By Adrianna Nowell

There’s an emerging trend in retail where established online marketplaces and big box retailers are helping SMB brands and local artisans gain exposure and amplify their reach. Target recently partnered with Society6 to release an exclusive collection of designs from self-made artists around the world, and Amazon introduced Amazon Storefronts to profile small and medium-sized business owners who sell on their marketplace.

There are multiple reasons why leading retailers are spotlighting SMBs and local brands. Carrying a variety of unique products helps retailers differentiate from their competitors and nurtures loyalty among their existing customers, but most importantly, it appeals and caters to what consumers want.

In today’s digital environment, shoppers have infinite choices and reaching them is challenging. With access to billions of products, ways to discover them and places to buy them, consumers can be incredibly selective about what they purchase. Online shopping on Amazon and other large retailers often provides speed and convenience, but shoppers consider many factors beyond price and delivery times when making their decisions. Consumers also care about quality and want to support brands and businesses they trust and connect with on an emotional level.

Small and mid-market brands have a tremendous opportunity to connect with consumers and stand out on their own websites and at the retail channels they sell through by putting the voice of the customer front and center. An effective, scalable marketing and selling strategy for brands is collecting, displaying and distributing online reviews. Virtually every large online retailer features this type of content on their product pages, but for SMBs especially, ratings and reviews can also help you:

Get Discovered: One of the biggest hurdles SMB brands must overcome is getting discovered in the first place. Most small and mid-size brands don’t have the luxury of big advertising budgets or marketing staff, so establishing baseline awareness can be a challenge. Shoppers begin their product searches on Google and Amazon, and they consult other online marketplaces, retail sites and social media platforms to discover new products as well. Fresh and recent ratings and reviews are proven to enhance SEO and drive site traffic. Use them to put credible product information right at the initial point of discovery and improve your search rankings.

Build Consumer Trust: Today’s consumers are weary of traditional advertising and brand marketing from companies. According to the Edelman, overall trust in the media and businesses is on a continuous decline among the informed public and the general population. Rather than believing traditional advertising and marketing messaging from brands, consumers rely on the feedback and opinions of other people like them when making their purchase decisions. Fifty-six percent of consumers trust the descriptions of other consumers over anything that a brand produces, and brands who have ratings and reviews available experience on average a 106 percent conversion lift. Collect a high volume of authentic review content to build consumer trust and give them the confidence to buy.

Let Shoppers Tell Your Story: Online reviews do not exclusively have to live on product pages. Genuine testimonials from satisfied shoppers are powerful, so repurpose this content in other marketing materials and let your customers tell your story. Real opinions, feedback and experiences from other real people resonate with consumers and humanize brands and their products. Consider incorporating customer feedback in social media campaigns or e-mail communications, or try featuring star ratings in creative materials, like product packaging, promotional collateral or signage. The voices of your customers are original, believable and influential, so amplify them.

Find and Engage with Advocates: Many SMBs don’t sell direct-to-consumer and often rely on their retail partners to generate and drive the bulk of their sales volume. In this scenario, brands don’t always know who their customers are and what they think about their products. A great tactic for learning more about your audience and hearing their valuable feedback is by partnering with your retail channels to send product samples to their customers in exchange for honest reviews. Shoppers who participate in sampling communities are active, engaged and willing to write thoughtful and authentic reviews about your products. Sampling not only helps you collect more reviews, but it’s a great way to identify future brand advocates and better understand how your brand is perceived.

In the vast universe of online shopping, small and mid-size brands don’t have to view large, established retailers as competition. Instead, find ways to work with them and add value to their online shopping experience. Consumers want to find and buy from brands like you; leverage their feedback and the scale of your retail partners to connect with them and convert them.

Adrianna Nowell is the Director of Product Marketing for Bazaarvoice.

Online shopper stock photo by Nong Mars/Shutterstock