4 Ways to Leverage User Reviews

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In 2008, a tongue-in-cheek review launched a thousand sales for the Three Wolf Moon T-shirt on Amazon. Although the initial review (and the subsequent thousand reviews) about how the wolves and the moon give charm and strength to the wearer, was probably not the type of review the seller wanted, the case of the Three Wolf Moon T-shirt speaks to the power of persuasion of product reviews

People are social animals, and we use product reviews as a shortcut to decision-making. In Baynote's 4th Annual Holiday Shopper Survey conducted in December, ratings and reviews ranked as the top influencer for both online and in-store shoppers. 

In e-commerce, user reviews are especially helpful for physical and non-uniform items.  If you’re a clothing store, for example, you might have a tougher time converting online than at a physical store because of the lack of the experiential and sensory details - texture and thickness of the cloth, and the drape of the material over the body - that a customer gets at a physical store. 

User reviews reduce the customers’ anxiety and increase trust that what they will receive will match the product description and image. But it’s easy to get reviews wrong even if you have them on your site. To maximize the benefits, you need them to be obvious, honest, and usable:

Indicators above the fold

The first order of business is to make sure you’re making the reviews obvious. This doesn’t mean that you’re going to cram all the text from the user reviews near the top of the page, but you need some type of mechanism that tells the visitor you have reviews on the web site. Go back and look at the Three Wolf Moon Shirt at the top -  the star rating system and the total number of reviews are obvious elements on the page, and users will be able to see them without having to scroll down. That’s a two thumbs up.

Honest ratings

It can be tempting to put your best foot forward and highlight the positive reviews, while making the negative reviews slightly less accessible. Resist the urge. You need to try and be balanced, so visitors will trust you. What you’ll end up with are products with great reviews, and products with crappy reviews, but on the whole users will be more likely to trust you and buy from you.

Zappos.com allows users to rate reviews. 

Ratings for ratings

You need feedback. No, we’re not talking about the reviews themselves, you already know that. We’re talking about the reviews of the reviews. The reason so many web sites ask if the review was helpful is that it works; it generates more attention to the most useful, amusing, or informative reviews, where more users are more likely to spot them.

Relevant averages

This is going to sound obvious, but enough web sites do it to actually warrant a warning: do not show average ratings if you do not have enough ratings. People may not realize that the two star rating for an item is based on just 3 reviews - pick a threshold (20 to 30) and do not display averages until you reach that threshold.

The three-wolf moon shirt review was lightning in a bottle, so it’s unlikely for sites to get the same kind of boost. Still, you don’t need to hit it out of the park every time - you just need to introduce a carefully curated experience that offers honest reviews users can’t miss to make your product page better.

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