SBS S5 E5
April 9, 2021

[Step by Step] Why Don’t Customers Trust a Five Star Review?

A perfect rating isn’t perfect. Who knew? Validation on the web has been undermined by farms and bots, and trust is harder to build than ever before. Technology can solve for some of the challenges in building trust with your customers. In this episode we dive into the the complexity of building trust, and the paradox of how running an Amazon Prime operation can help you get better at delivering in DTC. Listen now!

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this episode sponsored by

Brian: [00:00:37] Hello and welcome to Step by Step, a podcast by FutureCommerce presented by Route. I'm Brian.

Phillip: [00:00:43] And I'm Phillip. And this is Season 5 of Step by Step. And you're listening to Episode 5 of 5. We're at the end. Hey, don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened. If you're right here at the end and this is the first episode you're listening to in this season, go back and start at the very beginning. It's the best way to experience Step by Step. These episodes build on each other, and we're coming right to the end of what I think is the most important season of Step by Step that we have ever done, which is we're answering the question, how can brands compete with Amazon? Or Brian, how do brands compete with the Amazon affect?

Brian: [00:01:22] Yeah, I don't think they really need to compete with Amazon necessarily. I mean, unless your name is a Walmart or Target or, you know, I mean, a few others out there potentially...

Phillip: [00:01:31] Facebook. Google.

Brian: [00:01:31] I know. Keep going. Exactly. Then you aren't really competing with Amazon. You're competing with the expectations of customers that use Amazon because pretty much everyone in America does. They're all using Amazon. They're used to Prime. They're used to feeling confident and safe and secure, and happy about purchases...

Phillip: [00:01:57] Warm and fuzzy.

Brian: [00:01:57] When they buy on Amazon, it just works.

Phillip: [00:02:00] Yeah. And but you know what? Like that experience is possible for your brand as well. Even if, and I don't want to throw any shade, but even if you literally sell dirt online, like our next guest...

Brian: [00:02:18] Ohhh.

Phillip: [00:02:18] You can have an incredible Amazon like experience. And there was something I learned in this particular episode, Brian, which is... And by the way, like all props, all props to Ryan Garrow, who's the Owner of Joyful Dirt. He's going to talk a little bit about... And this is the thing I learned. He's going to talk about how being an Amazon seller and doing self fulfilled Prime made him a better business operator and made his direct to consumer business better. Those two things actually went hand in hand for his business. And it's incredible. Like the accountability that Amazon puts on you as a seller to deliver at a high level actually makes all other experiences that you have off of Amazon better for your customer. It's just true.

Brian: [00:03:05] The affect that Amazon has on you as a business is tangible. And that's interesting and exciting. And I can't wait to hear more about this as we get into the episode.

Phillip: [00:03:16] Yeah. So this actual episode, the question we're going to answer is why don't customers trust a five star review? And we're going to talk about the concept of validation and ratings and reviews and the difference between product reviews and site reviews. And there's so much really to unpack here. I can't wait for you to hear it. Let's not wait any longer. That's your cue, Brian. {laughter}

Brian: [00:03:40] Welcome to Brian Garrow, Owner of Joyful Dirt, and Eric Smith, VP of Business Development and Partnerships at Shopper Approved.

Phillip: [00:03:56] We are back now for our is this the fifth season, Brian?

Brian: [00:04:01] Fifth season.

Phillip: [00:04:02] Fifth season of Step by Step, where we take you from zero to hero for all things that you need to know about a particular topic. This season, we are covering the topic of how to position your business to compete with the expectations that the customers have of you that only Amazon can really deliver on. Right? Questionmark. Well, that's the answer that we're seeking to find here this season. And to do that, we are welcoming two guests here today. From Shopper Approved, welcome to the show, Eric Smith, who is the VP of Business Development and Partnerships. Welcome, Eric.

Eric: [00:04:36] Thanks so much. I'm really excited to be here, guys.

Phillip: [00:04:38] And glad to have you. And maybe we can get you to jam out on the guitar that's behind you that nobody can see at this moment here before the end of the show. Also, Ryan Garrow, the Director of Partnerships at Logical Position and Owner of the brand Joyful Dirt. Say hello, Ryan.

Ryan: [00:04:55] Hi. Glad to be here.

Phillip: [00:04:56] Hey. Yeah, glad to have you. Brian, we are kind of diving into this topic. And this has been such an amazing series already. Just for our listeners sake, Brian, what are some things we can expect to hear about here today?

Brian: [00:05:14] Yeah, we're going to hear a really interesting take. Today we're going to be really focusing in on the importance of validation and what that means regarding what Amazon has done and how it's become sort of the de facto place for people to get validation about what they're going to buy on the Internet or have they? And that's the question that we're going to be diving in to today. So before we kind of get to validation specifically, I think it'd be really interesting to talk about just this idea of competing with Amazon or not competing with Amazon and hear from each of you, Eric and Ryan, on your take of what that actually means right now in 2021. So, Eric, why don't we start with you?

Eric: [00:06:06] You'd be surprised how many merchants we work with that just don't think they can necessarily, I guess, "compete" with Amazon. When we talk about how can we compete with Amazon? I think we can all agree that there's just not a chance. You can do some really cool things regards to pricing and shipping. But at the end of the day, it's always going to be a race to the bottom in regards to pricing. At the end of the day, you're probably not going to have all the tools necessary to deliver someone's package within hours. And so, in my opinion, we talk about kind of this idea of competing with Amazon. Really what we're saying is what are you doing to coexist in their world? Because we kind just have to deal with it.

Phillip: [00:06:51] And I'm sure we'll get into the the mechanics of that specifically about how you deliver on that at Shopper Approved and and how you're helping merchants of all kinds of sizes live up to that expectation. Ryan, tell us a little bit about yourself and your experience so far in this ecosystem, both at Logical Position and a Joyful Dirt and how you're trying to live up to those customer expectations every day.

Ryan: [00:07:21] Yeah, I've been in the digital marketing game for about 12 years, which is pretty much dead in eCommerce years. {laughter} That's ancient. There aren't many people have been around as long as we have. And through that time, I've seen a pretty crazy evolution with how merchants look at Amazon. Before initially it was like exciting, great. Another marketplace. And there's like, oh, my gosh, Amazon crushed me and a lot of fear. And then I'm seeing a lot of companies understanding, like there's some massive benefits and there's some things to be careful of. And I think it's also forcing a lot of businesses to reevaluate who they are and really who Amazon is. And so I look at Amazon as a retailer, for my brands. They are not a partner. They are not a a marketplace as much as they are a vessel to get my product into the world. And the more people to get my product, ideally, they start wanting to deepen their relationship with me through that experience of my product, regardless of Amazon, and then saying, OK, how do I connect deeper with this brand, and what can I do? And how can I protect myself as a brand on Amazon, but also leverage the power of that platform? Because it is you can't deny Amazon's power. It's massive. And if you want to fight it and there's some eCommerce people that want to slay the dragon or take down Amazon or fight it. I just... That's a battle that is probably more around at the Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook level rather than I'm a brand trying to connect direct to consumer. And I don't want to take on Amazon. I've got a lot of other things that I'd like to take on them than Amazon. And so it's understanding it and really working it to see how your brain is going to play in Amazon and off Amazon.

Brian: [00:09:24] And that off Amazon component, I think is really interesting as well. I think it would be really interesting to hear your view on like how much of your business should be on Amazon versus off Amazon. And why you need to have an off Amazon strategy as much as Amazon strategy or not.

Phillip: [00:09:42] Well, can can I also ask while you're answering Brian's two part question to add a third part of... {laughter}

Brian: [00:09:48] Yes, yes.

Phillip: [00:09:49] What is what is Joyful Dirt?

Ryan: [00:09:53] Got it. OK, let's start there, because that kind of helps formulate how I see Amazon. So Joyful Dirt is an organic fertilizer and plant food that we've created blends for multiple types of plants because every plant needs different nutrients. And we've accidentally done some things right. And then we've also failed our way to success in some other areas. Amazon being one of them. And so at Logical Position, we'd been partnered with Google for 12 years and Google has always known Amazon as a threat to their ad network and their ad revenue. And so it was always planted in my head that Amazon is scary. They just want to take all of the brands business for their own. And so that was just the back of my head from all my time at Google and Microsoft. And then we saw this ad platform coming up on Amazon, at Logical Position, and we're one of their top partners now really like it. But as we started getting into it, we're like, OK, we can't just fear it and we have to go in and understand it. So we're like, all right, fine, I'll be the guinea pig. We'll put Joyful Dirt on there. We'll start spending money and just see what's going on. And because I was starting off in a place of fear, I was like, OK, they're going to get one SKU and I'm going keep other SKUs on the site and we're going to see what volume is there, because I really didn't think there was going to be a lot of plant food volume on Amazon. I was wrong. Amazon has a massive amount of volume. And so we went from just starting off our first month was in, I think March of '19. We started off seller fulfilled, which is brutal as a small business. Like that is not fun. If you can go FBA, just go FBA. We did and I think we did five thousand our first month on Amazon and FBA. Like, wow, this is really good. We were just starting. It's a side business for us, the three owners. And then 2020 hit and everybody wants a plant baby, and plants took off. Everyone wants to grow food, do all these things. And so we've exploded on Amazon and we've really grown the market. But I think this month we'll do over a hundred thousand Amazon. We spend a lot and I'm hyper aggressive because I look at Amazon again, kind of as a retailer where I don't own the customer. That's an Amazon customer. They're not going to give me the email address, let me nurture them. They're going to try to do certain things, but at the end of the day, Amazon could care less about customer buys my product again. And in fact, there may be other relationships they have with fertilizer that make them more money and they're more incentivized to push that product to their customers, which is fine. Again, it's an Amazon customer. It's not mine. And I've never gone in with that viewpoint. I think that's where a lot of brands struggle in trying to see like they bought my product. That's my customer. You can't go to Nordstrom and tell them to give you the customer data. That's a Nordstrom customer. And that's where I think it's an on Amazon strategy. You want to protect your pricing, which is why I personally don't... I've seen pricing struggles on Vendor Central, where you sell direct to the Amazon and Amazon just needs to move product and at all costs, we may drop the price, sorry, but we need to move inventory. And if your product isn't selling, we're dumping it. And so there is some risk there to a brand. So that's my on Amazon is control your brand. Get a brand registered. Make sure you have a trademark because there's cool ad sets available there. But then off Amazon is really where your brand is going to live and because that's where you can create your identity. There's some limitations on a brand page on Amazon of what you can do or can't do. But again, that's where I keep some product back from Amazon. Could I sell a bunch more by having all my product on Amazon? Yes, but again, it's not my customer. And so finding opportunities to get them like, OK, for example, our succulent blend is not on Amazon. It's a really popular blend. A lot of people like it. It works phenomenally. But if we go to Amazon with it, it takes back one of our big SKUs that is really moving the market off site. And we're working on loyalty right now to see how we get people to buy from Amazon or a retailer to come to our site and register that product. And for me, I told the loyalty company because they were worried, "Well, how are you going to prove that they bought it?" I was like, I don't care. Have them upload a picture of their dog. All I want is an email. I want to be able to nurture these guys. It doesn't matter to me. I'll just give them the points. But every brand's going to be a little bit different as far as your on and off Amazon, also, depending on what kind of products you have and can you do FBA effective way, depending on the size of your product and the volume you're churning?

Brian: [00:14:36] It's really interesting. Your off Amazon's strategy is something that I want to hone in on for a second here, because Amazon, you know, people that are purchasing on Amazon expect a certain experience on Amazon. And it's really come to set expectations. And we call this the Amazon affect, and it's been talked about quite a bit. But what I think is is really interesting is in the past, it's been almost impossible to keep up with the Amazon affect. And now we're starting to see opportunity, tool set, and reason to say, oh, actually providing the experience that's at a quality level that potentially Amazon is providing to their customers, that's something that's potentially within our grasp because of the ecosystem that's out there. And so as you've seen this affect, how have customers coming from Amazon channel, or actually really all of customers in America, in the US, like they all, you know, coming over have some expectations about how purchasing is going to work. How have you seen this sort of change your customers mindset, if at all? Or how are you getting around this or how are you addressing this?

Ryan: [00:15:57] So number one, I recommend every company has to find a way for free shipping. Just out of principle. I hate paying for shipping. Like I know it's a cost. I'm a business owner. But if I see it, I'm just like nails on a chalkboard. I'm going to immediately go to Amazon and try to see if I can get free shipping because I'm Prime because I just hate paying for shipping. And even in the digital marketing world, we've seen still to date after doing this for 12 years, free shipping is still one of the best call outs in ad text. Still. I can't believe this is still a good call out, but it is. And so finding ways to that free shipping, finding a way for a very simple checkout. Amazon has more data than any eCommerce company on the planet, period. And they have refined their checkout process to the Nth Degree. Most of the time I tell companies, don't look at what your competitors are doing. They're probably dumb. You don't know why they made that decision. When you look at Amazon, we know they have a lot of data science behind it. And so I at least say test some of the things you see there. But I personally like saying, all right, I'm going to go with the SaaS platform eCommerce site, because I don't want to worry about my site going down, and I want it simple. So I like Shopify and BigCommerce. Magento can be great, but you can do everything, but it also is difficult because you can do everything. Like just, in my world, keep it simple. There are certain brands that need Magento and that's great, but keep it simple and then you want... That's one of the ways Shopper Approved is used because the volume of reviews. Like that social proof that comes innate on Amazon, Shopper Approved does it. I mean and again, I've been in this a long time. I've researched every possible review company out there. There's a reason I like Shopper Approved. The sheer volume of reviews they can capture help because I mean, Amazon is I've got three thousand reviews on one of my SKUs on Amazon within a year and a half, which is great, but that's just because of Amazon volume. And I haven't cash out of my sight yet. So now I can build it up and get those reviews stars on my digital marketing, which increases my click through rate, which increases my traffic, which then I mean everything goes up. But if you're not completing that circle and touching every point there on your brand off of Amazon, even one spoke of that wheel missing could cause pretty big issues within the space.

Phillip: [00:18:21] I think that's a very natural transition for us to talk about. There's this really, there's a challenge around discovery in that Amazon has sort of a built in discovery engine. But we all understand the importance of having an owned channel right where you have that first party relationship with the customer. So there's a bunch of things you have to do extraordinarily well. Reviews and validation being one of those. Eric, just give us a sense of what does that look like for a brand just starting out? And what's the goal for a brand who's building that owned channel, say, on their own eCommerce? What can they do? And how can Shopper Approved help them get to a sort of a critical mass of validation? Because I think that's what they're all looking for when they come to a site making sure that the purchase that they make is going to get to them and that they're going to be pleased with the purchase after it arrives.

Eric: [00:19:17] Well, it's a really good question. And the space that Shopper Approved lives in is that SMB kind of low mid-market. And so the majority of businesses that we're working with and that I'm talking to directly are businesses that are coming to us saying, OK, I have fifteen to twenty five competitors in my space that are selling something similar. And I've heard that through ratings and reviews, I can get some of that traffic my way. But how is that possible? And I think we all have to remember, is the power of perceived popularity. Like that is such a real thing. And if we look at kind of just keeping focus here a little bit in this idea of living in Amazon's world. If about 50 percent of online shoppers start their shopping on Amazon, that means that there's another 50 percent that aren't starting their shopping on Amazon. That's a pretty big chunk of online shoppers still. Right? So where are they starting their shopping? Well, it's probably social media channels. It's probably Google, including even YouTube. And so there's still a big opportunity for online shoppers to stand out in a space outside of Amazon. But even if the 50 percent that starts on Amazon, there's a good chance that it's someone at their kid's soccer game, they're shopping on Amazon, but they're like just while they're watching their kid kick around a ball, they're like, well, I'm going to check out other prices somewhere else. So there's a good chance that while those 50 percent of shoppers start Amazon, they don't end up on Amazon. So what I would say to an SMB or to a mid-market company, that's just wondering, like what can I do to increase that perceived popularity? It would be first, you've got to be thinking about what separates your brand from everyone else. Because if I'm Joyful Dirt, if I'm Ryan, I want to know at the end of the day if there is going to be 10 other types of Joyful Dirts out there, what's going to separate me from everyone else? And oftentimes that comes down to leveraging your brand. And people nowadays, online shoppers, all of us probably on this podcast included, we are shopping daily online, Amazon and off Amazon, and sometimes we're not even sure what brand we're making this purchase on. Like what store? We just know they have good shipping. They have a good price, their products seem popular. And we're just going to make our purchase. And so what we're seeing is brand loyalty is almost at a low right now in eCommerce. Just because everyone shopping online, everyone wants to go shipping, everyone wants to get prices. Everyone wants a quality product. And a lot of that can come down to that as a brand, are you showing your audience that you're worth dealing with? Have you built up a line of trust? Do you have people that are raving about how you solved a problem when they had a problem? Or Are people raving about how you were able to get them a coupon code that maybe they were promised? They couldn't use it, but you were able to kind of make it work for them. These types of things come down to the customer experience that people experience with that specific brand. And that's something that Amazon just can't give you. Right? So if you're a small SMB or a low mid-market, you've got to be thinking to yourself, how are you giving your shoppers an experience Amazon can't provide and still live in Amazon's world? And then when it comes to not just your brand and leveraging your brand, it's got to come down to what are you doing from a product standpoint? And that's a whole other world and beast because so many people are searching products versus brands. And so going back to this idea of 50 percent or more of online shoppers are starting their shopping maybe outside of Amazon. If they go to Google, if they go to social media, they're looking for a product, what's the story that the world is telling the audience? Are they seeing stars in your ads to show your reviews for those products? Are they seeing product stars in organic search listings? And all of that draws awareness and attention. Again, perceived popularity  to drive people to your store. And now once they're on your store, they can start to see that social proof of action. It's once you start to really connect the dots, it's exciting to see these small business owners know that they can stand a chance and go toe to toe with some big players out there because of the power of that kind of popularity that comes with ratings and reviews.

Phillip: [00:23:46] And you own that experience, right? So you think about the effort and the improvement that you put in on sort of a daily basis, something that we have definitely heard a lot about on this show over the years. Ryan, to your point, is sort of like taking good advice from your partners to be able to build out an experiential channel that doesn't have others competing for the same customer. You've already got them on the site. You've already done the hard work to bring them to your site. Now, you really just have to provide the value of closing, closing the deal by removing objections. And other things we've talked about on this series is how do you provide the promise of hassle free returns? How do you provide the promise of excellent proactive service and self guided shopping and decision making? Those are all things that I think help close the deal, but those are all insular and sort of first person perspective decision making about like, well, do I really want to buy this product? This is the only thing that we're talking about here, validation, reviews, is social proof. It's the only thing wherein someone else's voice can support the decision making process. And I think that's what makes this such a critical portion to building out any modern direct to consumer channel is this is your only opportunity to have other people's voices come alongside and validate the things that you're saying, the claims that you're making about your brand? Not only is it worth the investment, but it's something that I think is often under invested in.

Eric: [00:25:38] And actually just to kind of piggyback on that. So kind of two things... When Ryan is saying, like the amount of reviews matter, that is one hundred percent true, because if you take the story that Amazon is telling an Amazon shopper, you're going to look at a product, you're going to see these awesome product descriptions, you're going to see reviews, you're going to see the whole Amazon choice, all of that. And that's great for those that are shopping on Amazon. But how do you provide a similar experience off Amazon? And so for a company like a Joyful Dirt or any other small or medium sized business, that volume of reviews, which is something that Shopper Approved has been doing the best at for the last more than a decade now is when we display those reviews in search, on social media, on your website, we're not just saying, hey, we have some social proof. Check this out. We're saying we have the most social proof that you can get for your brand and for what you're doing. And you should be one that people need to pay attention to. And it's because of that sheer volume. And really what you're talking about, Brian, in our world, in the world that I live in... And again, going back to this Amazon affect that you bring up, is nowadays customers demand and it just it's just how it is, customers are demanding that as many friction points as possible be removed from that buying experience. And one of those friction points, especially for an SMB or mid-market company, is the social aspect of it. It's one thing to read product descriptions. It's another thing to see a review from a verified buyer that said, this is why I love this product or this is why I love this brand or this is why I didn't love this brand or didn't love this product. But this is what the business did to help me, or this what the business did to, like, take care of my concern and make sure that I was a happy customer. All of that plays into the story of social proof. And so if we're looking at [00:27:33]... For all of you business owners out there that are listening to this and going like, "Well, how can I gain the trust of my shoppers?" "How do I give a good experience?" "How do I get people to come to me and not go everywhere else?" It's got to be that social proof. Let your customers tell that story for you. And that's going to remove more friction points than you could even possibly imagine. [00:27:52]

Ryan: [00:27:54] I think if we also look at product discovery, which is a key component of your reviews. Joyful Dirt is a good example because I have like five SKUs and so I don't have the product selection of an Amazon. And so people are discovering my product on Google where there's a vast selection. And so that social proof of those review stars, get traffic to my site from Google's version of Amazon. So I'm like I kind of see Google shopping as the same thing as Amazon, even though you buy on the site. That social proof comes from seeing the stars on Google. And so if you're not using, like an approved aggregator with those stars for your site or going to Google, you're not actually getting as much of the value because once they're to your site, they've already chosen your product from shopping. So there's a degree of trust. And then getting there is like, that's nice. But if you don't have the reviews on Google, it's going to be difficult to get that traffic in the sea of options, especially if you're competing against a big brand. And so all the SMBs or companies outside of that, like I compete with Scotts Miracle-Gro, a lot of great products, but they also have a market cap valuation like 12 billion dollars. I'm like, OK, well, I have to compete head to head to that and I have to take every possible advantage I can to try to do that. And I think I'm a better marketer. So that has helped me. But without other pieces of the pie coming together, there's no way to compete against something of that magnitude. And most small businesses are competing against somebody much bigger than them.

Brian: [00:31:56] We talked about Amazon and sort of validation. I think one of the struggles that people have come up against with Amazon and also with Google shopping is just the sheer volume of products out there. It's grown significantly. And a lot of brands that you haven't heard of before. And, you know, oftentimes you see consumers are looking for something other than just the standard big, you know, big cap company's, products. They want to do something that's more sustainable, that's supporting a small business, that's going to potentially be a lot better than the large players' products. But it's really hard to cut through the noise because there's also a lot of like really, you know, bad products out there, too. And so [00:32:50] being able to have those reviews sort of helps differentiate you. And especially because now I feel like we used to go offsite, off of an owned experience to Amazon to go look at product reviews. Now, I feel like we're on Amazon, it's hard to kind of cut through the noise of Amazon reviews and Amazon products, we're going off Amazon to go research a company and find out if we feel like it's legit or not, because Amazon has struggled to sort of provide us with that toolset that we need to determine if it's something that we do want to buy. There's too much noise. [00:33:34] And so I find myself now, you know, researching products outside of Amazon to make sure that I feel comfortable buying them before I actually buy them on Amazon, which may lead me to make a purchase directly on the owned channel, especially if there's validation on that channel. If it provides me with an experience that feels like they're investing in it, it feels like the customers are engaged. It feels like there's validation, that this is a comfortable place to purchase. It's safe. It's going to be a good experience all the way through. And I actually do even go read those reviews. And so the volume is good. The specificity is also really good. And I think, Eric, to your point, reading how a brand responded to things is a really big part of that as well. I'm sorry, I've been rambling on now.

Phillip: [00:34:33] No. That was a soliloquy of his passion for online research. I'm the opposite. I am an impulse shopper. I'm just like, got, buy, dang. Oh, shoot. Did I just make a mistake. Let me go read the reviews. {laughter} I'm a completely different shopper, Brian Lange.

Ryan: [00:34:53] Getting into the Amazon ecosystem more and more, you start realizing how easy it is to get fake reviews on Amazon. That's why people are getting fake stuff from China that automatically be reviewed. Something like I don't know what this is. There's actually Facebook and Reddit groups about getting product reviews and Amazon still has to be able to crack down on these things. But that's where I like buying from the brand. You can see on Amazon, if it's a brand, great, I can go to the brand page and see it. But then I can also see what else they have. Oh, I can go to the brand website. Like we'll have people in their Shopper Approved reviews actually tell me that, hey, I started buying you on Amazon, but I wanted to buy direct from the brand. And they started buying from my site. I mean there's so much opportunity to leverage Amazon for growing a brand even when it's your offsite stuff. Long term. I do think that Amazon has forced a lot of small businesses to start taking a long term approach. Because you've mentioned, I think, Phillip, about the easy returns and how much of a pain that is to do that as a small business a lot of times. Like if you're selling shoes, you have to compete with Zappos, which is owned by Amazon. That is, if you're trying to... Zappos lost money, they probably still lose money because they're buying market share. So you as a small business have to understand that you might not be making money on that order now, but providing the seamless returns and all these other things that Zappos and Amazon put in the back of our heads, you are now forced to play the long game. You can't be in a short term business like I'm going to choose profits in a month and now start and never pay attention to what's going to happen in a year. Like it's just doesn't exist now, thanks to Amazon, I think.

Phillip: [00:36:35] You brought up a really interesting point, which was there is a sense of distrust of reviews on both sides of the shopper experience. The first being, can I trust that the positive reviews are real when shopping at a large online marketplace? Wherein that can, we may distrust that by the nature of we know as consumers that those reviews could be farmed. But then there's the other side of it, which is overly positive, glowing reviews that never show any sort of problem resolution also can be sort of distrusted. There's a balance there. Like how do you strike a balance? I don't know how many brands are going out in search of confidently displaying that they have a 4.2 as opposed to a 5 and almost 20 percent of their transactions aren't five star transaction. How do you balance that as a brand? And what's some good advice for you to like, again, show that validation of these are legitimate reviews. You can trust them and when things go wrong, we'll make it right? I guess that's for Eric.

Eric: [00:37:44] That's actually a really, really good question. I'm glad we're talking about this, Phillip, because all too often we talk to businesses that say, well, why do I really need Shopper Approved? I'm just going to find some rinky dink ratings and reviews solution that's ten dollars a month and social proof is social proof. Right? And honestly, I feel for business owners because there's just a lot of information out there. There's a lot of tools. I mean, if you go to the Shopify marketplace right now, you can find 15 different apps that essentially do the same thing under various categories. And it's just overwhelming for business owners to know what decision is the right decision to make for their business. So I would highly, highly stress and recommend that if you're a business owner and you're wondering if all reviews are created equally to do a little bit of homework. And that's where a Google approved ratings and reviews platform comes in. And that's exactly who we are at Shopper Approved. And we've had that relationship with Google now for about a decade, and there's only about a little more than 20 Google approved ratings and review platforms in the entire world. And there's only about five or six that are located here in the United States. And so, again, as a small business owner or online business owner, you probably don't have all of that knowledge and we wouldn't expect you to. This is just one piece of your website, one aspect of your tech stack. There's a lot to it. [00:39:11] And so to answer your question, Phillip, in regards to this idea of like how do you come combat kind of this feeling that shoppers are getting nowadays? Can I trust these reviews and what not? This is where the power of kind of what we call it is review triangulation comes into play. And what I mean by that is if you go to a website and you see they have really good stellar reviews about their brand and their products, but you only really see those on their website. Right? And then you go into Google and you start to do a little bit more digging and searching about that brand and products and now you're starting to see maybe some not so positive reviews on other review platforms or you're starting to see maybe like some other places where people have voiced their opinion and you're like, what's going on here? So what we mean by review triangulation basically is when you look across the web, across social media, across someone's website, is the story, going back to this kind of journey of the customer and their thinking behind this idea of social proofing and leaning toward your brand and your products, are they feeling comfortable and trusted at any point during their journey in searching for the right product and brand to buy with, that they can trust you? And [00:40:22] I can tell you right now that if you go with a non Google approved ratings review platform, you're going to have some struggles where you're probably going to be tempted in that platform to maybe solicit the reviews in kind of a non Google approved way, incentivizing in the wrong way, or buying your reviews, or whitewashing reviews, or we call it review gating, where maybe a not so positive review comes through, and you're like, well, I definitely want to reach out to the customer, try to fix it, but I'm not going to make that review public. And that's where when you go with a Google approved ratings and review platform like Shopper Approved, we have to live within certain, we'll just call them, kind of the rules of Google in regards to this collecting and sharing of the social proof, because otherwise we just wouldn't have that status with Google. And we do that because it's best for the customer. At the end of the day, Google always wants to do what's best for the consumer. And if that means that consumers need to see the good, bad, and the ugly, then you better believe that we at Shopper Approved are going to collect one, two, three, four, five star reviews and those are going to be public. However, we do give you tools that you can use to resolve concerns. And those are some proprietary tools that we have, the way to do that and the approval from Google to do that so that you can reach out to the customer, fix the issue, and then how you fix it, all of that dialog and how you how you kind of overcame that and mitigated that concern is then displayed publicly for your audience to see. And that's massive because that's all part of that social proof story.

Ryan: [00:41:58] Isn't weird that the best review number value is like a 4.4 or 4.5 for trust? Like if you're a five out of five, people don't trust it,

Phillip: [00:42:07] They don't trust it.

Ryan: [00:42:08] Yeah, but as a business owner, like I am a five star business, be like you don't want to be actually on Google or your reviews stars, which is just kind of painful for me.

Phillip: [00:42:19] There's different kinds of reviews, too. And I know we didn't really like cover this, but I thought maybe we could just touch on it real quick. I think some people, especially if you're a business owner, you're really thinking about, OK, well, product reviews are super important because people buy products. But if you're a consumer, you probably are also thinking about, well, can I trust the brand overall or how do I trust the site? Is the site safe? Or is the brand safe or are they well known and respected? So it's like this concept of like a difference between a site review, which I know some review platforms really index toward, and then there's product based reviews. I'm curious if there's something there, Eric, to differentiate what you see is like the value prop of Shopper Approved and how what your perspective is on what consumers are looking for in reviews.

Eric: [00:43:12] Yeah. So this is a really good topic to discuss as well, because you're right on the money. What we saw last year alone was more attraction towards the seller reviews. And that was because brands nowadays, again, if we're talking about this idea of validation and kind of living in Amazon's world and competing with Amazon, leveraging your brand, as Ryan talked about, also is going to be key moving forward. Brand leveraging, brand loyalty. And so we Shopper Approved stress more than anything what are you doing to show the world that your brand is worth trusting? So you're absolutely right. When we talk about seller reviews, or merchant reviews, site reviews, those are all kind of synonymous, they're just overall brand reviews. And that brand review, I mean, think about it. If you go into a a Best Buy or a local brick and mortar store, you pretty much know by the time you leave what kind of star rating you would have given that brick and mortar store. You're going to say, I could find where I was looking for. I was helped. My questions were answered. All of those things. eCom, it's a different story, right? Like people can come to your site and bounce in seconds because they feel like they're not to be able to find what they're looking for. Within seconds. Right? And so if we're talking about this idea of brand reviews. It's the experience from the start to the finish. And whether that finish meant they bounced from your home page or they actually made a purchase, that's that brand experience. So when we talk about ratings and reviews, and really we're talking about a bigger thing here, it's not just ratings or reviews. It's the experience of the shopper and truly that social proof has so many layers to it. We have reviews that go into social proof. We have images. We have video that customers can upload. We also have like Q&A. Look at like when you go to a website, are your questions being answered? That's a huge thing nowadays. Like people want to have their problem solved and solved quickly. And Q&A is just another element of that social proof. And so that would be like, again, all of that is about the brand experience. With Shopper Approved we definitely lean towards very first when we are talking to a brand is what are you doing in these areas? We can help you. And not to make this like a sales pitch, by any means, it just overall brand reviews, it's kind of like that's laying the foundation and then product reviews. You're not going to buy a product necessarily if you go to someone's site and see that their brand is like a 1.6 overall. They're crummy when it comes to shipping. They don't hold you to their promises. Their return policies are awful. So it has to start with the brand level and then build from there. And that's where we start to talk about things like product reviews and video reviews.

Phillip: [00:46:03] Can I point a question over to you there, Ryan? Do you think... And this just came to me, so I would love for you to tell me I'm wrong, but do you think that the sort of level of expectation placed on you just to stay relevant on Amazon... Think about like you were talking about doing seller fulfilled Prime. I think that's what you said. Right? And sort of the rigor around what it takes to be able to deliver at that level. Do you think that that actually overall, like, net net makes you a better business to deliver for and makes the experience for your customers that aren't buying on Amazon a better experience overall too? Do those two kind of go hand in hand that without the rigor of having to live up to Amazon's standards as a brand, that you probably wouldn't have done some things or operationalize some things that at the end of the day actually makes you better at direct to consumer as well?

Ryan: [00:47:11] I think so, because you have to. Amazon has such a massive influence on how especially we as Americans and I don't live abroad, so I'm going to focus on what I know. But Americans are now, we've always been a couple of things... Lazy and we want it now. And Amazon has been able to really bring those two things together for the best that we have seen in our history. And so as a brand, you have to go into the relationship with the consumer knowing those two things. But there is a little bit of grace, I think at least that I've seen with our consumer outside of Amazon. Like they don't expect me to give them the product tomorrow, thankfully. But I do realize, like, I was actually mad yesterday when I was trying to get some product from Amazon for a project we're doing and I couldn't get it today. Look what is going on. I paid for Prime. I should get it tomorrow. It was going to come in two days. Poor me. But as the brand direct to consumer on your owned channels, it is a problem that you have, because you don't have the last mile responsibility. You've given that to FedEx, UPS, USPS. And Amazon owns it, and they can really fulfill that promise on their terms, and if it's not being delivered, they're communicating with you. Like it was supposed to come today. It's not. Or hey, it's three stops away. And I'm like, this is like Christmas. I totally forgot what I ordered yesterday or the day before. Yes. I still believe I can't imagine that I ever got to this place where I don't remember what I clicked on a day or two ago or what I had to have yesterday during happy hour. But that last mile connectivity, you as a brand, while you don't own it, you get reviewed on it. Like USPS, their delivery was absolute garbage during the holiday season, and rightly so. They were way overwhelmed. We were still in lockdown as a country. Stuff was late. It was horrible. People have already reviewed USPS. You can go see the reviews. I think they need Shopper Approved because it's there's no postal service in the United States that has good reviews. But they also yell at the brand because their order to get delivered. I shipped it. I did the day you ordered it, but because FedEx or UPS or USPS didn't get it, I'm going to get a bad review. And so at Shopper Approved and Logical [00:49:40] Position, we've been partnering with a company called Route, which does help with some of that last mile experience and helping people see that visual tracking and get updates and stuff. And it's insured, which I like. We've used them quite extensively where it's, hey, it didn't arrive or got stolen. It's covered. Have fun. Take care of it. And that really has helped some of my brands and some of that experience and understanding how I can more closely align with the expectations in the consumer than Amazon has set, which I think are good. I don't resent them for doing it, but it challenges me as a business owner to be better, which I probably wouldn't have if it hadn't been for Amazon. [00:50:23]

Brian: [00:50:23] What I think I hear you saying is that all the way through the whole cycle, you're sort of validating to the customer that this is an experience that they should trust and while maybe it's not quite as good as Amazon is, it's an experience they can rely on and count on and that feels good throughout the whole process. You're authenticating up front with brand reviews. You're giving them an experience on the site that makes them feel comfortable with the purchase. You're giving them reviews at the product level that show them that this is something that people enjoy when they buy it. You're giving them a smooth checkout experience. You're offering them suggestions about what types of products they should buy. You're providing a branded experience throughout. You're giving them last mile experience that's incredible through Route, who sponsored this this whole Step by Step Season 5 [00:51:17]. When they get done with the purchase process, "They're like, oh, wow I would definitely do that again." That's where you're landing at the end of this. It's getting them to that point where they could make a purchase and then finishing it through all the way to the end where they're like, "Yeah, I don't have to go to Amazon to buy this. I can buy this from the brand. And I feel comfortable with that." [00:51:37]

Ryan: [00:51:38] And I think it's cool as a brand to think of ways where you can actually do better than Amazon. And that's not an easy thing to do. But I was failing miserably on our packaging because I just used a poly mailer, which I was like, that's what people ship in. It's easy. Amazon comes in a little paperback, who cares? And [00:51:58] I had one lady review me through Shopper Approved who was like, "Yeah, my order was great, but it arrived in a garbage bag." And I was like, "What? It's a poly mailer." And so our Head of Marketing was like, "Well, we should probably level up our packaging on our mailer. And so now we have a poly mailer that has like plant leaves all over it. And it's turned us from just an arrival to like, "Holy smokes. This thing came in my mailbox." It has like this plant thing, and it really exploded on social media one day. People were like, "Hey, look at this new package that arrived." And so we were able to really level up from what Amazon was doing by challenging ourselves, like, OK, owning this experience, direct to consumer all the way through. We have a better packaging that's cooler and more exciting when it arrives. Just simple things like that, that normal driving traffic marketing Ryan wouldn't have even thought about. But because we got a review and we had to respond was like, oh, that's actually a good point. Something I hadn't considered as a business owner. [00:52:54]

Phillip: [00:52:55] There's such a benefit to I don't want to take us off base because I know we're coming right up in time. It's been so educational for me and I really appreciate both of your just sharing everything that you know and really just helping people make better decisions around the way that they invest in their eCommerce. But for me, when I think about the promise of shopping on Amazon is really just like quick, efficient, spearfishing, let me just get the thing I'm looking for, don't bother me. But there's something that I crave as a consumer that is the step up from that, which is help me use this better, help me make my life better, help me figure out how I can make this part of like something bigger than just the consumption of a product. And from everything from like camera gear to fertilizer. It's like there are so many opportunities for you to be able to help the consumer get more out of what they're making a purchase on and help them make that, not just get the most out of it, but enjoy it on a new level, which only happens post purchase. And it only happens if you have a direct relationship with the customer. And it only happens that they will have a greater understanding of what is possible through the purchase of this product and the promise of your brand if you have that relationship. And so it is our job as marketers, and it's our job in the operation of brands to remove the objection so that we can actually help deliver on that promise for the customer. And that's where I think that this concept of validation is just so unbelievably important. Ryan, I'll give you the last word. I didn't prep you for it either, I just dropped a bomb.

Ryan: [00:54:44] You didn't. No. I challenge brands, to start looking at your channels kind of as a cohesive like schematic as you look at it. And it's all about customer acquisition. And so it's totally for another podcast. But first, party data and all the changes in marketing is going to come down like just a giant piano on the top of most business owners heads. But you have to have more customers and more first party data if you're going to succeed in their new environment of marketing. And so be way more aggressive than you currently are. Almost every business owner I talk to, I tell them, go get more customers, whether it's on Amazon, whether that's on Google, whether that's on Instagram. You need customers. So it can make you uncomfortable and it should make you a bit uncomfortable when you're getting customers. But then as you delight them and own that experience, they're going to come back and you're going to smoke some competitors in our new digital world. It's going to be fun.

Phillip: [00:55:45] I love that. If I had the option to title this particular episode, Smoke Some Competitors, I would absolutely do that. I don't think I have that sort of leeway.

Ryan: [00:55:57] {laughter} We could do another one. We'll just talk about smoking competitors.

Phillip: [00:56:01] {laughter} Although I think that's what everybody really actually wants to hear. Been brilliant to have you two on. Thank you so much, Ryan. Thank you, Eric. Shoot. We should do this again. You guys are the best. And thank you so much to Route for making this season of Step by Step possible. I hope you learned a lot. I did. Learned a lot today. And we're going to keep learning together on this journey as we take you from zero to hero Step by Step.

Phillip: [00:56:29] Hey, thank you so much for listening to this episode of Season 5 of Step by Step, and it was brought to you by the fine folks at Route and all of their partners who actually made this possible. And just remember, Route is the premiere post purchase experience platform. And that means that anything that you need from the click of the checkout button all the way to the package arriving safely inside the home, Route can have you covered. That's live package tracking updates. That's order protection that covers things from missing packages and broken items and poor carrier communication and customer service automation. All of those things save you time and money, but it puts money back into your pockets because customers are going to come back and purchase again. You should check out Route. I'm a big fan and 8,000 other retailers all over the world are too. It's completely free for you. And even better, it could put money in your pocket today if you take a hundred dollar gift card when you sit down and take a demo. And that's all you got to do. You can go get that demo. Go get it right now at Go.Route.com/FutureCommerce. Go get the demo today and Go.Route.com/FutureCommerce. Other episodes can be found at FutureCommerce.fm. Drop us a line and email us. Tell us what you think at hello@FutureCommerce.fm, and subscribe to our Insiders and The Senses newsletter that come out every Tuesday and every Friday. You can get that at FutureCommerce.fm/Subscribe. Thank you so much for listening to Step by Step.

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