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The Definitive Guide to Online Customer Reviews

Today it's essential to make customer reviews a central part of your ecommerce strategy. This white paper will show you how.

As social creatures, humans are hard-wired to respond to social proof and the wisdom of crowds.

That’s the psychology behind the effectiveness and rise of online reviews.

In fact, as ecommerce has grown, online reviews have been one of the key tools that have helped to build and retain consumer trust.

Today, over 50% of consumers consult online reviews before a purchase. Reviews have become an expected element of the ecommerce shopping experience.

As an ecommerce brand, it’s now essential to include customer reviews as a central part of your strategy.

That’s why we decided to write the definitive guide to online customer reviews. We wanted to give you all the tools you need to get the most out of your online reviews.

Why Your Ecommerce Site Needs Online Reviews

customer reviews

Social influence is powerful. The percent of people who trust online reviews in their buying decisions has now grown to an incredible 90% according to recent survey data. In fact, complementary surveys show that over half of all online shoppers rank reviews from strangers as more important than reviews from friends and family.

We’ve spoken to several ecommerce site managers who don’t allow for customers to submit reviews of products. They’ve done this intentionally for many reasons: they fear receiving a negative review, they don’t have enough resources to monitor the reviews, or they just don’t know where to begin. The simple answer for them was to remove the ability for customer-generated reviews altogether; they eliminated the problem by ignoring it. Unfortunately, by doing this they also eliminated a valuable piece of the customer buying experience.

Next is an example that we see frequently while evaluating customer online shopping journeys. As the example above illustrates, reviews are a powerful tool in the customer journey to purchase. If you want to get reviews on your site but you just don’t know where to begin, we’ll take you through the steps needed to get a system setup on your site quickly.

How to Setup Reviews on Your Ecommerce Site

customer reviews

The first step is to ensure that your customers have the ability to leave comments on your product detail pages. The above example captures many of the traditional elements of a customer review section. Your page layout may need to be tested to ensure that the placement of comments flows appropriately with your  customer’s unique journey.

Depending on your unique audience it may be appropriate to add additional details to the reviewer information to lend credibility to the review. This may include using their real first names, not usernames or nicknames. This can be done by connecting their review to their online account or require leaving a review tied to a social media account such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google. Other additional reviewer details may include:

  1. Profile picture or an avatar
  2. Customer/member since date
  3. Number of reviews written for your company
  4. Reviewer qualifications:
    1. Age range
    2. Descriptor
    3. Skill or experience level
    4. Favorite type of activity level or use
  5. Description of pros & cons or likes & dislikes
  6. Explanations of how the product has performed for them personally

Many of the popular ecommerce platforms like Shopify, Magento, etc. offer built-in product review apps or allow for custom add-ons. So the technical barrier to enable reviews on these platforms is low. For custom or proprietary ecommerce systems, contact your web design and development teams to discuss your options. Or, we’d be happy to recommend our favorites that we have seen work best to increase engagement and online sales.

Review Platform Overview

customer reviews

There are a variety of customer review systems out there, each with different pros and cons. Many of them are plugins that work by extending existing platforms like Magento or Shopify. We recommend using a review system that allows you to subscribe to their software as a service, rather than developing code to add to your site.

This keeps all the work of maintaining code, upgrading features, and security/privacy concerns in the vendor’s court instead of yours. These services manage the process of capturing, moderating, and displaying reviews and questions from customers. They also automatically send out review request emails to customers after they’ve purchased a product from your site. This feature alone will significantly and organically boost reviews, which can be requested for your site or for specific products.

How to Get Reviews

Now that you’ve enabled customers to leave reviews, the reviews will start pouring in, right? Wrong. Studies have shown that only 1% of online community participants actively add user reviews. Many times, customers will only leave reviews if they had an exceptionally positive or exceptionally negative experience. Getting good, relevant feedback doesn’t have to just be the exceptional extremes. So how do you get more of your customers to leave reviews on your site?

Ask Your Customers for Reviews

Post-purchase customer outreach can be an effective method to remind your customers that their feedback matters. Their feedback will help others deciding to make a purchase as well as help your company to improve future product development.

1. Plan your timing appropriately

This email should occur after the customer has had a reasonable amount of time after receiving their purchase to provide an informed opinion.

2. Seed the review with suggestions

Provide suggested topics for the reviewer to write about in their review. Use positive action words to encourage highlighting the strengths of the product. E.g. “describe your increased productivity as a result of buying this product.”

3. Offer incentives

Whenever possible (and not prohibited by law), providing a small discount on a future purchase in exchange for a review can be an effective way to incentivize the customer into action.

4. Provide a link to a customized landing page

customer reviews

Make the path for the customer to complete their task as simple as possible. In this case, provide them with a link to a page which has already been set up with a list of their recent purchases and open text fields to complete the reviews. If allowed, embed a single sign-on action into the link or any other method that allows an automatic login to their account. Make the amount of effort for your customers as low as possible. There’s no perfect template for this email but here is a recent example that ties all of these elements together:

Don’t Post Your Own Fake Reviews

Do the steps above seem daunting to you? Are you tempted to bypass the effort by creating a set of fake users to leave fake reviews that make the products more appealing?

Our answer to you is simple: do not post fake reviews. Savvy customers are able to sniff out the obvious fraudulent reviews quite easily. In this way, disingenuous companies that use fake reviews are often exposed. News organizations have published reports of companies who use fake reviews and even provide lists of how to spot a fake review. Simply put, the risk is not worth the reward.

How to Address Negative Reviews

Now that you have reviews up and running, ensure that you have customer service staff monitoring the reviews and responding as needed. Many of the ecommerce platform apps have automatic notifications sent to your staff when a new comment arrives so they can be prompted to reply. Almost certainly at some point, a negative review will appear on your site. Don’t panic, there are many approaches you can take to address it. The best approaches you can take include

  1. Respond promptly, politely and publicly. Take the high road in the response because there’s no sense in engaging in an debate with your customer about your product.
  2. Resolve the issue offline. Once future review readers see that you haven’t ignored the issue and have responded professionally, encourage the conversation to continue with customer service directly. Then ensure that the issue has been completely resolved.
  3. Learn from it. If the feedback is helpful, share it with employees as learning opportunities and distribute feedback to the appropriate teams (e.g. product feedback to the product development team).

Here are some ways to handle negative reviews, whether they’re true or false:

1. Negative review where the statement is true This customer has posted a comment about the product which, although may be technically accurate, is highly negative. An example of this is shown in the example below. A particular product sent to a customer was found faulty so the customer expressed his displeasure in the review. It turns out that this comment helped the company to identify a supplier defect and issued a recall.

As this case demonstrates, the best response is to have a customer service representative investigate and respond promptly, politely, and publicly then take the conversation offline for resolution. Sometimes it can be appropriate to turn the negative comments around by highlighting the strengths of the product. For example, a negative comment about the oversized fit of a shirt that you sell can be turned into a selling point about the quality of the materials that don’t shrink when washed. Naturally, this should be coupled with an attempt to resolve the issue, like offering to return the customer’s shirt for an appropriately fitting size.

2. Negative review where the statement is false A customer has posted a new review complaining about a pair of running shoes they recently purchased that did not increase their fitness as the product imagery made it appear they could do. This customer is livid about the promises made to them by the company and vows to never purchase from them again. This review is both highly inaccurate and negative.

The best response is to have a customer service representative respond promptly, politely, and publicly by taking the high road. You know this statement is untrue but there is no need to engage in a debate or escalate the issue any further. If the comment is vulgar or defamatory then you can remove the review completely.

customer reviews

Not all reviews are negative and not all positive reviews are true. Here’s a takeaway reference guide to help you decide how to address comments.

How The Good Can Help You

At The Good, we see customer reviews as a tremendous opportunity for companies to aid prospective customers on their journey. Every brand is different, but our data-backed processes and intelligent experiments are designed to create a solution that will resonate with your customers and rescue more sales. As a part of our Conversion Growth Program™, we form a plan to add and improve customer reviews. Learn more about how you can drive online sales at thegood.com.

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The Good