Consumers rely on reviews, but they don’t trust them

Discussion
Sep 16, 2016

Retail TouchPoints Staff

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the Retail TouchPoints website.

While the majority of consumers believe online reviews help them along their shopping journey (88 percent), only a fraction of these customers (18 percent) actually trust that all the information contained within the reviews is valid, according to Trustpilot.

This significant gap reveals that it is critical for businesses to not only incorporate online reviews into the shopping experience, but to deploy them in a way that will build trust and transparency with the consumer.

The survey of more than 1,000 online shoppers found:

  • Nineteen percent read reviews prior to visiting a company’s site;
  • A quarter read reviews as soon as they get there;
  • Nearly half (47 percent) read while on the site before adding an item to their cart (i.e., while actively shopping).

To close the gap between those seeking out trustworthy online reviews and those who believe they are fully authentic, retailers need to gain a greater understanding of how shoppers read, write and evaluate online reviews.

Half of consumers feel that the overall rating or a high-level, easy-to-understand aggregation of a company’s feedback to consumer opinions are the most important factors when it comes to reading online reviews. Additionally, 20 percent cited how recently the reviews were posted as the most important factor, while another 20 percent said the number of reviews posted for a product is more relevant.

The report identified several best practices in creating more trustworthy customer feedback strategies:

  • Ensuring online reviews are easy to find and showcasing them to customers during every step of the shopping experience;
  • Giving customers a forum for reviews and inviting them to leave their opinion;
  • Responding to negative feedback in real time;
  • Asking the customer to update their review once the situation is resolved;
  • Analyzing sentiment to continually improve business and products.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How can retailers add more trust and transparency to online reviews? What do you find adds authenticity and relevancy to an online review?

Braintrust
"More attention needs to be put on highlighting/addressing customer reviews because they’re the only ones a smart shopper is going to believe."
"I’ve been very focused on improving user reviews and answered questions for at least the last year. Authenticity is the first priority."
"Human nature enters into this just a bit. Ask yourself, “Do I really trust what this stranger has written on the internet?” "

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18 Comments on "Consumers rely on reviews, but they don’t trust them"

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Frank Riso
BrainTrust

Retailers can and should respond to each review — good, bad or indifferent. Too many of us do not trust great reviews since we may think they are posted by the retailers. So for replies (and much like on RetailWire), retailers should allow a stream of discussion to continue the input. From that, a bit of real authenticity will result.

Peter Fader
BrainTrust

I respectfully disagree with Frank. As inauthentic as many reviews are, retailers’ responses are generally even worse in this regard. Most reviews should be left alone — even if they’re negative. Retailers should only respond to reviews that truly demand a response.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
BrainTrust

Agreed, Peter. The “bell curve” is an asset and keywords are our friends. Amplify positive brand comments and encourage those who make them. Neutralize the negatives and apply sentiment analysis to track trends.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

Good points, Peter. But also, I think the review discussion in corporations is dysfunctionally binary. Are they good or bad? If we have good reviews that’s good! If they’re bad, that’s bad!

Consumers don’t see it that way. They want to use their intelligence. So the most valuable review is one that reveals something new to them about the product.

In clothing reviews, comments about fit are particularly useful. Or for a small kitchen appliance, consumers want to learn the situations where it’s useful and those where it’s not.

We must stop considering reviews as good or bad. We would get a much better sense of the impact of reviews on our products by looking to see how many offer additional insight. Generally those also indicate that the reviewer cared enough about the product to spend the time writing. And as long as it’s not because they’re pissed off, that’s a good indicator.

Chris Petersen, PhD.
BrainTrust

Amazon has pretty much set the gold standard in terms of customer reviews. They have an easy-to-understand graphical summary. And more importantly, it is easy to navigate to the most positive and most negative reviews.

A page of reviews that are all positive leads to suspicion. A balance of some negative reviews focused on flaws and limitations leads to a big leap in credibility.

It is challenging for many companies to get customers to submit to reviews. An effective alternative is to encourage an open forum based on Q&A. While many consumers don’t want to create a review from scratch, they are quite willing to answer a short question about a product. For many, the Q&A section can be more valuable than reviews — IF the responses are written from the voice of experience from actual consumers.

Frank Poole
Guest
11 months 1 day ago

Unfortunately, Amazon’s “Vine” program actively muddies the water by giving merchandise to pre-selected members in exchange for a review. And while these solicited reviews are helpfully flagged as such when viewed individually, their ratings are (so far as I can tell) averaged into the overall score that appears on the product page. That’s a problem.

In one case, half of the reviews (5 out of 10) for a $2500 professional camcorder were from “Vine” participants, some of whom clearly didn’t know very much about the device they were given and were merely pumping up the word count.

A shame because, as you say, Amazon’s reviews system had been exemplary; they should have left well enough alone.

Jasmine Glasheen
Guest
Jasmine Glasheen
11 months 1 day ago

Let’s be honest, a company’s review of their own product is bound to be idealistic. Reviews mean most when they come from another customer — this is where we read the nitty-gritty details of the product that the company wouldn’t admit to themselves, but that can make or break a product experience. Another customer is going to tell me if the shoes run a size too big, the fabric is itchy or the packaging is appalling.

More attention needs to be put on highlighting/addressing customer reviews because they’re the only ones a smart shopper is going to believe.

Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

Retailers should encourage consumers to write reviews and then respond to those comments (with real responses, not boilerplates). By showing a genuine interest in what customers have to say retailers show that they value feedback, and in responding to reviews they have the opportunity to demonstrate that the feedback was taken seriously. This is a proven method of building trust in the retailer and in the reviews.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
BrainTrust

The blossom has been falling off the rose of reviews for some time as brands try to exploit their apparent authenticity and consumer are learning to be wary. They need to be seen for what they are; a validation of what we would like to believe with the incidental bonus of occasionally getting the straight goods. I am sure that many consumer have found as I did in trying to post a negative review on our Whirlpool clothes washer and the Cuisinart coffee percolator (both premium-priced purchases dispatched to the recycling heap), that negative posting is hard to do. Caveat emptor, even with reviews.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

This is an area of my focus as I’ve been very focused on improving user reviews and answered questions for at least the last year. Authenticity is the first priority. The “verified buyer” tag is a good start, also vetting users in a number of supplementary ways to improve the likelihood of their reviews being real and not paid are important. Additionally, culling down excessive and redundant user questions makes the remaining questions more valuable to readers. Lastly, responding publicly to user criticisms in an authentic, individual, problem-solving way shows readers that they are recognized by the seller as having a valued opinion.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

First, it makes tremendous sense that consumers only partially trust reviews. They obviously have experienced reviewers who are grinding an axe as well as those placed by companies or company enthusiasts which lack all sense of validity.

But I recommend real caution if you’re thinking of taking overt steps as a company to influence this situation. Company action can make things far worse. What consumers want are independent reviews they can sort through to assist in their decisions. They want to do that sorting themselves and not have a company do it for them.

I suppose, as I’ve always noted with testimonials, consumers have a very accurate BS meter. And when they sniff your company’s BS entering the equation their trust level drops considerably.

Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

Let the reviews stand on their own. The more retailers and/or brands try to respond the more tainted and untrustworthy the response. Shoppers are smart. They won’t make a purchase decision on a single bad review. As shoppers we are very good at “gut check” trend analysis. The reviews are important for trend analysis — not necessarily what each specific review says. The trend is what makes reviews valuable and authentic.

Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust

There are two general types of online reviews: ones that are product-specific, which transcend the individual retailer, and those on the shopping experience which are retailer-specific. Retailers need to encourage both but stay out of the former and pay close attention to the latter.

Online reviews are very popular and relied upon as an overall category in the purchase process — for brands and banners. As the survey indicated, that doesn’t translate into a trust of all things posted — but the key here is that this doesn’t invalidate the value of online reviews. Opportunity beckons.

Amazon has created a very high standard on customer reviews where it is relied upon AND trusted. With a properly designed and vetted online product and service review process, increased number of customer reviews and giving a greater voice to the customers (with less retailer meddling in this shopper-side community conversation) retailers can greatly increase authenticity, credibility and trust. Nothing wrong with taking cues from best-in-class and making that work in your operations.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
BrainTrust

Sure, brands should want to be part of the discussion if they are being talked about, but review management as part of social media cannot be a tail that wags the brand dog. Planned outbound brand communications eats negative comments for lunch.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

Human nature enters into this just a bit. Ask yourself, “Do I really trust what this stranger has written on the internet?” There are so many variables and potential reasons not to trust (e.g., “stranger,” written vs. spoken face-to-face, on the internet), that shoppers tend to disbelieve at first blush. When retailers have intentional strategies that they effectively execute to “maintain” the authenticity of reviews, online reviews can become far more valuable for both shoppers and the retailer.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

An interesting study was done at Northwestern University. It found that an average rating of around 4.4 (on a scale of 1-5) had more credibility than a perfect 5.0. To add more trust, engage with the reviewers. Thank them for positive reviews and let the negative reviewers know you are willing to help them. Customers love to see conversations.

Kim Garretson
BrainTrust

We are on the verge of a great improvement in the utility of reviews, thanks to AI Machine Learning from technologies like Linguastat. Today, too many products have too many reviews, many with too many words to wade through. Viewers can filter these by star rating, most helpful and other, but it’s still a burden for many consumers to use reviews, even putting aside the trust issue. We are about to see new reviews technology that can auto “read” and interpret all the data in the reviews and auto-generate summarizations such as “The top ten reasons why this camera is good for shooting kids’ sports events, are….” or “There are better alternatives to this camera, if you are looking for a solution for kids’ sports events.” Watch for this innovation in the next year.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

Reviews are critical to the buying process. I think the “reviewer accreditation and disclosure” are appropriate and helpful. Ideally there may be some self correction, to the process. If someone buys a product based on false review information, then there’s a strong likelihood that they are going to write a scathing review themselves. Upset customers talk about products with a much higher frequency than happy ones. So it’s in the best interest of the retailer that the reviews are surrounded with the right bias disclosures if any.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"More attention needs to be put on highlighting/addressing customer reviews because they’re the only ones a smart shopper is going to believe."
"I’ve been very focused on improving user reviews and answered questions for at least the last year. Authenticity is the first priority."
"Human nature enters into this just a bit. Ask yourself, “Do I really trust what this stranger has written on the internet?” "

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