By now, customer reviews are ubiquitous, and many merchants offer them on their eCommerce sites using one or another leading vendors’ standard deployments. But new research suggests that the vast potential utility of customer reviews can best be mined by a bespoke approach that shines a light on merchants’ unique brand offerings.
In a new study from the Pew Research Center, fully half of U.S. online adults under the age of 50 say they always or almost always consult reviews prior to making purchases. As might be expected, the practice is most prevalent among those aged 18-29, with 53 percent of those shoppers saying they use reviews — but even among consumers aged 50-64, reviews are considered relevant shopping tools, with more than a third consulting them frequently. Overall, some 40 percent of the U.S. online populace rely on reviews to make purchasing decisions.
The rise in mobile shopping research is one reason reviews are so central to purchasing decisions. When in stores, Pew found that 45 percent of consumers overall have used their mobile devices to look up customer reviews and that percentage jumps to more than 60 percent among those under 50.
But while reviews are now an established waystation on the path to purchase, merchants must do more than offer star ratings if they’re to convince shoppers to continue onward toward purchase. To maximize the effectiveness of reviews, merchants should:
While usage of reviews is high, so is skepticism about the content. Just over half of shoppers agree that reviews give an accurate picture of products, Pew found, but 48 percent say it’s difficult to tell whether reviews are truthful or biased. To overcome questions about credibility, merchants should:
- Explicitly state how reviews are collected. Merchants should give prominent placement to the general review policies and guidelines; the majority of reviews should be voluntarily contributed, and those solicited via contests or by giving social media influencers free goods should be flagged as such.
- Highlight reviewers’ credentials. Badges for verified purchasers, frequent reviewers, contributors using their real names, and expert reviewers let shoppers rate the ratings and focus on those reviews from the most trusted sources.
- Enable ratings on category-specific product attributes. Merchants can demonstrate their brand’s expertise by allowing reviewers to rate products on category- or industry-specific criteria. By demonstrating their knowledge of the attributes important to shoppers, merchants boost their own credibility as well as collecting valuable review content.
To maximize the credibility and utility of reviews, Kibo merchant Peruvian Connection flags top reviewers and verified buyers as well as enabling ratings for multiple product criteria. Reviewer profiles that include age range and occupation further enable shoppers to find opinions from customers whose lifestyles match their own.
Vet mobile usability
Given that 51 percent of shoppers are using their mobile devices to buy as well as research products, merchants should ensure that reviews are fully functional on small screens — and that includes providing “mobile-first” functionality for contributing as well as reading review content. Among the best practices:
- Place access to reviews prominently on mobile product pages. Shoppers should be able to access detailed reviews, not just star ratings, and have a variety of ways to sort and filter review content — whether by star rating, recency, or by showing only reviews from verified purchasers.
- Make review submission tap- and swipe-friendly. Enable shoppers to add overall ratings as well as ratings of individual product attributes and highlight top product pluses and minuses via mobile-friendly interfaces that enable access to frequently-used phrases from other reviewers.
- Enable multi-media contributions. Thanks to their smartphone cameras, shoppers can more easily than ever capture photos or video of how a product looks or works and add it to their reviews — capabilities merchants should capitalize on by enabling reviews with images. More than half of U.S. consumers have watched video reviews, and a whopping 68 percent of those under 50 have done so, Pew found.
Offer Q and A functionality alongside reviews
Somewhat surprisingly, Pew found that touching and trying items aren’t the most essential decision factors for shoppers considering purchase of new products. Instead, the ability to ask questions is a top factor — just as important as price comparisons — which means that merchants should do their utmost to replicate online the types of exchanges shoppers might have with savvy store staff.
One way to do so is to offer Q and A functionality that enables online shoppers to pose product questions other customers can address. Q and A content complements product reviews by addressing specific concerns that reviewers may not cover, while still enabling customers to contribute authentic information other shoppers trust. Staff experts can chime in, or endorse specific responses, as a means of ensuring information is accurate and demonstrating the brand’s product expertise.
How are you harnessing the power of customer reviews for 2017?