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The Green Sheet Online Edition

June 24, 2019 • Issue 19:06:02

Online reputation management for brick-and-mortar merchants

By Peter Shenk

Ask local merchants what their top business headaches are, and their list will almost always include "marketing" or "online reviews." And for small businesses, these are synonymous. Why? Because 97 percent of today's customers read online reviews for local businesses, and nearly nine in 10 trust those reviews as much as recommendations from friends or family.

Indeed, today's consumers trust random people on review sites like Google My Business, TripAdvisor, Facebook and Yelp to tell them which businesses to visit and which to avoid. For brick-and-mortar merchants suffering from outrageous online reviews, navigating this new digital marketspace can feel like a trip to the Twilight Zone.

The vital first step in marketing

Smart merchant level salespeople (MLSs) help merchants comprehend that their online star rating, or "reputation score" – calculated by reviews – is the first contact most of their potential customers have with their businesses. If customers don't like what they see there, they will buy from someone else – no matter how good a merchant's products and services are.

Star ratings matter. A recent Harvard study found that restaurants with a 2.5-star rating (out of 5) were 25 percent more likely to close. For restaurants with 4.5 to 5 stars, the risk increase dropped to 0 percent. It gets crazier. Even if a merchant's marketing message reaches its intended audience and motivates potential customers to consider purchasing, they will almost inevitably check online reviews for social proof before deciding whether to visit a store. So unless merchants own their online presence, advertising efforts inadvertently will drive customers to spend elsewhere.

It may seem unfair that review sites have so much power over merchants' bottom lines, but unfortunately, every business must deal with this in the digital age. It's vital that merchants consistently monitor what's being said about them online, and actively work to get more good reviews and minimize the damage done by negative ones. This is the essence of online reputation management for small businesses.

Three options for online reputation management

Small businesses have three ways to approach online reputation management: do it all yourself; hire an online reputation management firm; or use reputation management software that automates and/or simplifies the process.

  1. The DIY approach: Some merchants choose to manage their online reputations themselves. If they have the time and aptitude to consistently monitor and manage their reviews on all review sites, they might have reasonably good success with this approach, particularly if they don't have a serious problem with negative online content.
    All this costs is a merchant's time, which can be considerable. However, if merchants have the time to spare but not the money, or if they want to control the process, it might be the appropriate choice.
  2. An online reputation management company: There's no easy way to determine which company might be right for any merchant, other than by contacting firms directly and discussing their services and costs. (Womply researchers found prices range from $250 to $4,500 per month.) However, for busy merchants – particularly those with a persistent negative online content problem – it might be worth the cost. Some merchants love this "hands-off" approach; others prefer more control.
  3. Online reputation management software: Merchants who choose this option appreciate the ability it provides to balance price, automation and control. They can save time while maintaining control. A good reputation management platform will notify merchants of all new reviews, allow them to read and reply to them in one place, and provide options for automating replies and review requests. Prices typically start at $50 to $100 a month.
    Software can also help merchants do more than monitor their online reputations. For example, it can provide business insights, CRM, email marketing, POS integration, inventory management, marketing campaign management, reporting, and social media metrics. Learn all you can about the options and consult with merchants about the best choices for them.

It's vital that ISOs and MLSs move into a more consultative role with merchants. If you can offer solutions that solve merchants' core business problems, they will sing your praises – and stay in your portfolio. end of article

Peter Shenk is vice president of partnerships at Womply, a leading software partner to the payments industry and the top provider of front-office software to small businesses. Contact him at pshenk@womply.com.

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