In an increasingly omnichannel and digital landscape, shoppers expect quick and dynamic communication from brands they engage with. Unfortunately, a significant portion of retailers are falling short in meeting this basic expectation.
At my company, SOCi, we recently conducted our fifth annual audit of nearly 600 U.S. chain retailers. We found that 54 percent of all consumer feedback — both good and bad — on retailer online listings across platforms like Google, Instagram, and Yelp, goes unanswered, leaving customers feeling ignored and undervalued.
Any form of online feedback — be it a question, remark, or review — constitutes a critical interaction that should never go unreciprocated. Consider, for instance, ignoring a shopper in a physical store. Seems unfathomable, right? We agree, and this thinking should extend equally to digital, where the volume of interactions is so high.
In a competitive retail environment in which consumers are spending judiciously, this type of retailer “ghosting” has major implications. A retailer's failure to engage and respond is a forfeited opportunity.
Ghosting Damages Reputation and Consumer Trust
When retailers ghost consumers, they send a message — inadvertently or otherwise — that customer feedback and experiences aren’t a high priority to their business. This is a surefire way for consumers to decide against spending more money with that retailer.
Keep in mind, shoppers are quick to pivot away from brands that don’t deliver. A recent study revealed that younger shoppers are especially fickle. According to the findings, over half claimed they would cease purchasing from a brand — despite an overall positive perception — if they had multiple negative experiences. Moreover, nearly 10 percent said they would sever ties completely after a single bad experience.
With that in mind, consumers will gravitate toward the opposite — retailers that demonstrate a commitment to customer satisfaction and that make them feel heard, valued, appreciated and welcome. Managing online feedback is an important part of managing your reputation in the marketplace, especially as consumers are increasingly discerning about factors like a company's values and culture.
Additionally, remember the carryover impact. Potential customers who see unresponsive retailers when they browse online listings may also become discouraged from engaging with the brand. In the age of social media and third-party review sites, consumers can and do rely heavily on the experiences of others to inform their purchasing decisions. In fact, 87 percent say that real-life reviews and user experiences influence what they buy, with 71 percent saying authentic, good reviews positively sway their choices.
If a would-be customer sees a pattern of unresponsiveness, this can go in the other direction, resulting in a loss of trust or affinity and a reduced likelihood of choosing that retailer in the future. Retailers need social proof to be successful.
Ghosting Hinders Listing Optimization and Search Engine Visibility
When retailers ignore the responsibility of addressing customer complaints, queries, or don't express gratitude for feedback, they risk falling into a pit of digital obscurity — which can have a huge impact on your bottom line.
Our analysis found that search engines like Google value active engagement, including responses to reviews, as key ranking factors. A dynamic interaction with reviews resonates positively with search algorithms, thereby earning them a higher spot in the search results seen by consumers.
Elevated visibility does more than just drive traffic to a retailer's online presence; crucially, it improves the retailer's discoverability for local searches. Given that most shopping is convenience-driven rather than brand-driven, potential customers typically seek out local options for in-store visits. Engaging with customers across online platforms boosts a retailer's ranking on search engine results pages (SERPs), which, in turn, enhances their visibility when consumers are actively searching for local or in-person shopping options. Ultimately, it boosts foot traffic to their physical stores, where the majority of sales still happen for many retailers, impacting sales and enhancing brand recognition at a local level.
By ghosting and neglecting reviews, retailers are not only forfeiting these benefits but also diminishing their chances of being found by potential customers for in-store shopping (and hurting revenue). It's not just about an online presence anymore; it's about creating a bridge between the digital and physical shopping experience, which starts with being discoverable in local search results.
How Can Brands Avoid Ghosting?
Clearly, ghosting is a problem. But how do you counteract it? To do so effectively, brands should consider a variety of strategies that identify and close critical processes and technology gaps. These, in particular, stand out:
- Review Response: Clearly define digital engagement roles and responsibilities, and implement a process with dedicated personnel and clear owners to respond to feedback. This is easier said than done, as it will require deeper decision making on what type of feedback to respond to, how, and by whom. This will require education and support for all involved, from corporate marketing to local store locations. Still, the benefits are clear. Our data suggests that when a business replies to reviews, prospects are 16 percent more likely to become buyers.
- Profile Optimization: Often, feedback can be preemptively addressed by enhancing how you appear online, through profiles and online listings like Yelp and Google. For example, our data found that retail locations with an optimized local social presence create $2,737 in additional value per location.
- Personalized Posting: Besides promptly addressing complaints, answering questions and responding to reviews, personalization is crucial. Use each local customer interaction as an opportunity to improve the customer experience and, ultimately, your digital visibility. Unfortunately, brands frequently adopt a "waterfall" approach, publishing impersonal, generic responses that don't relate to a specific store experience. Marketers should treat feedback responses like ads — i.e., they should be targeted and one-to-one. This requires communicating at the store and local level at scale, a challenge that's increasingly overcome with the help of advancements in artificial intelligence and automation. For instance, a brand with 100 stores could leverage AI and automation to publish individualized, localized posts, as opposed to a single generic message shared across all locations. If each of these tailored posts garners even just 10 interactions, the total becomes 1,000 engagements — 10 times more than the single generic post would likely achieve.
Ghosting in retail poses a silent yet formidable threat to retailer reputation and revenue. By ignoring feedback, retailers risk tarnishing their image, eroding consumer trust, and limiting their overall web visibility.
To circumvent a downward spiral of reputational damage, lost customer loyalty, and reduced visibility in search, retailers must emphasize customer engagement and communication. Timely and personalized responses to reviews are crucial, particularly in challenging economic periods and as consumers are savvier than ever.
Adopting a customer-centric approach, combined with active engagement, allows retailers to strengthen relationships with their customers, enhance their reputation, and ultimately attract more traffic from consumers on the brink of making a purchase. In a fiercely competitive and uncertain retail environment, prioritizing communication and responsiveness isn't just a tactical move; it's a strategic necessity for modern retailers.
Monica Ho is the chief marketing officer at SOCi, the marketing platform for multilocation brands.