The Internet Marketing Driver: Glenn Gabe's goal is to help marketers build powerful and measurable web marketing strategies.

Monday, April 21, 2008

E-Commerce Customer Reviews, Common Pitfalls That Can Impact Sales

Customer Reviews and e-Commerce ImpactIf you run an e-commerce website, then chances are you’re fully aware of how ratings and reviews can impact sales. I think everyone agrees that enabling customers to review products is a powerful way to leverage user-generated content to improve the overall buying experience for visitors. That said, what constitutes a quality review, what are prospective customers looking for in a review, and how can the various types of reviews impact conversion? Not all reviews are created equal, so if you are thinking about implementing reviews on your website, I've listed four pitfalls below to watch out for. You might be able to plan your implementation with these in mind!

When Are Reviews Necessary?
Before I list the pitfalls, I also wanted to quickly explain when reviews are beneficial to prospective customers and when they aren’t necessary. I don’t really need to read a review for GAP jeans or a Banana Republic belt or a Canon calculator. We all know they are high quality and they are fairly simple items. In my opinion, it comes down to price, safety, and how a product impacts your life. Lesser known brands from smaller companies might require reviews from consumers versus bigger, well known brands. In addition, how the product will impact your life is an important factor for reviews. For example, you would probably want to read reviews for infant car seats, a high end camcorder, or an expensive piece of furniture. Price, safety, and how that product impacts your life will dictate if reviews are necessary. Again, just my opinion.

Without further ado, some pitfalls of e-commerce reviews include:

1. When there are no reviews!
If visitors are expecting to find reviews and they can’t find any for the product they are looking for, then there’s a chance they will lose confidence during the purchase process and move on. That's especially true if you boast about your website reviews! Even the slightest second thought can be a conversion killer. If you are having trouble gaining reviews from customers, then I highly recommend launching a campaign to drive more reviews. Leverage your in-house email list and get people back to your site to review the products they purchased. Heck, give them an incentive…maybe 15-20% off their next purchase in exchange for a review. Having no reviews can impact more than sales for the product at hand, it could be interpreted by visitors that you don’t have enough volume or customers to generate reviews. Again, not a good thing when someone is ready to buy from you…

2. Who is actually writing the review?
Let’s face it, customers aren’t stupid. They want to read reviews from similar people who are in similar situations. For example, anonymous reviews are close to worthless in my opinion. Depending on what I’m buying, I want to hear from someone in a similar situation (who has a name). I don’t need to know them obviously, but I want to know that it’s from a somewhat quality source. For example, whenever I buy a tech book (like a programming book), I want to hear from other developers. I have an entire bookcase full of programming books and not all were written perfectly, to say the least… So, something like, “I’ve been programming for 13 years and this book was outstanding. The chapters started with a solid foundation, then moved to basic coding examples, and then real-world coding projects. The samples always worked (don’t laugh, many programming books come with code examples that don’t work) and the book is a great reference for when I get stuck.” A review like that would get my attention. Last year, I wanted to read reviews when I was looking for a new golf driver. I definitely wanted to hear from golfers in my skill range. Hearing from a scratch golfer wouldn’t be helpful, nor would hearing from a beginner. Solid reviews helped build confidence and got me closer to the sale… Now, I still needed to blast a few golf balls at the range before buying the club! You get my point.

3. Mixed Reviews (Great reviews mixed with poor reviews).
Products that have mixed reviews will tend to give customers less confidence in moving forward with a purchase. It makes sense, right? How can there be 5 fantastic reviews and 5 horrible reviews? That’s a definite red flag for me (and others too). I wouldn’t take a risk on buying something online that half the reviewers thought was a waste of money. Would you? I’m not referring to reviews that rate a product as mediocre. I’m referring to those weird set of reviews where some people loved the item and others hated the item. Seems fishy, doesn’t it? I always move on… It also leads me to think that there’s a fake review or two in the mix… Read on. ;-)

4. Fake Reviews
I think we’ve all come across these, right? (probably written as anonymous)? It’s funny, most people can’t write a positive review if they are forced to. Don’t believe me? Go ahead…try and write a positive review for something that you don’t really like or that’s your own product. I will guarantee you that it sounds obvious. ;-) If I come across a fake review, there had better be a real one for that product…or there’s a good chance I’m moving on. My hope is that you can pick out the fake reviews, and if you can’t, then hopefully there are plenty of other reviews for the item at hand.

So there you have it, four pitfalls when offering customer reviews on your website. I definitely believe reviews are a great feature to add on your e-commerce site, but I think you should implement them with a good understanding of the types of reviews out there and how they can impact conversion, user experience, and return buyers. My hope is that you will keep these pitfalls in mind and try to form strategies to overcome them. For example, launching campaigns to increase reviews, dealing with anonymous reviews, tracking the impact of reviews, etc. When you break it down, reviews can help your customers make informed decisions, and also help you determine the right products to sell on your website. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go review the Tonka Truck I just bought my son. ;-)


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  • At 4:10 PM, Blogger Mike said…

    I agree that not having reviews from actual buyers could lower e-commerce conversion rates. As you say, there are some things that should not even bother having reviews. If you sell this type of product, have people review your customer service policies instead. I'd rather know that the company takes good care of their customers instead of hearing a gushing review about something I don't care about (a belt being a good example).

    I would also think offering an incentive to review is a good idea. I would, however, go a bit further and say that it could be a small part of an email campaign. I would probably not make it my primary objective for an email, especially an in-house list (for fear of dilution,) I want those customers buying product first.

    Having a product that has not been reviewed offering a discount for the first review may be another option as someone who has all ready gotten to the page has a high interest level, and that could push them towards a conversion as well as a review.

  • At 7:24 PM, Blogger Glenn Gabe said…

    Hi Mike.

    Thanks for stopping by and posting a comment. I completely agree with you about using email to drive reviews. I actually mentioned this in a previous post when I reviewed and their effective email marketing. As long as you aren’t hammering your customers with emails, I think a dedicated email to increase reviews is a good idea and has worked in my experience. That said, I understand where you are coming from.

    Have you recently purchased something where a review (or lack of review) made a difference? I’d like to hear your thoughts.

    Thanks again.


  • At 2:43 PM, Blogger Mike said…

    I actually have, though i didn't base my decision solely on web reviews. I bought a wacom intuos3 tablet. I've used them before, but never owned one and wanted to get feedback from different people on the different size tablets. In the end, i asked people that I am working with since they have the model I was looking at. I read the online comments from Amazon, who in turn drop shipped the item. The online reviews help determine which product to buy, but also, who to buy from (which is obviously extremely important.)

    The place I used to work at, completely diluted their email list and were wondering why emails weren't being as effective as before. We're talking about people who never opted-in, but were automatically opted-in by just being a customer. I won't name names, but I felt it was very poor strategic thinking from smart guys.

    Another thought that comes to mind, is having reviews on a category page instead of a product page. There's no point to having comments for individual products if they are extremely similar. For example, why have a review for a red shirt and a different review for a blue shirt if they are the same design? It's likely one or both may not have a review, but if there's a page that shows both, have the reviews posted there instead.


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