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Leveraging trust signals to ensure your business is future-proof

Friday, March 27, 2020
social proof in uncertain times

As the world continues to go into lockdown, eCommerce is slowly starting to take over, and the pressure on website managers to attract and hold onto customers is intensifying.

Today’s shoppers are savvier than ever before when making an online purchase, and will look at more than just price when making a decision. Indeed, a survey found that 66% of consumers will pay more to shop with a company that provides excellent customer service.

There are many components of online customer service that a business can focus on to keep customers happy in difficult times. Having excellent delivery options is a great example, and collecting and displaying website reviews is one of the most important and effective ways to attract and retain customers, even in times of uncertainty.

Why marketers should embrace reviews now more than ever

Reviews are an essential component of a successful digital marketing strategy as they provide authentic social proof. In 1984, Dr. Robert B. Cialdini wrote a book called Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion that has become a classic in the marketing field. In his book, Cialdini covered the topic of social proof, which essentially states that people like safety in numbers. If they can see that a product is being purchased and trusted (or not) by others, this will help to inform their purchase decision.

We can see that this principle still holds true as a Bright Local survey found that 84% of consumers trust reviews just as much as personal recommendations. The same survey discovered that most people will read up to ten reviews before making a purchase decision and, even more compelling, over 54% of respondents will visit a website after reading positive reviews. This is a huge rate in the marketing industry that obsesses over single-digit conversion rate. Finally, a MarketingProfs study found that 85% of consumers will only make a purchase after reading online reviews. It seems like reviews have become a necessity for any eCommerce brand if they hope to succeed.

Managing your reviews might not seem like a top priority right now, but communities coming together means word of mouth will be travelling much faster than usual. Caring about your customers’ feedback in times like these will help you ensure your business is future-proof. However, today’s businesses have a variety of options when it comes to a review acquisition strategy.

Native reviews in eCommerce platforms - why they’re not a viable option

As we have seen, there is currently a lot of evidence that confirms the importance of reviews in relation to a website’s conversion rate. With that in mind, all business owners should have a review strategy. Most major eCommerce platforms have native review functionality as an built-in option. This is often an appealing option to store owners as they have full control over the review process, including the ability to create and edit reviews.

However, Cialdini’s social proof model only works if consumers are able to trust the source of the social proof. The problem with native reviews is that they have been traditionally abused by unscrupulous business owners. This abuse normally manifests itself in the form of editing bad reviews, removing them altogether, and/or creating fake reviews.

This behaviour is not natural and might even negatively impact the business. If they have all been written by a small number of internal staff, it will be clearly visible and this can damage the trust and reputation of the business.

Third-party review platforms provide authentic social proof in times of uncertainty

Third-party review platforms are recognised and trusted by consumers due to their proliferation on websites across the internet. They have a distinctive logo and branding that sits with the reviews, which makes them more recognisable. Because they can’t be edited or modified, they present themselves in a much more transparent and natural way than native reviews, which is what consumers seek for in times of uncertainty. Even eCommerce platforms like Amazon have had to go to great lengths to enhance the trustworthiness of their reviews with the inclusion of a “verified purchase” badge to confirm reviews that were left by people that made a purchase rather than received a free sample.

By implementing a third-party review platform, retailers will be forced to raise the standards of their customer service to ensure that they don’t receive any negative feedback related to things within their control. This benefits both the consumer and the business, as the consumer receives a better experience and future consumers will leave more positive reviews.

To better understand how third-party review platforms like Trustpilot help businesses in times of uncertainty, we spoke with Barbara Hagen, VP of Sales and Marketing at Thriftbooks:

"During the pandemic, and the subsequent stay at home requirements, the book industry saw a surge of online purchases, ThriftBooks included. Not only were libraries and physical bookstores closed, so access to those books had now been cut off, but the new demands on people and families also left them searching for additional resources such as books. For example, when schools closed, there was a surge in homeschooling books, educational workbooks, and children’s reading books. Then as people began to settle into their new routine, and as stay at home orders were extended, we saw consumers looking for alternative forms of non-digital entertainment, like puzzles. The run on puzzles sold online was incredible. ThriftBooks also became a trusted resource for consumers to receive puzzles in addition to their favorite books. We were pleased we could be that additional resource for our customers during these unprecedented times. The strength of our past relationship with customers was foundational in allowing us to be a resource for customers during this difficult time. With Amazon focused on essential items only during the first month of the pandemic, and the uncertainty of health and safety standards in place at other online retailers, the strength of the ThriftBooks TrustScore provided assurance to our customers that we would be able to deliver their books to them in a healthy, safe and timely manner", explains Barbara.

"We pride ourselves on being a personable company and even the COVID-19 messaging we sent was met with warm-hearted emails from our customers. During the pandemic, many people also found themselves searching for new retail resources when physical outlets closed for the stay-at-home orders. These consumers were looking for reassurance at a time when there was much uncertainty in the world around them. We had been building our Trustpilot score for years, so our score, as well as the hundreds of thousands of 5-star reviews, was a reassuring element for new customers who had never shopped with us before. It was an objective indicator able to provide confidence during these uncertain times that we would deliver and exceed customer expectations. We believe online reviews are essential to build trust and credibility, and we will continue to leverage our feedback and scores in our consumer touchpoints to provide assurance to new customers."

Showing the world that your business is honest and authentic, and has nothing to hide from its customers, is crucial in times like these, and showcasing third-party reviews can help you gain and build trust from the ground up.

How using social proof can improve performance

There are still many retailers that are harming their conversion rate by only using native reviews or not even collecting reviews at all. This leaves an opportunity for those retailers willing to invest in a review platform to significantly improve their conversion rate, especially in uncertain times. Those retailers nervous to cede control of the review collection to a third-party should take the opportunity to ask themselves: Why?

If you are delivering an excellent service and keeping your customers happy, then there should be nothing to worry about. Displaying social proof in difficult times will help you ensure your business thrives now, and in the future too. Customer feedback benefits excellent companies, and all retailers should be aspiring to excellence, no matter what.

If you’d like to find out more about customer trust in difficult times, check out this article:

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