Although Black Friday and Cyber Monday don’t occur until late November and early December, many shoppers are preparing now.
According to our latest holiday shopping study at Bazaarvoice, mid-October to early November is peak research time for holiday shoppers. Last year, starting around Columbus Day (Oct. 8 in 2018), there was a sustained 8% spike in user-generated content (UGC) interaction rate across our network of more than 6,200 brand and retailer websites, meaning that shoppers were engaging with customer ratings, reviews, and visual content on product pages.
Recently the National Retail Federation published its 2019 holiday forecast, identifying an expected increase of between 3.8% to 4.2% in holiday retail sales this upcoming November and December. Brands and retailers should be working to gather all types of user-generated content in advance of the major sales days during that time like Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
More than one-third (38%) of our holiday shopping survey respondents said their biggest complaint about shopping online during the holidays was that it was difficult to decide between brands and product options, and almost half (43%) said they have returned a holiday gift to exchange it for a different size, color, or other variation. By consulting their fellow shoppers’ reviews and photos, both of these issues can potentially be avoided, as shoppers can ensure a product will meet their expectations.
Along with an increase in interaction with UGC, the number of customer questions submitted to our clients also begins to increase in mid-October. Responding to these customer questions (and reviews) can help shoppers make more informed, quicker decisions.
In 2018, our best-in-class clients saw a 114% lift in conversion and a 120% lift in revenue per visitor or higher when shoppers engaged with product page Q&A. Especially with the influx of questions you will probably receive during this research-heavy period, it’s important to have a strategy for how you interact with consumer reviews and questions.
In addition to collecting new UGC, brands should prioritize responding to existing customer reviews and questions in a timely, helpful manner. Below are a few of our best practices for collecting and responding to UGC.
Start by sending an email to your CRM list to request ratings and reviews for products your customers have purchased in the past. No CRM list? Especially if you are not a direct-to-consumer brand, start including a call for reviews on your products’ packaging or the product’s registration card.
You can also send out an automated post-interaction email to follow up a few days after someone makes a purchase, asking for their feedback and photos of them using or wearing your product.
Meet your customers on social media
It’s likely that your customers are already talking about your brand and your products on social media. To join this conversation, run a promotion or sweepstakes on social media, offering your customers a chance to win a prize or free product in exchange for submitting an honest review. For visual UGC, you can also launch a hashtag campaign.
Choose a clever and relevant hashtag for one of your products or lines, and ask your customers to tag their photos with the hashtag and your handle. Then, you can easily gather your customers’ photos (with their permission!) and display them on your website or marketing assets.
Roll out a sampling campaign
Offer a group of your customers a free product in exchange for honest reviews. This is a quick and reliable way to accelerate UGC collection while also building customer engagement and loyalty.
Allot time and resources for thoughtful responses
Best practice response time for product reviews is two to five days, while it’s best to respond to all questions within two business days. Expect to spend one hour for every 50 reviews you encounter - this includes time for research, writing, and editing your responses.
Avoid canned responses, as they feel impersonal and unhelpful, and, worst of all, customers see right through them. Make sure to mix up the language you use and add a personal touch by using the customer’s name in your response.
Prioritize responding to negative ratings and reviews
Ratings and reviews between one and three stars should be tended to first. Even though these ratings are low, this is a good opportunity to show the reviewer, and the researching shoppers who come across the review, that you see and genuinely listen to customer feedback, and you are doing what you can to right the issue.
According to our annual research, 64% of shoppers consider ratings and reviews, consumer-submitted questions and answers, and consumer photos important elements of their shopping experience. UGC is critical during the pre-holiday sales research period, and a strong strategy for generating and responding to UGC throughout the holiday shopping season allows your brand to put its best foot forward with shoppers.
Joe Rohrlich is chief revenue officer of Bazaarvoice.