Cyber Monday is Important, But Good Reviews Are Still King

Ignore online reviews at your peril.

by Mike Toofer

Anyone who shops online–70% of Americans, according to Mintel–is no doubt aware of the growing culture of online reviews. If you’ve recently bought anything from Amazon, you may have noticed a follow-up email directly from the business asking you to rate the product if you’re happy with it, or email them if you’re not, lest you leave a bad review. With the growth of online retail and the shared economy, reviews have become an integral part of consumer behavior, with, you guessed it, 70% of people checking out reviews prior to making a purchase (Mintel, again).

This culture of reviewing products has been a boon to Joe Consumer, who now has almost infinite knowledge about any product or service before he makes his decision. Did that restaurant get low reviews for it’s butternut squash? Find another. Did that dry cleaner lose someone’s shirt? Take your business elsewhere. Today’s consumer has never had more transparency — and power — as he or she does today.

Unfortunately, the ease of leaving online reviews is a double-edged sword for business owners. Today, certainly many businesses or contractors have seen increased customers, thanks to positive reviews, be them on Amazon, Yelp! HealthGrades, or Airbnb, to name a few. But anyone who’s talked to a physician, contractor, or any other entrepreneurs has heard the nightmare stories of negative reviews damaging, or altogether destroying, their business (this restaurant fought back).

This wouldn’t be such a big deal if the reviews had merit. But sadly, businesses are often victims of phony or inaccurate reviews, be them from ex-employees, competitors, or actual customers who may have had a single unpleasant experience. One does not even need to be an actual consumer of the business — he or she can write a Yelp! or Amazon review for any business, regardless of whether or not they have actually purchased from them!

The sad reality for business owners is that in this new modern media culture, they have very little control over their images. Gone are the days of one-way communication, where the brands did all the talking, and when disgruntled consumers were relegated to customer service hotlines, or just as obscurely, the Better Business Bureau (neither of those did a particularly good job of informing the public of a business’s practices). Today, businesses are at the mercy of the almighty, often belligerent consumer, who is quick to anger and quicker to tweet or post or snap or Yelp.

So what are honest entrepreneurs to do? Should they create an anti-Yelp! documentary or de-list their products from Amazon? Should they sue to get fake reviews removed? Obviously not. Today’s entrepreneur must learn to adapt to and navigate modern media culture, a two-way street of digital communications that can surface on any platform. The successful ones will use review sites like they use social media — to promote themselves while improving their products and services — and responding quickly to every single negative review. Customers will be posting about products and services, whether business owners like it or not. Choosing daily, active engagement on digital platforms is the only path to marketing success. This holiday season, if business owners don’t speak for themselves, their customers will.

Mike Toofer is a brand strategist and Director of New Business at Mistress.