Suffice to say that COVID-19 and the resulting global recession, disrupted supply chains, and mass uncertainty have had a lasting effect on consumer behavior, with some industries seeing unprecedented sales as the world sought to entertain themselves with new hobbies during lockdown — and others finding themselves more prone to fraud, disappointing customers who had less to spend in the first place.
According to the consumer sector experts at McKinsey, two pandemic-fueled consumer behavior trends are here to stay. The first is that in the face of widespread economic uncertainty, shoppers are more focused than ever on the perceived value of their purchases — a measure which tends to skyrocket when the brand in question is trusted. The second is the obvious shift to making purchases almost exclusively online.
Some consumers are doubling down on loyalty while shopping online, purchasing only from brands they already trust. But some are taking chances on new brands and products now that their options have multiplied, in many ways leveling out the playing field and creating more opportunity for lesser known brands and businesses.
Either way, this holiday season is a huge opportunity for businesses of all shapes and sizes: consumers have shifted so much of their spend to online channels that eCommerce shopping levels have been tracking well above peak holiday shopping levels, and compared to predictions from the 2020 Adobe Digital Economy Index for the period of March to June 2020, an extra $77 billion dollars have been spent online.
Image courtesy of the Adobe Digital Economy Index
Whether consumers are tightening their purse strings or trying to forget the last six months by immersing themselves in holiday cheer, it’s safe to say that shoppers’ expectations will be higher, and businesses will be under the microscope.
And with recent action around the Black Lives Matter movement placing an even stronger emphasis on corporate social responsibility and belief-driven buying (particularly in big gifting categories like fashion retail and health and beauty) this is the year to make sure your brand is trusted leading up to the winter holidays — and always.
To that end, we took a deep dive into more than 30 million consumer reviews on Trustpilot posted from August 2018 to August 2020 to uncover consumer behavior trends leading up to peak shopping season, and formulate some helpful tips to make sure your business is primed and ready to turn more browsers into buyers on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and beyond.
Here are 8 tips to help your customers buy with confidence this holiday season.
Tip 1: Timing is everything, so start building your online presence with third-party reviews by the end of October.
Collecting reviews for your business is always a good idea, but know this: in the world of eCommerce, not all reviews are created equal. Most major eCommerce platforms offer native review solutions, which can offer business owners perhaps too much control over the review process — and provide consumers little transparency into the origins and authenticity of the reviews.
Social proof works best when consumers genuinely trust that the sentiments are authentic, and unlike native review solutions, third-party review platforms tend to have the proper checks and balances in place to reassure shoppers that the reviews they encounter haven’t been curated or fraudulently sourced by unscrupulous business owners.
And that’s exactly why so many consumers consult the company profile pages on Trustpilot to research their purchases, especially leading up to the holiday season.
Our Trustpilot platform data from the past two years consistently shows a swift uptick in traffic to Trustpilot’s company profile pages in the month of October, as shoppers begin planning their holiday shopping hauls and researching the best businesses to buy from. Traffic increases have been significant year over year — especially in major holiday shopping categories like fashion apparel, electronics, health and beauty, and home and garden.
It’s no mystery why traffic across all categories has reached a new high watermark in April 2020. As consumers had to adjust their shopping behaviors in accordance with the coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdown, they turned to reviews to reduce uncertainty around potential purchases.
While we don’t have a crystal ball, it stands to reason that between the return of cold and flu season and a projected second wave of coronavirus, shoppers will not only carry out their entire customer journey online during peak shopping season, but rely even more heavily on third-party reviews to make sure their holiday season goes off without a hitch.
And if the past two years are any indication, it’s in your business’ best interest to have third-party reviews in place by the end of October. With that in mind, below are some helpful resources for getting a jump start on your review strategy:
- Intro to Automatic Feedback Services
- How are reviews collected?
- Send a basic review invitation
- More is better: why review quantity matters
Tip 2: Be ready to reply to reviews as they roll in, and don’t be afraid to reply retroactively — a late reply is better than no reply.
According to our platform data from the last two years, customers leave far more reviews beginning in November and lasting all the way through New Years. Sure enough, more transactions leading up to the holidays leads to more feedback from customers — and that’s a good thing.
More public customer feedback means more opportunities to show off what shoppers love about your customer experience, ultimately building more trust in your brand. But more feedback can also highlight areas of improvement, and potential customers are just as interested in how brands respond and resolve any issues raised in their reviews.
The charts below show that most companies, regardless of industry, are mostly responding to reviews during peak shopping season — and responding to positive reviews far more often than they reply to negative ones.
This presents a unique opportunity to differentiate yourself by becoming the business that replies all year round to negative and positive reviews alike. This is an especially valuable opportunity in more saturated categories like fashion, home and garden, and health and beauty.
Taking time to respond, no matter the season or sentiment, will show potential customers that your business has integrity, cares deeply about its customers, and is therefore safe to buy from.
And if you’re lucky enough to have plenty of reviews from last year’s peak shopping season, don’t miss the opportunity to start replying retroactively. Believe it or not, shoppers understand that no one’s perfect, so a late reply is better than no reply. Going back to respond to unresolved reviews will show this year’s shoppers that you’re human, and help you earn their trust.
Below are some helpful resources for replying to reviews:
- 6 Ways to make trust your essential brand differentiator
- Bad reviews: why people write them and what they expect
- How to respond to negative reviews
Tip 3: Show off your customer reviews on key shopping pages and landing pages.
Collecting reviews on a third-party platform is the crucial first step to building a trusted brand leading up to the holidays. When it comes to converting more site visitors into paying customers, however, embedding third-party reviews right on your site is the way to go.
Displaying reviews right on site is a surefire way to improve conversions, increase basket size or order value, and even reduce cart abandonment. To level up with competitors in saturated categories and win the lion’s share of conversions this year, make sure you’re displaying reviews not only on product pages, but any landing page a potential customer might encounter along the buying journey.
Here are some additional resources for how to best apply social proof on your website:
- 7 Tried and true conversion strategies: a guide
- How luxury brands can use social proof to ignite high-ticket conversions
- 5 Tactics to increase your eCommerce conversion rate
Tip 4: Double down on customer service and fulfillment leading up to — and throughout — the holiday shopping season
To get to the heart of what this year’s shoppers will care about most during the holiday season, we analyzed the most common 2-word phrases in both positive and negative reviews published between October and January from 2018–2020.
For positive reviews left during peak shopping season, “Excellent Service” and “Customer Service” were among the most common phrases, showing up in about 5.5% of all English-language reviews from the time period.
Not far behind in popularity were “Highly Recommend”, and “Fast Delivery”, which were mentioned in about 4% and 3.5% respectively in favorable reviews left during peak shopping season over the past two years.
When it came to negative reviews, “Customer Service” was mentioned in about 20% of negative reviews left during peak shopping season between 2018 and 2020. “Money Back” and “Phone Call” were also mentioned in about 3% of negative reviews.
So, what can businesses take away from these trends in customer feedback?
According to holiday shoppers leaving positive reviews over the last two years, attentive customer service and quick delivery have meant the most. While it might be difficult to guarantee fast shipping with supply chains still reeling from the global pandemic, your customers will appreciate detailed shipping information and updated fulfillment times on your website so they can know what to expect.
And if you’re able, it’s a great idea to invest in customer service resources before and during peak shopping season. Even if it’s a short-term investment, having more hands on deck to help resolve issues and make customers feel heard will likely pay off in dividends — and even help you retain customers for life.
Here are some additional readings on how to tune up your customer service and customer experience leading up to the holidays:
- 6 Types of online customer service you can implement on your website today
- 7 Ways to improve customer experience on your website
Tip 5: Showcase your company's rating in Google Shopping listings
If you’re not familiar with how Google Shopping works yet, it enables users to view and buy products from merchants directly through Google. Merchants are usually charged a fee every time a shopper clicks on a listing and buys from a website. However, this has now changed in the US market.
In April 2020, Google announced that it’s now free to sell on Google in the US, making it easier for retailers to gain visibility and sell on Google Shopping. Following their first April announcement, in July 2020, they also revealed that ‘Buy on Google’ is now commission-free in the US. According to Google, these changes will be made global by the end of the year.
They also announced two new integrations with Shopify and Paypal, which allow businesses to integrate tools they might already be using, whilst letting consumers checkout directly in Google, without having to go through their website at all.
This is great news for merchants wanting to get more exposure on Google. But how can you guarantee more sales this holiday season whilst trying to stand out from the new competition in Google Shopping’s free listings?
A recent Trustpilot and Canvas8 study found that, today, 89% of global consumers check online reviews as part of their online buying journey, and 49% of global consumers consider positive reviews one of their top 3 purchase influences.
Collecting reviews with a Google Review Partner can help you qualify for Seller Ratings, which you can then display in your product listings in Google Shopping.
Adding trust signals such as ratings and reviews to your listings can make a big difference when it comes to building trust and credibility earlier on in the customer buying journey — especially now that consumers can buy products on Google Shopping without having to go through the retailer’s website at all.
Being as transparent as possible by showcasing consumer trust in Google Shopping can help you stand out from the crowd, especially at the busiest time of year.
This article might be of interest if you’d like to learn more about the new Google Shopping updates.
Tip 6: Use product reviews to earn Review Snippets and improve organic search performance
Organic SEO is a prime channel for product discovery, especially during the holiday season, and businesses who are looking to improve their SEO performance might be interested to hear more about reviews and Review Snippets...
If you’ve ever typed into Google’s search bar, you’ve seen Review Snippets in action. Yet not many people have heard of that term.
Review Snippets is the markup of your content with ‘structured data’ that allows search engines to better understand and index this information. This markup helps businesses stand out by displaying their star ratings in organic listings on Search Engine Results Pages. Showcasing trust signals so early in the funnel can help attract more attention, and can therefore help brands increase their click-through and conversion rates.
So, how can businesses obtain Review Snippets in time for Q4?
Review Snippets can be earned by collecting product reviews through a Google Review Partner, and adding a simple code to your product pages. If you meet Google’s guidelines, you will then qualify for Review Snippets in organic search results.
But that’s not all. Product reviews can also help you rank better for long-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords are usually a group of 3 or 4 keywords that are a lot more specific than normal keywords. They tend to have lower search volumes, but convert a lot more as they are so specific and are usually used by people on the lower-end of the funnel. Long-tail keywords can be anything from “best running shoes for women” to “Christmas trees with built-in lights”.
With customer product reviews, you’re essentially getting fresh content every month. Because reviews tend to be written in a familiar, more ‘human’ way, they’ll likely contain a lot more long-tail keywords than any other type of content. And with the rise of voice search, longer-tail keywords are a great opportunity for smaller businesses to stand out from the crowd.
Long-tail keywords from product reviews can be a great opportunity for businesses to start engaging with prospective customers who are already at the bottom of the funnel and looking to buy soon.
These articles might be of interest if you’d like to learn more about Review Snippets, and the importance of long-tail keywords for organic search performance:
- The powerful SEO hack you probably haven't tried: Review Snippets
- The complete guide to reviews
- The new face of SEO: Answer Engine Optimisation
Tip 7: Use customer reviews to earn Google Seller Ratings and improve paid search performance
With shopping continuing to move almost entirely online, paid search is getting more and more competitive by the day.
Many businesses choose to spend a large amount of their digital budget on paid search, but don’t always see the results they’d hoped for.
So how can brands stand out in paid search during the holiday season?
If you’re not familiar with Google Seller Ratings, they are an automatic Google Ads extension that is displayed globally to customers to help them find businesses that offer quality services. The extension allows businesses to display their star rating underneath the URL on their Google Adwords ads, like this:
Google Seller Ratings were created to demonstrate consumer trust in businesses. They can help brands stand out from the competition, and build trust earlier in the customer journey. Why? Simply because consumers are more likely to click on an ad with star snippets, than an ad without.
So how can you get Google Seller Ratings in time for the holiday season?
Well, Google displays Seller Ratings on a per-country basis, and requires at least 100 reviews per country in the last 12 months, and a rating of 3.5/5, to showcase the star snippets on ads. Collecting reviews through a Google Review Partner is a great way to start your Google Seller Ratings journey.
Showcasing consumer ratings directly on Google Ads can help businesses increase their click-through rates, and improve their overall search performance during the busiest time of year.
If you’d like to find out more about Google Seller Ratings and how they can help your paid search performance, here are some articles that might interest you:
- Google’s new Seller Ratings threshold lowered to 100
- How to land great reviews and boost your Google Seller Rating
- How to calculate Google Seller Ratings’ effect on CTR for Google Ads
Tip 8: Turn more browsers into buyers with a trustworthy presence online and offline
Today’s consumers no longer base their purchasing decisions on what they hear or read from brands. Instead, they turn to their peers for third-party validation and trustworthy information.
There’s no doubt social proof is now one of the most powerful tools available for businesses out there. In fact, Trustpilot research found that 66% of customers said the presence of social proof increased their likelihood to purchase a product, and 82% said positive star ratings and reviews made them more likely to make a purchase.
A lot of brands already display their customer reviews online — from their website and emails, to their social channels and paid ads. But what about showcasing reviews offline?
A London Research survey found that only 8% of businesses using Trustpilot are harnessing their trustworthiness offline, compared to 84% online.
An omnichannel presence is essential to ensure there is no disconnect in the customer experience — both online and offline – to create a seamless buying journey for consumers.
It’s all about creating as few barriers as possible, so that a customer would never notice a difference in their experience with your brand, whether they shop on your website, app, or in-store. And that works with trust signals too.
Consider displaying and mentioning your reviews in-store, at the till or in the fitting rooms, in your TV ads, on the radio, on your packaging, and even on billboards.
Those are all great places where you can showcase customer reviews to build confidence and trust outside of your online channels. Remember, many shoppers still like to browse in-store before they buy online, or vice-versa, and brands are missing an opportunity to harness their trustworthiness offline, especially during the holiday season.
This year, showcase the trust in your brand
With so many choices when it comes to gifts, the best way to differentiate yourself and win customers this year is to cultivate a trustworthy brand presence online and offline. In the wake of the global pandemic and human rights movements this year, consumers are rightfully more skeptical than ever. This year shoppers will want to support the businesses who lived by their values, spoke up about important issues, and did right by customers when times were tough.
So as we head into the peak shopping season of a high stakes year, why not align your business with a universal symbol of trust? Collecting reviews on Trustpilot will show customers that your business is not only a safe bet for a smooth holiday season, but also a brand they can feel good about supporting at a time when each transaction means more to everyone.
We analyzed more than 30 million global reviews on Trustpilot within relevant online retail categories written between August 2018 to August 2020 to look at trends in review activity month over month, and uncover commonly used words and phrases in positive and negative reviews. The keyword analysis was carried out on an English-language subset of the reviews published within the peak shopping season of October to January between 2018 and 2020.