5 Mar

The Beauty of Online Reviews

By Libby Hagedon

Think back to the last time you bought a new-to-you item. Maybe it was a new water bottle. Maybe it was a pack of diapers for you to try on your baby. Maybe it was a new tube of mascara. What persuaded you to make that purchase? Was it the packaging? The store environment? Did you ask a friend? Chances are, overwhelmed with choice, you pulled out your phone and looked up some reviews.

When we buy something new, 97% of us will read online reviews before buying or visiting a new business. And not just one or two reviews – on average, consumers are spending nearly 14 minutes reading, using 7.9 different media sources when shopping for products or services in their local area, and reading on average 10 reviews (and businesses’ responses to reviews) before feeling able to trust a business and make a purchasing decision. These reviews have tangible results for businesses – positive reviews make 91% of consumers more likely to use a business, while 82% will be put off by negative reviews.

Think that if you’re doing a great job and sell a great product for a great price, you’ll get great reviews that translate into sales? Think again. With so much competition online, actively protecting and improving your online reputation is the key to success. The biggest step you can take is to make the big ask – the ask for a review.

Online reviews play a large part in a businesses’ online search ranking, their overall trustworthiness and ultimately their bottom line, which gives business owners a great incentive to ask for more reviews. Sixty-seven percent of consumers say they have been asked to leave reviews after making a purchase. Online review expert “Danno” Vivarelli of Starloop took 26 months to come up with the proper language to ask for a review – without it feeling awkward or sleazy. Simply inviting customers to leave “online feedback” rather than “a review on Yelp” (or Google, or Facebook) is a kinder, more neutral phrasing that has helped one of his clients generate more than 100 positive online and social reviews. And instead of directly giving the customer an incentive like a gift card or a coupon, he offers them something else. As a show of appreciation, Vivarelli offers to plant a tree on their behalf in areas where there are serious deforestation issues like Madagascar and Ethiopia.

While an altruistic incentive is a simple and ethical way to spur a review, a worrying 24% of consumers say that they have been asked to leave a review in return for a discount, gift or cash – which can lead to deceitfully positive reviews. Some companies write fake reviews for their own business, pay a third party to post fake reviews, or get a suspiciously high influx of good reviews at once. Sound tempting? Rethink that.

Recently, high-end skin care brand Sunday Riley settled with the Federal Trade Commission in 2019 after the company was accused by a whistleblower of posting fake reviews of their products on Sephora’s website for two years. The CEO and namesake of the Texas-based company was even involved, urging employees and interns to always use a virtual private network (VPN) before writing fake reviews so they aren’t traced back to the company, and asking employees to dislike negative reviews to have them removed (which she said would translate directly into sales). In their FTC settlement, Sunday Riley stated that they weren’t the only ones to do it – and they didn’t admit any wrongdoing or receive any fines for their actions.

Reviews stand in as the friend who can help guide buyers through the thousands of products promising to be the “next best thing” in the beauty industry. Sharing what works for you, your skin type, your concerns and your results is a huge part of the beauty world.  What happens when companies decide to edit the truth and try to take matters into their own hands? Not only does it erode trust in the consumer of the product, but it erodes their trust in any online review in the beauty industry. Rohit Chopra, an FTC Commissioner, pointed out that “while we still don’t fully understand the impact of fake reviews and how they distort the market … consumers are now becoming increasingly aware that it is easy for brands to systematically engineer positive ratings.” Simply put, if you want people to believe in your product, make a product that’s worth believing in, and manage that reputation wisely.

Ready to take the reins and truly manage your online reviews? Here are some key tips:

  1. Create business profiles on online review sites, complete your profile (including pictures, website links, hours and updates).
  2. Respond to reviews with a public comment or direct message. Keep it professional, don’t get offended or catty.
  3. Actively ask for reviews from customers. Ask about their satisfaction – if it’s high, ask for a review. If it’s low, ask why!
  4. Make it easy to leave a review. Tell them exactly where to go – share a link, post a QR code in your store, leave a URL printed at the bottom of a receipt.
  5. Walk the walk. Give your customers something excellent to talk about, and when they do, thank them! If they leave a less than sparkling review, give them a timely, honest response and let them know that you listened, and that you’ll try your best to provide a solution.

The key to a great online reputation is to actively manage it. Seeking out honest feedback, responding to it, and giving customers a great experience is an equation for online success. And that success? It’s a beautiful thing.