Should retailers respond to every consumer review?

Oct 26, 2018

Retailers closely monitor reviews posted by consumers online, but should they respond to them? According to a recently completed survey of U.S. consumers, the overwhelming response to that question was, “Yes!”

The study of 1,000 consumers conducted by Uberall, a location marketing supplier, found that 65 percent of consumers believe retailers should respond to every review, both positive and negative. Another 18 percent think retailers should respond in the case of negative reviews, while six percent believe responses are only warranted in cases of positive reviews. Only 10 percent said that no response is ever needed.

“It’s critical for brands to have a proactive voice in these conversations,” said Josha Benner, Uberall co-founder, in a statement. “Ready-to-buy shoppers aren’t just looking for positive online reviews — they’re actually evaluating the quality of an in-store experience based on online responsiveness.”

Eighty-six percent of the survey respondents said they were more likely to shop at stores when the retailer responded to reviews and 47 percent said they were “somewhat more likely.” Thirty-nine percent answered they were “more likely” to shop in stores where responses to reviews were posted.

While it’s important to respond to reviews, based on the study’s findings, it’s also necessary to avoid boilerplate responses. Seventy-eight of percent of respondents believe that responses should be “somewhat” or “very personalized.”

“Consumers prefer businesses who care about them, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that personal responses to reviews show just that to consumers who research a business,” said Mr. Benner. “Responding to reviews is great for brand perception which leads to more new customers and repeat business from existing ones.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What role do you think online reviews of a retailer play in traffic to its stores? What criteria should merchants establish when it comes to when and how to respond to online reviews of their businesses?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"'Consumers prefer businesses who care about them' – that says it all in my book!"
"You shouldn’t be creating a culture where people have to publicly badmouth you to get a problem solved or a complaint taken seriously."
"It’s fundamentals like these, among many others it’s worth noting, that separate leaders from laggards. And as we al know, there are many fewer of the former than the latter."

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25 Comments on "Should retailers respond to every consumer review?"

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Charles Dimov

Reviews are an exceptional opportunity to create a preference for your brand above and beyond Amazon. From the research it seems clear that if consumers feel there is a human, who is genuinely interested, then this will get them engaged, and can drive the sale.
Great point about boilerplate. If you want to infuriate customers, give them boilerplate responses. That’s definitely the recipe for losing shoppers.
Retailers – let your respondents be genuine, positive, and REAL.

Sterling Hawkins

I couldn’t agree more with Charles on this one. As retailers and brands we’re always on the hunt for engagement! What better kind of engagement is there than when a customer is proactively making a review? Positive or negative, it’s a chance for the retailer to personalize a response and humanize the experience for that customer and anyone else reading it.

Art Suriano
According to J. D. Powers, today 92 percent of shoppers look at online reviews before deciding where to shop. That’s a significant number, and it is something retailers need to take seriously. There is nothing more frustrating than when a customer posts a comment it gets ignored, or they received a canned message which is identical to many other comments posted. This issue ranges from a customer sending a negative comment and receiving a “We’re so sorry for this inconvenience, and we will look into it” message to someone who has taken the time to write something nice and received “Thank you for your comment, and we are happy to you hear you are pleased.” Social media gives the opportunity for personalized responses. One should take the time to craft them and there should be follow up. When a customer has a bad in-store experience, it is not enough to say “we’ll look into it.” Attempts should be made to reach out to the customer directly and when possible offer them something like a coupon… Read more »
Nikki Baird

“Consumers prefer businesses who care about them” – that says it all in my book! As to how to do it, I’m sure Emily Post has some advice on writing thank you notes: Thank them. Make sure to add to or relate to detail they shared. Tell them what you’re going to do with their feedback. For example:
“Thank you so much for sharing your experience with Product A. We love how it does Key Feature B too – it’s one of the things our buyers loved when they selected it for our assortment. You might also like Product X too.”

If you can do it with personality, like a trusted in-the-know friend, then bonus points! The challenge is, this is hard to execute at scale and the benefits are hard to pin down directly back to this effort. If brand loyalty was increased and a shopper made one more incremental trip to a store as a result, how would you ever know? And so the effort and investment does not get made…

Ray Riley

Retailers responding to online reviews (good or bad) are an indicator of the level at which they are engaged with the consumer post-visit. Personally, if I see several recent reviews (particularly negative ones) with no response I immediately question what must be going on in that store, and if it’s worth my time. The next frontier is for retailers to be training in-store team members on the skills and etiquette involved in handling customer reviews. After all, if foot traffic is down — they have the time.

Dr. Stephen Needel

The reviews are only going to affect traffic in one of two ways. Either the reviews are plentiful and extreme – all 5 stars or all 1 stars and lots of them – or the shopper is unfamiliar with the store but has been sent there by a search engine. At the point of limited knowledge, reviews can make a difference. How the retailer responds is dependent on any number of factors. One or two reviews a day – write a “thanks” or “I’m sorry – how can we fix that” note. If you’re getting a lot, get an automation program to do it for you, but a good one, one with a sufficient variety of responses. Be sure it flags serious problems for personal attention.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

Social media allows for two-way communication with consumers. This is a significant departure from the old model of creating a message and sending it out to the masses. Consumers want a conversation with retailers and brands. That is why 90 percent of consumers in the survey expected some kind of response. Companies need to change their expectations, reorganize, take this form of communication seriously, ensure that messages sent are consistent with other company messages, and that information gleaned from consumers is sent to appropriate places within the company.

Ryan Mathews
Online reviews are a tricky business. As one who has had Amazon reviews of one of my books complain that there was no index, when there clearly was one — conveniently located at the back of the book — I can say with some authority that the response business is a double-edge sword. There are folks out there who live to write the negative review and engaging with them is just an invitation to trolling. On the other hand, not responding is just as bad. So what are retailers to do? First, make sure whoever is responding is well-trained, especially when it comes to not accepting troll bait. Next, personalize — both positive and negative reviews. Third, track reviews looking for patterns for two reasons — the identification of problem areas you aren’t seeing but your customer is and to have evidence to combat trolls, i.e., when somebody complains about bad service, you can say something like, “We are terribly sorry you had a poor customer experience in our stores. Seventy five percent of he… Read more »
Bob Phibbs

Every review. Every point of view. Every time. Dean Shulman, SVP of Brother talked on my podcast recently about how as a manufacturer he was more inclined to want to read the negative reviews to learn what could be better and respond. Smart thinking for any product or service when it comes to reviews.

Dick Seesel

It takes an effort (and therefore it takes staffing and payroll), but retailers and service providers should try to respond to online reviews, both positive and negative. The best responses to positive reviews are the ones avoiding boilerplate responses, and the best replies to negative comments reflect a genuine desire to address the issues where possible. Consumers are absolutely attuned to retailers’ level of engagement with anyone who bothers to post a review.

Paula Rosenblum

Well, we have just touched on the essential paradox of retail, right here. On the one hand, we are literally drowning in data, which led to the old axiom “Retail Is Detail” but on the other hand, we are exhorted by the media to deal with “Big Data” and use aggregation to get a sense of sentiment.

I would prefer to see retailers use some level of NLP to call out the best and worst of user reviews. I just think we’re asking the impossible of retailers.

Jeff Sward

The customer is engaging you, so you better engage in return. Most importantly — LEARN. My guess is that reviews fall into some kind of bell curve. Admonishing for mistakes made, reinforcing good attributes, and encouraging for new and improved. Take notes. Take action. Evolve. This is invaluable feedback.

Chris Buecker

There is no doubt about it! Yes, customer reviews have to be answered in cases where they indicate that feedback is being requested or appropriate. Here comes the Golden Rule: If a retailer gives a feedback, it has to clearly refer to the reviewer’s comment and it needs to meaningful and solution-oriented (in terms of a negative review). If the feedback only contains automated statements, then it is not only of no value but it will damage the retail brand.

Rich Kizer

A retailer NOT responding to every review is asking for disaster. I love this quote that we use frequently in social media presentations: “A lie unchallenged becomes true.” There is much truth in that quote. We know that customers read reviews, and unfortunately believe them to be true except in outrageous statements, if there is no retailer response. The best businesses reply is to respond with at least a thank you for a nice review and attempt to address, apologize and then resolve any issue by inviting the complainant to call them to clarify and hopefully rectify the issue. Everyone who reads the review will also read the response. So retailers, respond!

Jennifer McDermott

Hardly anyone makes a purchase these days without consulting third-party experiences, meaning online reviews are critical for retailers. Should they respond to them? Absolutely. Every single one? I don’t believe so.

While it’s important to address a negative review, either to offer to fix the problem and provide context if it’s just a wrong product fit for that person, as with any user-generated content you get outliers that are obvious to all that read them that can be ignored.

While customer service is best positioned to respond to these, overall management should be in collaboration with marketing teams to ensure brand voice is consistent.

Cate Trotter
Reviews are part of the new communication between retailers and customers. Yes it’s a full-time job (or several!) to keep on top of them, but they can also be a fairly easy way to make people feel heard or to stop a bad situation from blowing up. Customers just want to know that a brand is listening and they’re not just shouting into the void. I think retailers need to be careful not to adopt too many generic or formulaic responses because that undermines the idea that this is a dialogue. It’s definitely a tough thing to get right, but it could really make a difference to customer relationships. I think retailers also need to look at where reviews are addressing other holes in their communication, especially in the case of negative reviews. So many people take to social media to report problems or bad service, and sometimes this is because they’ve gone through private channels like email and have not gotten a satisfactory response. It’s only when they go public that they get one.… Read more »
Ed Rosenbaum

How can the answer be anything but yes? They should respond to every consumer review. The customer wants and needs to know their comments are important. Moreso, they want to know their business is important. There was an expression that I will not get right but it goes something like “treat me nice and I will tell seven people. Treat me bad and I will tell twenty one.” Close enough to get the understanding of how loud the voice of a customer can be. Treat them with the respect they and their business deserve.

Shep Hyken
Reviews have become a powerful marketing strategy. They definitely impact sales, both in stores and online. So should retailers respond to every social comment? The short answer is — YES! There is a reason it is called social media — because it is social. If a customer takes the time to leave a comment, good or bad, the retailer should at a minimum acknowledge it with a simple “thank you” comment. If it is a bad review, respond by acknowledging and apologizing for the problem. Then discuss in a direct message forum the resolution. Come back on and thank the customer for letting you fix the problem. In the perfect world, although it happens less often, the customer will also acknowledge you resolved the issue. On a public review site, the public is watching, so handle it the way you would as if you were giving a performance. I’ll also mention that the time it takes to respond is important. Minutes, not hours or days. Some say world-class response time is 30 minutes or less.… Read more »
James Tenser

Online reviews certainly demand individual responses from brand owners. Ideally each should be uniquely composed, but let’s get real. I can think of no job more mind-numbing than sitting in a cubicle monitoring online reviews and formulating replies. It’s a task better suited for ‘bots, 98% of the time.

So I envision a solution that uses AI to respond to the vast majority of reviews while referring outlier comments to humans for special attention. All reviews should be dumped into a sentiment analysis engine to search for meaningful patterns.

A lone criticism is easy to discount, but a theme demands management involvement.

Doug Garnett

I look at this more like a conversation. A wise retailer will respond as appropriate to interact with their customers. That means definitely responding to some of each.

But this is also an area to be careful with resources. Responding to every review either requires bots (a clear downer for customers) or requires cheap interactions (not going to build brand value).

It takes wisdom to make the right choices and I’m not going to suggest hard and fast rules. This is, after all, an area of complexity instead of being “complicated” (read Rick Nason’s excellent book on complexity).

Phil Rubin
Phil Rubin
Founder, Grey Space Matters
3 years 9 months ago

Responding to customer reviews is an obvious opportunity for retailers to explicitly demonstrate that they care — and are loyal — to customers. It’s why we define loyalty marketing simply as “paying attention to customers and acting accordingly.” That means when a customer says something, such as a review, you look and respond appropriately.

It’s fundamentals like these, among many others it’s worth noting, that separate leaders from laggards. And as we al know, there are many fewer of the former than the latter.

Craig Sundstrom

I’m ambivalent about these findings. Yes, in cases where people make factually inaccurate/defamatory remarks, it might be helpful if a response brings some clarity (while, of course, being careful to avowing inflaming the situation further) and in cases of very positive reviews some kind of acknowledgement would probably be appreciated (though personally, I wouldn’t expect or even want that).

But it’s very easy to get into a flaming war, and perhaps as a result, instead we usually see a parade of canned responses (“so sorry you didn’t like anything about your “experience,” please let us know how we can serve you better”).

And I think any response, however handled, tends to detract from what reviews are — IMHO — supposed to be about: impartial comments shared between customers.

Seth Nagle

For retailers to get the most value out of a review response strategy personalization is key. Also, responses don’t necessarily need to be immediate, rather shout outs, later on, that tie into their reviews that show you’re listening and appreciating their input.

Ralph Jacobson

Although we are all aware of the abuses from shoppers and customers of online reviews, in the public’s eye, retailers are still, of course, guilty until proven innocent. Yes, you do need to respond appropriately to online reviews.

Kai Clarke

Yes, retailers should keep consumer reviews, consumer feedback and customer service as one of their mainstays of business. Ignoring this great opportunity to address issues, satisfy customers and correct business performance is a wasted chance for any retailer to win higher customer satisfaction, win more customers and correct customer performance issues. Which retailer wants to ignore upset customers? In today’s online and omnichannel environment, this is even more important. Great communication means great business.

"'Consumers prefer businesses who care about them' – that says it all in my book!"
"You shouldn’t be creating a culture where people have to publicly badmouth you to get a problem solved or a complaint taken seriously."
"It’s fundamentals like these, among many others it’s worth noting, that separate leaders from laggards. And as we al know, there are many fewer of the former than the latter."

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