Keeping Customers: 3 Factors that Influence Brand Loyalty
To be a successful brand, your main goal should not just be to sell products - but to create repeat buyers in your audience. Selling a handful of products off and on to whoever you can net with your advertisements is good in the short run, but in the long run can actually cripple a business. Customers will only take note of you when you have a sale running, making it harder to net a profit, and your brand reputation could sink as a result. You want to have a reliable, appealing product that buyers will remember and return to regardless of sporadic incentives. Essentially, you want to create brand loyalty. However, even a great product can suffer for a variety of reasons. Below are a few of the top struggles that eCommerce businesses face when trying to maintain brand loyalty, and how to solve them.
Low Quality Listings
In the past, we have discussed the importance of having good product photography and targeted keywords. These are just two pieces of the puzzle for creating a great product listing on your website or marketplace. It bears repeating: a poor product listing will hurt your business. Our new blog series looks to explore the various facets of a product listing and how to maximize its appeal and effectiveness, starting here with our introduction to great product photography, but here are some other basics you should take note of.
When shopping online, buyers are looking for transparency and accuracy. Products that will do what they advertise, look the same as they do online, and have as many questions answered in the listing as possible. You may think you’ve answered every question the buyer needs to know, but many brands slip up with not being accurate enough. To highlight this issue, here is a chart of the items that customers are most hesitant to buy online.
Barring groceries, the top three answered results are furniture, shoes, and appliances. This is not surprising, because these are the hardest products to create accurate descriptions for. Simply describing the product’s best features will not do. Customers are after as many specifications as they can gather when determining whether to buy furniture, because things like size, weight, and material quality can affect whether or not the item will even fit in their home the way they want it to. Shoes, on a similar note, are hard to judge by US shoe size alone. The length of a heel, width of a sole, and angle of an arch can make a shoe unwearable or uncomfortable for some people. If a shoe, or piece of furniture, or appliance, is not what the buyer expected after they purchase it, this can spell bad news for your business. Not only will that customer likely not shop at your business again, but they may leave a negative review that calls your accuracy into question.
You must therefore anticipate things that buyers are seeking when they research your product. Weight and dimensions are only a small part of this equation. If you are selling electronics, for example, it is important to note whether your device needs a power source and if there are restrictions on what the power source can be connected to. Small details like this may not be obvious to include, but the last thing you want is to have a customer return or avoid a product for a simple lack of information.
Anticipate Customer Needs
This is a useful skill to have in any business, but is especially important if you want to create brand loyalty with your products. In our blog on advertising practices, we talk about how casting the biggest net isn’t always the best way to catch sales. Instead, cast a small net around customers that you know will be interested in your product. For a high-quality listing, this means tailoring your product page to your demographic and using your product keywords to your advantage.
For example, consider the images used for this deodorant brand’s product page on Amazon. Women doing yoga, close-ups of lavender, and the brushstroke font come together to set up an image of what the brand wants to connect with: a sense of nature, wellness, and calm. These images appeal to the demographic that is most interested in this product, and reflect what the customer wants to see when looking for a natural deodorant that works for active people.
Keywords dictate when and where your product shows up online, and have a lot to do with steering customers to your brand. The best strategy is to pick keywords that potential customers may be typing in to find products like yours. For example, if your product is a baseball, you might want to include the term “sports” or “bat” in your keywords.
One thing you want to avoid, though it sounds like a profitable idea, is keyword stuffing. Keyword stuffing is adding as many irrelevant, potentially-profitable keywords as you can to show up in popular searches. The idea here is that more is better: the more customers see your listing, the more likely you are to sell it. However, a product that hits every possible keyword, relevant or not, is often one that is seen as disingenuous and therefore potentially low-quality. You also are more likely to drain your advertising budget this way.
It’s easy for things to slip through the cracks. It’s also easy to think that a small error won’t matter, or repel customers. However, the best products are ones with iron-clad support should anything go haywire. Customers will buy from sellers who look like they know what they’re doing, and have been doing so for a long time. This means fixing spelling errors and poor image crops when you see them, and keeping up-to-date so your product doesn’t look outdated or counterfeit. This also means paying close attention to your product reviews, which brings us to the next biggest issue that businesses face when selling online.
The Negative Customer Review
Your products may not always receive positive reviews. The customer experience isn’t always 100% satisfaction, and every business should anticipate and respond to customer concerns when they arise. However, these reviews are public in most cases, which means that potential buyers see them when they research your product. If they are directly on the listing, in a marketplace like Amazon or eBay, it can be even harder for a business to seem appealing to potential buyers. Over half of US adults under the age of 50 will read reviews about a product before purchasing, and are more likely to think negative reviews are more trustworthy. This is partially due to a business strategy that we will discuss in this section, and because negative reviews are seen as more critical and therefore in-depth. So, how do you address a negative review? In many cases, this is a crucial moment where brands can harm their customer base if they aren’t careful. Here are a few strategies for addressing negative customer reviews, and where you can go wrong.
Deleting a negative customer review is almost always a bad idea. This is why many marketplaces, like Amazon, generally don’t permit brands to remove negative reviews. All reviews are part of the customer experience, and removing them is not only unfair to the customer - but makes your business seem dishonest. Consider the scenario from another buyer’s perspective: a negative review seen on a product listing exists the first time you visit the page, but disappears between then and your purchase date. It appears to be a cover-up, and can actually make that negative review seem more truthful in retrospect. However, there are a few cases where it can be justified to remove, or petition a marketplace to remove, a negative review.
Amazon, for example, will remove a negative review if it is deemed to be abusive. These are negative reviews that are often made by people who have not actually purchased the product, and have irrelevant or speculative claims meant to degrade your brand status. Reviews that talk about dissatisfaction with the post office for holding the item, for example, are not relevant to your product, or politicized comments that disagree not with the quality of your products but your industry as a whole. It is important, however, that these baseless negative reviews be addressed with the reviewer if possible.
There are answers for businesses seeking positive reviews, or just reviews in general. If you are just starting out online, having zero reviews can deter customers from being the “guinea pig” for your product quality. Reaching out to influencers, like bloggers or Youtubers, is a good way to get your product reviewed without being dishonest - as long as you do not try to persuade them, and let them review an item fairly. Some marketplaces, like Amazon, offer services (Amazon Vine) where you can indirectly have your products reviewed in a fair setting. This removes your business as the offerer, which can make reviewers feel obligated to review the product positively. Some businesses, however, have used questionable means to obtain positive reviews by paying for them.
This is arguably the worst strategy to adopt as a business, and is highly responsible for the customer trust in negative reviews. Many businesses will respond to dwindling customer satisfaction by fabricating their own reviews, or paying an individual or service to fabricate reviews for them. Not only is it a dishonest practice, it is easily traceable by many sites or strategies. This can be ruinous for a business, and has resulted in flare-ups across several industries.
In October 2018, skincare brand Sunday Riley was exposed encouraging staff to post positive product reviews on Sephora. While the brand claims they were trying to offset “paid negative reviews from competitors,” online communities and makeup bloggers were less than sympathetic for the false reviewers. Sephora’s own review policy states that reviews must be authentic and honest, and is currently addressing the matter with Sunday Riley. While this was an internal information leak from an employee, there are plenty of other sources that customers use to blacklist brands that pay for fake reviews. Advances in online sleuthing has made it nearly impossible for a company to secretly generate paid or bot reviews, so the best decision is to avoid this strategy. How, then, can a business make the best of negative reviews?
It is tempting to delete the review. It is tempting, also, to offset negative reviews by seeking or paying for positive reviews, even when it means sacrificing integrity. However, the best strategy a business can truly adopt to salvage a poor customer experience is to reach out to the reviewer. Ignoring their concerns will only encourage them to avoid your product, and from an outsider perspective it can make your business seem uncaring or unprofessional. While it may seem like a trivial issue, how the customer interprets a business’s feelings towards them heavily influences their decision to shop there again. In fact, 68% of customers will cease shopping with a business if they feel like the business is indifferent to them. Addressing the customer’s issue with the product by apologizing and taking corrective steps to improve their experience establishes a stronger relationship with not just that customer, but with your customer base as a whole. Businesses that establish fair and cordial rapport with customers are more likely to have repeat buyers and receive follow-up reviews that are more positive.
In addition to publicly or privately acknowledging every poor review, businesses should really take a second look at their return and refund policies. Sometimes, a negative review is the final straw for customers who are displeased with the return policy on your product. Statistically, this seems to be the case, as 80% of customers expect free returns but only 25% of merchants offer them. If there is no easy way to solve the issue on their own, like returning the product, that is the moment customers consider leaving a negative review. For many businesses, preventing poor reviews is simply a matter of having a reasonable return policy and prompt customer service to address concerns as they arise, rather than letting them get to the unsolvable stage.
Sometimes, selling online is a race to the bottom as far as product pricing goes. Customers are always on the lookout for the best deals, and with sites and apps that track product pricing history, it’s very easy to pick and choose the most frugal option. However, you can’t always meet the lowest sale price. Being too competitive sometimes means sacrificing your bottom line in order to edge out cheap resellers, and your overall sales will plummet. Additionally, being the cheapest item in its class can negatively impact your brand’s image. Your product may seem cheap or outdated with a very low price. But there has to be a way to stay afloat, and at least one of those methods may be helpful for your business.
Quality, Convenience Trumps Price
Today’s buyer is much different from buyers in the past. Online shopping has shaped what current consumers want, and how much they’re open to spending. As it turns out, the average customer isn’t always after the lowest possible price. 40% of millennial shoppers would rank quality over price when considering online purchases, and aren’t afraid to spend more to ensure they are receiving a great product. This is good news for businesses, who may have been led to drop prices to follow more frugal consumer trends in the past. However, with quality at the forefront there are now a few more stipulations that you must manage if you want to be successful.
Quality does not just mean the product functions as it is supposed to. There is an overarching responsibility to create a great customer experience from start to finish, and to have reliable and fast support even after a purchase is made. For many, this means supplying convenience. Your customer support should always be on-hand, and with the popularity of automated service chatbots and interactive FAQs this is now something you can set up manually. However, customer service is not a one-trick pony. Having both automated and in-house customer service pulls in the best of both worlds - quick answers for quick questions, and a human to communicate larger concerns to. Gone are the days where within-five-business-days email responses are acceptable.
Convenience also harkens back to our previous point about shipping and returns. Sometimes, the determining factor between you and a reseller is whether or not one offers two-day or even one-day shipping. However, to avoid offsetting your profit margin, consider the relative market your product is in. Do buyers typically need your product last-minute? Is your sales volume easily managed if every order requests priority shipping? Before raising your listing price too much higher, you must consider how well your storefront stacks up against your competitors.
Resellers can be a boon or a bane for your profits. On one hand, authorized resellers take care of the hassle and technical tediousness of listing your stock for sale online. Finding a reputable reseller often opens up channels in online marketplaces that you previously didn’t have access to, or have a strong enough presence in to reasonably work off of. For example, Amazon allots special consideration to seller accounts with favorable metrics and is more likely to place them in the “Buy Box” of the listing, where customers are more likely to complete their purchase from. These resellers can be contracted, and abide by your pricing specifications.
However, the other type of resellers are ones that sell your product on their own at prices they set themselves. These rogue sellers buy products at a discount and resell at a competitive rate, or otherwise use counterfeit or expired goods. When your product is being used against you, and you are receiving none of the profit aside from perhaps the initial investment of buying stock, you can lose a fair amount of revenue from sales. Customers will flock to what seems like a more favorably-priced listing, often far below your MSRP, and these rogue sellers pocket all profits from those sales. This can be difficult to deal with in marketplace settings, like Amazon, where all sellers are grouped under one listing and it becomes harder to differentiate an authorized seller from a non-authorized one.
The best way to restrict these resellers is to report rogue listings when you see them, but this doesn’t always work out successfully. In these cases, using a MAP agreement or product registration tool like Amazon’s Transparency can better control your resellers. With a MAP, or Minimum Advertised Price, agreement, sellers are limited to how low they can resell your item. If a seller disobeys the MAP agreement and sells it online at a lower price, it is safe to say they are unauthorized and you can often take steps to remove their listings. Amazon Transparency also identifies unauthorized sellers by using unique labels on the product. These labels show the product is coming from the authorized seller, and can make it harder for rogue sellers to pass off counterfeit product. If a buyer receives an item that is missing the Transparency label, it is safe to say that product is not from an authorized seller. When you have a stronger control over your listings and keep your prices competitive, customers are more likely to view your business as reputable.
Brand loyalty is an important relationship to create with your customers. Establishing yourself as a business that is competitive, honest, and maintains high-quality listings does more than just gather sales. It fosters a sense of trust between you and your customer, and encourages their continued support and interaction. Every online business wants to be one that people openly recommend to friends and families, which is easier said than done. Taking steps to polish your online presence and remain respectful of your audience is the best way to improve your brand image for 2019.