Amazon has caused quite the stir by bringing legal action against more than 1,000 "unidentified people", who it claims received monetary compensation in exchange for fake product reviews.
Digital has drastically redefined the way that consumers research and shop. A study commissioned by the Centre for Retail Research estimated that online retail shopping will eclipse £50 billion this year alone.
Social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and, increasingly, Instagram, as well as third-party sites such as Amazon are all shifting the power back to the consumer.
We no longer look to brands exclusively for product research, but instead turn to our fellow customers, who leave detailed product reviews that cover the good, the bad, the ugly and everything in between.
So, in the wake of this scandal, how do brands inspire people to become their brand advocates?
Walk in the shoes of your customer
First off, brands need to get the basics right and ensure they deliver on their promise. Added value is useless without this first base. It’s surprising how many brands fail to establish clear success criteria from the start. The savvy brand will take on board the entire customer experience journey as if they were walking it themselves.
This helps to establish precisely how to tailor an experience to suit the customer; the product is just one aspect of the package, albeit an important one. Investing in an innovative, reliable and personal customer experience can go a long way in winning over an audience, and is a vital step in inspiring brand advocates.
Don’t force, inspire
You can’t cheat your way to the top, just as you can’t buy credibility and visibility anymore. This is a consumer’s world and your brand needs to be consumer-centric or you’ll pay the price; if you try to game the system, you’ll pay the fine.
Online reviews can make or break a consumer's decision to purchase, but it’s important that brands don’t come across as too forceful.
The best brands will take into account a variety of deliverables and let the consumer respond accordingly. If all aspects of the customer experience journey are taken into consideration, then positive reviews will flow naturally from the conversation.
Obviously, you can never guarantee a 100% success rate; the key is to address negative reviews as and when they arise, so that your brand comes across as proactive rather than reactive.
Make the consumer feel special
Everyone likes to feel special, and consumers in the world of online shopping are no different. Empower your team to make decisions based on customer happiness, or take this one step further by changing performance initiatives towards customer happiness.
Look for the ‘moments between the moments', or opportunities to delight an individual in between the regular expected touch points.
For example, Captain Denny of United Airlines personally calls the parents of any child flying alone to let them know their child is safely on board – it’s those personal touches that really count and make a brand stand out above the crowd.
Swift responses to concerns or complaints on social media can add another element to this personalisation. Studies have shown that millennials actively seek out brands that fuse a dimension of personalisation into their marketing strategy; just look at the success of initiatives like Coca-Cola’s 'Share a Coke' campaign.
If you treat the consumer with respect and dignity, they will be far more likely to return the favour. It returns to the same fundamental tenets; we seek to understand how a consumer thinks, feels, what they want, appreciate and what it takes to delight them.
In the process, we try to design something that makes the experience easier for the customer and, most importantly, what makes the experience memorable.
Breeding a culture of care
What does the Amazon scandal tell us about the landscape of e-commerce and the rise of the connected consumer? Well, the good news is this: while digital is driving the sands of a shifting industry, there is still ample room (and perhaps even a greater chance than ever before) for the adept brand to capitalise on digital platforms and truly connect with consumers.
Breed a culture of care and put the consumer first; when brands inspire in this way, there is little need for false reviews.
(This article first appeared on Marketingmagazine.co.uk)