Category: UX advice / Ecommerce guides

Do ecommerce product reviews work – and what can you use instead?


If you have an ecommerce website you need reviews for your products, right? As a consumer I know I’ve certainly used them to help me make important purchase decisions and this has long seemed both best practice and essential to making sales.

Research in 2010 found that each ratings star added on Yelp translated to a 5-9% increase in business revenues. A 2011 study from third party review tool Revoo suggests that going from 25 to 50 reviews increases conversion by 18%. The same few bits of research backing up reviews get quoted a lot but they’re a few years old now. Perhaps attitudes are shifting and perhaps they don’t cover all cases?

I work mostly with smaller companies on their own brand sites and for them implementing a product review-gathering system is a big decision.

Recently I’ve had discussions with a client about the role of reviews on their site. They wondered why would anyone trust them if they were collecting the reviews themselves? And if the user knew they were being collected by the company, is more necessarily better?

This reminded me of something another client had done. Over the years they had gathered a lot of reviews on their products and always displayed them. They then A/B tested removing them, and it turned out for their product, having no reviews didn’t harm conversion at all.

Sites like Yelp, Amazon, eBay, and Airbnb are marketplaces where the product review is part of the offering. The products listed can be from anywhere and there can be thousands of them so the marketplace needs to provide a filter that helps users to make a decision between many similar options. The many reviews are an important part of this.

If you’re a site just selling your own brand products then this comparison might be less important. You may not need reviews at all, or you might be able to succeed with some alternatives. Let me take you through the options.

Why you might not have reviews at all

You have a strong brand

As a smaller ecommerce site you could put your energies into building your brand. You can do this mostly by clearly offering a USP that others don’t or can’t. Make this clear enough to users (through the site including product page level) and they’ll trust that you are operating in a select field and can’t be compared to others.

The luxury market is particularly good at this: you won’t find many product reviews on high end fashion sites.

Instead you could focus on gathering feedback at the brand level on things like customer service, delivery, packaging, to build the confidence the brand is trustworthy. This is more of a pre-internet approach to gaining confidence in your customers and means they should care less about product reviews.

Everlane product infographics

Rather than reviews, Everlane show their transparent pricing and sweatshop-free production via an infographic on the product details page.

You sell in a highly subjective field

The main role of reviews is to find out if something is going to ‘work’ or function as expected. If the item for sale doesn’t really have a function but instead just ‘is’ then a lot of the need for reviews goes out the window.

For example the role of items like art, jewellery, and everything in the decorative space, is to look good and the definition ‘good’ is highly subjective. It is up to the individual’s tastes so it’s most important to make sure they can clearly see it in the images. If they can then other people’s opinions aren’t likely to matter much.

Tate picture size previewer

The Tate product details page prominently features tools to help the user visualise the artwork on a wall rather than any reviews.

You have a good referral programme

Word of mouth and a personal recommendation is worth more to us than almost any review, with 92% of people trusting it. When it comes to online reviews we don’t generally have a clue who has written them but we have friends and family who have known us for years.

If you have spent effort on leveraging those relationships with a well-functioning referral programme where existing customers make introductions to the brand, you can meet the requirement of social proof. There are plenty of ecommerce examples to dig through in lists of referral programmes like this.

Alternatives to reviews

Of course reviews do fulfil the role of providing social proof and just seeing that other humans have done something can help convince us it’s safe too. If you do want to try boosting sales then these alternatives to reviews on the product page can help.

Testimonials

Testimonials are close to reviews but they’re a bit more editorial and so you only need to gather a handful of them. You can use them to present some glowing praise for your products, or just your brand.

As you’re not having to scale this up you could put more effort in and use video testimonials. This is often more convincing as seeing another person actually speak the words feels a lot more personal. This only works if they are genuine customers who look like real people, and not actors!

Willow video testimonials

Breast pump makers Willow up until recently featured candid video testimonials from real customers, shot on their phones.

Social images

We know pictures paint 1,000 words and in the age of mobile photography they surround us. You can use a tool like Olapic to pull in Instagram shots of customers wearing your product, or displaying it at home. This is great for things like furniture as seeing something in the surroundings of a real home is a lot more useful than people describing with words.

Nixon watches user photos

Nixon Watches show images from social media users on their product pages rather than reviews.

Press

This is usually reserved for landing pages but if you have great press quotes about your company then it can be worth re-enforcing them at product page level. After all, the user is about to decide whether to buy and it can’t harm to remind them if you’ve been reviewed by respected organisations.

Bellroy product quote

Bellroy have only a single press quote on their product details pages.

The product review will always have an important place in ecommerce, especially for the large marketplace websites. However, as I hope I’ve shown, if you’re a brand selling through your own website, it isn’t necessarily the best way to present social proof.

You should of course continue to gather customer feedback about your products and service, as it’s hugely important for solving problems and getting better as a business. However you may not need to worry about displaying this to users.

Last updated on 17 June 2019

ecommerce / reviews / web design / conversion / shopping / ux / social media / press /

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