By now, most brands understand the important role user-generated content (UGC) — including reviews, Q&A, photos and videos — plays in the modern consumer’s path to purchase. Our research found that a staggering 97% of consumers consult product reviews before making a purchase. And 88% of shoppers look for photos and videos from others like them before committing to a purchase. 

In a relatively short amount of time, UGC has evolved from a nice-to-have to a must-have. In order to attract and convert customers, brands must make it a priority to collect and display more of this content across channels. By doing so, shoppers can make informed purchase decisions, and brands can boost their bottom lines. 

UGC syndication is one way brands strive to increase the reach of the content they collect. However, depending on where you want to syndicate this content to and in what volumes, this tends to be expensive. No brand or retailer – regardless of their size or the revenue power they possess – wants to waste expenditure.

This is a question we get a lot from our customers. So should you assign budget to UGC syndication? The answer is: it depends on what you’re trying to achieve.

UGC syndication, defined

How exactly does UGC syndication work? Essentially, syndication is when one business shares some form of user generated content — such as a review, question, photo or video — with another business. 

For example, let’s say a shopper submits a review via a brand’s site. The brand displays the review on its own website. The exact same review is then shared with the brand’s chosen retailers, and these companies display the review on their ecommerce sites, too.

Let’s take a look at a quick example to illustrate how it works. This shopper submitted a review on hormelfoods.com for bacon. This review is displayed on Hormel’s website — and is shared with Target.com for display on the appropriate product page, extending the value of this specific review. A badge is displayed as part of the review on Target.com, letting shoppers know the review was originally posted on hormelfoods.com.

The cost of UGC syndication 

There are different cost models out there, so how much you end up paying to circulate your UGC content to all the different platforms on which you sell your products will depend on 1) the vendors you work with and 2) where exactly you want to get your UGC content to.

Different UGC vendors have different “syndication networks”. This means each vendor has relationships with different groups of retailers, and therefore is able to syndicate your UGC to different locations. In certain situations, there is a cost attached to this.

Is content syndication worth the cost?

We have established partnerships with other UGC distribution networks to help our brands reach all their desired content destinations, but you’ll have to consider whether the cost from their providers is worth it. Let’s take a look.

1. How much UGC do your key retail partners already have for your products?

Oftentimes, a retailer has a lot of existing content for a given brand’s products. This is because they have the content the brand has historically syndicated to their site. On top of this, the retailer is also regularly generating their own native content for the products they sell.

If one of your retail partners already has a high volume of content for your products, syndication won’t make much of an impact…and it probably isn’t worth the cost. 

For example, Walmart.com currently displays more than 30,000 reviews for Huggies Little Snugglers baby diapers. Content freshness is critical so a constant stream of reviews – as is the case here – is important wherever your products are sold. 

Point being: if your retailer partners are receiving a steady volume of native reviews for your product, you may be able to live without a further investment in content syndication.

Incidentally, if you do need to improve “content freshness”, Product Sampling is a great way to do this. Campaigns can be run specifically to generate ratings and reviews on specific retailer sites.

But what about if you’re launching a new product and want there to be plenty of UGC available for shoppers, wherever they purchase the product? In this case, is syndication the answer? 

Consider a retailer-specific product sampling campaign instead. It’s generally a more cost effective way to get content on your retailer sites for your new product (or any other products in need of more content).

How does a retailer-specific product sampling campaign work? You send free samples of your product to a targeted audience. In exchange for receiving the product, shoppers share their honest feedback by submitting a review on a specific retailer’s site. 

Your retailer gets a high volume of reviews for the new product — at PowerReviews, we find that more than 85% of consumers who receive a free sample will go on to write a review. And you don’t have to foot the bill for syndication. But what if you have a wide catalog of newly launching products, and you need to get all of that content to multiple retailer destinations? In that case, it might make sense to consider paying for access to another syndication network. If you think this might apply to you, either reach out to your PowerReviews Customer Success Manager (if you’re a customer) or contact us today to talk it through.

2. Are you playing second fiddle to retailers on Google? 

A PowerReviews survey found that more than a third of shoppers start the purchase journey on Google or another search engine. A solid SEO strategy helps ensure these shoppers can easily find your product pages. 

Take a minute to navigate to Google and search for one of your products. Is your eCommerce site the first result? Or is it one of your retail partners?

If you’re not showing up first in search engine results, your money would be better spent increasing visibility to your own site. 

UGC is a key way to do that. 

A steady stream of UGC keeps your site’s content fresh and relevant with keyword-rich, permanent assets on your product pages. Search engines will crawl this content, and this helps shoppers find it.

So rather than paying to syndicate content to retailers, invest in content generation. Product sampling is a great way to quickly get more content on your site. And doing so will help ensure your website is a top result when shoppers are in the market for your products.

3. Should you be instead focusing on your own site?

The big retailers will always be an important channel for a lot of brands. They offer phenomenal reach and exposure.

However, many brands are now focusing on trying to drive traffic and sales to their own sites. Which makes sense: they no longer have to split the resulting revenue and have more control.

This is a trend that has been significantly accelerated by COVID (our Holiday Survey actually highlights how 56% of US consumers are planning to go “Direct to Consumer” this Holiday season).

Although a huge brand, Nike is a great example. Now, Nike has invested a lot of money in its own brand and its site and overall web presence reflects this. This makes complete sense. Why? Try googling “Nike” and you’ll see that you are diverted firstly to Nike.com (whether you are on Google Shopping or not) and not the retailers that sell Nike products. So why wouldn’t they want to capture this traffic rather than let it slip elsewhere?

Now you may not be anywhere near as big as Nike. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t follow the same model.

Let’s say a shopper navigates directly to your website. Or perhaps they click through to one of your product pages from Google. Will they find enough UGC to make a confident purchase from your site?

The same PowerReviews survey I mentioned earlier found that almost half of shoppers will turn to a search engine if there aren’t reviews (or aren’t enough reviews) for a product on an ecommerce site. And 25% will head to Amazon. I’m willing to bet that in most cases, those shoppers don’t return to the first site.

Also consider this: building a robust set of first-party data about your customer is becoming increasingly important. GDPR and CCPA restrict a marketer’s ability to use third-party cookie data from their retailer partners. Brands must be able to rely on their own data to retarget consumers and personalize the shopping funnel. To gather the necessary first-party data, you need to be driving customers to your brand site, not to a retailer’s site.

Rather than paying to syndicate your UGC, think about investing in content generation for your own ecommerce site. It’ll help give your site visitors the confidence they need to convert.

4. Are there other ways to get your content on key websites?

You’ve determined that sharing content with key retailers is a necessity. But is there a more cost effective way to get it there? And are those retailers so impactful to the sales you generate as a brand that focusing on those make sense for you as a brand?

In fact, there may be other low to no cost ways to share UGC from your website to key retailer sites. For example, we at PowerReviews makes it easy for shoppers to share the reviews they write on your own website to other key locations, including Amazon. Here’s an example. A shopper writes a thorough review for a winter hat on the brand’s website. After submitting the review, they’re asked to share the review to Amazon.

We do this to help brands get maximum impact from their UGC for minimum cost. Be sure to ask your UGC partner what your options are for sharing reviews and other types of UGC.

Is paid syndication right for you?

User-generated content has become a key component of the purchase journey. It’s important to ensure shoppers can find plenty of this content, regardless of where they shop for your products. 

It might seem unavoidable to pay hefty fees to syndicate your content. There are a lot of things to consider when making that decision. But in many cases, you’ll get a larger ROI from other initiatives. 

Still not sure if syndication is right for you? If you’re an existing PowerReviews client, contact your Client Success Director to discuss. If you’re not a PowerReviews customer, you can either learn more about our approach to UGC syndication or get in touch with us direct today.

Andrew Bolander

As an Enterprise Senior Customer Success Manager and Senior Account Manager, Andrew's primary focus revolves around driving and strategically utilizing user-generated content to influence sales for his multi-national customer base. When he isn't brainstorming on new strategic initiatives, you can find him on his bicycle or hidden under an umbrella on the Puerto Vallarta beaches.

How to Curate Social Content for Maximum Impact on the Buyer Journey

Locate authentic visual media content posted on social media by your customers. Then display this throughout your digital experience to provide the social proof that will generate more conversions.

Social Curation

We know that 88% of consumers specifically look for visuals (such as photos or videos) submitted by other consumers prior to making a purchase. It’s key to provide these shoppers with the information they’re looking for, or else you risk losing them to a competitor that does. 

 

A simple way to generate more user-generated visual content for your home, category, gallery, and product detail pages (and other marketing materials) is to gather it from where it’s already being shared and posted by your customers — on Instagram. 

 

In this guide, you’ll find best practices to put to use during each stage of your social collection campaign. 

Pre Campaign:

Setting up your campaign and creating awareness

Plan

The first step to success when curating social content is to plan for success. The biggest component of this is selecting the right campaign hashtag to promote and follow on Instagram. 

 

Why is this so important? Because choosing the right hashtag allows you to generate content that’s most relevant to your brand and your products. Plus, it can help you sort through the thousands of images you collect as you choose the UGC that will look best on your site. 

 

Be sure to choose one that relates to the lifestyle of your customers and stays true to your brand’s image. General hashtags (think #OOTD) will generate millions of photos. But many of those photos won’t include your products, and they might even include products from your competitors. 

 

On the other hand, a more targeted hashtag will generate less content, but the content will be way more relevant. This will save your team time in the long run as they won’t have to sift through a high volume of often irrelevant content. 

 

If you want to save even more time and resources, and don’t want to sift through all of the content generated by your campaign hashtag on your own, leverage a specialist provider. The best practice approach of these vendors incorporates the moderation capabilities necessary to match and quality control the content you collect. At the same time, it will also ensure this content is on brand while being displayed quickly on your product, category, gallery and home pages.

 

Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing the right hashtag for your campaign: 

  • Relate it to the lifestyle of your shoppers 
  • Relate it to your brand image and the lifestyle of your brand 
  • Remember to be genuine and stay true to your brand image 
  • Keep it unique to weed out competitors

Don’t forget!


Work with your marketing team to make sure your campaigns and outreach flow with other marketing initiatives. For example, is your marketing planning to run a Holiday campaign? If so, collaborate and plan ahead so that the hashtag and your outreach don’t interfere with other initiatives.

Get inspired!

Here’s how some of our friends are getting creative with their hashtags:

Plan

The first step to success when curating social content is to plan for success. The biggest component of this is selecting the right campaign hashtag to promote and follow on Instagram. 

 

Why is this so important? Because choosing the right hashtag allows you to generate content that’s most relevant to your brand and your products. Plus, it can help you sort through the thousands of images you collect as you choose the UGC that will look best on your site. 

 

Be sure to choose one that relates to the lifestyle of your customers and stays true to your brand’s image. General hashtags (think #OOTD) will generate millions of photos. But many of those photos won’t include your products, and they might even include products from your competitors. 

 

On the other hand, a more targeted hashtag will generate less content, but the content will be way more relevant. This will save your team time in the long run as they won’t have to sift through a high volume of often irrelevant content. 

 

If you want to save even more time and resources, and don’t want to sift through all of the content generated by your campaign hashtag on your own, leverage a specialist provider. The best practice approach of these vendors incorporates the moderation capabilities necessary to match and quality control the content you collect. At the same time, it will also ensure this content is on brand while being displayed quickly on your product, category, gallery and home pages.

 

Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing the right hashtag for your campaign: 

  • Relate it to the lifestyle of your shoppers 
  • Relate it to your brand image and the lifestyle of your brand 
  • Remember to be genuine and stay true to your brand image 
  • Keep it unique to weed out competitors

Get inspired

Here’s how some of our friends are getting creative with their hashtags:

Promote your campaign

Your shoppers won’t use your hashtag or tag your account if they don’t know what hashtag to use or what your handle is. So make sure you promote your campaigns. 

 

Include language in your campaign promotions reminding customers of your hashtag and Instagram handle. Let them know you want to see how they’re using your products, and explicitly ask them to share photos and videos using your products on Instagram, communicate the hashtags you want them to use and request they tag you.

Don’t forget!

 

Be sure your most engaged and influential followers are aware of your campaigns. If you have a community of influencers (and don’t forget about the influence micro influencers can have), make sure to add their handles to your list of Approved contacts, so their content is automatically approved and displayed. 

 

Engaging influencers will also help increase the reach of your campaign by getting in front of your influencers’ followers as well — a great way to get more content, faster, at the start of your campaigns.

Examples of places you can promote your campaigns:

Establish legal messaging and terms

You’ll need to get permission from consumers before using their photos or videos across your website or in other marketing materials. 

 

Make sure you have all legal language crafted and approved before the start of your campaign, so you can start collecting approved content as soon as possible. Establish a terms and conditions page — somewhere users can go if they have questions — and link to this page when asking for permission. Once a user gives permission to use their content in marketing materials, make sure to attribute the content to them. Say something along the lines of “Photo courtesy of [insert Instagram handle].”

During Campaign:

Managing the content you collect

Secure image rights

In order to leverage user-generated images and videos in your marketing initiatives, you’ll need to get the creator’s permission (at PowerReviews, we know how important this process is so we seamlessly incorporate it into our technology).

 

Best practice:

 

Tailor the permission messages you send for your different customer groupings and profiles.

 

Not all your customers are the same, so think about how best to motivate each individual to grant you permission to repurpose their content. Your messages won’t always be one-size fits all. 

 

For example, a sporting goods company’s customers can span from beginners to more advanced athletes — both of which could respond in different ways. Beginners will be more excited to share photos of themselves learning a new skill, while advanced users might want to show more close up photos of the products they’re using to train.

 

Take note of who grants image rights and note which messaging works best for different users.

Post Campaign:

Repurposing the content you collect and measuring and analyzing the performance of your campaign

Repurpose content

Your shoppers won’t use your hashtag or tag your account if they don’t know what hashtag to use or what your handle is. So make sure you promote your campaigns. 

 

Include language in your campaign promotions reminding customers of your hashtag and Instagram handle. Let them know you want to see how they’re using your products, and explicitly ask them to share photos and videos using your products on Instagram, communicate the hashtags you want them to use and request they tag you.

Some places to promote this UGC include:

Understand your performance

After your campaign is over, take a look at its performance. Look at who is sharing content and what kind of content they’re sharing. 

 

For example, are the images being shared poor quality? If so, you might need to provide your users with more direction on what you’re looking for. 

 

In addition, take note of who your UGC creators are. You’ll find interesting insights into what products are being featured, and the style of content being created. With this information, your brand can learn more about how a product is being used, who’s using it, and what type of content resonates with different types of shoppers. Note what worked, and what you can change for the next campaign.

 

Dig even deeper

 

With PDP Site Analytics, track the actual sales impact of visual content on your site. PowerReviews data across all our customers shows visitors that interact specifically with visual UGC have a conversion lift of 81% over general visitors who don’t interact with visual UGC.

 

This information specifically applied to your own UGC and Social Curation programs helps you iterate, improve and optimize for bigger impact. Find out what imagery and video resonates best at what point in the journey, then seek to generate and display more of this.

 

Include language in your campaign promotions reminding customers of your hashtag and Instagram handle. Let them know you want to see how they’re using your products, and explicitly ask them to share photos and videos using your products on Instagram, communicate the hashtags you want them to use and request they tag you.

Conclusion

Authentic user-generated visual content shared on social media provides compelling social proof to shoppers on your site. Brands and retailers are increasingly leveraging this content at high impact points of their digital experience to nurture and convert traffic – whether this is on their homepages, product pages or in their marketing materials.

 

The key is being able to collect and display this content at scale.

 

The PowerReviews Social Curation platform enables just this, by providing unique capabilities to cultivate, surface and showcase social media postings to accelerate the path to purchase.

If you’re a PowerReviews customer, reach out to your Customer Success Manager to discuss how to get yourself up and running. If you’re not a PowerReviews customer, reach out to us today to find out more.

Paige Thulin

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the retail landscape. Stores have been forced to close, consumers are more hesitant to shop in the ones that are left, and eCommerce is exploding. 

As of August, eCommerce growth was up 259% year over year. For some retailers, as many as 50% of those online orders were picked up via BOPIS at a local store.

BOPIS (buy online, pickup in-store) has grown steadily over the past decade. It combines the efficiency of online shopping with the immediacy of buying an item in-store. But few retailers have managed to get it completely right. Most BOPIS processes have kinks and ultimately deliver poor experiences. And yet, consumer demand for local pickup hasn’t slowed. It’s only accelerated during the new COVID environment, with “curbside pick up” offering a no-contact BOPIS option. Just look at the latest Google Trends data for “curbside pickup”:

Why the sudden surge in popularity for curbside pickup? 

Two words: turnaround times. Assuming a product is in-stock, customers can often pick it up the same day they place the order — or faster. Major retailers like Best Buy, Staples, and Apple offer pickup times as short as 1 to 2 hours. That near-instant gratification makes it even better than buying online.

The no-contact nature of curbside pickup has only made BOPIS more attractive to customers. As everyone shifted to online shopping during the pandemic, shipping times suffered. The demand for eCommerce has grown by so much — and with such speed — that carriers simply haven’t been able to keep up. Even Amazon Prime has had difficulty meeting their 2-day shipping times. 

What’s the solution for shoppers who can’t wait? Bypass longer shipping times completely and go to the store. Over half (55%) of consumers anticipate making more holiday purchases via curbside pickup this year, according to our consumer survey of 5,383 shoppers. In fact, two-thirds of shoppers said curbside or in-store pickup would make them feel most comfortable shopping in-store during the 2020 holiday season. According to a survey from Adobe, 30% of online buyers actually prefer curbside pickup or BOPIS to traditional home delivery.

3 elements for successful curbside pickup

Create frictionless curbside experiences and you could lock these customers in for life. But what does a great curbside pickup experience look like? There are three key elements: 

  1. Intuitive online shopping experience.

    How easy is it for your customers to shop for curbside pickup?

  2. Frequent order updates and communication.

    How well do you communicate to customers when their order is ready, and where they can pick it up?

  3. Foolproof fulfillment and pickup process.

    How seamless is the pickup process once customers arrive to pick up their order?

Nail all three, and you’ll have your customers singing your praises. Let’s break down the process.

1. Designing an Intuitive Online Shopping Experience

What makes curbside pickup attractive is its ease and expediency. That seamless experience needs to begin on your website, as customers are browsing for items and adding them to their cart.

Highlight curbside pickup throughout your website.

As customers browse, they should be able to see at-a-glance whether a product is available in the store nearest them. Clearly communicate which products are available for curbside pickup. 

Bonus points if you can highlight the value of BOPIS at the same time, like Best Buy does. The very first filter on their category page is for curbside pickup, with a special call out of “Get it fast.” Shoppers can check the box to “Pick up today.” They’re also transparent, making it easy for the customer to identify which items are available for store pickup and which are not. In the case that they do not have the item available at your local store that day, they’ll provide an estimate of when items can be picked up at a later date.

Best Buy emphasizes the speed of curbside pickup again on the product page. If customers want their product today, they can get it in as little as 1 hour. Talk about convenient.

Set clear expectations.

Make sure that fulfillment times are communicated throughout the browsing and purchasing experience. 

Customers choose curbside pickup because of its immediacy and convenience, so they need a time frame they can rely on. Should they plan on picking up their order during the workday, or can they do it before they start making dinner? 

Be as explicit as possible. “Typically ready within 2 hours” is more informative than “same day pickup.”

Meet those expectations.

Let’s say you’re like Best Buy. For same-day pickup items, they promise a 1-hour pickup window regardless of product. 

If you’re going to make a promise like that one, you need to meet it. Carefully consider what your in-store teams are actually able to commit to during this time. It’s possible you’ve scaled back your staff in-store, and now they’re responsible for more than they were pre-COVID. 

It’s critical that you understand their capacity, and realistically evaluate whether they can commit to a shorter window. Should you offer a longer window, or hire more staff? Get the balance right so you can meet your SLA.

Ensure accurate inventory.

Your inventory must be updated in real-time, so that customers cannot purchase something for pickup that isn’t actually available in that store. No one wants to show up for their curbside pickup and discover their product is nowhere to be found. 

Staples goes an extra step and displays how many of an item they have in-stock, increasing customer confidence in their ability to fulfill an order.

2. From Cart to Curbside: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Once shoppers complete checkout, they’re relying on you to regularly update them on their order status, so they know when to pick it up. Curbside pickup is still relatively new to many shoppers, so it’s better to over-communicate than under.

Set up your email series.

Emails should be automatically sent as a customer’s order progresses through fulfillment. 

At a minimum, customers expect that they’ll receive an order confirmation email and an “Your item is ready for pickup” email. Go the extra mile with additional status updates and confirmation of pickup emails.

Remind customers what they can expect. 

Take every opportunity to remind customers when they can expect their order to be ready, how you will notify them, and what they need to do upon arrival to pick up their order. 

This communication begins on your website. For example, if an item isn’t available at a selected store, Target suggests the closest available option. Target also gives customers a quick idea of where and when, specifically, they’ll be able to pick it up: “tomorrow inside the store.”

Once a customer places their order, you should remain in regular contact with them until they pick up their order. Email notifications are table stakes at this point, but many customers prefer the option to also receive SMS notifications for more real-time updates. Let the customer choose which notification method they prefer for a great experience.

Outline the curbside pickup process.

Tell customers exactly what they need to be able to drive off with their purchase. Do they need their ID and credit card, or is an order number sufficient?

Offer directions on where customers should go to pick up their item when they arrive. Are there dedicated parking spaces in your lot, or do they need to go inside to a special pickup counter? Be sure to address other concerns about in-store shopping during the pandemic, like required face coverings and updated cleaning processes. For example, Target has an entire landing page dedicated to their curbside pickup process, which emphasizes key aspects that appeal to those shopping during COVID:

3. Preparing Your Store for Curbside Pickup

Finally, you need to prepare your store and your staff for fulfilling curbside pickup orders.

Develop staff guidelines.

How do you make sure each curbside order is in-stock, packed, and tied up with a metaphorical bow for each customer? You’ll need to determine:

  • Who will be responsible for packing curbside pick up items? Will you have dedicated staff or cross-train?
  • How will staff be alerted that an order has come in? What are their next steps? Define the process for gathering items, packaging them, and completing orders. 
  • How will you ensure the right orders go to the right customers? Outline requirements for validating both the customer’s identity and the products so the customer doesn’t have to come back.
  • How can you anticipate incoming order volume while balancing the needs of in-store customers? Don’t let a busy store impact the curbside customer’s experience.
  • Will you provide a way for shoppers to modify their orders after they complete checkout? Determine timeframes and product limits.

Have a back-up plan.

There are going to be times when your curbside fulfillment team is running behind. When this happens, you want to be ready. 

Think out your communication plan now so you can dynamically react to a backup in orders if you are over capacity. Your goal is to adjust customers’ fulfillment expectations as soon as possible. Will you send an email alerting customers to a delay with their pickup order? 

You can also add a banner to your website, so shoppers are aware of potential delays before they even place their order. For example, Home Depot notifies customers during checkout that their pickup window may be delayed:

Allocate space and signage.

Make sure signage is clear, so that there’s no question for customers of where they should go and what they should do upon arrival. 

Will you have dedicated parking spaces, or do you need to print signage directing customers toward a pickup counter inside? Be thoughtful that your curbside pickup process may operate differently depending on location. A store located in an urban crowded area will have different needs than one in a suburban area with a huge parking lot.

Set up a dedicated place inside your store to handle online orders so that curbside customers don’t need to be commingled with regular customers during peak time. Again, you don’t want their experience to suffer if things are busy.

Curbside Pickup and Your Store

In large part, the success of your curbside pickup hinges on how well you meet the expectations you set with your customers. But customer expectations for curbside pickup aren’t just based on their last experience with you. It’s about their last retail experience, period. 

If they just had a really great, smooth experience with curbside pickup elsewhere — regardless of whether it was with a competitor or a business in a completely different vertical — they’re now going to expect the same smooth experience with you, because they know it can be done. 

And it can be. With these tips, you’ll be set for success.

Interested to know how your curbside experience measured up? Ask your customers for their feedback.

Emily Kolodner

As Product Manager, Emily manages PowerReviews’ client facing reporting tools for both Ratings & Reviews and our newest product, Store Experience Feedback. Over the last 8 years, Emily has worked with dozens of brands and retailers to evaluate their store experience and identify areas that need attention. She is passionate about leveraging the voice of the customer to inform both operational and brand strategy, as well as the NYT crossword.

How to Drive

Direct-to-Consumer Sales with User-Generated Content

A practical five-step guide for implementing a ratings and reviews program as part of transitioning to D2C

A critical and very evident trend to emerge as part of the COVID-19 pandemic: brands that previously relied on selling their products in person have had to shift online and go “Direct to Consumer”.

 

A comprehensive UGC program – including ratings, reviews, images, video and Q&A content – is now an ecommerce must-have, with 97% of consumers consulting product reviews before making a purchase.

 

So many brands are seeking to implement UGC quickly as part of this transition.

Download this Guide for step-by-step pointers on the entire process, including:

How UGC impacts D2C success and will enable you to sell more products

How to generate a high volume of high-quality reviews fast

How to maximize the impact of UGC

Paige Thulin

This is the seventh edition of our monthly snapshot, an analysis consumer activity across more than 1.5MM online product pages from more than 1,200 retail/brand sites.

The impact of COVID on ecommerce has been fairly clear to pinpoint. A huge initial surge led to an overall 3x increase in online purchase volumes between February (pre-pandemic) to May. However, the subsequent four months through to September led to a steady decline and then stabilization, with purchase volumes consistently between 40% and 70% higher than they were pre-pandemic. 

Due to this stabilization, we re-aligned this month’s report to show the last three months.

The general story is yet more month-on-month stabilization, as we would see in more “normal” years. This means ecommerce sales volumes are higher than where we would typically expect them to be pre-pandemic, but there are also no real major fluctuations indicative of major market shifts.

With this being the case, the Holidays is likely to be the next major event on the horizon when we see any meaningful change.

Key ecommerce market trends

01

“New normal” continues as Holidays loom

02

Review submission volumes flat for three straight months

03

Reviews more important than pre-COVID, will become increasingly critical for Holidays

“New normal” continues as Holidays loom

Consumer behavior has clearly become more predictable, with purchase volumes consistently consistently at around 1.4x to 1.7x where they were at the start of the pandemic.

Why? Most likely because the entire population has settled into a “new normal”. People are no longer buying in the bulk they were because they have confidence in supply chain and product availability. They know they will be able to source whatever items they need at short notice. Pandemic life has become normal. We are now used to buying our groceries and other everyday items online. This is reflected in our recent survey, which highlighted how 33% of consumers say their shopping habits have changed forever.

We expect the next major shift to be the Holidays. It’s difficult to predict what these will look like this year but – and this is perhaps not the most groundbreaking observation – we are predicting significantly more spending occurring online than in previous years. In fact, the survey highlighted above illustrated how 64% will spend more online than the last Holiday season. Perhaps of more significance is the timing of this Holiday spend. Our survey also shows that three-quarters will start Holiday shopping earlier than they usually do. So we anticipate notable increases in activity to start over the next month.

Continued stabilization in both online sales and site traffic
Continued stabilization

Review submission volumes flat for three straight months

After reporting a giant 2.3x leap in review submission levels from April to May, we subsequently highlighted a consistent drop through to August  to the point where levels are now consistent with what we saw pre-pandemic. This again continued for the last month.

We hypothesized previously that this is most likely because consumers have now got to the point where they are no longer buying items they hadn’t tried before. Instead, they now have established product preferences so are less inclined to be motivated to submit reviews.

In terms of the actual content of reviews, there have not been any huge shifts over the past six months. Both have been unaffected by the pandemic, which is unsurprising because overall product catalogs themselves will not have shifted too significantly. 

No significant variations in review submission levels
No significant variations
Review length and sentiment flat throughout pandemic
Review length and sentiment

Reviews more important than pre-COVID, will become increasingly critical for Holidays

Review content is  more influential in driving purchase decisions than it was before the pandemic. A higher proportion of those who interact with reviews are going on to purchase than were doing so pre-COVID.

The August high of 45% above pre-COVID levels was virtually identical to the July high (43% above). As you will note from the scale of this chart, we saw similar numbers through September.

As thoughts turn to the Holidays, this trend is only likely to be accentuated. Our Holiday Survey highlights how 37% of shoppers will pay more attention to ratings and reviews this year than last when making purchases. 

When we segmented out consumers who will increase spend this year, this trend was even more pronounced. 25% of this group will be more influenced by ratings and reviews this Holiday season (this is compared to the 19% who say they will increase spend overall).

Reviews still convert shoppers to buyers more than they were pre-COVID
Reviews still convert shoppers

Summary

The story for the October snapshot is that it has proven to be the fourth month of continued stabilization. Trends are now very flat so we can confidently say we are now in a COVID-driven “new normal”.

However, the Holidays – the biggest time of year for ecommerce and retail – loom large. Our research indicates, predictably, that this will be the biggest Holidays ever for ecommerce.

Two other key findings in our Holiday report are particularly worth noting though:

  1. 73% say their Holiday spending will either be consistent with or increase in comparison to last year. In the context of overriding economic conditions and uncertainty, this is surprising. But the reality is people have not been spending money this year (e.g. bars, restaurants, movie theatres and other entertainment outlets have been off-limits) and are looking for a lift. Either way, this is good news for brands and retailers.
  2. Shopping will start earlier than normal – given this has been an objective of the entire industry for years, it will be music to the ears of brands and retailers looking to cash in after a difficult year for many.

With this being the case, we expect ecommerce traffic and sales to increase through October in the run-up to the Holiday season.

Ecommerce traffic and purchases have risen to previously unfathomable heights, fueled by the pandemic and new habits formed during the stay at home orders. This transformation is really laid bare in our Holiday Consumer Survey, which shows that a massive 64% will spend more online this year than last.

During this period, engagement with review content has surged. Again, our Holiday Consumer Survey fully endorses this trend (37% of consumers say they will pay more attention to ratings and reviews when making purchase decisions this year than last).

Why is this? Well, first and foremost, it’s the fact more shopping is occuring online than ever before. However, consumers are also buying products they’ve never bought before and are looking for validation before buying.

Either way, there has never been a better time to acquire new customers.

One of the most critical channels for doing this is how you rank and appear on search engines, and more specifically how you as a business are rated and reviewed on there. 

Google is obviously the preeminent search engine that pervades all aspects of digital life. So how you show up there is incredibly important. In fact, 35% say they begin their purchase journey on a search engine – when they will see your Seller Rating.

For those that advertise on Google, Google Seller Ratings are an easy and highly effective way to add social proof to your ads. This blog is meant to provide a quick overview of Seller Ratings so you can determine if they are right for you.

What are Google Seller Ratings? 

Google Seller Ratings is a Google Ads extension that displays a rating between one and five stars that shows up on search ads. It’s an automated extension that is calculated by aggregating customer reviews from various sources that Google trusts. The resulting rating is then displayed within the body of the ad.

If you’ve ever typed into Google’s search bar, you’ve seen Google Seller Ratings.

It is the star rating that displays underneath the URL on Google ads. While Seller Ratings are most often used by ecommerce companies, any company with a digital presence can use Google Seller Ratings.

Note: Seller Ratings are for the entire site, not individual products.

What are the benefits of Google Seller Ratings?

If they are not already, Seller Ratings should be a critical part of your digital strategy. Why? According to Google, they can increase the click-through rates (CTR) of your ads by up to 10%. This is super important because a higher CTR means a higher quality score — which reduces your CPC (cost per click) and improves your ad rank.

Bottom line: Seller Ratings optimize the performance of your Google Ads. More click throughs, more eyeballs on your site and – in turn – more sales.

Which makes complete sense. Your Seller Ratings are determined by a cumulative and aggregated volume of trusted customer reviews. They are a direct reflection of the experiences your customers have had while dealing with your business.

This provides social proof for your brand right on Google search results pages, increasing shoppers’ trust in your business and giving them the confidence they need to click through to your site.

How to get Google Seller Ratings

The following criteria must be met for Google Seller Ratings to show up next to your ads: 

  • There must be at least 100 verified site reviews in the country of the searcher
  • Those reviews must have been collected within a the last 12 months 
  • The reviews must have an average star rating of at least 3.5 stars

Once you have collected the number of reviews required, Google will (after a period of indexing time of up to 6 weeks) display Seller Ratings next to your paid Google Ads and Google Shopping listings.

Pro tip: We recommend collecting more than 100 reviews in every 12 month period on a recurring basis. Google values recency and authenticity, as do your customers.

Note: we have a best-in-class authenticity policy, meaning anything that meets our standards is nearly always accepted by Google.

Another thing to note: Google works with trustworthy authorities – such as PowerReviews – to collect seller ratings that are then displayed when users search on your company name. This means Google accepts reviews from other sources, which in turn makes capturing content in the volumes required easier as it means no reviews go to waste.

How do I check if my Seller Ratings are working properly?

First, check if you have met all of the criteria listed above. Assuming this is the case, there are a number of ways to check if your Seller Ratings are working.

Here are a couple of tests you can try: 

  • Go to Google shopping and type your store domain into the search bar. When looking at the results, check to see if Google Seller Ratings are showing. Make sure you are in “list” view since the grid view may not have enough room for the Seller ratings to show.
  • Edit the following URL to replace “{yourwebsite}” with your homepage URL: https://www.google.com/shopping/ratings/account/lookup?q={yourwebsite}.
    • For example, PGA Tour Superstore would be: https://www.google.com/shopping/ratings/account/lookup?q=https://www.pgatoursuperstore.com/
There are a number of ways to check if your Seller Ratings are working.

You’ll be able to view information about your store and a seller rating if your site meets the minimum seller rating thresholds. A country selector will allow you to view this information per country. Use the dropdown menu to see your seller ratings in different countries.

How to improve your Google Seller Ratings

There are a number of ways to improve your Google Seller Ratings.

  1. Provide a good customer experience

    At the risk of stating the obvious, it starts with the quality of the experience you deliver your customers. There’s really no way of gaming or hacking this.
    The whole point of customer reviews is that they are intended to provide authentic “social proof” or guidance to help other consumers make decisions. So focus on your customers and reap the rewards.

  2. Ask!

    Although some customers are super motivated to provide their opinion to the world, this isn’t true of all. Many have a great perception of your brand but need some encouragement to share it so prominently. Asking in the right way at the right time is therefore critical.

  3. Choose when you make the ask

    Again, may sound obvious but make sure you make the ask at an appropriate time after a successful engagement (i.e. after a customer buys a product, rather than if they return it following a bad experience). Obviously, automation is critical to scaling this to a level that Google looks for.

  4. Optimize how you make the ask

    Think about the content of the email. There are a few fundamentals you need to get right. They include: 

    – Keep it short: no one reads long marketing emails

    – Be clear on the ask: you are asking for a review of your entire business, not a specific product. Also provide specific and brief guidance on the content you are seeking, why you’re asking, and deliver a clear call to action.

    – Add an element of personality: Asking in a robotic and transactional manner is unlikely to get the result you want.

    – Simplify the entire process: Make sure the actual process of providing the review is easy and straightforward.

Conclusion

Google Seller Ratings are a critical component in the purchase journey for brands. They help to get more eyeballs on your site and drive new traffic to product pages to generate new sales. However, Google has strict guidelines in place to ensure it accurately ranks businesses that you need to be aware of. To make sure they display properly, you need to meet these. As with generating product reviews, there are some key best practices you need to follow to generate more and better Google Seller Ratings. Implement these and make Google a critical and lucrative sales generation channel.

The PowerReviews Ratings & Reviews platform enables you to seamlessly capture and display Google Seller Ratings. If you’re one of our customers and would like to find out more, reach out to your Client Success Manager or our Support team today.

Brandon Matthies

As Head of Product Management at PowerReviews, Brandon is focused on building products that help brands and retailers solicit, showcase, analyze, and manage UGC content to improve consumer path to purchase and drive more sales.

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