be the most challenging, and also the most valuable, is building loyalty amongst existing customers and giving them a reason to come back.
First and foremost, consumer-generated content, while it helps consumers make purchase decisions, is also a resource of customer feedback. The best brands and retailers acknowledge customers’ opinions and, when necessary, they act on it. Insights drawn from visual and text content and star rating trends can be used as early warning signs for products in need of attention or customer service issues. Moreover, careful examination of content can provide perspective into customer sentiment and usage patterns to improve the overall marketing and merchandising tactics supporting a product. This empowers a far more agile approach for brands and retailers, who can adjust their positioning on-the-fly utilizing this well-structured, real-time feedback. When companies make changes based on customer feedback, this tells consumers that their opinion is valued and establishes a stronger bond between customer and brand.
A second related trend we are seeing is that brands and retailers are tapping their existing customers before launching new products to a broader audience. For example, in a traditional new product launch, brands relied on laboratory or staged testing environments. What we see now is our clients sampling these new products out to an existing customer base. This allows the brand to collect feedback and make tweaks to the product or to the marketing strategy before launch, while also rewarding and building loyalty amongst their existing brand advocates.
Integrating online and offline experiences
The digital revolution has caused retail to change dramatically, and, even today, it is still evolving at a rapid pace, with the physical and digital worlds continuing to merge. Based on my conversations with our clients, I don’t see this convergence slowing down anytime soon.
Online, this may look like chatbots or personalized homepages and product recommendations, all which mimic the personal nature of an in-store associate. In-store, this can be digital fitting rooms or beacon and location-based marketing tactics.
I predict that physical retail will have a tremendous renaissance, blending digital expectations with physical environments. Now, we’re seeing some of the biggest digital players, like Facebook and Amazon, creating brick-and-mortar experiences. Even more significant is that these stores include entire elements built around consumer-generated content, with displays for “highest rated” and “most liked” products. This demonstrates a key way in which the online world is influencing offline experiences, and it continues to reiterate the significance of consumer-generated content.
Like including CGC in advertising and social media, brands and retailers should incorporate it into the in-store experience. Based on data from more than 30 global retailers, we found that almost half (45%) of brick-and-mortar sales start with an online review, and, in a separate survey, 49% of our retailer clients found that CGC helped in-store sales. Bringing influential CGC in-store makes it easier for consumers to find the authentic, validating third-party opinion they need before making a purchase.
Retail is constantly changing, and it can be difficult for brands and retailers to adapt. But amongst the upheaval, shoppers’ desire for authentic opinions has remained constant. Leading brands and retailers not only understand the necessity of consumer-generated content in e-commerce but are also continuously looking for ways to amplify it across the ever-shifting consumer journey.
To learn more about how you can collect and learn from customer insights, download our full guide.