By Cathleen McCarthy
How many consumers check reviews online before buying today? Almost everyone, according to review platform Podium. The company conducted a survey last year in which 93 percent of shoppers said online reviews impact their purchase decisions.
As anyone who shops online knows, customer reviews have become crucial to decision-making. They’ve also become a key factor in choosing where we go to shop.

“In the ‘90s and ‘00s, people would go to their preferred store and purchase,” said Ali Sima, owner of ABC Jewelry in Portland, Oregon, which comes up high in searches thanks to positive reviews. “The majority of customers who come to us now do a lot of research before they move forward with a purchase, whether they do it online or come to our store.”

According to a 2017 survey conducted by Podium, a review platform used by local businesses to send out requests for customer reviews at point of sale (POS), 93 percent of U.S. consumers said online reviews impact purchase decisions and 77 percent would be willing to leave an online review if asked.

The three most visible and trusted review platforms, according to the survey, are Google, Yelp and Facebook.

When John Carter took over Jack Lewis Jewelers in Bloomington, Illinois in 2011, he set his sights on the bridal market. That meant appealing to a younger customer who doesn’t make a move without reading online reviews and often posts them as well.
Carter began aggressively soliciting customer reviews. Three years ago, he signed on with Podium so customers get a pop-up at POS that reads: “Would you mind leaving us a review today?”
“It’s this millennium’s version of the golden rule: Do unto others as if they were to review you.” —John Carter, Jack Lewis Jewelers
These efforts have paid off.

Jack Lewis comes to the top of any search for jewelers in his area, due largely to 210 customer Google reviews averaging 5 stars and 167 reviews on Facebook averaging 4.8.

Podium helps with Google and Facebook, but Yelp doesn’t allow businesses to solicit reviews.

Jack Lewis has only seven Yelp reviews (but, still, a five-star average) so far, yet Yelp lists him at or near the top on the strength of the brand’s online reputation.

If customers ask these days about leaving his store a review, the jeweler usually suggests Yelp.

“Digital reviews on any platform are extremely important in influencing consumer behavior,” Carter said. ”In our business, it’s driving traffic to our door.”

Like many jewelers who have achieved critical mass with customer reviews, Carter has automatic requests set up at POS—he uses Podium for that—and requires staff to ask for reviews after every transaction.

He tells staff to treat each customer who walks in the door as if that customer is going to review not only the store, but them specifically.

“It’s this millennium’s version of the golden rule: Do unto others as if they were to review you,” Carter said.

Hopefully, they will.

Google Gaining Momentum
In a recent survey, Podium found 81 percent of U.S. consumers used Google to research a local business in 2017, while 59 percent used Yelp and 49 percent utilized Facebook.

Of the top three platforms, Google and Facebook allow businesses to solicit reviews and anyone can leave them.

Yelp, on the other hand, uses an algorithm that baffles many jewelers, prioritizing reviews by certain customers who use their review system frequently while hiding others. (Some small business owners have accused Yelp of manipulating what reviews are seen based on whether a business pays to advertise on the site, an allegation the company denies. A documentary on Yelp’s alleged manipulation that National Jeweler wrote about in 2015, “Billion Dollar Bully,” has been completed and is seeking a path to distribution, according to the film’s website.)

Yelp’s crowd-sourced reviews began to impact local businesses soon after its launch in 2004. By the end of 2017, Yelp had more than 77 million unique visitors via desktop and 64 million via mobile with 148 million reviews posted, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Because Padis Jewelers is in tech-savvy Silicon Valley and close to Yelp’s San Francisco headquarters, the retailer felt the review site’s influence immediately.

When Alexis Padis joined her family business in the early 2000s, she said that Yelp had “become this animal we had to pay attention to and manage and advertise in.”

Padis Jewelers harnessed Yelp’s powerful reach to build a strong following for their four Bay-area stores and plan to do the same for a fifth location, a Forevermark store, opening in Walnut Creek in the spring.

Even with Google coming on strong, Yelp is still the No. 1 review platform in the Bay Area, Padis said, and leaving reviews there is second nature to their customers.

“I can’t tell you how many clients walk in and say, ‘We found you on Yelp,’” she said. “From a marketing perspective, it’s something we can’t ignore.

“I see Yelp as a marketing expense but also a way to maintain a dialog with our clients. They need to be recognized and appreciated.”

Even Padis admits, however, that she doesn’t understand Yelp’s algorithm, something she believes the company keeps under wraps so businesses don’t game the system.

Every jeweler interviewed for this story said the same.
“Google is gaining momentum as the most trusted review platform overall.” —Nick Miller, Podium
So, how do retailers encourage reviews on Yelp when they can’t actively solicit them?

Emily Washcovick, manager of local business outreach at Yelp, suggested retailers make their Yelp business pages easier to find. One thing jewelers can do without paying Yelp a cent is to flesh out their profiles using keywords strategically, including in photograph captions.

Business pages with 10 or more photos see 200 percent more user views every day, she said. She advises jewelers to post professional photos and caption them using keywords.

“Those captions help images appear in keyword searches, but also when consumers do a search on Yelp, they’re going to see an image next to the business listing. If you don’t look legitimate, people are less likely to select you.”

Retail is the No. 1 most-reviewed category on Yelp, Washcovick said, and Yelp users are more inclined to write reviews on local businesses they spent money with.

And, as for Yelp’s formula for showing certain reviews and not others?

“Yelp tries to recommend the most reliable and trustworthy content,” she said. “We look into what we know about the reviewer, how active they are on the site and what IP address the review is coming from. We try to avoid business owners or consumers who are trying to bring down the competition.”

In 2014, Google launched Google My Business, where local businesses can put up a Yelp-like profile page with hours, contact info, a map, and Yelp-like gold-star review system.

These reviews now appear by default when consumers Google a business.

In May, Google added a dashboard to manage multiple locations and in August, improved its location filters and added product-related content (name, price, etc.) and URLs for reviewers’ profile photos.

“Google is gaining momentum as the most trusted review platform overall,” Podium’s Nick Miller said.

Podium partnered with Yelp for a while, but Podium’s review requests conflicted with Yelp’s no-solicitation policy so Podium now focuses on Google reviews.

Never Underestimate Customer Service
Look hard enough and you’ll find jewelers who have risen near the top in searches for local jewelers, amassing dozens of positive reviews without following the suggested online protocol.

If you search Yelp for jewelers in the Boston area, for example, Leo Carroll Jewelers often shows up in a crowded marketplace. It is a tiny, second-floor shop in Cambridge’s Inman Square that has been in operation since 1948 without even street-level signage.

While the retailer pays Yelp a nominal advertising fee, Leo Carroll has a modest marketing budget. It doesn’t use services like Podium, posts few images on its Yelp page, has no Facebook page, and rarely asks customers to leave reviews.

The store does virtually nothing to actively build their online presence, in other words, and yet Leo Carroll Jewelers has amassed 156 reviews on Yelp alone, averaging 5 stars.

What accounts for these impressive results?

Sean Carroll, who runs the business with his father, said it helps that the store is in the ultimate upscale college town, less than a mile from both Harvard and MIT. They sell a lot of engagement rings to a highly educated millennial population who, in turn, tend to post thoughtful reviews.

“Our store is small and very low key,” he said. “We don’t do anything amazing. We just try to do a good job, repair jewelry, and keep our prices as reasonable as possible.”

Old-fashioned customer service has worked wonders thus far.

“Even if we’re not in the best of moods, we always smile when someone walks in and take the time to chat,” Carroll. “We try to make the experience as pleasant as we can.”

ABC Jewelry, the Portland store, is another example of solid customer service.

Sima asks fewer than 10 percent of his customers to leave reviews, yet his store has managed to amass a five-star average on Google, Yelp and Facebook, enough to keep them visible in online searches.

“We are too busy at times, especially when we’re helping one client, and another is waiting,” he said. “It’s hard to ask people with their busy schedules.

“I know most people are online for hours daily but it takes time to go to Yelp and sign up and write a review. It may be a shortcoming of ours but we just try to provide an excellent service at amazing prices. What people write about us is essentially up to them.”

But experts say leaving reviews to chance and good customer service might not be enough to stay visible in a crowded online marketplace.

“We recommend asking all customers for reviews,” Podium’s Miller said. “I know it’s scary for jewelers to risk those one- or two-star reviews, but if you ask enough people, there will be enough four- and five-star reviews to drown those out.”

Padis agrees.

“Responding is probably the most important thing you can do, especially with negative reviews, but also with the positive ones. When people take the time to write the review, it’s important for the business owner to respond. It’s time-consuming but I think it’s worth every minute and every penny.”

Podium offers a service for sending out automatic requests for reviews but jewelers that specialize in engagement rings often opt out to avoid the risk of outing the proposer before the questions has been popped, when his (or her) photo appears next to a review.

For this reason, Padis uses Podium only for review management.

Navigating the Negative Review
First rule of thumb: No matter how wonderful your product and service, you will get negative reviews. The trick is to get enough positive ones to put them into perspective.

Miller recommends responding to every negative review.

“When other customers see that one-star review, they’ll see something bad happened but also that the jeweler did something to fix it.”

Carroll said negative reviews can be contagious. While his store has escaped them for the most part, he has seen other businesses get a bad rap.

“People tend to get on the bandwagon, whether someone is getting positive or negative reviews. So if you have some bad reviews, people chime in on that, whereas good reviews beget more good reviews.”

Sometimes a seemingly small, petty matter can get a store one star, he said. Also, “If a merchant is abrupt or disrespectful in some way, that’ll get you the one-star review pretty fast.”

A business owner’s first instinct is usually to try to refute what was said, Miller said, but the best way to respond to negative reviews is to respond in a proactive, timely manner while offering some sort of resolution. That should include a suggestion to take the conversation offline.

Carter, of Jack Lewis Jewelers, always answers negative reviews by taking responsibility if he can.

“Address your fallibility,” he said. “Accept the fact that you can be wrong and be willing to whatever it takes to correct the problem.”

In these cases, Carter introduces himself as the owner of the business and invites the disgruntled customer to contact him, listing his direct number at the store and personal email.

“The public does not expect any business to be perfect, but they do expect you to make it right when things go wrong,” he said. “Some people only look at the positive reviews because they want to reinforce their decision to buy. But others go right to the one-star reviews because they want to see how you address problems.”
 “We all benefit from a cool-down period when it comes to bad reviews.” — Alexis Padis, Padis Jewelers
A negative review also can supply insight into how a business is operating, Miller said.

“If there are certain employees not treating customers the way you want, it’s an opportunity to fix the situation.”

Padis warns against jumping the gun, however, when it comes to complaints about employees.

“I have an awesome staff. When I dig into the issue behind a bad review, nine times out of 10, my team did the right thing,” she said. “Automatically blaming them can do so much damage. So I always take the time to learn what happened.”

It’s easy for an owner to read a bad review, call the salesperson and let them have it, she said, but the negative review might have nothing to do with them.

“We deal with a lot of brides and there’s no wrath like that of a bride scorned. When you’re dealing with engagement rings, it’s often more about what’s going on in the customer’s life.”

When Padis’ store or salespeople get a bad review, she writes her initial response immediately in a Word document then sleeps on it and sends her response to friends in the industry asking for feedback on how it may be interpreted.

“I usually end up toning it down a bit, to a response that’s respectful and communicative, rather than immediately firing off a response that might be too personal or emotional,” Padis said. “We all benefit from a cool-down period when it comes to bad reviews.”

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Since 1906, National Jeweler has been the must-read news source for smart jewelry professionals--jewelry retailers, designers, buyers, manufacturers, and suppliers. From market analysis to emerging jewelry trends, we cover the important industry topics vital to the everyday success of jewelry professionals worldwide. National Jeweler delivers the most urgent jewelry news necessary for running your day-to-day jewelry business here, and via our daily e-newsletter, website and other specialty publications, such as "The State of the Majors." National Jeweler is published by Jewelers of America, the leading nonprofit jewelry association in the United States.