When I met my life partner, Thomas McGee, in 2014, he was an organic spice sommelier creating tasty seasonings and selling them at farmers markets. His business was just beginning to flourish, but he had no online sales whatsoever.

We joined forces. As a digital marketer with a full-time job in the corporate world, I spent my nights and weekends focusing on creating a robust ecommerce operation for the spices—a business we today call Pinch Spice Market. One of the first things I zeroed in on was getting online reviews.

I knew from my professional experience that the value of generating online reviews can be enormous. They help drive sales by adding credibility to your business and what you offer—and we’ve found that first-time customers are 2.5 times more likely to buy a product that’s been reviewed. Moreover, reviews give us clear insight and feedback into what customers like or dislike about our customer experience or products, so we can improve and better serve them.

The challenge is getting customers to leave reviews, and then making sure we’re using those reviews to their fullest potential.

Serving up feedback

When I first came onboard, people were able to leave reviews on our website, but we weren’t proactively asking them to do so. So I developed strategies to encourage customers to leave reviews.

The best review sites to focus on will depend on your business. A restaurant or home services provider, for example, might want to focus on generating Google reviews, while a software company may care more about a specialized site like G2.

As an ecommerce company, our main sales channels are our website, Amazon and Etsy—so we have focused on generating reviews on those sites. The best time to ask for a review is right after a customer does business with you, as you’re fresh on their mind. Both Amazon and Etsy have tools that make it easy for us to ask our customers via email to leave feedback and rate their experience soon after the product is delivered.

There are also plenty of tools businesses can use to solicit reviews and engage customers on their websites. We use a WordPress ecommerce platform called WooCommerce, which has an affordable plugin called AutomateWoo that lets us automate customer interactions, including asking for reviews. It’s highly effective and costs only $99 a year.

We’ve also found that simple strategies are effective. For example, we used to write a handwritten thank-you note on customers’ invoices asking if they’d be willing to leave an honest review—as a way of helping a small ecommerce business like ours stand out against large competitors. Many customers would because we made such a personal appeal.

Today, our sales volume is too great to do that for every order, but we have recyclable cardboard inserts that we pop into every order. They include a thank-you note, a request for a review and an introduction to our family-owned business—including a picture of us, so they see we’re real people. On bigger orders, we sometimes include a free extra spice as a surprise, which often leads to a positive review.

We also periodically mention in email campaigns and on social media how much reviews help our small business and occasionally hold a raffle for gift cards or free spices for people who leave us reviews (good or bad). 

Cooking up success

Once you start collecting lots of reviews, you need a process for managing them. It’s critical to respond to reviews, especially the negative ones. This is a one-chance opportunity to “right” an unhappy customer experience, and people appreciate and trust businesses more when they show they care about their experience. We also try to turn a negative experience around by emailing that customer a gift card or special discount code.

Negative feedback can also be extremely valuable. For example, we’ve used negative reviews to improve our online product listings to ensure we’re accurately describing what we’re selling.

Moreover, we’ve found that customer reviews are great fodder for making overall improvements to our business. For example, some customers have mentioned their desire for us to offer low- and no-sodium spices, so we created them. We have sometimes even asked those customers to test the spices as we’re working on them—which only further engages them with our business while ensuring our spice mixes are meeting their needs.

We also feature our best-selling spices along with their customer ratings at the top of our website, as well as quotes from positive customer reviews throughout the site. This builds credibility for what we sell.

Stirring up results

Customer feedback has been critical to growing our business, and online reviews are a great way to gather it. Currently, 13.2% of our customers write reviews across platforms, which is well above average for a business like ours. 

Next year, we’ll be moving into a bigger manufacturing space and hiring our first employee—and we will be investing even further in strategies that increase customer engagement and feedback. 

My goal is for at least one out of five customers to leave a review. We just have to make it a priority to ask them more often, make it easier for them to do it, and give them more reasons why they should.

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