The importance of product reviews for eCommerce sites

Merchants very frequently underestimate the importance of product reviews for eCommerce stores. With all of the other concerns that eCommerce sites have to worry about, such as increasing conversions, optimizing site design, customer service, and administrative tasks (anyone that’s had to dive into tax rates and laws knows exactly what I’m talking about), site owners can get bogged down by too many tasks to manage.

Don’t let that become an excuse to forget about details like customer reviews, as they typically have a very strong influence on customer purchase decisions. When customer reviews have been included, 42 percent of site administrators have reported increases in average order value, versus only six percent that report a decrease with inclusion of reviews.

Obviously, there are a lot of factors at play in average order value, which makes it difficult to isolate reviews as the sole source. However, the strong correlation between reviews and conversions, as well as studies that have shown the importance of reviews in customer confidence, make a compelling case for including product reviews in your eCommerce store.

Why customer product reviews matter

eCommerce pioneers like Amazon and eBay have been using product reviews since 1997, so many consumers have come to expect and appreciate the ability to evaluate products before purchasing. About 40 percent of customers even say they wouldn’t buy electronics without reading online reviews. Reviews become even more important in the absence of the ability to ‘test’ products prior to purchasing online, which is not a concern in brick-and-mortar stores.

Advances in Economics and Business (an international peer-reviewed journal) has conducted studies into the likelihood of product reviews influencing purchase decisions. Their findings are very interesting, and point to reviews as an important part of the research process for customers:

85.57 percent of the participants stated that they read reviews often or very often before they purchase online. Of the participants who read reviews, 83.65 percent compare positive and negative reviews with each other (p. 3).

Customers will first look for product ratings, i.e., ratings out of five stars, to see which products deserve their attention (for example, they tend to ignore products with an average rating of 1 out of 5 starts). Once a product has been clicked on, prospective customers will then compare reviews to one another and depend on the feedback from other customers. The study cited above has also found that 75 percent of customers state that reviews, not just ratings, are “Important” or “Very Important” to their decision to purchase a product from an online store.

There are also benefits to including reviews aside from conversions. Asking existing customers for product reviews can also help to make them feel as if they’re part of your brand or important to your business, according to these tips from SteamFeed, which increases loyalty.

Reviews also allow customers to help you with your products’ SEO, as they the content of their reviews can be indexed and used for search results. Many times, you may be targeting a specific keyword or set of words within your product descriptions. However, customers usually write reviews using natural language, which targets long tail keywords and helps to give you an SEO boost.

What about poor reviews?

Even bad reviews can be helpful for stores. AlpacaDirect.com did a study after enabling customers to leave reviews, and even with bad reviews, sales increased 23 percent for products that had reviews enabled.

Bad reviews also help customers know what the worst scenario they can expect is and serve as risk mitigators, according to MIT Technology Review.

If all reviews are positive, customers tend to trust the reviews less. While it may be counterintuitive, poor reviews help to give your customer reviews credibility and to build trust between your store and customers. They’ll view you as more ‘real’ instead of a scam site, which is essential for building a relationship as an online store.

A single negative review won’t be a deal breaker. From the Advances in Economics and Business citation above:

11.54 percent [of participants who read reviews] stated that a single negative review was the reason for not buying and 18.27 percent stated that a single positive review was the reason for buying a product.

Isolated poor reviews will influence one in nine customers to avoid purchasing your product. However, three of four customers deem reviews to be important to the purchasing process. While some negative reviews may cause you to lose some customers, you’ll lose a lot more who will avoid purchasing in the absence of reviews.

So do you approve any and all reviews? Nope. Set rules for review approval for your site administrators or customer service team. If the review is libelous or uses obscene language, you can moderate or block it. Otherwise you should approve the review, even if it’s difficult to allow someone to speak negatively of your product.

You could always allow your team to respond to reviews, which is what many stores will do on Yelp or Amazon, in order to offer help or to resolve a situation. Always remember to be as polite and professional as possible. If you’re not asking a question in your response and are instead attacking the review, you’re #DoingItWrong and will look unprofessional to potential customers. Use negative reviews as an opportunity to solicit feedback from unhappy customers and as another avenue for customer service.

Product review capabilities by WordPress eCommerce plugin

Not all WordPress eCommerce plugins have the capability to allow product reviews for customers. WooCommerce, Easy Digital Downloads, and Jigoshop all tie product reviews into the WordPress comment system so that you can moderate comments if necessary. WooCommerce and EDD even have settings you can tweak for this, though Easy Digital Downloads requires a paid add-on for product reviews.

 
WooCommerce Product Review Settings
WooCommerce Review Settings
Easy Digital Downloads Product Reviews Settings
EDD Reviews Settings
 

Update: A general eCommerce Reviews plugin has now been released as well.

As we said before, unless reviews are obscene or libelous, you’re probably better off approving them, even if they seem negative. (Though if they’re all negative, you should probably get in touch for feedback so you can improve your products.) They’ll increase trust, as customers view this as honest feedback and as validation that others have purchased the product.

Here’s a comparison spreadsheet of major WordPress eCommerce platforms and product review functionality of each.

Further reading

Here are some other articles and studies that detail the importance of customer product reviews for eCommerce stores:

Beka Rice
Beka Rice is the Head of Product at Jilt. She works on app improvements, integration plugins, helping merchants improve recovery campaigns, and shares tutorials on reducing abandonment or improving recovery on our blog.

9 Comments

    1. Thanks! Reviews are always interesting to me since I’m that person that researches all Amazon reviews before buying :) Researching this post did make me notice that I favor products with any reviews (negative or positive) over products without reviews since I feel like other people haven’t bought / tried the product if there’s no feedback.

  1. I was thinking about implementing an automatic e-mail follow up with customers a couple of weeks after a purchase to encourage them to write a review. Is there any generally accepted thought on when this kind of e-mail should be sent? Or if it should be sent at all?

    1. Hey Daniel, I think these kind of emails are fine, and I don’t mind being sent these emails as a customer. For example, I get them from Amazon for purchases and it sometimes does prompt me to leave a review when I otherwise would have forgotten about it. I’ve also had clients use this tactic with success (2 total that did so with WooCommerce + Follow Up emails).

      I think the timing depends on your product, but 2 weeks after purchase seems pretty typical. It gives the customer enough time to have tried the product but not forgotten about it.

  2. Cool. Thanks for your thoughts Beka. Mailchimp are making it super easy these days to use their new Automation workflow to follow up with customers so with the WooChimp plugin implemented I can use MailChimp to automate it all which is nice. I’ll try 2 weeks and see how that goes.

    1. Awesome, would love to hear about it! I haven’t dabbled much with the MailChimp automation yet but perhaps I should be giving it a try myself as well :) .

  3. Yeah it’s really breeze to target customers, even down to the product specific level, so long as you have a plugin that’s adding the ecomm360 data like WooChimp.

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