How can retailers make online reviews more useful?

Discussion
Sources: macys.com, kohls.com, williams-sonoma.com
Jan 03, 2017
Tom Ryan

Beyond making sure they’re credible, many websites are improving sorting capabilities, providing more information on reviewers and taking other steps to help consumers quickly benefit from online reviews.

A review of several websites by RetailWire shows a few unique techniques being used:

  • Editing: Sites such as Amazon.com let reviews run long while others edit copy down to key points.
  • Images/videos: Reviewers can add videos and images on Amazon and Kohl’s.
  • Multiple ratings: While most sites only show the overall rating of the product on a one- to five-star basis, Macy’s enables reviewers to rate footwear by whether it fits narrow or wide or whether it has arch support. Home Depot lets reviewers provide a rating on refrigerators based on features, energy efficiency, quality and value.
  • Pros and cons: Best Buy sums up five brief pros and cons for each product based on mentions in reviews.
  • Reviewer profile: On Williams Sonoma’s website, a review of knives provides information on the reviewer’s ability level, how long they’ve owned the product at the time of the review, and how frequently they use the product. On Macy’s, reviewers often provide their age range, gender, location, how frequently they purchase at Macy’s, a description of their style and what occasion they bought the product for. Walmart highlights whether the reviewer is a “top 1000 contributor” or a Walmart associate. Amazon details how many helpful votes each reviewer has earned and their reviewer ranking. Many sites display whether the reviewer is a “verified purchaser.”
  • Searching reviews: Both Amazon and Best Buy enable keyword searches, such as looking for the word “battery” in reviews of electronic devices.
  • Sorting: The most common sorting is newest to oldest, most to least helpful, and highest to lowest rating. A few reviews sort by relevancy, which combines factors such as helpfulness votes, latest reviews and other beneficial traits. Kohl’s enables sorting by photo reviews first or video reviews first. Garnett Hill enables reviews by rave reviews first, expert reviews first, staff reviews first, top contributors first, and length (long to short, short to long).

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How can online reviews be taken to a more useful level? Should any of the techniques and features mentioned in the article be adopted more commonly?

Braintrust
"Providing intelligent options and flexible means for shoppers to evaluate other users' feedback is a necessity for sellers."
"Positive reviews and suggestions for use can be amplified in a “what others said” section for use online and in-store display. "
"Another great function of an online review is an opportunity for the company to engage with the customer."

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20 Comments on "How can retailers make online reviews more useful?"

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Meaghan Brophy
BrainTrust

The easier it is for users to manipulate the data, the better. Being able to sort the reviews by photo/video, top contributors and most helpful are important features. As a consumer, I also personally find it helpful to know reviewers’ age range, location and shopping frequency to see how their experience might compare to mine. For clothing, it’s super important to be able to rate the item overall, on quality and on fit.

I think it would be interesting for consumers to be able to view each other’s profiles, similar to Yelp. When taking into account someone’s review, I’m always curious if that person generally leaves negative reviews, always leaves positive reviews or is somewhere in the middle. Building more of a community through their website can help retailers foster greater brand loyalty by allowing their consumers to better connect with one another.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

Online reviews would be extremely useful in stores. Our studies have shown that young people value peer reviews over the touch and feel of a product, so the combination would be a killer. Amazon’s bookstores do that now and although execution is still a question mark, it will be important to figure it out and get them into the brick-and-mortar component.

Laura Davis-Taylor
BrainTrust

I love Meaghan’s suggestions. Another is to take advantage of the many video reviews and how-to’s emerging in droves on YouTube. It’s become a cultural norm for many to search across the litany of “YouTube Stars” to get feedback from self-proclaimed subject matter experts on certain topics and products. Why not harness them for the other review options? It would require brave transparency, but if folks are seeking them out anyway, why not?

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

Most e-commerce site reviews follow a common format which leaves much to be desired. Tapping new approaches to add value to consumer reviews is a low-cost investment in customer retention and increased sales. As has been discussed on RetailWire before, stacking great numbers of reviews that lack quality doesn’t help shoppers — something I’ve seen happen when purchasers are incentivized to leave reviews. So providing intelligent options and flexible means for shoppers to evaluate other users’ feedback is a necessity for sellers that invest in other UX refinements. The ideas Tom presented are a great start!

Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

All of the above techniques allow consumers to get more useful information about products. Of the techniques, a verified purchaser designation should be adopted by more stores. It helps weed out fake reviews and give consumers faith that the review is real.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

I’ll add another suggestion: publish the date the review was created. That negative review could have been written two years ago and the product or service might have changed materially since then.

Sterling Hawkins
BrainTrust

It’d be interesting to add manufacturer feedback to let the community know there have been adjustments or material changes to the product. And linking social data to know if anyone “within your network” had experience with a product could add some value as well.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust
Like pretty well every “news item” these days you have to take product and service reviews with caution. Sadly we’re getting to the point where trust is pretty well an endangered value. There are all kinds of ways to manipulate and organize feedback data. The public, plain and simple, are at the mercy of the retailer. I needed pool service lately, and the one company assigned the job by my home warranty provider had a highly disproportionate number of negative reviews and four complaints to the BBB including one charge of fraud! Neither the home warranty people nor the pool service seemed to care, explaining “that’s just the way the internet is these days.” On a related issue, I get annoyed when questioned about the very basic levels of service or quality. This is a desperate grab for a “five star” ratings which, no matter how it’s earned, lifts the average. It’s almost to the point where they expect a five star rating in response to the question “Did the light bulb light up when you switched it on?” It seems to me there are two essential questions: 1.) In what ways did this product or service exceed your expectations?… Read more »
Kim Garretson
BrainTrust
5 months 21 days ago

Regarding the Best Buy summarization tactic, this is being done manually by staff reading all the reviews. But it’s beginning to emerge for auto-creation via AI machine learning technologies such as that from the company Linguastat. This technology can in seconds “read” all the reviews and extract summaries such as the top ten reasons reviewers cite as why to buy or why to avoid.

Phil Masiello
BrainTrust

Reviews are a powerful selling tool and more than 90 percent of consumers use product reviews to help make their buying decisions. But the reviews you have on your website need to be un-moderated. The minute you begin altering, cropping, moderating and sorting reviews, the minute the consumer loses faith in the unbiased nature of the review.

Amazon is a marketplace, not a retailer, so consumers trust the reviews and use them for purchases even off-platform.

But here is a little known fact about reviews. Consumers will click on the one- and two-star reviews above all else because they want to know what users DID NOT like about a product.

The other important item about reviews is that we always guide our clients to RESPOND to reviews, both good and bad. Consumers know that you wont have 100 percent happy customers. So it is important to show how your company responds when things go wrong and right.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
BrainTrust

Since consumers too often see reviews as part of the shill, brands should present a few key points about what they do with reviews. Do they impact product design, do they trigger remedial action, to what extent are reviews curated, etc.? Such transparency will add authenticity to reviews.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
BrainTrust

Positive reviews and suggestions for use can be amplified in a “what others said” section for use online and in-store display. Most consumers will not read long reviews or those buried in a long scroll. Accentuate the positive on an in-store display at high-dwell locations. The reviews of products presented on a video wall located near the eating area of the Whole Foods Avalon (north Atlanta) location, adds brand equity while info-taining in-store patrons.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

The more information an online review can provide, the better for the potential consumer. More than ever, consumers are looking for third-party reviews (endorsements). If the system allows for details, such as the shoe example (shows it runs small, narrow, etc.), the customer can make a more informed decision. Number one, it creates a real expectation. Number two, it will cut down on returns.

Another great function of an online review is an opportunity for the company to engage with the customer. If there is a bad review and the company responds, it will show the consumer how well (or not) a company handles complaints and problems. I’ve seen some review websites in other industries that don’t allow for the company to respond. In my mind, that’s a huge mistake and unfair for the company.

Liz Crawford
BrainTrust

I love the sorting function. This is especially useful for clothing and shoes, where there are a few standard ratings such as fit (runs large/small), quality and, say, arch support. These are the dimensions that prospective buyers are looking for.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

All fine ideas, with the exception of “editing” — there’s simply too much of a problem, if not actually realized, then feared — that editing = removing critical remarks. If retailers are afraid of the occasional review that rambles on, then they can set a word limit. And of course, reviews can be removed if they are off topic or libelous. Other than that, they should be left alone.

James Tenser
BrainTrust

Adding a “Was this review helpful? Y/N” radio button to product reviews could be a good way to build trust. Reviewers who get consistent high ratings could then be elevated to star status, while obvious fakes can be demoted below the fold.

Rafi Mendelsohn
Guest

Clearly, the richer the information the better the review, however, what hasn’t been mentioned is how difficult it is for retailers to get these reviews. Already, only about 4% shoppers respond to attempts to get reviews, so this will reduce even further if retailers require more info from customers. Shoppers hate being contacted for their opinions. One solution could be to tap into the already existing, and incredibly rich opinions that already exist online — from social media to forums to YouTube comments. We are using AI to gather millions of opinions already online, turning them into comprehensive and valuable insights for shoppers.

Adrien Nussenbaum
BrainTrust

Reviews are critical and drive decisions. Making it easy for customers to provide reviews is important, as the number of reviews a product has can influence the whether the reviews have an impact on shoppers.

Christopher P. Ramey
BrainTrust

People look for what they want to find. By sorting reviews you allow them reinforce what they already believe.

Retailers can increase positive response with notes of gratitude and gifts (larger purchases). Clients will reciprocate with kind words that you can quote.

Clients appreciate those who appreciate them.

Rafi Mendelsohn
Guest

I think 2017 will be the year of backlash against incentivized reviews. Amazon has already started penalizing against bribing shoppers for positive reviews. I wrote about this recently and how Artificial Intelligence will help online retailers rapidly grow trusted reviews.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Providing intelligent options and flexible means for shoppers to evaluate other users' feedback is a necessity for sellers."
"Positive reviews and suggestions for use can be amplified in a “what others said” section for use online and in-store display. "
"Another great function of an online review is an opportunity for the company to engage with the customer."

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