Do product reviews really increase eCommerce conversions?

Rob Chettleburgh
By Rob Chettleburgh
20 Feb 2014

Is the effort of integrating product reviews in your eCommerce site worthwhile? Only if you want to increase sales conversions, make your site more visible in searches and understand how your customers think. Otherwise, I can’t see the point.

To start with some statistics, market research specialists iPerceptions found that people are 63% more likely to buy from an eCommerce site that has user reviews than one without.

To understand why customer reviews are so persuasive, compare these statements:

customer review statements

Which one would convince you?

The example is made up but it highlights probably the biggest benefit of adding customer reviews of your products to your eCommerce site – authenticity! When we’re thinking of buying something, we want to know what other people who bought the same product thought of it. And we’re more likely to be influenced by that than what the seller has to say.  

Feefo review page

Authenticity is just one of the advantages of using product reviews.

Other people’s views affect our decisions

Imagine you’re planning to upgrade your mobile phone and you meet somebody who is using the model you were thinking of getting; you are highly likely to ask them how they are getting on with it. A positive experience is certain to reinforce and affirm your choice. And when it comes to content on your website, real words from a real person will almost certainly have more impact than your own carefully crafted marketing copy.

If this was an article about product descriptions (which are also really important to get right) we could spend some time deconstructing the ‘marketing’ copy above.  But that’s not what this is about. I’ll just note, in passing, that the marketing version is typical of many product descriptions that try too hard to sell rather than giving people the information they need to make a decision.

Product reviews produce an 18% sales uplift

According to review platform Reevoo, adding product reviews to a site leads to an average 18% sales uplift - delivered through a mix of higher visitor return rates, more conversions and increased average order values. 

Assigning an exact percentage to the sales boost from user reviews is difficult for a number of reasons. For one thing adding review functionality is often implemented alongside other improvements or as part of a site refresh. And, of course, it depends how you go about it.

All I can say is that the 18% figure isn’t surprising and would fit with experience from our clients’ sites. And even if it’s an overestimate and there was only a 10% sales uplift, wouldn’t that still be worthwhile?

On-site or off-site reviews

I could go through a lengthy balanced argument of the pros and cons of reviews that you host and manage on your site or those that are hosted on a 3rd party site like Feefo, TrustPilot or Reevoo.  But actually I’m going to cut to the chase and say that reviews that you don’t control and that are far more likely to be from real, vetted & verified customers are the only ones that really have any clout.

feefo trustpilot and reevoo logos

Alarm bells ring whenever there’s the slightest suggestion that some of the product reviews might have been written by or altered by the seller. Any hint that there is a policy of removing any less than glowing reviews will make me quit a site as quickly as possible. Customer confidence and trust only come when you place the product reviews outside of your control and influence.

If you want to use them that way, some third party review sites also allow your customers to see reviews of products that have come from other websites. This can be especially handy when you’ve just introduced a new range and you might have no reviews from your own buyers.

User experience

Stats published by Reevoo indicate that product reviews resulted in a 5% increase in return visits to a site. Surely this says something about how they add to the experience customers have when they make a visit.

This is entirely logical. The purchase journey is usually one of finding answers. Which product best meets my needs, which one is likely to be the most reliable? And so on.  A site which does a good job of providing answers, and making those answers trustworthy and easy to find is going a long way to providing a good and rewarding user experience.

Product reviews best practice

When you go to the trouble and expense of integrating product reviews into your eCommerce site you want to make sure you get the maximum benefit. Here’s a list of things to bear in mind:

  • When looking for a review partner for an eCommerce website, go for a company that offers both product level reviews and reviews of your overall service.  People will be influenced by what customers have experienced with your deliveries and service but they also want feedback about your products at the point they are deciding what to buy. Product level reviews allow you to pull in highly relevant, unique, user-written content for your product pages. This content is highly persuasive. 
  • Make sure you give your reviews as much exposure as possible. Many platforms allow reviews to be added to your Facebook page as an app.

user reviews in facebook

  • Display trust seals and review badges appropriately; not in the way but somewhere they'll be seen and add to the shopping experience. Finding the ideal position is something well worth split testing to ensure you're getting the best results.

Feefo seal image

  • If you can, implement a system to rate your reviews. This way the reviews that people have found most helpful will rise to the top to improve the user experience. 

Google Certified Shops

It’s probably worth a passing mention of Google Certified Shops at this point as I’m sure it’s something that we’re going to hear a lot more about in the next 12 months. Google is aiming to use its brand recognition as a way to offer shoppers reassurance that eCommerce businesses deliver good levels of service.

Early results from the USA suggest that many on-line stores experienced a sales uplift after gaining accreditation. It also wouldn’t be the biggest surprise in the word to find that Google uses the accreditation as a factor in determining search results and rankings. The drawback is that certification only applies to your business as a whole. If you want to get the benefit of product reviews on the final decision to purchase you will need another solution.

Do product reviews help SEO?

Having mentioned the G-word we’d better talk a bit about SEO and whether product reviews make your pages more visible and likely to rank more highly in SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages).

There is clearly a benefit from having regularly updated keyword rich content being added to your site. The great thing about having reviews is that this content is added by your customers without needing much effort from you.  There is, of course, still some work for you to do with user-generated content, not least of all responding constructively to any negative comments.

feefo comment image

Customer comments will probably also deliver content with long-tail keywords that you didn’t predict or pick up in your research, and which would be difficult to accommodate in your website content.

It’s also quite normal for people to search specifically for reviews of a particular product – so quite handy if those reviews appear on your site.

As for the future influence of reviews in SERPs we might even see a re-emergence of review data in rich snippets if Google can work out a way of verifying those that are trustworthy. Potentially, displaying some favourable review data in rich snippets should increase CTRs but the system is currently too open to abuse to be meaningful.

And for the longer term? Google is moving progressively towards a semantic search environment where results are based on user intent, providing answers to user questions, natural language queries and site authority – who’s to say that user generated reviews wouldn’t fit very neatly into that picture? 

How to encourage people to leave reviews

Once you have a review system in place, it’s not much help if people don’t use it. Page after page of products with zero reviews doesn’t look good. The fundamental problem, of course, is that people won’t naturally go back to your site to review a product after delivery. If they are really happy, they may well intend to but not get round to it. Unhappy customers, of course, need less encouragement to leave a review.

customer review form

Fortunately most review platforms give you tools to generate follow up emails. A concise message a few days after delivery saying how much you appreciate their feedback and how useful other shoppers find them will boost your review numbers dramatically. For the most part people want to help other shoppers and share their experiences, because ultimately we all benefit – you just have to make it easy. 

The value of dialogue

Another good way to encourage feedback is to respond to comments – good and bad. For massive eCommerce stores this is difficult. But if you are supplying products for a niche market responding to reviews shows that you value the feedback you get. It also allows you to demonstrate that you share the enthusiasm somebody else has shown for your product. Reviews can help you build engagement, authority and trust.

review discussion image

Lack of scale and specialist knowledge can be turned into competitive advantage!

Which brings me to the final benefit: customers have an easy way to tell you what they think. Finding out what they like and don’t like sounds to me like the sort of thing you could use to help refine your offer and improve your marketing.

Do you need an eCommerce solution that delivers more sales? Then get in touch with one of the UK’s leading eCommerce web agencies.