How to make the most of online reviews

BY BETH ENGLISH

Try these strategies to make the most out of commentaries—whether positive or negative—on your product

online reviews

In today’s super-connected world, word-of-mouth travels fast. Gone are the days when people expressed opinions only to their friends, family and colleagues. Online review sites and social media have provided global platforms for anyone’s praise or criticism.

Consumers often look to reviews to help them make purchasing decisions—especially for more expensive products such as a mattress. In fact, 82% of U.S. adults say they at least sometimes read online reviews before purchasing a product; 40% say they always or almost always do, according to a December 2016 report from the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan fact tank in Washington, D.C.

For mattress and sleep products manufacturers, a variety of review sites are available to consumers who want to do their homework before making a purchase. Ratings can pop up on Google, Yelp and a host of mattress review websites such as GoodBed.com, Sleepopolis.com, SleepLikeTheDead.com and SleepSherpa.com, just to name a few.

Recently, some of the practices of review sites have become a much-discussed topic with Fast Company’s Oct. 16, 2017, article, “The War to Sell You a Mattress is an Internet Nightmare,” which chronicled online retailer Casper’s lawsuit against Derek Hales of Sleepopolis.com. One issue raised is the practice of review bloggers monetizing their sites by using affiliate links. When a consumer purchases a mattress using one of those links in a review, the blogger receives a commission.

In a Nov. 13, 2017, Sleep Geek podcast, Mark Kinsley, staff vice president of marketing for Leggett & Platt Inc.’s Bedding Group, and Mark Quinn, president and chief executive officer of mattress maker Sibose LLC, discussed “The Mysterious Underworld of Online Mattress Review Sites.” Sleep Geek is L&P’s online community for retail sales associates and managers. Quinn explained the process of having the sites review beds and why that’s important to many companies.

“They’re a third-party endorsement so it’s not me telling them my bed is good, or even a consumer,” Quinn said. “It’s someone that is perceived by the consumer to be intelligent and knowledgeable. They’re saying, ‘Hey, this bed’s good.’ There’s value in that.”

The problem comes when the authenticity of the site is called into question. If reviewers are pushing one mattress over another because they are getting paid more in affiliate fees by one company, that’s problematic, Quinn said.

In the meantime, consumers continue to rely on review sites to glean information about potential purchases.

So, as a manufacturer, how do you handle online reviews of your product? Be authentic, transparent and professional, experts say.

Working with mattress review sites

According to U.S. Federal Trade Commission guidelines, it’s perfectly OK to send reviewers free product to try. But reviewers need to let readers know they received the product for free. If they receive commission off the sale of the product via a link on their site, it also must be noted in the review. The amount of the commission, however, does not have to be disclosed.

“The issue is—and always has been—whether the audience understands the reviewer’s relationship to the company whose products are being recommended,” notes the FTC in “The FTC’s Endorsement Guides: What People are Asking” on FTC.gov. “Disclosure of that relationship helps readers decide how much weight to give that review.”

According to the FTC, disclosures must be:

  • Close to the claims to which they relate
  • In a font that’s easy to read
  • In a shade that stands out from the background
  • For video ads, on the screen long enough to be noticed, read and understood
  • For audio disclosures, read at a cadence that is easy for consumers to follow and in words the consumer will understand.

Reviewers also are required to try the product they review and to be honest about their experience. “If you were paid to try a product and you thought it was terrible, you can’t say it was terrific,” the FTC article states.

As a manufacturer, are you responsible for how a blogger or others in social media portray your product? To a degree, according to the FTC.

Advertisers need to explain to those promoting the product what they can and can’t say about the mattress (such as health claims) and make sure they disclose their relationship to the company.

“It’s unrealistic to expect you to be aware of every single statement made by a member of your network,” the FTC states. “But it’s up to you to make a reasonable effort to know what participants in your network are saying. That said, it’s unlikely that the activity of a rogue blogger would be the basis of a law enforcement program if your company has a reasonable training, monitoring and compliance program in place.”

Making consumer reviews work for you

“Five stars! This is the best product ever.”

“I wish I could give this less than one star. It’s terrible.”

Consumers who feel strongly enough to review a product on sites like Amazon, Google and Yelp tend to fall into one of two camps—those who love it or those who have had a bad experience.

And these reviews are important. A 2013 survey by Dimensional Research, a firm that offers market research for technology companies, found 90% of those surveyed said positive reviews influenced their purchasing decision and 86% were influenced by negative reviews. However, some are doubtful about the authenticity of reviews. The Pew Research survey found that only half (51%) of those who read online reviews say the reviews are accurate and unbiased.

Regardless, manufacturers need to pay attention to what consumers are saying about their products.

Practice these strategies when it comes to encouraging and handling online reviews:

  • Recognize their existence. Even if you don’t want to read reviews about your products, the reviews exist. Ignoring them does not endear consumers to your product.
  • Respond. Don’t let reviews—either positive or negative—languish. “No response signals a lack of interest or worse,” writes Lin Grensing-Pophal in “How Retailers Can Make the Most of Online Reviews” in Sleep Savvy’s July 2015 issue. If someone offers a glowing review, thank them and tell them how happy you are that they are enjoying their new mattress. If someone has a complaint, it’s a good opportunity to resolve their problem and allow others to see that your company is responsive. Apologize for the experience and outline how you plan to resolve it. “In most cases, a bad review comes from someone who genuinely believes their point has merit,” writes Jack Sheridan in a May 30, 2017, blog post on ThriveHive.com. “Validate their feelings in a professional, sympathetic and nonconfrontational manner. … The process of responding to bad reviews isn’t all that different from handling other conflicts in business; the only difference is everyone can see these conflicts.”
  • Reply promptly. If you respond to reviews weeks or months after they have been posted, you’re not doing yourself any favors. A 2015 study conducted by ConverSocial.com, a platform for social customer service, found that 78% of consumers are less likely to make a purchase decision if they see unanswered customer complaints on social media.
  • Be thoughtful. “Before responding, take a second to consult your staff and obtain as many details as possible regarding what really happened,” Sheridan writes. “A well-thought-out response after 30 minutes to an hour is much better than a poorly thought-out response after five minutes.”
  • Ask happy consumers to write a review. Reach out a few days after the purchase and contact customers again a few months later. Many people may feel positively about their mattress or sleep product but won’t think to write a review unless asked.

Online reviews are another way to provide excellent customer service and shine. Make sure you are monitoring what people say about your products in a variety of media and be personable and sincere in your responses to them.

“The golden rule of social media also applies to these sites: Always be authentic,” according to Nancy Marshall Communications’ blog post “Online Review Sites: Do’s and Don’ts.” “The best practice is to let your customers tell the story while you focus on providing an excellent product and good customer service to make sure they only have positive things to share.”