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Put online reviews to work for your business

Displaying reviews can increase conversion by 270% — provided they are good reviews. Here's how you can put the to work for your business.

For most of the last twenty years, the online review process has been a real free-for-all. Once businesses realized that their reputations were pinned to social proof (online reviews and testimonials) and consumers realized that reviews gave them a powerful bargaining chip, the process became bent. Some consumers used the threat of a bad review to extort businesses [], and companies threatened consumers with lawsuits and fines for leaving bad reviews. []

From 1999 on, the problem of spurious reviews grew to epic proportions: Businesses began to pay for and/or leave themselves positive reviews, while at the same time, their competitors would leave negative reviews. Bloggers and online review sites “buried” bad reviews for their advertisers. A December 2018 survey on indicates that, overall, consumers believed that at least 33% of online reviews were fake. [] Research by the Washington Post [] pegged the number quite a bit higher: 61% in some Amazon categories.

This conflict caused review sites to implement policies regarding leaving, responding to, and removing contentious online reviews. “Reputation Management” companies began to proliferate (and profit).

The Supreme Court recently became involved in the affair, declining to hear a case [] in which the review site Yelp refused to remove a review. In 2017, Congress tackled the problem of lawsuit threats by passing the Consumer Review Fairness Act (CRFA) [], which makes it illegal to threaten to sue consumers or penalize them financially for posting negative reviews or complaints.

 Written by Behind the Gavel columnist Wayne Jordan, this top-selling book includes a collection of his early columns.

Written by Behind the Gavel columnist Wayne Jordan, this top-selling book includes a collection of his early columns.

The CRFA operates on the principle that reviews may state facts and results but not imply wrongdoing on the part of a seller. For example, a buyer may state “there were mouse droppings in the dresser drawer” (fact) but not “the store is infested with mice” (presumption, if none were seen).

According to the law, reviews can be challenged if they:

  • Contain confidential or private information – for example, a person’s financial, medical, or personnel file information or a company’s trade secrets;
  • Are libelous, harassing, abusive, obscene, vulgar, sexually explicit, or inappropriate with respect to race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, or other intrinsic characteristic;
  • Are unrelated to the company’s products or services; or
  • Are clearly false or misleading.

No matter how much review sites, the courts, and legislatures tighten the rules about online reviews, the process will always be imperfect. There is a small percentage of scam artists on both sides of the selling equation. Plus, whenever sellers overstate the benefits of their products, consumers’ expectations will be high, and disappointment will result. And, there will always be consumers with an exaggerated sense of entitlement who won’t be happy regardless of what a retailer does.

Reviews and testimonials have been proven to directly impact a dealer’s bottom line, for better or worse. The following statistics from a 2017 study by the Spiegel Research Center [https ://] and [] are illuminating:

  • Displaying reviews can increase conversion by 270% — provided they are good reviews. Businesses with mostly one- and two-star reviews fail to convert 90% of prospective customers.
  • "Reviews impact sales more for higher-priced items and higher-consideration items. For antique dealers, this is a big deal: our stock-in-trade consists of higher-priced and higher-consideration items.
  • 5-star reviews are seen as “too good to be true.” The Spiegel report states: “Across product categories, we found that purchase likelihood typically peaks at ratings in the 4.0-4.7 range, and then begins to decrease as ratings approach 5.0”

Few would argue about the impact of reviews, but many dealers are unclear about how to administer the process. Effective review management is done in six steps:

First, know where to find your reviews. Generally, reviews for antique dealers can be found on Google My Business, Facebook, Yelp, and Trip Advisor (a favorite of tourists). Specifically, look for reviews on any site that you have sold on, whether you are still actively selling there or not. Reviews stay around forever. To be thorough, perform a Google search on the name and location of your business to find “buried” reviews.

Claim your review pages. Doing so plugs you into the process and you will be notified whenever a new review is posted. While you are there, optimize your pages: fill in the details of your business and add as many photos and links as you can.

On some sites, consumers have the option of creating your page so that they can leave a review. Don’t let that happen; the details on such pages are almost always wrong.

Read your competitors’ reviews. So you can get a sense of how high the customer-service bar is set.

Respond to all reviews. Leave a note of thanks for positive reviews. Your responses to negative reviews are a key part of an effective review strategy. When you are writing a response, remember that you are writing for potential customers, not the unsatisfied crank who left the bad review. Be cordial and apologetic, even if you think the review is nonsense. Offer a solution that appears to be fair and well-thought-out. The reviewer might scoff at your reply, but your readers will love it: You will be seen as going the extra mile.

If a negative review mis-states the facts, is spam, or is inflammatory, flag the review and contact the review site administrator to have the review removed.

Cross-promote your favorite reviews and testimonials. Turn them into posts on Facebook and Twitter and feature them on your website.

Systematically ask for and collect reviews and testimonials.

It’s impossible to “opt-out” of the review process. If you’re in business you will get reviews, and some of them will be bad. But if bad reviews (that average one or two stars) are all you have, it’s still not too late to turn the situation around. Have inflammatory reviews removed, respond properly to negative reviews, and work to increase your positive reviews.

Overall, it’s better to have negative reviews with thoughtful responses than to have no reviews at all. Having no reviews sends consumers the message that you are new in business (read: high risk) or that your offerings are poor, and no-one wants to buy them. As Oscar Wilde wrote in his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray: “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to and affiliated websites.