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Maximizing Conversion Rates From Product Reviews

There is much published research that adding product reviews to your eStore can increase your sales. Indeed an article on this subject published on Practical eCommerce cites:

  • Reviews increase the buy rate. Seventy-six percent of customers use online reviews when making purchases.

  • Leverage with suppliers. eBags knows more about the products it sells than the people who manufacture them.

Additionally the following benefits of product reviews were listed:

  • Search engine optimization

  • Reviews increase the amount of original content on the site. If that content is topically-relevant, it stands to reason it will help increase SERPs.

  • Increased user-engagement

  • Visitors will return more often to read recently updated reviews. It is even better if RSS feeds can be tied to product reviews so updated information is delivered to subscribers.

  • Increased traffic from return visits. If your ecommerce site offers a rating/review system and your competitor does not, it stands to reason the customer will visit you and not them. You gain competitive advantage.

  • Increased trust. If word of mouth is a highly-trusted source (and it is), the fact you offer a rating/review system will lend itself to increased trust in your site.

  • Word of mouth marketing.

  • Some rating/review systems also include a recommendation component, which allows site visitors to notify a friend about a product via email.

 Personally I would add another bullet point to this list, although it is related to the second:

  • Quality Control. Your purchasers will quickly let you know through review feedback if the product is of poor quality.  There will be a percentage of purchasers who will email and call immediately, but there is also a high percentage who won't; they be quiet, but will be loathe to buy from you again.  These people will, however, tell you honestly in a product review. If a product consistently elicits poor feedback you may consider taking it 'off the shelves'.

It is very important though how you garner product reviews. Many eCommerce platforms that have built-in product review functionality will allow for anyone on the product page to post a review (either with or without registration). This will definately get more product review data, but the quality of such reviews will be diminished because it is open to abuse; competitors, suppliers and malcontents can post bogus reviews (positive and negative) which will skew the results. Many eCommerce shoppers are savvy enough these days to sense these bogus reviews, typically through obvious phrasing, and this will actually hinder the sale rather than promote it. If the consumer doesn't trust your reviews they will lose trust in your store and move on elsewhere.

A second alternative is to use a third party review service. The advantage of this approach is that customers are contacted by a well known, reputable company and will get a good conversion rate of product reviews. They can, however, be very expensive, which is fine if you want to outsource this task rather than expend time (= money) of your staff to do the filtering, reviewing etc. Be careful though how the service provider provides your product reviews for display on your page, if they use 'frames' to their site then all that good text will not help your SEO or SERPS because to all intents and purposes the content is invisible to crawlers.

The third alternative (and this is what is used in our My EZ Store platform) is  a proactive automatic follow up where your customers are sent an email by the system, a set time after their order has shipped, which contains a summary of the order along with a link to a secure review page on your store site.  This makes it as simple as possible for the customer to provide their views on each product in the order. Upon submission the merchant has to possibility of accepting or rejecting the comments made.  For authenticity the merchant is not able to edit the text. The review rate will be lower, but the quality of the product reviews will be exceptionally high. When this was rolled out into one of customers sites sales lept by 20% which made it obvious to the merchant that future customers really trust these reviews.

In conclusion the eMerchant needs to be aware that simply providing product reviews will not automatically get the benefits listed above, but rather emphasis should be placed on quality, follow up and good old customer service ... if a customer has complained in a review but not demanded a refund, maybe you contact that customer proactively and replace it. Such an act will turn someone with a negative view of your store to someone who is treated well and may become a cherished, and profitable, repeat customer.

Author: Mark Lowe
Date: July 17, 2009

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