Amazon recently opted to buy Whole Foods for almost $14 billion—a staggering move that left many dumbfounded upon hearing the news. The merger has people wondering: if Amazon is buying a brick-and-mortar store, is e-commerce still powerful or necessary? What does it mean when e-commerce behemoth—arguably the driving force behind American online shopping—overtakes a shop characterized by its homey, local and boutique feel?
The quick answer to businesses investing in e-commerce is not to worry: e-commerce isn’t going anywhere, nor is it any less important today. But to learn what Amazon buying Whole Foods means to you, let’s look at Amazon’s previous brick-and-mortar foray: the neighborhood bookstore.
Amazon Buying Whole Foods: Bridging Online and Offline Experiences
When Amazon put brick-and-mortar booksellers out of business only to establish neighborhood stores of its own, the plan had people reasonably confused. But a visit to the store makes Amazon’s goals clear: Amazon wants to mesh its online community (which provides reviews, recommendations and ratings) with the offline shopping space.
The books on Amazon Books’ shelves are algorithmically organized and curated based on customer ratings and their sales. Their prices change to match those you’d find while shopping on the website, including Prime member discounts. As customers browse, they may read reviews for the books lifted from Goodreads. Despite being an offline shopping experience, online shoppers’ habits rule the organization of the store, and Amazon leverages its digital community Goodreads to entice customers to pick up the book.
This is what sets the Amazon-designed brick-and-mortar experience apart from other stores: it makes use of user-generated content and its digital community. The Whole Foods purchase isn’t a death knell for e-commerce businesses; rather, it highlights the importance of customer reviews and user-generated content, presenting a vision for how brick-and-mortars can capitalize on them.
Why Comments, Reviews and User-Generated Content are Important
Comments and reviews are important to consumers. Early in the product research phase of the consumer journey, shoppers want to know what others have to say about a product or store. And this isn’t just the case with buying online! In fact, 60% of consumers say they check online reviews while they shop in an offline store. This means brick-and-mortars should take a page out of Amazon’s book to find ways to bridge the gap between digital comments/reviews and the offline shopping experience.
It’s also worth noting that consumers feel that customer reviews are more authentic than recommendations from salespeople employed by a store or company. This makes it all the more important that user-generated content and reviews have some sort of presence in the offline shopping experience.
Encourage UGC and Customer Reviews
Platforms like Amazon encourage discussion from consumers by providing a place for them to ask and answer questions about any given product. They also make it easy to review products, sellers and their own shipping methods. If your store is available online, you should likewise make it as appealing as possible for consumers to review and discuss your products by providing a review platform. You might also offer a forum for customers to ask about products or discuss them.
Next, you’ll need to make all this information and content apparent in your store itself. Like Amazon Books, consider printing out choice reviews to display besides products if you have shelf space to spare. Don’t focus just on glowing reviews; try a “point-counterpoint” style to help consumers make the right purchasing decision for their needs. Who makes the best use of this product, and why? Who might use a similar, but different, product instead? Consider this when curating reviews.
If you don’t have the shelf space to spare, a small sign or label encouraging shoppers to check out reviews on their smartphone can bring the online and offline worlds together. This can be done easily with a QR code: customers can scan a label to be taken directly to that product’s listing and reviews.
Encourage UGC On and Offline
Next, consider encouraging user-generated content on your social profiles. For example, you might ask fans what they intend to buy from your store as gifts for a holiday. Alternatively, you might encourage photos and selfies from shoppers; these images serve as inspiration for future shoppers and can be printed and featured in-store. You can learn more about driving UGC on social media in our guide.
By offering a “selfie station” in-store, shoppers can show off their most recent purchases—then share to Instagram with a location tag, thereby enticing new customers to come in, buy and share their experiences.
You Must Moderate Customer Reviews and Content
Whenever you encourage your community to provide discussion and content, you’ll need a comment moderation plan in place. While you should never censor an opinion or bad review, abusive reviews or comments (including profanity, spam or other inappropriate language) doesn’t have a place online.
Moderate customer reviews that:
- Break terms of service or are abusive
- Are part of coordinated attack campaigns from trolls
- Are spam
An artificial intelligence-based comment moderation tool like Smart Moderation can help with comment moderation by instantly identifying and/or erasing problematic comments. The software is active around the clock, so you never have to worry about an attack happening during off-hours. It even works across all your social networks and web platforms, conforming and adapting to your team’s moderation approach. You can learn more about how e-commerce sites use Smart Moderation here.
Now you should be ready to bridge the e-commerce and brick-and-mortar experiences just like Amazon does! Do you have any tips on how to use digital UGC in the offline shopping experience? Let us know!