Online reviews have put merchants on the defensive, as they look to minimize the effects that negative opinions have on their businesses, but an offensive strategy is often more effective at turning online reviews into offline sales.
Only half of small business owners think positive reviews are important, and only 43% respond to reviews posted online, but 92% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses and 68% say positive reviews make them more likely to trust a business. When local merchants turn online reviews into marketing collateral, posted on their websites, social media, or in print, they’re likely to encourage other positive reviews and also influence sales.
Here are five examples of ways that merchants can use online reviews to influence offline sales.
1. Promote reviews to lookalike audiences on Facebook. “Post recent reviews on social or other platforms. This makes great sense, but the organic results are likely to be minimal because those who get the post are already fans of the business. But, promoting those posts on Facebook to look-a-like audiences is a great way to target local customers with authentic word of mouth marketing.” (Ted Paff, Customer Lobby)
2. Make operational changes based on reviews. “Merchants should analyze review content to make operational changes that improve customer experience. It might not be sexy but figuring out what’s coming up over and over again will make a huge impact on customers—and ultimately the bottom line.” (Leslie Hobbs, Reputation.com)
3. Use review badges and APIs. “Business owners can use the Yelp API to enhance their website or app with ratings, review, snippets, photos, and more. Any business with reviews also has access to simple html badges via biz.yelp.com. These review badges can display a business’ overall Yelp rating, review count, and number of five star reviews in real time on their website. (Darnell Holloway, Yelp)
4. Include reviews in the checkout process. “Reviews help establish trust with your prospects and current customers. One way to use reviews to help sales is to include them during the checkout process on your website. Many site owners may notice many users visit their checkout pages, but may wonder why the customer decided not to go through with their purchase. Highlighting a strong positive review could be just what the user needs to see to have confidence in his purchasing decision.” (Sean Standberry, LYFE Marketing)
5. Add reviews on direct mail marketing. “We tested the impact of reviews printed in direct mail as part of our repeat customer marketing product and found the same impact on conversion rates for offline marketing as for online marketing.” (Ted Paff, Customer Lobby)
6. Ask satisfied customers for video testimonials. “Merchants should see if they can highlight the best reviews. For example, a quick video testimonial shared socially might be powerful, as would an ad campaign featuring real customers. Remember to seek permission from the person in each instance and be clear about how you’ll use their words and images.” (Leslie Hobbs, Reputation.com)
Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.