Online Reviews are the Key to the 2015 Holiday Season

November 25, 2015

45 percent of customers say they’re more likely to visit businesses that respond to their reviews

Online Reviews Survey

Online Reviews are the Key to the 2015 Holiday Season

The holiday season is always a busy time for gift-giving, merry-making shoppers. It goes without saying that it’s also an extremely crucial time of the year for local businesses.

The 2015 holiday pie is shaping up to be a big one. How big?

2015 holiday shopping trends

Online review site Yelp and market research firm Harris Online teamed up to gather some numbers:

  • $38.7 billion: the total amount American consumers are expected to spend with independent retailers this holiday season. (That’s an average of $258 each at local businesses.)
  • 64 percent: the percentage of US consumers who plan to shop and buy gifts at local businesses this year.
  • 53 percent: the percentage of Americans whose motivation for “shopping local” is to find unique, experience-based gifts – for example: tickets to the movies or the theater, restaurant gift certificates from a delicious restaurant, massage treatments and spa services, or free passes to cooking or pottery class.

According to Yelp, local shopping will be led by the Millennials, with nearly 70 percent of US consumers aged 18 to 34 years old planning to buy from independently owned establishments (more than any other age group).

Attracting Millennials and their Spending Power

The National Retail Federation (NRF) also surveyed consumers about their holiday plans for this year. Here are some key findings:

  • $805.65: the average spending per person this 2015 holiday season, which is slightly higher than last year’s $802.45
  • 46 percent: the percentage of holiday shoppers who will browse and buy online.
  • 4 percent: the percentage of smartphone users who will be purchasing holiday gifts and items from their mobile devices. (The figure marks the highest since 2011, when the NRF first included this question in its annual survey.)

It goes without saying that the 2015 holiday season offers a tremendous opportunity for businesses of all kinds and sizes to attract holiday shoppers, drive sales, and end the year with a bang.

But how exactly do you take advantage of this opportunity?

Some local businesses are likely to already have practices and traditions in place to gear up for the holidays: revamping menus and catalogs, launching holiday specials, adding a few extra lights to brighten product displays and storefronts, rolling out branded gift wrap and gift bags, even dressing up employees with Santa hats and shirts with merry messages.

Online reviews key to holiday sales

But it takes much more than that to really sway consumers. You have to establish a marketing strategy that takes into account the purchase behavior of the modern consumer as well as industry trends in holiday shopping.

Recent survey findings by Social Media Link offer a starting point for how companies might be able to attract more shoppers and get a bigger slice of the $38.7 billion holiday pie. According to the advocacy activation company’s survey, online reviews are the key to holiday sales.

  • 83 percent of shoppers discover new products every month through peer-to-peer online reviews on social media; reviews and recommendations are their foremost sources of information.
  • Reviews on retailer websites, brand websites, and Facebook influence shopping lists more than reviews on other channels.
  • For 18 percent of survey respondents, all it takes is one online review to convince them to make a purchase decision; 23 percent, meanwhile, require up to 4 reviews from multiple sources before buying.
  • 59 percent read reviews at home from their smartphones, 54 percent use their laptops at home, and 34 percent view reviews from their smartphones while in-store.
  • When researching products, only 11 percent check out brand-sponsored messages or reviews by celebrities and personalities. Ultimately, the voice of the customer matters more.

But what exactly makes reviews so influential? Social Media Link lists several explanations for shoppers’ review consumption behavior.

  • 80 percent of consumers depend on reviews for personal stories; they pay particular attention to accounts of others’ customer experiences and listen to the voice of the customer.
  • 71 percent need to weigh the pros and cons of a product or service as part of their research process.
  • 57% check online reviews to see the star ratings.
  • 41% drive their eyeballs toward a business, product, or service’s number of reviews (likely as a way of assessing legitimacy and quality).

“Consumers are already discovering new products through the power of online reviews,” says Susan Frech, Social Media Link CEO. “Brands that can figure out how to leverage real people to share their opinions in different ways on different channels will win this holiday season and well into 2016.”

ReviewTrackers’ Local Business Guideto the2015 Holiday Season

Holiday season tips and tricks for local businesses

The trends and numbers above should help you position your business to achieve success this holiday season. Here are great tips you can follow:

Boost your online presence. Consumers are planning to shop local – but they do their research well before visiting stores. Make sure you can be found when these holiday shoppers search online. Think beyond your website – expand your presence by claiming your business pages and profiles on social networks, online review sites, and online business listings.

Top 9 Reasons to Claim Your Business Listings and Review Site Pages

Drive mobile engagement. Based on the numbers above, more shoppers than ever are turning to their smartphones and mobile devices in order to find more information about brands, products, and services. This makes it critical for you to improve your mobile marketing strategy and engage with consumers on mobile.

You don’t necessarily have to develop your own app, but it helps to have a mobile-friendly website and have consistent business information on geo-location services (e.g., Foursquare) and map-based platforms (e.g., Google Maps). If you’re a retailer, make it a point to have an easy-to-use, mobile-friendly sales platform.

You can also try tactics like introducing mobile promotions and special check-in offers, utilizing Facebook Page Tips, and sharing lots of photos on social media. (Images are great for keeping mobile users engaged.)

Incorporate reviews into digital properties. Social Media Link’s study suggests that online reviews on retailer websites and brand websites are major influencers of holiday shopping lists. By incorporating reviews into your website, your Facebook page, and the rest of your digital properties, you can improve your ability to shape consumer perceptions. It’s also a great way of showing customers that you value their feedback.

More Proof that Online Reviews Can Drive Sales for Your Business

Leverage the voice of the customer. Only few trust celebrity endorsements and sponsored reviews by famous YouTubers and Instagram users. When looking to make a purchase decision, consumers prefer to listen to fellow consumers and hear their personal stories.

It therefore makes sense to give voice to your happiest customers and empower them to become advocates of your brand. Instead of pushing ineffective sales messages, share your positive reviews and customer testimonials. Instead of censoring feedback, encourage customers to speak up and share their opinion. Instead of arguing with critics and customers who leave negative reviews, respond diplomatically and work on changing the conversation to a more positive one.

Manage online reviews and the customer experience. Monitor online reviews and respond to what customers are saying online about your business. If they raise particular issues about the experience that they had, find a resolution and make the improvements necessary to delivering a better customer experience next time.

This year’s holiday season marks another exciting opportunity for your business to take it to the next level. With a better understanding of how shoppers think and behave, you’ll win along consumers’ path to purchase and enjoy happier holidays.

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