Tips & Insights

Age of Influence

Retailers and tech experts talk about how online reviews can turn browsers into buyers

For home furnishings retailers trying to convert website visitors into retail shoppers, tapping into online customer reviews is the next frontier. Whether through sales staff incentives, customer follow-ups or engaging a specialized technology partner, the results are worth the effort.

“Simply telling people your business is the best in the market won’t convince them to reach into their wallets, but hearing a message from other customers might compel them to do so,” explained Marisa Peacock, founder and chief strategist of The Strategic Peacock, a technology presenter at the Home Furnishings Association’s (HFA) High Point Market Retailer Resource Center. “No one believes your brochures, banner ads or billboards. What people trust are words straight from your customers’ mouths.”

With 70 percent of people relying on customer reviews before making a purchase, peer influence is more critical than ever before, says Peacock. She recommends featuring unedited reviews on social media, in promotional emails, and on your website. For maximum credibility, add the customer’s name and photo whenever possible.

“Customers are retailers’ best form of marketing and reviews are the best medium.”
– Ryan Condie, Regional Sales Director, Podium

During his Spring Market presentation: Stand Out in the Crowd: How Online Reviews Can Give Your Local SEO a Boost, Ryan Condie, Regional Sales Director for Podium, noted, “If you don't control your brand presence online – someone else will. Unfortunately, the people who are most motivated are the ones who had a bad experience. Your happiest customers don't always voice their opinions online.” To build your reputation, improve local SEO (search engine optimization), attract more customers, and drive purchase decisions, you have to actively solicit and manage customer reviews.

“Today’s customer is more informed than ever before and they’re here to stay,” says Condie. “They have endless access to information such as online reviews and can make decisions about your business before you even engage with them.”

Brian Morgan, Owner of Austin’s Couch Potatoes in Austin, Texas, has first-hand experience with the value of soliciting and managing customer reviews. “We have seen a major boost in our website traffic – this is forcing us to improve our website daily,” says Morgan, a Podium client.

At third-generation family-owned Star Furniture in West Virginia, targeting customer reviews has led to dramatic results in less than a year. “Our online website traffic has increased over 38 percent and in-store traffic is up 8 percent,” says owner Billy Spurlock, also a Podium client. “In the five previous years, we had a total of 15 Google reviews for one location, with an average of 3.8 out of 5 stars. Since February of this year, that same location has 79 reviews and an average of 4.8 stars out of 5. Our goal is 4.9 stars which we will have this year.”

“Focusing on the experience in the store, and getting a solid review of that unique experience, sets our store apart – and helps us have a higher close ratio.”
– Brian Morgan, owner of Austin’s Couch Potatoes

Five-star reviews are also elevating the reputation of Morgan’s sales team at Austin’s Couch Potatoes. “Our staff loves it because customers demand to work with these individuals,” he says. “They want to work with Tad because, ‘He was patient and knew a lot about design and wasn't pushy!’ and Elva because, ‘She's the couch whisperer, she knows her stuff.’”

“People trust a review post as much as a referral from a friend, or even more,” says Spurlock. “If you’re not attempting to get reviews, then you’re leaving your digital identity in someone else’s hands.”

Morgan’s personal goal was to be the highest-ranking, positively reviewed store in Austin in one year, and he’s on track for success. “I've already surpassed 5-star reviews from all the big box stores in my market. We are winning. Naturally, this has improved foot traffic – we are up 12 percent over last year. We have opened another location, and we are becoming the place to shop if you are a local.”

To catch up on the latest in retail technology and management best practices, Morgan and Spurlock both recommend the HFA’s Retailer Resource Center. Visit the HFA’s Exhibitor Profile to see their Fall Market lineup. Admission is free to all retailers with a Buyer pass – HFA membership is not required.