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How to Grow Your Online Reputation As a Retail Startup
Heather ReddingSep 25, 2020 10:30:00 AM7 min read

How to Grow Your Online Reputation As a Retail Startup

In the Internet age, companies have no choice but to consistently work on their online reputation. Statistics show that over 80% of buyers trust online customer recommendations more than they trust advertisements. This shift means the support for your retail business must be organic. You can no longer paper over the cracks with fancy marketing gimmicks.

There is another aspect of reputation that you need to consider. Rather than only managing your reputation, you should be thinking about how to grow it.

Sadly, many companies have had to learn the hard way that a misstep online can damage a business. By the time you recover and apologise, you’ll have already lost some customers. In a worst-case scenario, your retail startup may not survive an enormous scandal.

A big part of your company’s endurance lies in managing and improving your online standing. A powerful image helps your business to weather any reputation hits. Here are several tips for growing your online reputation as a retail startup.


Collect and showcase social proof

Social proof, a term coined by Robert Cialdini in his book Influence, is also known as social influence.

According to Dominique Jackson, it’s a concept that people will follow the action of the masses. He writes: “The idea is that since so many people behave in a certain way, it must be the correct behaviour”

Of course, it’s human nature to imitate what others are doing. People copy others, for example, in fashion, in eating, in social settings, and in what to buy. That’s why it’s a powerful tool for retailers. You can see it as a way to gain new customers and increase sales. That’s even more so as a retail startup looking to get a foot in the door.

As a retail startup, you can raise your image by collecting and showcasing social proof. The most common way to do this is by requesting online reviews. If a customer leaves your store satisfied, you can ask them to leave a positive message online.

When other people go online to research your company, they’ll read all these positive reviews. These comments will build trust and credibility in the minds of new customers.


Use UGC and influencer marketing

Much like social proof, UGC (user-generated content) and influencer marketing appear more honest and authentic in the minds of your customers. This is when compared to your marketing messages. 

Also, according to a survey conducted by Stackla, “79% of people say user-generated content highly impacts their purchasing decisions”. 

Here’s how you can use this to your advantage:

          How to use UGC

Companies can connect with their audience by encouraging people to participate in company activities. For example, a fashion brand can ask its audience to share pictures of themselves wearing their outfits.

For marketers, the goal is to build brand loyalty and catch the attention of random online users. There’s usually a lot of engagement online when UGC pops up on the web. If it goes viral, it will expand your reach and inspire other creative people to join in and make more content.

What’s more, you can use it to get your customers to sell for you.

Companies can spur these creatives by offering a reward or discount for the best content. Since people love contests and giveaways, they’ll take part even though they may not be fans of your company. Over time, these interactions will lead to converting more people into paying customers.

As a bonus, UGC will save your startup a lot of money on marketing costs.

          How to use influence marketing

Potential customers like seeing other people using and enjoying a product or service. It comes back to that social proof - if someone else uses a product, it must be worth considering. You can also see that dynamic in the latest form of marketing: influencer marketing.

Influencers are people with thousands, or even millions, of followers on social media. Brands can leverage their audience reach and engagement to prompt products or services. In your case, your startup benefits if people see influencers using your products.

It’s worth pointing out that influencer marketing also offers “potential in terms of driving conversions”.

That said, from a persuasion perspective, influencers act as an authority on what is cool. By encouraging their followers to try your products, they’ll be enacting a form of social proof. Once a follower buys your products and they leave a review, that can attract more people to your brand.

Of course, when it comes to marketing your startup using influencers, it’s not a simple case of choosing anyone. Instead, it’s important to “find the influencers who best align with your brand image and story”.


Be active and transparent on social media

With the quick changes that happen online, you need to be active on social media. Respond when people message you. Try your best to be transparent when you engage with them.

Honesty and open engagement enhance your relationships. Remember, people prefer to buy from companies they like. According to 5W Public Relations’ 2020 Consumer Culture Report, 71% of customers said they preferred to buy from brands that aligned with their values.

If you treat your customers right, they will be loyal, and they’ll continue buying from you.

Also, share content on your social media pages as much as possible. The more you engage, the longer you’ll remain top-of-mind for potential clients. Writing for Hubspot, Emily Coates unpacks when it’s best to post across several social media platforms.

If a scandal ever hits your retail startup, you’ll be able to come back stronger. That’s because of the transparency you displayed and the trust you built up with your customers. They will forgive you, defend you, and give you another chance.


Respond to customer complaints

Your most significant threat in an online setting is allowing a customer complaint to fester. In the past, the traditional retail models dealt with customers on a one-on-one basis. On the Internet, part of solving the customer complaint will involve a bit of public relations expertise.

First, accept responsibility immediately. Then fix whatever the issue may be. Dave Kerpen calls it ‘LAST’: Listen, Apologize, Solve the Problem, and Thank the customer.

All of these actions will show that your retail startup has integrity. What’s more, it can also build trust.

Otherwise, a minor problem can easily cannonball into an avalanche of customer dissatisfaction. The ensuing public confrontations will sour your relationship with current and potential customers.


Create high-quality content about your products and business

You can grow your online reputation by creating high-quality content. The content can be articles, photos, video tutorials, how-to’s, and guest posts. Talk about your business, your products, and the benefits they bring to the consumer.

Content marketing enables startups to make a name for themselves early before they generate an army of brand ambassadors to promote them. In fact, it’s perfect as a growth channel, and you only need to consider these examples.

Even if you’re a new name on the market, content marketing helps you reach new customers not by focusing on your brand name but rather by addressing potential customer issues.

Optimise your content for search engines so that your content shows up on top of search engine results when a customer is searching for a solution online.

Use local SEO to draw visitors to your store. This strategy gets your startup to rank on the first page for local online searches. Next time someone in your area is searching for a specific product, your store will show up among the first results.


Make every customer touchpoint a positive and personalised experience

Finally, ensure every interaction with customers is a positive and personalised experience. Individualising everything makes the customers feel special. According to a study by Cloud IQ, 69% of customers want an individualised experience.

They feel taken care of, and they will reciprocate by spending more or staying loyal to your brand. Referring back to the Cloud IQ survey, 71% of customers say they feel more valued, 64% are more likely to trust a company and 61% said they’d spend more money.

You can improve personalisation by retargeting customers who visit your website. Personalise messages by using the customer’s name and by recommending exclusive products. Conduct surveys about customer experiences and figure out how to improve your service.

Nowadays, a customer can find dozens of products similar to yours. They’ll need a good reason to choose you over the competition. Making them feel like they’re your top priority and not just a number to pad your profit will differentiate you from larger and established brands.


Every retail startup faces challenges. The one problem they never expect to come up early on is what people think of them online. Failing to address your online reputation has the potential to sink your company before you gain a foothold in the market.

If you understand the specifics of your organisation's processes before committing to a solution, you’ll be able to make the right choice.


Heather Redding

Heather is a part-time assistant manager, solopreneur, and writer based in Aurora, Illinois. She is also an avid reader and a tech enthusiast.