Whenever I travel, my first order of business (after checking into a hotel) is to browse through the yellow pages. I can tell a lot about a town’s economy by looking through their phone book: What types of businesses are around, how many of each type and where the business center is. Multiple luxury car dealerships, fancy restaurants and high-end retailers tell quite a different story about a town than a single Ford dealership, fast food restaurants, a convenience store and a Dollar Store.
Regardless of the size of the town, when time allows I visit a few antique shops. Stores filled with the latest consumer goods don’t interest me. Such shops all carry the same merchandise and exist on the basis of price and convenience. Antique shops, on the other hand, are unique and reflect the personality of the owner(s). Even small rural villages seem to have at least one antique shop, and I am rarely disappointed by them.
In a city with multiple antique shops, I plan my shopping by Googling “antiques” and the name of the city, and then I read the customer reviews for each shop to determine which ones I’ll go to.
Dealers, if you’ve never spent any time reading customer reviews of antique shops, I suggest you do so. You’ll find out in a hurry what sorts of things drive customers crazy. You don’t even have to leave your home to find out; just pick a city, Google “antique shops” and read away. Here are a few reviews taken from Google (the names of the shops have been left out):
• “No heat, no air, and if you buy something you have to load it your self (sic). Most of the merchandise was newer, and the staff was not friendly AT ALL. I’m a local and I will not be back. Beware if you like a nice shopping experience.”
• “Very rude on the telephone. After hearing about him for years I was very disappointed.”
• “Maybe we just hit them on a bad day, but we were clearly given the impression that we were a nuisance. Short answers, exasperated expressions, etc. In addition, we liked something that was marked sold and were told we would be followed up with on possibility of finding a duplicate. Never heard from them, despite us reaching out via email a week later.”
• “I never made it inside because they didn’t open during their listed hours. No one picked up phone. I stopped by twice and no one answered the door even though it was 2 hours after they said they opened. Hours never matched their website listing. Totally unprofessional. A waste of time.”
Of course, I found good reviews as well. In fact, some reviews were just too good to be true. Whenever I see long paragraphs of glowing praise, I become suspicious of the review.
Reviews that are too well written are usually paid advertising. Although that’s supposed to be a Google rule-breaker, it happens all the time.
Most positive reviews looked like these:
• “Great antiques at good prices. Lovely help great people to deal with.”
• “Fun place to browse, always interesting new things.”
When a positive review is the “real deal,” it’s usually short and sweet. It’s rare that a happy customer will take the time to write a review of a company unless they are extremely happy.
Negative reviews, however, are the revenge mechanism for every customer who feels that they have been slighted. Review sites like YELP, Yahoo, Google, Foursquare, Citysearch or Zagat are replete with the tales of maligned consumers. In such reviews every slight has to be recounted in detail, listing the name, rank and serial numbers of all involved. Such reviews can wreak havoc with the reputation of an antique dealer.
I’m not the only person who decides where to shop based on reviews; many do so. In an unfamiliar town, online reviews are the only recommendations available.
Dealers, what do the reviews for your shop look like? Have you read them? Do you even have any?
Online reviews play a heavy role in a customer’s perception of your business. Even in instances where your website is buried way back on page 10 of search results, a review of your business can show up right on page one. A negative review of your business on page one of search results is almost impossible to counteract and will certainly harm your business.
Negative online reviews are worse, in fact, than bad feedback on eBay. At least with eBay you can close your account and move on. Online feedback, however, can hang around for years and there’s nothing you can do to get rid of it.
If you haven’t started to do so, here are some action items for you to consider:
1. Look up your business online, and visit each site that has it listed (in addition to the above listed review sites, city directories usually have business reviews.) At each site, claim your business and provide as much detail as the site will allow.
2. Read the reviews of your competitors’ businesses.
3. Read reviews of antiques shops in other cities, and take notes on common customer complaints. Establish operating procedures for your business that will avoid these complaints in the first place.
4. Without paying or bribing anyone, encourage your customers to provide you with reviews.
5. If you already have some bad reviews, the only remedy is to “outweigh” them with good reviews. The sooner you start the better.
6. Get a Facebook business page, develop a fan base and nurture some positive “buzz” about your business.
You’ve no doubt heard the aphorism that “a dissatisfied customer will share his dissatisfaction with 10 people, but a satisfied customer will share his satisfaction with only one person.” In trying to find some basis in fact for that statement, what I discovered was that the complaint to compliment ratio varied widely across industries, from a low of 7-to-1 to a high of 26-to-1. Whatever the ratio might be for the antiques business, it’s crucial that you control the online perception of your business.
Your livelihood may depend on it.
Previously published by Antique Trader Magazine