Influencing the consumer

Online reviews and influencers are having a profound effect on consumer purchasing habits, both good and bad, says Richard Stevenson.

Back in the day, it was a whole lot easier. Which? or What Hi-Fi? would give something called a Best Buy rating and you knew half your customers would end up looking for that exact model or, at least, brand.

Today, the landscape for digitally researching products and their abilities is much broader, covering online journals, YouTube reviews, social media influencers and post-purchase customer reviews. The ease of creating and consuming reviews digitally has given thousands of channels greater reach than their paper counterparts.

Our white goods reviews business supplies domestic appliance consumer reviews to TechRadar, ExpertReviews, TechAdvisor and TrustedReviews. Each month these four titles alone boast over 60 million unique visitors, with TechRadar accounting for 34 million of them all on its own. Clearly not all these people are in the market for a washing machine or fridge freezer every month, but their trust and engagement with these channels means they will absolutely check back when they are.

Unsurprisingly, a poor review in front of audiences of this size can all but kill sales. Ask your rep why their brand has no reviews online, and I’d love to hear their answer. Yet commercial magazine-style websites are not the only source of reviews.

Social media influencers operate channels talking about products in a very specific area, with upwards of around 100,000 followers. Because of their focus, they tend to address consumers that are wholly engaged with their area of expertise, making them a very valuable channel for marketeers. Influencers know this and as their follower numbers go up, so do their fees to review or market products. A lot.

For example, the RSPR PR team looked at engaging influencers to get to a core audience of cleaning enthusiasts. Yes, they really do exist. Lynsey Crombie, otherwise known as Lynsey Queen of Clean, has around 160,000 followers enthusiastic about cleaning. What Lynsey says is near Gospel to her engaged audience, which is why her ‘agent’ quoted us £5,000 for her to review a vacuum cleaner. Those figures are quite typical in the influencer space, and double or triple that if you want the influencer to create a bespoke video about your product or brand. Not bad for creating a four-minute, low-production value video using a phone, eh?

Reviews are not all equal, however, especially those given by customers themselves. On the face of it, post-purchase customer reviews are another strong source of research for potential buyers, particularly online. As such, it is well worth garnering and hosting these reviews on your own site to tip users towards the ‘buy’ button.

Yet, customer reviews are the least accurate, simply because the purchaser has nothing relevant or current to compare their purchase with. So be prepared to turn your customer around if they are shopping based purely on customer feedback reviews they read online.

Even for established appliance categories like washing machines, post-purchase customer reviews can be a minefield. They can suffer from the snappily named Halo Effect Autocorrelation Bias, where the customer’s overall opinion of the product is either very good or very bad, based purely on the performance of just one feature or facet. And that could even be unique to their sample. It actually might be the best washing machine in the world, but the drawer was a bit stiff, they broke a fingernail, and ergo hated the machine… so just a one star review then.

Accurately predicting what brands and models will sell best through a season is still nigh-on impossible but you can at least keep yourself abreast of which way the wind is blowing.

With the huge expanse of the internet today, there are reviews websites, YouTube channels and influencers out there ready to tell your customer what to buy before they even get to your store.