Survey Gives Insight Into Power of Online User Reviews
It’s clear that many consumers consider them when making purchasing decisions. Unclear, however, are the many remaining questions online businesses face

Most ecommerce business owners understand that user reviews are important. It’s clear that many consumers consider them when making purchasing decisions. Unclear, however, are the many remaining questions online businesses face. For example:

  • Are user reviews important to all segments and consumer demographics?
  • Will the importance of user reviews last? Could it be a passing trend?
  • Aren’t many consumers starting to distrust online user reviews?
  • And how can ecommerce business owners best use them to their advantage? 

Results from a recent survey provide answers, along with a few surprises.

54% Of American Shoppers Read Reviews Before Making Online Purchases

What stands out in the data is that a majority of American consumers use reviews to inform all of their purchasing decisions. Fifty-four percent of online shoppers told us they read reviews for everything they buy. Add to this the 19% of respondents who read reviews only for purchases above $100, and close to three-quarters of all buyers rely on reviews to make purchase decisions.

Keep in mind that review quality isn’t enough on its own, particularly when consumers are warier than ever of small sample sizes and potentially skewed or even fake reviews. A full 39% of customers reported they’re more likely to trust businesses with more than 100 reviews.

It’s also worth noting that these results are dependent on the gender of the respondent. A total of 30% of all male shoppers said they were affected by positive reviews, while only 22% of female shoppers feel the same. On the other hand, women were more interested in free shipping, which is the main factor in purchasing decisions for 26% of female consumers.

While there are significant differences in the responses we received from different groups, the takeaway is unambiguous: User reviews are important to all segments and demographics.

Reviews Are More Important Than Ever Before

User reviews have been a key tool for online vendors since the beginning of ecommerce. It’s clear that reviews have become even more important over the last few years as consumers become more savvy about online shopping.

The digital marketing landscape is changing dramatically as consumers stop being pulled in by conventional techniques. Digital marketing executive Huy Nguyen explains: “Today’s consumer is well-informed and not easily swayed by flashy advertising or celebrity endorsements.” Simply pouring money into glamor isn’t as effective as it might have been even five or ten years ago.

Instead, consumers are looking for the credibility that comes from strong user reviews. Nguyen continues, “Online customer reviews not only build credibility, but they also shorten the sales cycle by allowing customers to see feedback on a product and immediately make a purchase.”

The reality is that our overexposure to advertising and media is numbing us to traditional means of messaging. Consumers are now more likely to engage with authentic customer reviews that tell them how real buyers feel about their purchase. There’s simply no substitute for the credibility that comes from a large sample of positive customer reviews.

Customers Both Trust and Distrust Online Reviews

Collecting enough user reviews to make a difference can take a long time, months even years. This leads some businesses to look for shortcuts, but that’s rarely a wise choice. Consumers are savvy and can see through fake reviews, paid impressions, and most other underhanded strategies. Companies that use them are gambling with their reputations.

The data shows that consumers rely on user reviews over other types of messaging, and they believe that positive reviews are written by genuinely satisfied customers. However, 42% of buyers report thinking that positive reviews are written by paid employees, while another 31% suspect that businesses directly hire writers to plant positive feedback.

Similarly, one common belief about negative reviews is that they reflect the real experiences of unsatisfied customers. But a significant percentage of consumers also attribute these types of feedback to competitors (38%) and even online trolls (36%).

Here, the only clear takeaway for businesses is that user reviews are powerful, but they’re not a magic bullet. Consumers are naturally wary of their authenticity, and businesses should ensure they’re implemented in ways that increase trust. Showing, for example, which reviews are from “Verified Users” is one way to do this.

What Do These Results Mean for Online Retailers?

Healthy skepticism aside, the takeaways for businesses remain the same: Customers care about user reviews. Customers rely on them to make purchase decisions. We expect user reviews will remain relevant for the foreseeable future.

With that in mind, it’s important for every online business to have a plan in place for collecting, curating, and responding to user feedback. Done manually, this can become a significant burden. Thankfully many modern software platforms, like those designed to manage ecommerce, have tools that help streamline the review management process.

Given consumer reluctance to trust user reviews, you should focus on leveraging customer feedback that improves your brand’s image and credibility. It’s better to have imperfect reviews that your audience trusts than unanimous five-star reviews that don’t seem genuine.

One common mistake involves posting hostile responses to negative reviews. While you should provide your side of the story, it’s important to reply in a cooperative way and move toward a solution. Readers would rather see you listen to the customer and offer a response instead of simply trying to “win” the argument.

In the same way, responding to positive reviews shows that you care about providing an outstanding experience and that you truly appreciate your customers.

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