Close Up Of Woman Shopping For Clothes Online Using Mobile Phone App

When the COVID-19 pandemic caused global shutdowns in March, the effect that it would have on the upcoming holiday shopping season was probably the last thing on anybody’s mind. But with just a blink of an eye, the holiday season is upon us, and COVID-19 is still very much part of our everyday lives. The pandemic forced a rapid pivot in the retail world during slower shopping seasons, which left us wondering just how big of an impact it would make on this year’s holiday shopping season — arguably, the peak season for retail.

We surveyed more than 5,000 consumers in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K., France, Germany and Australia to better understand how consumers will be shopping with COVID-19 still top of mind. With 82 percent of shoppers still planning to buy holiday gifts and 61 percent of shoppers planning to spend the same amount they did last year, consumers seem eager to spread some holiday gift-giving cheer.

More than half (62 percent) of U.S. consumers are shopping online more than they did pre-COVID-19. This is reflected in our client network of more than 6,200 brand and retailer sites, as each month of shelter-in-place has seen significant growth in page views and order count. These numbers are likely to continue, or even increase as shoppers start hunting for gifts.

When it comes to holiday shopping, 56 percent of shoppers say this year they prefer to shop on brand and retailer sites with home delivery options, increasing from 45 percent in 2019. According to a survey we conducted with 4,300 global members of our Influenster community, most shoppers surveyed shared the leading reasons online shopping is preferred was “to avoid crowds to stay safe” and “convenience.” Also, almost one-third of respondents from the same survey indicated that shopping online gave them access to items that storefronts currently don’t carry.

And when deciding between two gift options, shoppers report that price is the most critical decision factor (34 percent), followed by product reviews (26 percent). Even for those who choose to shop at a brick-and-mortar store, reviews have a big impact. Almost half of the respondents indicated that they “always” go online to read product reviews when purchasing products in-store, with only 1 percent never looking at reviews, according to our Influenster community survey. Because of this, brands and retailers need to ensure that their website is full of fresh, authentic reviews to go along with their holiday sales.

I say “fresh” because how recently a review was left on your website very much affects how much the content of that review influences a consumer’s decision to buy your product. According to a survey we did of more than 5,000 consumers from the U.S., Canada, the U.K., France and Germany, the vast majority (85 percent) of consumers look at how recently a review was written when reading product reviews to inform their purchase decision. In fact, only 4 percent of global consumers never check the date a review was written.

Almost half (44 percent) think the date when reviews were written is either important or very important in their purchase decision. If a product has no recent reviews, 47 percent of consumers say that is an indication that the product is unpopular. So it’s not just what a reviewer said…it’s also when they said it. Less than half (47 percent) of consumers think product reviews older than three months are still relevant, and only 25 percent of shoppers feel that a review retains its value after 12 months.

Simply put, the more recent a product’s reviews, the more likely consumers are to buy it. More than half (55 percent) of consumers would rather purchase a product with fewer reviews written in the past three months over a product with more reviews written over a year ago. A vast majority (81 percent) of consumers think that review recency is equal to or more important than the number of reviews a product has.

There are a variety of ways through which you can source fresh reviews in time for holiday shopping. Simply sending an email inviting consumers to review a product they’ve already purchased, referred to as a post-interaction email, is one of the best ways to get more reviews. Sending samples of your product to loyal customers in return for an honest review is always a great choice (who doesn’t love freebies?!). Social media is the number one place for brands to engage with their customers, so asking your customers there is sure to gain a hefty return, too.

And finally, doing something as simple as creating a call-to-action box on your website’s homepage or slipping an insert in your product’s packaging with details about how to leave a review are surefire ways to get people’s attention.

Regardless of how you get them, trustworthy, recent reviews are absolutely critical this holiday season for brands and retailers to succeed in a holiday season that is sure to occur online more than ever before. When shoppers cannot see, feel, or try out your product for themselves in person, the credible voice of your customers advocating for your brand and your product is how you can stand out on the seemingly infinite digital shelf.

Joe Rohrlich is chief revenue officer at Bazaarvoice.

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