The old saying is that the customer is always right.

It’s especially relevant when it comes to marketing and growing your online store. Why? Because referrals and reviews are highly effective tools for building trust with prospects and customers.

Shoppers want to know they’re making the right decision when deciding what to buy and where to buy it from. Seeing what other customers have experienced helps them decide.

In this article, we’re exploring how retailers like you can use the power of referrals and reviews to boost the reach and popularity of your brand.

What is referral marketing?

Referral marketing is basically using word of mouth to promote the benefits of your products and your online store.

This is one of the oldest forms of marketing there is. One person tells another the best shop to buy a specific product from, and who to ask for to get the best service. It personalizes the whole process and adds a crucial element of trust to it.

Referrals in online shopping work in the same way.

Statistics support the effectiveness of word of mouth marketing:

  • 92% of customers will trust referrals from someone they know

  • Consumers are four times more likely to buy if referred by a friend

  • Your retention rate is 37% higher with referred customers

  • Word of mouth impacts the buying decisions of 54% of consumers.

Referrals supply the trust that many consumers think is missing from online advertising. But how can you use them as a practical marketing tool for your online store?

You need to create a referral marketing programme.

How to create a referral marketing programme

If you’re going to maximise the marketing potential of referrals you need to approach this strategically.

  • One example is the two-way discount. Here you offer an incentive to both the customer doing the referring and the new customer they bring you. You can engineer this using a discount code, which the customers concerned can then apply when buying from you.

  • Another method is to offer a set amount of credit to customers every time they get someone else to register as an online customer using a special customer referral code.

To launch a referral marketing program you should first choose your incentive, such as a discount, free gift or accumulated points.

Then it’s a case of marketing it, using channels such as social media, marketing emails, and landing pages.

Check with your ecommerce platform for details of plugins and other support for incorporating a referral marketing programme in your online store.

What’s the value of online reviews?

It comes down to this: the proof’s in the pudding. If a prospective customer is weighing up who to buy from, a clear differentiator is what other people are saying about their shopping experience.

Figures show that online reviews can have a dramatic effect on your fortunes:

  • 90% of customers will read online reviews to decide whether to buy

  • 78% of people trust online reviews

  • 72% of consumers won’t buy anything until they read online reviews

  • Online reviews can boost conversion rates by 270%.

The online review is a key touchpoint in the customer journey. Most online shoppers will read a review early on in the buying process, and 50% of millennials say they always read reviews by customers.

Reviews can also boost your website’s SEO. They’re likely to contain keywords relevant to your business, and Google has consistently shown that it values reviews in its indexing.

Build reviews into the online shopping experience

The obvious way to maximise the potential of reviews as a marketing tool is to display them on your ecommerce website.

Placing them on your product pages enables customers to see a star rating against a specific product.

You can also include reviews in a testimonials section on your website. However, the visitor’s perception here may be that you’re only displaying selective (and positive) customer testimonials.

This brings us to another important issue. Your reviews need to be, and to appear, authentic. A sure-fire way of sabotaging any trust you’ve been busy building is to post fake reviews on your site.

You can also display reviews via social media, linking posts back to your website.

Encourage customers to leave reviews

The simplest way to encourage customers to leave reviews is to ask them. You can automate this with a post-purchase email process.

You might also consider offering some sort of incentive, such as a discount code.

Keep the review process simple, so they can easily and quickly include a star rating and a few sentences.

It’s not just about the product

The customer’s shopping experience is hugely important and will influence their purchasing decisions. Therefore, you should encourage reviews that highlight a positive customer experience and the ease of the customer journey.

If someone buys from you but has an unsatisfactory experience, then you lose the legacy benefit of this successful sale. They’re unlikely to return, and they may even leave a negative review.

Can negative reviews ever be helpful?

It may surprise you, but the answer’s yes. Trustworthy reviews can have a greater influence on online purchasing than recommendations from friends and family.

Bad reviews are as important as good reviews in establishing trustworthiness. They give consumers a more balanced picture and therefore reinforce a sense of authenticity.

Where you receive constructive feedback in a review, you can respond to it positively and use this response to show how you manage your customer service.

It's not just constructive feedback you should respond to — even if you get an irrational review, staying calm and professional is important. Prospective customers are more likely to judge your brand by how you react to negative feedback than the negative feedback itself.

Put the customer at the heart of your online store

When you use referrals and reviews to put the customer at the centre of your marketing, it helps you create a more credible online shopping brand.

The authentic customer voice is a powerful tool to help you build your online store. Make sure you give it the attention it deserves.

For more useful insights into online trading and running an ecommerce business, follow Aero on LinkedIn.

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