The pressure on independent and group high street businesses is immense.
Rising costs and uncertainty have been compounded by competition from online businesses – but can independent stores and restaurants learn something from their online rivals.
Getting more positive reviews from your customers can help increase the number of people that find your business online and it can result in more foot traffic to your bricks and mortar site as well.
And you don’t just need to sit and wait for the reviews to waltz in. There are things that you can do to increase the number of positive reviews.
The high street is in trouble
The high street has been struggling for several years, but many of the problems have spilled over in 2018.
Other major retailers have applied for controversial CVA agreements that mean they can close less-profitable sites.
Major restaurant chains are struggling too. Carluccio’s, Prezzo, Jamie’s Italian, Byron Burgers and others have also faced difficulties.
And this isn’t to mention the thousands of independent bricks and mortar businesses that have closed their doors this year without making national headlines.
While physical location businesses are shutting up shop at an alarming rate, however, online traders are flourishing.
Chancellor Philip Hammond is even reported to be considering a special ‘Amazon Tax’ to help level the playing field between online retailers and physical shops.
So, can bricks and mortar firms learn something from their digital rivals?
What WHSmith can learn from Amazon
The key to Amazon and eBay’s domination of online retail has always been their product and seller review systems.
Online reviews are user-generated quality signals that tell shoppers who to trust and where to spend their money.
One survey found that 93% of customers say that online reviews impact their purchasing decision.
People trust them too. More than eight in ten (84%) of people say that they trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. This is significantly higher than trust in TV ads and other direct adverts.
Bricks and mortar businesses can collect reviews on several websites, including Facebook, TripAdvisor and Yelp.
But Google holds one big advantage over other review sites, because positive reviews can help get your business in front of thousands of customers – where they are searching for them.
Breaking into Google’s local three pack
Smartphone penetration has been the biggest driver of change on the internet in a generation.
Google confirmed that the number of mobile searches passed the number of desktop searches for the first time in 2015. And the mobile gap has only got bigger since.
As more of us search the web using our smartphones, more and more customers expect to be furnished with local results.
The number of ‘near me’ searches has increased dramatically over the last five years – including an almost 50 point jump in the last six months.
To respond to the growth of mobile search, Google has introduced several changes based on location-specific search factors.
For lots of ‘local searches’ like ‘restaurants’ or ‘coffee near me,’ Google ranks results based on the searcher’s location and provides nearby results in a local three pack.
In Trafford Park, We Are Creation Digital appears as one of the top three results for the search term ‘Web designer near me’.
As well as the searcher’s location and the search term, Google uses almost 200 ranking factors to solve the searcher’s query and decide which businesses to show in this local three pack.
One ranking factor that is gathering importance is review signals.
A 2017 study of local search ranking factors found that of the 200 or so ranking factors, review signals were among the top five signals used.
Review signals, which can include things like the number of reviews and a business’s star rating, were not even included in the equivalent study in 2015.
This means that for competitive search terms, like ‘Curry restaurant Rusholme’ reviews could make all the difference for the businesses that appear in the top three local spots.
As you can see the three businesses that appear in the local pack have more than 1,000 reviews between them and a high proportion of good reviews.
Whether somebody is searching for where to eat lunch or what gym to join, ranking in local search is more important than ever before.
More positive reviews will get your business seen by more people on Google, where they are already searching for businesses like yours. Positive reviews will also make people more likely to visit your business and increase the foot traffic to your sites.
How to get more Google Reviews
More positive reviews can increase your foot traffic and encourage customers to spend more money with your bricks and mortar business.
But you shouldn’t just leave the collection of positive Google reviews up to chance. Here are some simple techniques that you can use to get more positive reviews.
Offer an excellent service
Ok, it sounds obvious. And we are sure it is something you are already doing. But offering a knock-out service really is the best way to help you collect more positive reviews.
An investigation by TrustPilot found that consumers are more inclined to leave a review when an experience strikes an emotional chord with them – positive or negative.
If they are left angry or frustrated by a bad experience, customers are far more likely to leave a negative review.
But if a customer has a really positive or memorable experience – if an employee has gone out of their way to accommodate or make a customer feel special – then they are more likely to leave a good review.
If positive reviews aren’t flowing in, or you are receiving a lot of negative feedback then investing in good customer service training for your employees could be a good place to start.
Ask customers for reviews
One of the most effective ways of getting more reviews is just to ask your customers for a positive review.
Here are some good times to ask a customer for a review:
- While chatting after a transaction
- When you give them a bill or invoice (you may be able to print a request on the bottom of your receipts)
- On social media
- After a phone call
- By email or SMS (if you have this information and you ask in a way that is GDPR compliant)
Cleanliness is next to godliness. And in certain industries it is even more important than that.
Most diners won’t return to a restaurant if they thought it was dirty or not up to their hygiene standards.
The top four online complaints about restaurants all relate to cleanliness. And for hotels, a study by P&G and Trivago found that bedroom cleanliness is the number one driver of online review ratings.
Remember to clean those bathrooms and put out some fresh flowers to show that your business still feels the love.
Optimise your Google My Business listing
Google My Business is where you control your business listing on Google Search, Google Maps and other places.
It’s an online hub for your bricks and mortar business and by optimising it, you make it easier for people to find your business and leave a review.
Make sure you complete all the information that Google is asking for including what type of business it is and your opening hours.
Adding your business’s name, address and phone number (NAP) is also crucial and some photos and videos can go a long way towards sprucing up your profile.
You can also add special posts to inform potential customers about special events and offers that you have coming up. Posts keep your Google My Business profile fully up to the minute.
Lots of businesses have stickers in the window indicating that they can be reviewed on websites like TripAdvisor and Google.
Some businesses are sent ‘review us on Google’ stickers when they verify or relocate on Google My Business. But not every business seems to receive one.
Engage with your reviewers
Google My Business also allows you to publicly respond to reviewers.
If you respond to reviews, this signals to other customers that you value their feedback and may prompt more people to leave reviews of their own.
A survey from Review Trackers found that 78% of consumers said that seeing management respond to online reviews makes them believe that the business cares more about them.
Make sure you craft a personal response to each review, taking account of what they say and thanking them for their visit.
If someone leaves a bad review, don’t publicly offer them money back or a discount on their next visit – as this might incentivise other people to leave negative feedback.
There are casual reviewers and less casual reviewers. Casual reviewers might leave a good review after a particularly good customer experience.
Other reviewers operate more as ‘professionals’ reviewing every meal, experience and shop. Whatever you think about these kinds of reviewers, having them come to your bricks and mortar business can be beneficial.
You could invite these reviewers to a special evening or event and really try to impress (because these reviewers won’t pull any punches).
It can be tricky to find these people but look for Local Guides who have reviewed a lot of similar businesses in your area.
Again, don’t try to buy reviewers off with freebies. This is against Google’s code of practice and you may not get back the response that you expect.
Reduce review friction
A lot of people want to leave a review, but some won’t have time.
One of the reasons why we think that Google is good for this is because many people already have accounts on Goole.
If someone doesn’t have an account, leaving a review can be more difficult. This is especially true on TripAdvisor.
You can make it easier for people to leave reviews by making your business as easy to find as possible for people. If you are posting or sending a link to someone, make sure you create a link to the ‘leave a review’ page.
If you really want to increase your Google reviews, you might want to think about creating a review funnel where you channel people to your review page.
A warning on fake reviews
If you want to increase your Google star rating quickly, it might be tempting to pay a third-party for reviews or offer customers an incentive to leave a positive review.
Google has strict policies about reviews on their website. The most relevant policies for businesses are:
- Don’t discourage or prohibit negative reviews or selectively solicit positive reviews from customers.
- Don’t offer or accept money in exchange for reviews (this can include special discounts or coupons).
- Don’t solicit reviews from customers in bulk.
If Google finds out that you have broken any of these rules, they can penalise you by deleting all of the reviews on your business.
If you notice a company is breaking any of these rules, you can report them on the Google My Business Advertiser Community forum.
Please also note that if you pay customers or a third-party to leave dishonest reviews that you are breaking the law and could be liable to civil or criminal action.