A recent report by reputation management company Chatmeter shows how retailers focused on in-store experiences and customer service managed to come out on top in online reviews over the holiday season.
Using natural language processing and sentiment analysis, Chatmeter analyzed hundreds of thousands of customer reviews for retail locations of several major brands around the country.
“We really found out how good people were making a difference,” said Chatmeter’s marketing coordinator Rachel Larsen.
The results shed light on how brands can dominate local ratings in months following the holidays shopping boon as well.
Brands like Best Buy, which saw the report’s most improved ratings during the holiday season, received reviews lauding customer service. Reviewers used words like “fast,” “friendly,” and “informative” to describe the company’s service.
Chatmeter also used its technology to compare reviews of competitors operating in the same industries. The report identified rave reviews of the service provided by Payless, while Footlocker failed to impress.
The holiday season is a particularly important time for brands to wow customers, as every retailer that Chatmeter analyzed saw a spike in review volume, with an average increase of 57% from September/October to November/December. Toys R Us saw the greatest leap in reviews accumulated, with a 120% increase.
A positive impression during the holidays, when foot-traffic and review volume are at their highest, can carry over into the months to come.
Yet only four of the 21 companies Chatmeter studied performed better during the holiday season than in September and October: Toys R Us, Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, and Best Buy.
Reviews of local locations can help big brands stay competitive against regional players, said CEO Collin Holmes.
“If [brands are] missing the mark they may be losing a lot of business to those regional competitors, and they’re not even aware of them at the corporate office.”
For example, while Best Buy stood out overall for its customer service, some of the company’s locations struggled to execute the company’s buy online, pick up in-store program. “When it worked, it was incredible,” Larsen said, but she added that often customers experienced a disconnect in product availability, fomenting frustration.
Still, this method can be vital to a successful omnichannel marketing strategy, Larsen said, as it can help retailers compete with online competitors like Amazon.
Stores were also able to keep Amazon at bay by getting creative with their in-store experiences. Walmart wooed customers ahead of the holiday season with toy demo parties. Shoppers left impressed by showrooms at retailers like Apple and Best Buy.
Head-to-head comparisons of similar brands also revealed how stores successfully capitalized on the influx of holiday customers. Two thirds of Nordstrom reviews rated the customer service positively, while a little under half of Macy’s reviews did. Nordstrom also bested Macy’s in its store organization and cleanliness.
But by examining reviews at the local level, Chatmeter detected that even Nordstrom’s business was tainted in places by bad reviews of specific employees at some stores, influencing how customers in the region perceived the brand.
Local insights can allow those retailers to take specific steps to improve customers’ experiences.
“You can create action right at that store level,” Holmes said. He stressed the importance of educating staff about the value of the customer experience and how that experience ultimately shapes reviews.
Apple saw the worst holiday season reviews of the companies surveyed, with an average rating of just 3.3 stars, down .3 stars from the months before.
“They’re not having the same brand credibility as they did,” Holmes said. “Their customer experiences are going down, it seems, over time.”
The report notes that Google received 90% of reviews, dominating Facebook and Yelp, though only half included text — an industry trend over which Holmes expressed concern.
“The problem with having a bunch of reviews without any text is that no one knows if those were valid reviews or not,” Holmes said. “We compare that with Yelp, who’s getting a much smaller percentage, but there’s a lot more value in the actual content that’s in there.”
Nearly every Yelp review included text.
Kate Talerico is a contributing writer at Street Fight.