Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Julie McGinlay

Slacks, snacks and Macs: How the pandemic has changed online buying habits and the importance of reviews

By Julie McGinlay, Head of Brand, PR and Comms at eDesk

With little entertainment over the past 18 months, we’ve all been guilty of frivolous purchases to get us through lockdowns and, whether you prefer bricks or clicks-style shopping, the likelihood is that your volume of online orders rocketed. My personal ecommerce accounts witnessed more activity than ever over the period and, while this was mainly driven out of necessity (and fuelled the odd over-ordering mishap, one of which saw a 4kg bundle of chorizo arrive at my house), it also unlocked a world of convenience that was previously underutilised.

I’ve asked myself: why was I ever predominantly combing store aisles when the likes of Prime could deliver what I wanted the next (or same) day, freeing up my time for other life admin or more enjoyable pursuits? Many people have asked themselves similar questions, as buying online transformed alongside each month of varying restrictions.

eDesk recently conducted research with CitizenMe and observed UK and US online shopping habits, which both confirmed the expected and revealed some surprises on how people’s attitudes are influenced. Our summer study revealed clothing as the most popular consumer purchase, bought by 91% of Brits – encouraged by the closure of non-essential stores. This was followed by food and drink at 87%, which saw the number of online grocery shoppers double during the height of the pandemic a year ago – an “irreversible” trend. Rounding off the top three was personal technology at 78%, in line with Brits’ daily screen time spiking by 40% to six hours and 25 minutes during lockdown.

The percentages were slightly lower across the pond, but clothing, food and drink and technology also dominated US purchases at 88%, 83% and 76% respectively. This showcases how the shockwaves that have been rippling throughout retail and eCommerce are very much global.

A standout data point was that seven in 10 UK and US respondents somewhat frequently buy online monthly, with 19% buying weekly, so one key consideration should be: how can businesses increase this purchase frequency? Feedback plays a significant role here, because there’s a strong correlation between those who buy often and leave reviews more often. Here are some ways you can keep shoppers onside – and how to tick them off.

Retailers are most likely to receive good reviews for (UK / US):

  • Responding quickly to customers – 54% / 51%
  • Dealing with the issue well – 53% / 43%
  • Being polite – 42% / 42%

Retailers are most likely to receive bad reviews for (UK / US):

  • Not dealing with something to the customer satisfaction – 49% / 42%
  • Having a bad attitude – 30% / 32%
  • Taking too long to respond – 32% / 23%

44% of British and American shoppers read product reviews before making a purchase and, unsurprisingly, the results have a major bearing on whether they’ll move forward with the purchase.

Of UK and US buyers, 40% and 34% would only buy from a retailer with a review of under three stars if there was no other alternative, while a quarter would flatly refuse.

Taking these feedback factors on board is the first step for retailers to move towards enhancing their online customer experience. And whether their goal is to generate more sales or encourage better reviews, they go hand in hand; better reviews can lead to more sales, while more sales – and a positive experience – can lead to increased opportunity for better reviews. And this also works wonders for the marketplace algorithms.

No matter if the consumer is buying slacks, snacks or Macs online, it’s apparent that their needs are similar. Retailers must be mindful of this if they want to keep their customer throughout this shift in shopping habits.

Coming at this with a branding hat on, sellers can firstly manage their own brand reputation quite simply through treating their reviews like an integral part of their sales funnel. It’s here they can connect directly to customers and find out what’s working and what isn’t, and it’s through feedback that they can also have their praises sung or see their name dragged through the mud.

Although we’ve all read those toe-curling reviews that are the stuff of retailers’ nightmares, online shoppers aren’t unfair. A third of Brits are motivated to leave a good review after just one positive experience, compared to 13% that will leave a bad review after one poor experience.

What’s more, over 90% of UK and US online shoppers will also contact customer service to deal with an issue before leaving negative feedback – and this places power back into retailers’ hands, allowing them to manage the situation in a way that’s appropriate. While there are exceptions to every rule, given the lack of shopper desire to leave bad reviews, we can assume that any detrimental comments left on a seller’s page may be justified, so it’s crucial that the opportunity to rectify any problems is not missed.

Sales are always at the forefront of a business, especially in retail, but navigating this ecommerce world also means adhering to the rules of the game – and that means regarding the branding element of the business in all its forms, not just the paid for campaigns. Positive reviews are, in effect, free advertising and PR for your business – don’t let them go to waste.