For decades now, e-commerce has been a mainstream part of retail in almost every single category except for grocery. While consumers have even bought cars online for years, they just have not seemed interested in purchasing food anywhere but in store. Even though services were available, online shopping for groceries was never truly normalized — that is, until the pandemic hit.
Seemingly overnight in the grocery industry, digital became the new brick-and-mortar. Social media became the new window displays. And, user-generated content (UGC) became the foundation of social proof for shoppers.
Lucky for grocery retailers, UGC is not something of which they are in short supply. Review counts on food and beverage websites saw a 134% year-over-year increase in 2020. While ratings and reviews and customer photos and videos were likely not a huge part of the food and beverage industry’s e-commerce or online strategy in the past, grocery retailers have now been flooded with this priceless wealth of UGC that anyone in retail would love to have.
To help give online grocery shoppers an experience that is as close to the in-store experience as possible, grocery brands and retailers need to utilize UGC in many of the same ways that anyone else in retail would. Because their online customers are not going into brick-and-mortar stores to physically see, feel and try out products, UGC is the best alternative. Hearing and seeing authentic experiences from their peers through the form of reviews, photos, or videos, helps consumers to envision themselves having or using the product and is the next best thing to seeing it in real life.
But, UGC isn’t just good for convincing customers to buy what they already are interested in. It’s also perfect for product discovery as well. That’s because UGC belongs far beyond just being displayed alongside professionally styled photos on a product page on a brand or retailers’ website. UGC should also be present on their social media, in their marketing and advertising campaigns and even on in-store signage or product packaging itself. This helps consumers to visualize themselves having or using a product wherever they see it, and rewards the loyal customers whose content you use, who were excited about your product enough to post about it in the first place.
However, it’s not just enough to have ratings and reviews on your website and elsewhere — those reviews and other pieces of UGC need to be fresh. According to a consumer survey hosted by Bazaarvoice, a vast majority (81%) of consumers think that review recency is equal to or more important than the quantity of reviews a product has. In fact, less than half (47%) of consumers think product reviews older than 3 months are still relevant, and only 25% of shoppers feel that a review retains its value after 12 months. So, how do you ensure that your website is continually refreshed with reviews? Sampling.
Whether you’re launching a new product or simply trying to gather new UGC for a tried-and-true one, sampling is a great way to encourage customers to provide content that will inspire other consumers to hit the “buy” button. To do so, provide your customers with an incentive, such as a free product or a cash back coupon in return for honest UGC in the form of a rating, review or photo or video of the product.
Sampling has also seen great results in the food and beverage industry.
However, no matter how or what you are sampling, a brand absolutely should never ask for or incentivize positive feedback from their customers. They should always empower them to provide honest, authentic feedback, even if it ends up being negative. Negative reviews, while not ideal, are necessary and have various benefits. They make your positive ones more trustworthy, and they often provide invaluable insights that can help you improve products, processes or even marketing.
If you’re a grocery brand or retailer not already prioritizing UGC in e-commerce efforts, you need to start yesterday. And, once that’s kicked off, utilize sampling in order to gather fresh, authentic UGC to help delight and inspire your online customers.