The customer is king in the retail world, and this is proving to be even truer online. In today’s competitive web landscape, growing online businesses are reaping the benefits of consumer feedback about their products and services, using customer loyalty to their advantage. Customer feedback, suggestions, and commentary offer insights and high-quality information on a variety of goods. Savvy web merchants are using this information to help increase sales.
Moreover, many companies are making use of online product recommendation portals to help them gain significant advantages over their competitors. By finding out exactly how a customer feels about an experience, marketers and online retailers can capture the information and develop key strategies to fine-tune their brand.
The High Impact of Customer Loyalty
Customer loyalty is an important part of business in any industry-from retail to service industries, developing a strong customer base is an important key to growth. Loyal customers can become involved with a company through participation. They may provide opinions, give advice, or highlight recommendations for other buyers. By doing so, they are shaping a new network that offers businesses an insider’s look at their own products. Online retailers such as Amazon.com® and Shopzilla™ are leading the way for this trend; in the online world, it’s become imperative to find out what the customer is thinking before, during, and after the purchase. From the customer’s perspective, this service is even more important.
According to a Jupiter Research study in 2006, 43% of consumers give feedback after a good experience, while 31% tell friends about a good experience. By transferring this word-of-mouth communication to an online platform, retailers allow consumers to interact with not only their friends and immediate family members, but consumers in the far reaches of the world.
Product Recommendations with a Purpose
Product recommendation sites such as Amazon.com give the power of decision-making back to the consumer; peers rely on them, marketers can learn about what products are faring well in the market-and which ones aren’t, and the customer feels both connected and engaged with the company they are buying from. The critical elements of feedback and suggestions play a leading role in how e-retailers make website construction decisions. Amazon’s website allows customers to not only complete their purchase, but also learn about add-ons and additional products they may be interested in. This is a simple way to increase sales, and it’s become a key reason why shoppers continue to make their purchases from just one site, even when the products are offered from various retailers.
Customers Connect with Social Shopping Networks
Social shopping networks offer a great opportunity to engage the customer. (For more information about today’s leading networks, see this month’s article on Online Marketplaces.) Some of the newer, cutting edge, social shopping sites such as ThisNext, StyleHive, and Kaboodle (currently in Beta) allow users to create profiles, and identify themselves with keyword tags. These tags highlight their favorite brands, products, and general personality. By publicly sharing this information with other shoppers, as well as marketers and casual observers, these sites create a solid foundation of brand preferences. From designer shoes to the latest electronic devices, customers are willingly sharing their experiences and encouraging others to follow suit.
The Limitless Value of Customer Participation
Offline versions of customer reviews take much simpler forms; a survey, a comment card, or a physical suggestion box is all but commonplace in stores and restaurants. However, these are ultimately independent of learning what other consumers feel or think; results are sent straight to company headquarters, and are seldom shared with the masses.
The online version of this idea presents new opportunities. Star rating systems can gauge a particular product on a scale. Blogs and commentary about a particular brand launch can be tracked and monitored using basic web statistic tools. Companies can engage in online discussion forums and blogs themselves, creating a profile and encouraging their customers to maintain contact. By developing this ongoing contact with customers beyond e-mail newsletters or alerts, e-retailers are developing a strong and loyal customer base. By publishing these results helps consumers interact with each other in new ways, creating an opportunity to learn about ‘true’ experiences beyond a product description or press release.
In another study conducted by Jupiter Research in 2006, 48% of online shoppers find reviews or ratings useful. This means hat almost half the online shopping market takes a look at star ratings, opinion polls, and other rating systems before making their final purchasing decision. When an e-tailer makes the online purchasing process an interactive one, by providing rating systems and other tools that help provide feedback on particular products, they are effectually creating a stronger bond with the consumer by providing relevant information during the decision-making process.
Building Customer Loyalty with Product Review Options
While finding out what a customer feels about their shopping experience after the process is over provides valuable insight, the act of searching and finding based on other people’s reviews is becoming more important for customers during their decision-making process. Retailers who adopt technology or software that makes this possible can benefit in multiple ways. Customers are more likely to be attracted to shopping on the website, and will naturally develop a sense of community and trust with other shoppers. Enabling customers to provide unbiased feedback, reviews, and suggestions also helps marketers and business developers learn about the true needs and wants of their customers. Developing loyalty is an ongoing process, but developing a system that allows customer engagement at the social level offers a significant opportunity for e-tailers in today’s competitive marketplace.