Trust what consumers say


The world of retail has been altered forever by coronavirus, with the resulting change in consumer behaviours driving in-store shopping into a downward spiral and fuelling unprecedented growth in ecommerce. In the absence of physical access to product information, consumer purchasing decisions are based on available digital content, which  increasingly is being generated by customers themselves.

Online reviews have been part of the consumer decision-making process for many years. Peter Mühlmann, founder and ceo of Trustpilot, a leading online review platform, founded the company in 2007 to make customers feel confident in buying from businesses proven to be trusted by other customers. Thirteen years on, he explains why customer reviews are now the lynchpin of the trust infrastructure in a rapidly expanding online economy.

“This year was a huge shock to the system for everyone, with developments in ecommerce that would likely have happened over a number of years taking place in six months,” he says. “As a result everyone feels a greater degree of uncertainty and the need for reassurance that these new ways of doing things will be just as good as the old ways.

“In that sense, consumer reviews that validate the quality of a brand, service or product and the authenticity of customer satisfaction with it, via an independent, transparent and trusted channel, have come into their own.”

The shift in shopping behaviours since lockdown is stark. In October the decline in shopper numbers across all UK retail destinations fell by 31.5 per cent year on year, according to figures from Springboard1, while ecommerce sales have continued to soar, alongside greater use of customer reviews.

Trustpilot has more than 100 million reviews on its platform and its own research shows that by the end of March, 33.6 per cent of consumers were checking reviews of businesses and services more frequently than they did before lockdown.

“Consumer trust is a key differentiator online,” says Mühlmann. “Businesses may not be able to compete on price with larger companies, but they can compete by creating a better consumer experience and reviews help them to do that. With Trustpilot services such as Review Insights, they can look more holistically at trends and sentiments across all their Trustpilot feedback and create digestible reports for the senior management team.

“In the post-pandemic retail renaissance, to compete against the likes of Amazon and eBay, every business will need to invest in its own trust ecosystem, based on asking customers for their honest feedback.”

Research has shown consumer review websites rank second only to friends and family as the most trusted by consumers in the UK and United States to provide an honest opinion about a product or service. A Trustpilot Canvas8 study2 showed 89 per cent of consumers in the UK, United States and France check online reviews as part of their online buying journey.

It is the difference between a brand telling customers how great their products and services are, and someone who has actually purchased them telling other customers how great they are. However, the reality of inviting honest feedback is that sometimes it isn’t great, but as Mühlmann points out, negative reviews from customers can be as valuable as positive reviews. For one thing, they are a sign of the transparency and authenticity of the review website.

The reality is that in this new era of retail renaissance, a business or a brand is no longer what it says it is, but what the consumer says it is

He says: “Some companies worry about negative feedback, but it is better than having no feedback at all. In an age of online scams and bogus businesses, open, honest feedback tells customers you are a real business. We also know from research of consumer behaviour that people are more likely to buy if there is mixed feedback, with a few negative reviews than if there are no reviews at all.”

Even more important is how the company responds to negative feedback and a good response to a negative review, demonstrating how well a business deals with a problem, is crucial. Negative reviews are also a powerful tool for business improvement and innovation.

“Business owners often assume their customers will tell them if they’ve had a bad experience,” says Mühlmann. “Most times, unless you ask them, they won’t, but they will probably tell their friends. Asking them for feedback gives you the chance to respond and to make changes that will improve your offering. It shows potential customers you listen and you care, and that is key to establishing trust.”

Online businesses using customer reviews may appear to have an advantage over bricks-and-mortar stores that don’t, but reviews will likely prove valuable in restoring trust and confidence for those keen to return to shopping in-store. “More than anything, these businesses need to give customers a compelling reason for coming into the store, and hearing from other people that it’s safe and the in-store consumer experience is great and well worth the visit, will be key,” says Mühlmann.

Consumers want to know that review content is independent and unbiased. Any hint of suspicion that it isn’t will destroy their trust in the review, and potentially, the brand

Another benefit of online consumer reviews is the impact they have on a brand or product’s visibility and click-through from search engines.

Recent studies reveal how dramatically consumer shopping habits have evolved over the past several months and why the old normal of recent years and early-2020 is almost certainly gone for good.

In a global study by Salesforce3, 58 per cent of consumers expected to do more online shopping after the pandemic than they did before, while 80 per cent of business buyers expected to do more business purchasing online in the post-pandemic era.

Mühlmann concludes: “As new consumers flock online and businesses new and old follow them, brands still need to show they are a trusted entity. To this end, the consumer review will become even more ubiquitous. However, it will be the transparency and authenticity of those reviews, the values on which Trustpilot has been built, that will be the real differentiator for businesses.

“Consumers want to know review content is independent and unbiased. Any hint of suspicion that it isn’t will destroy their trust in the review and, potentially, the brand. What they want is an independent third party, a trusted institution, to give them that confidence.

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