The Power of Online Reviews and Their Effect on Your Audience

The Power of Online Reviews and Their Effect on Your Audience

Online reviews are a powerful tool - learn how to implement them to gain customer trust and increase conversions.

Written by Jade Ottavini

8 min read

Your buyers know very well that marketing is a tireless industry. So even if you’re an established and trusted brand running a thriving campaign, people see beyond it and will do their own research on your products anyway. We can’t stress this enough, especially when it comes to ecommerce stores where products are intangible and buyers want reassurance.

Online reviews emerged way back in 1999 and have been an important driving force behind consumer behaviour from day one. People want to read about first-hand experiences from verified buyers, not about a paid-for marketer’s calculated description - and that will never change.

But where do we stand with online reviews today? In such a dynamic age of digital transformation where ecommerce is seeing exponential growth, it’s important to find new ways to leverage the power of consumer engagement. Simply knowing the facts isn’t good enough. We have to act on it in a way that will enhance online conversation, improve customer satisfaction and ultimately increase revenue.

A run-through of existing data

Industry experts are continually doing extensive research to prove that online reviews are a powerful and necessary marketing tool. Year after year the results seem to remain constant, because word-of-mouth is an age-old tactic that has influenced brand reputation since the dawn of retail.

There will always be some basic psychological aspects of human behaviour that don’t change, and in this case, it’s trust. Here are some of the facts that simply can’t be ignored:

  • About 90% of people trust user-generated content over advertisements, making it highly likely that they’ll be influenced by reviews.
  • Displaying at least five reviews can increase conversions by up to 380%.
  • The first ten reviews of a product are generally the most impactful.
  • People are more likely to seek reviews for high-consideration products that are pricey, affect health and safety, or are from a newer brand.
  • Consumers are 15% more likely to purchase a product based on reviews written by verified buyers as opposed to anonymous reviewers.
  • Anonymous reviewers are more likely to give poor reviews.
  • Buyers are more likely to go out of their way to write a review if their experience was poor.
  • The presence of negative reviews are important for establishing credibility.
  • Five star ratings create scepticism. It is preferable to have ratings in the 4.2-4.7 star range.
  • The importance of a review depends on the product category and its price. Reviews on electronics, appliances, computers and other products of high functionality get scoped more intensely.

Hold up – let’s not forget another fact: Online reviews are an important part of your Shopify store’s SEO strategy! According to Moz's Local Search Ranking Factors Survey 2018, online reviews are thought to make up 10% of how Google and other search engines decide to rank search results. Besides, reviews normally hold a lot of juicy keywords. Talk about an omnipresent influencer.

We know the crowd leads the way – but why?

We wanted to find out more about how the people behind these figures really feel. To get the ball rolling we reached out to three dozen consumers from five different countries and asked their opinions on product reviews. It was a brief experiment, but we discovered quality insight.

It comes as no surprise that 92% of the people we spoke to appreciate online reviews, and are likely to read a few different opinions before buying a product. In a nutshell, they rely on and trust fellow buyers’ words because they:

  • indicate overall customer satisfaction.
  • provide honest and unbiased opinions.
  • verify product quality and functionality.
  • reveal factors that consumers don’t always consider.
  • make it easier to find and compare alternative products.
  • help manage expectations prior to committing to a purchase.
  • give important information about unfamiliar and newer products.
  • help consumers understand technical descriptions through layman terms.

The remaining 8% of people weren’t so moved by the power of reviews. The reasons behind this is that some consumers:

  • don’t value the opinion of complete strangers.
  • prefer to take bad experiences up with a company directly.
  • believe that most reviews are written by paid-for candidates.
  • think that they already have enough information on the products they want and that they don’t need micro-input.
  • don’t ever buy online and therefore don’t see the point in sharing.

Who is in this crowd of reviewers?

What did come as a surprise is that only 14% are actually willing to write reviews. That’s quite a contrast compared to the 92% that relies on them. Why are people so quick to read about experiences, but not to share theirs? The most common responses included:

  • It’s not their responsibility to act as a product promoter.
  • Reviews are only valuable in the service industry when employees deserve praise and recognition.
  • Writing reviews is a waste of time and effort because existing reviews already express similar feelings so no one will read it.
  • They don’t feel they fit the criteria for reviewing because they are not experts or because it’s not in their personality to do so.
  • They don’t want their name and opinion in the public domain.
  • Reviewers are the people who like ranting unnecessarily, or who value their own opinion so much that they will clutter the internet.

It’s interesting that such a vast majority of people feel this way – those are pretty direct opinions. In all fairness, some people did show glimmers of guilt towards their lack of participation. They know they should be writing reviews but they are simply too lazy. One person even said that he has been “abusing the online review system for too long” and that it’s high time he “gives companies credit where credit is due”.

We can change the way consumers interact with online reviews and incentivise them to share their thoughts without becoming the tyrant brand that promotes insincere reviews - as long as we’re doing it for the greater good of the whole audience.

Here are three ways to start doing that now

1. Find your reviewers

Look at crowd-sourced review forums like Yelp, Google reviews and Foursquare. If you’re not already on platforms like these, now is the time to join the community.

Be smart about where people are discussing your products. Social media gets world-wide penetration so it’s worth finding out where you are being mentioned. Start using Google Alerts and pay specific attention to what the conversation is about.

Don’t ignore your competitors’ reviews – their audience is your audience too. Learn from their mistakes and look further into their successes.

If you can’t find much valuable insight on any of the reviews you find, then it’s up to you to open the conversation and give your audience a reason to engage.

And if you can’t find any reviews at all, remember that the first ten are the most impactful! Empower your brand by taking advantage of this clean slate.

2. Monitor and respond

Observation should be an integral part of your online conversation strategy. Once you understand content sentiment and behavioural patterns you’ll improve the way you interact with your audience, and essentially improve the way they talk about you.

Keep your eyes open to any emerging problems or changing consumer needs and take great care in responding to reviews. We already know that people think writing reviews is a time-consuming process, so show appreciation for their effort.

Even if every single consumer doesn’t participate in providing structured reviews, they’re still all online – reading and seeing everything. Pay attention to the information they’re interested in and use it to steer your own conversation.

3. Promote the conversation

Be authentic – that’s all that people want. Ask your consumers questions directly so that they are motivated to talk to you, but don’t forget to give them space to talk to one another without your input.

Find creative ways to implement word-of-mouth marketing in ways that will positively affect intention to buy. It’s up to brand owners to remind consumers that reviews aren’t only there to warn and guide other buyers, but also so that companies can learn more about individual wants and needs – and then accommodate them.

The good, the bad and the ugly

We obviously want to gain positive feedback from our online reviews. As a brand it’s nice to get solid verification that you’re doing well. But remember – and even though it’s painful to admit - bad publicity can bolster sales.

Online reviews are supposed to be a trusted space where real-time experiences can be shared of a buyer’s own accord. If you let people say exactly what they want to say, others will know that as a brand you are confident in your own products.

Personal, social and psychological factors come into play when people discuss their experiences. Hearing the details about dissatisfaction can play a huge advantage to how you approach different buyer personas in the future.

Besides, bad publicity is a gateway to showing your audience how you handle customer support. Don’t give generic responses to bad reviews. People want to know that there are real humans behind the screen who are generally interested in consumer concerns. At Eastside Co, we respond to every single app review left for us in the Shopify app store, thanking those who leave glowing feedback, but more importantly, helping anyone who needs assistance, and addressing any issues that have led to anything less than a five-star review. It’s something we take very seriously.

It’s possible that you’ll receive a totally uncalled for and downright horrible review one day. Don’t feel disheartened when this happens - we all know that sometimes people can get ugly unnecessarily. The most important thing is not to ignore these reviews. Understand that they are only human and that they are upset. Show other readers that you can help an angry customer and remain polite while still standing up for yourself as a brand.

Going beyond the common consumer

The people who regularly buy online are at the forefront of this conversation – but they’re not the entire audience. Online reviews have a powerful influence that attracts high-value businesses to services and products.

Since we’re on the topic of ecommerce, let’s take the experts as an example. Shopify is a complete ecommerce platform for online stores. How did the review system maximise Shopify’s business?

Scenario: A retail company wants to replatform their website to an online store. They’ve heard of Shopify, but they’re not so sure about it. The first thing they do is turn to the public for advice.

The search engine results page (SERP) will look something like this:

Not a single rating under four stars across multiple trustworthy sources. That’s already enough to convince someone that it’s well trusted! But for a business owner, choosing the right platform is a high-consideration, long-term commitment, so you can expect the decision makers to dig deeper. What will they find?

Different types of reviews

The Star

At first glance we saw star ratings in the Shopify review SERP. Star ratings are a popular rating system that gives an idea of overall satisfaction across different criteria. It’s used among many industry categories like local businesses, hotels, restaurants, books, movies – and especially on ecommerce sites. Star ratings are undeniably important, but they only scratch the surface of good review practice.

The word

Written reviews normally appear alongside star ratings and give consumers the chance to justify their score. Written reviews have a stronger influence on buyers because it helps identify key features, discuss or resolve issues, improve knowledge and evaluate overall experience. This is an example of a review on Shopify’s very own review app:

The buyer is expressing satisfaction, but at the same time highlighting a hiccup. This is the perfect opportunity for Shopify to show support by educating the reviewer (and other consumers) on possible solutions. This enhances user experience and also helps Shopify identify gaps – it’s a win-win for all.

The Video

Another powerful kind of review is a video review. These are normally submitted by experts or by those who are highly interested in the product.

In this video review Chris Winter, The Friendly Entrepreneur, discusses Shopify in 2019. It’s not focusing on his opinion, but instead giving a detailed description of his full experience. This is the sort of review that is useful to any entrepreneur who wants to migrate to Shopify or even build a new site. It’s thorough, educational and allows space for Q and A in the comment section. The conversation is also controlled by the public, which drives engagement and reveals rich insight on the audience.

Your next step simply to get started. Update your online accounts and make yourself present again. Focus on content marketing and give people a reason to spend their valuable time on getting to know your brand. Listen to the crowd and always analyse feedback with a fine-tooth comb. Start creating your own conversations and if you need any help, give us a call. This is what we love to do.

Who we are

We are one of the world’s most trusted and experienced Shopify Plus Partners. A full-service, fully in-house digital agency of over 50 talented people, we’ve helped hundreds of ambitious brands exceed their goals.

About Eastside Co

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Eastside Co leads the way in UX-focused Shopify web design, results-driven marketing strategies, and best-in-class Shopify applications and software. We help online businesses escape the ordinary and achieve ecommerce success.

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