Reputation can be a powerful force in retail.
Now that Gen Z accounts for approximately 40 percent of the total U.S. consumer base, representing spending power worth $143 billion, retailers need to wisen up regarding how search and online reviews factor into their reputation with consumers.
To gauge how retailers and brands performed in this respect, local search marketing firm Chatmeter published its third annual Local Brand Report on Reputation’s Role in Retail. In the study, Chatmeter evaluated some of the nation’s largest and most influential retailers, comparing both their ability to maintain high search ranking and their consistency in responding to customer reviews over the course of Thanksgiving and Black Friday.
“Our latest analysis suggests big changes are still needed to accurately capture nearby customers, regardless of what or how they are searching or if competitors are also in the area,” Collin Holmes, founder and CEO of Chatmeter, said in a statement. “In the years ahead, we can expect younger shoppers to force retail’s hand at paying attention to how offline experiences reflect in online searching, and vice-versa.”
To do this, the firm assigned each a score for both online and offline experiences at the local level, called Local Brand Visibility (LBV). Scores range from zero to 100, with 70 reflecting of an industry leader and scores between 50 and 70 as the average. Anything below this threshold is considered subpar.
Once the scores were tallied, Chatmeter pitted each retailer in a head-to-head matchup with its most natural competitors. Here are some of the highlights from the battle of the brands:
Target vs. Walmart
Target edged out its long-time rival with an LBV of 67 compared to Walmart’s 60. Throughout the season of high traffic and big discounts, Target largely outperformed Walmart when it came to in-store experience, with 82.1 percent of its reviews expressing a positive sentiment compared to just 57 percent for Walmart. Target won in every category studied, including a higher ranking in holiday searches.
Nordstrom vs. Macy’s
With department stores facing the stiffest headwinds, competition during the holidays was incredibly tight. To that end, Chatmeter pointed out the desperation inherent in Nordstrom’s decision to accept Macy’s returns regardless of whether it even carried the product. Despite this, Macy’s performed slightly better than Nordstrom with an LBV of 67 compared to Nordstrom’s 63, largely a product of Macy’s higher search rankings.
Macy’s likely optimized its search position for unbranded keywords, a major source of white space when it comes to retail SEO strategy, Chatmeter said.
“With the exception of Lego Store and Williams-Sonoma, retailers struggled most with online search rankings, which are critical for reaching nearby shoppers driven by immediate need rather than brand loyalty,” Chatmeter wrote in the report. “Unbranded keywords (‘toy’ versus ‘Lego,’ or ‘cast-iron skillet’ versus ‘Williams-Sonoma’) support page one search rankings and strongly increase the likelihood a brand is found in a voice search.”
Despite its decent LBV and search success, Macy’s still said it would be closing 28 stores after holiday results were tallied.
Gap vs. Old Navy
As these former brandmates continue to prepare for their split, Chatmeter found that the race was incredibly tight in terms of online reputation. Gap scored an LBV of 66 while Old Navy was close behind at 65. However, Old Navy outperformed Gap by 19 points in terms of search priority. This race was too close to call, Chatmeter said, suggesting the upcoming split will result in intense competition.
Abercrombie & Fitch vs. American Eagle
Another close race, this one was decided by a wide gulf in positive sentiment distribution over the holidays. With an LBV of 57, Abercrombie & Fitch narrowly edged out American Eagle’s LBV of 56. However, American Eagle earned positive reviews at a rate of 80 percent, while Abercrombie was only able to earn 59.3 percent. This could likely be attributed to a significant disparity regarding in-store experience over the course of the study, the firm said.
Ross vs. TJ Maxx
In the battle of off-price retailers, Chatmeter found a clear winner. Of all those studied, TJ Maxx earned the lowest rate of negative reviews of any retailer at 3.8 percent. In fact, consumers of both retailers raved about their great selections, and both earned an average rating of 4.2 stars or higher. However, TJ Maxx was still able to beat Ross in every measurable category—including LBV, which was five points higher than the 69 points Ross earned.
Lululemon vs. Athleta
Both athletic brands have reported explosive growth over the past few years, making them prime targets for comparison in Chatmeter’s study. Despite this growth, however, neither brand was able to accrue anything near an industry-average number of reviews during the study period. Lululemon earned fewer than six reviews per location over three months. For comparison, Chatmeter said the average amount of reviews for a retail location in that timeframe is 27.
Both retailers struggled with this issue and Chatmeter declined to name a winner in this competition. Overall, Chatmeter said, both could improve their number of reviews if they focused on increasing their response rate, which is a paltry 1.1 percent throughout the retail industry.
“Even during the craze of Black Friday, customer review sentiments were largely positive,” the firm wrote. “But failing to respond to reviews, regardless of sentiment, misses the opportunity to create a seamless customer experience and demonstrate that the brand is listening and improving. This approach is paramount to Gen Z buyers, who will have mass purchase power in the 2020’s.”
H&M vs. Forever 21
When Forever 21 announced its bankruptcy in September, H&M felt the positive effects instantly, Chatmeter said. However, neither of the fast-fashion retailers showcased an ability to effectively manage customer sentiment or reviews. In either case, H&M won the competition with an LBV of 62 compared to Forever 21’s score of 49.