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Guest Blogger

By Peter Muhlmann, Founder and CEO at Trustpilot

There’s a growing scepticism towards brands, news outlets, and public bodies. People are questioning what they had previously accepted as the truth from these sources. But is there a solution to trust decaying further?  I believe there is.

Businesses including my own must strive for greater transparency, especially towards those who can make or break success – our customers. This pursuit for transparency isn’t just about providing access to information, but making it authentic, relevant, easy to understand and useful.

Our research into the about 100 million reviews on our platform plus additional third party research we’ve done paints a clear picture. Consumers don’t expect companies to be perfect, so presenting yourself as such is counterproductive. They want to know more about why you do what you do, that you give them an authentic voice and how you engage with them when things go wrong.

The internet has proven to be a place where commerce can thrive, making it easy to connect and sell to consumers with relative ease. On one hand, it has become a place where people’s voices can be heard – calling out businesses and practices that aren’t authentic and genuine. Whether it’s unethical factory conditions or brands who have misjudged a movement in socio-political upheaval, it’s clear that the internet is not afraid to highlight it.

On the other hand, the internet itself has created a world which can be murky at best. You only have to look at the rise of dropshipping; where retailers don’t keep products in stock, but instead purchase them from third parties and then directly ship to the customer. The internet has fueled this practice and also the manipulation associated with it – and consumers remain unaware until, in some instances, it’s too late.

Honesty is the best policy

Retailers, especially online, must show their brand “does what it says on the tin” and is reliable, authentic, ethical and cares about its customers, then this will only help build trust in their brand. Fail to do these things and they’ll quickly become subject to “cancel culture”; almost half of consumers (42%) do not trust brands’ advertising because of big business scandals.

Part of what is happening on the internet is also being seen in the reviews space. When it comes to how brands use reviews across the internet, the vast majority of businesses try to build a relationship with their customers and use feedback to improve upon their products and services, but there is still a minority who try to sway opinion in their favour by cutting corners behind closed doors -perhaps by using the review systems that allow them to selectively invite and censor the detract detractors, or by trying to manipulate consumer opinion through fake positive reviews.

The problem is, these manipulated reviews are casting a shadow of distrust across the whole review space. And the truth is consumers will go the extra mile to do their own research so a fake review does nothing but harm. As reviews are the second most trusted source of consumer information (following family and friends), this is potentially a huge price to pay.

An accessible source of truth

There will inevitably be uncontrollable fake information dwelling in corners of the internet. To ensure it doesn’t damage reputation and consumer trust, businesses should be proactive and outline an accessible source of truth. They should work with social media platforms, governments and other organisations to develop solutions.

You may be fearful in showcasing the bad and ugly, but customers will be suspicious if every review is five stars; especially when 47% are already worried about retailers manipulating their image through fake reviews, and 40% believing brands are doing this by deleting reviews. This is more likely to stop a consumer from purchasing than one bad review.

A bad review isn’t the end – it’s an opportunity

Reviews have a lot of influence over purchasing decisions, especially in competitive markets. 90% of consumers rely on reviews before making purchase decisions and the average UK consumer spends £433 each year based on online reviews. However, what if you do receive a bad review?

There are smarter and more honest ways of dealing with negativity instead of hiding the information. The best approach is to acknowledge the feedback and communicate directly with shoppers; show concern, apologise, and use their thoughts to improve. A complaint gives retailers one last window of opportunity to deliver a good customer experience.

The main focus should be on repairing damaged relationships with the consumer by making them feel valued. Six-in-ten consumers (60%) go as far to say they’d stop using a platform if they knew that they were censoring reviews; that’s a huge slice of revenue to give up for any organisation. And if you can connect with consumers in the open environment of the internet, there’s a chance it will be seen by other potential customers.

Honesty is the best policy

To be trustworthy, retail brands should think about how they are using reviews and whether the mechanisms and platforms they are using provide customers with the transparent insights they want to see. Can your customers see how their opinion is being published and used, how their experience is being dealt with? Are you filtering and moderating reviews in a way that doesn’t show the true picture of your business? Is there a robust and fair way to report reviews that appear to be fake or disingenuous?

Over the past year, Trustpilot removed a million fake reviews. To stay transparent, we had to put public consumer warnings on 489 company profiles. We also introduced new guidelines and updated reporting tools to enable companies to encourage external reviews and report fake reviews.

By being honest, customers are much more likely to know they can get the whole picture, not just what brands want them to see.

You may feel vulnerable putting the bad aspects of your brand on full display – it’s human nature. But the simple fact is, without clear truth, consumers will lose confidence in the information you give them. They’ll call you out for any misinformation or falsification, and they will not buy from you.

So, retailers, be honest, be transparent, and share the real insight into your business. This is what will build trust and provide you with a brand that consumers love and buy from.

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