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The Importance of Being Earnest

March 24, 2015

Catherine Salfino

The great thing about the internet is everyone has a voice. Unfortunately, that can also be a bad thing when it comes to customer comments. Whether it’s a pair of pants or a pack of socks, shoppers seem to have something to say about everything they buy – which can be great when they’re happy with their purchase. However, experts say a negative remark doesn’t have to be met with dread. Rather, it can actually be used to a merchant’s advantage.[quote]

Retail specialist Shelley Kohan lists three reasons why customer comment boards are important.

“This is your new QA (quality assurance) program,” says Kohan, a professor and resident retail expert at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and vice president of retail consulting for RetailNext. “It’s a great self-check for retailers to monitor and understand how their products are performing in the marketplace. Retailers can get credit for fixing issues so future customers don’t endure the same problems.

“Retailers can use advanced analytics to focus on strengths, remove customer ‘pain points,’ and promote better loyalty to their brand,” Kohan continues. “And a key trend with today’s consumer is two-way communication with the retailer and brand. Shoppers want to help run the business and these reviews allow them to have this conversation.”

More than 3 in 4 consumers (78%) say apparel reviews are “very or somewhat believable,” according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle MonitorTM Survey. Two out of three consumers (68%) write online product reviews for clothes they’ve purchased either online or in a store.



Additionally, the MonitorTM Survey finds nearly half (47%) the people who write comments online are just as likely to write a review that’s negative as one that is positive.

As tempted as websites might be to remove negative comments, the experts say a combination of positive and negative reviews actually lends credibility. Especially if the store or brand engages the customer upon reading the remark.

“Not responding to a negative comment can be far more detrimental to a brand than the negative comment itself,” says SAP’s Lori Mitchell-Keller, senior vice president and head of global retail industry business unit. “Replying to comments shows that a brand is actively engaged with its consumers. Replying to negative comments, especially, helps customers feel important and cared about by the brand – in turn, positively increasing their perception and creating brand promoters.”

Gartner’s Jennifer Polk, an analyst covering digital commerce, agrees.

“Consumers do take this input to heart, especially if they see retailers showing a balanced view, including both positive and negative reviews,” she says. Polk adds that it also helps if the comments contain personalized information, “such as showing some information about the reviewer (age, gender) to help the shopper determine the relevance of the review to their needs.”

Kohan says it’s “absolutely unacceptable” for a retailer to ignore a negative comment.

“If a customer is requiring a response, they should be answered. Otherwise, they might just get angrier because no one likes to be ignored,” she says. “But people love a response like, ‘Hey, you’re justified and we’re going to make things right.'”

A public reply to comments is important, as more than two-thirds of consumers read product reviews on retail or brand websites (68%), followed by e-commerce (30%), community-based social media (15%), and media-based social media (13%) sites, according to the MonitorTM Survey.

Among those who write apparel reviews online, about a third (34%) do so for altruistic purposes like “helping others out” or “letting others know about a product,” according to MonitorTM statistics. That’s followed by “If I like something/If the product is really good” (12%), “If I don’t like something/If the product is really bad” (10%), to let others know what to expect with a product (8%), and “I like to share my opinion/like to have opinion heard” (8%).

SAP’s Mitchell-Keller says without access to data or insight from customers, it can be challenging to make improvements to store performance.

“Sales data can tell part of the story, but customer sentiment helps fill in the softer metrics that numbers alone just can’t provide,” Mitchell-Keller says. “Social sentiment research gives retailers an inside edge when it comes to planning and executing, especially during important times of the year. This data also allows retailers to time promotions appropriately – matching buying seasons of certain products without being too early or too late.”

Polk says retailers can analyze comments to improve their bottom line.

“Gartner predicts that by 2018, organizations that have fully invested in all types of personalization will outsell companies that have not by 20%,” she states. “While ratings and reviews are only one aspect of personalization, they do inform and influence purchase decisions, leading to increased conversion. They also help marketers turn loyal customers into brand advocates that attract new buyers, thereby realizing greater value from existing customer relationships.”

Kohan says advanced analytics allow a retailer to bucket and sort reviews by product. Then, depending on how the store’s mechanism for collecting reviews is set up, it can gather data in a structured way that will automatically give information about that particular product.

“Stores can absolutely attribute a product’s failure or growth to reviews,” Kohan states. “We know why things sell. But retailers want answers to things like, ‘I bought 40,000 of these and they’re not selling. Why?'” If enough reviews say it’s poor quality, they can react to that. Negative comments that are turned into positive resolutions really help build brand loyalty.”