Should consumers be given incentives to write reviews?

Discussion
Mar 23, 2016
Tom Ryan

While the presence of reviews on a site can help establish authenticity and trust among consumers, only a minority of consumers write them.

According to a survey of 800 U.S. consumers by PowerReviews, almost all shoppers — 95 percent — report consulting customer reviews, with 24 percent consulting reviews for every purchase they make.

Yet only 42 percent report leaving feedback for the products they buy. Among younger consumers (18 to 29), only 32 percent leave reviews.

Those who have written reviews also don’t do so for every product purchase. In fact, of those consumers asked to write a review post-purchase, only three to 10 percent will write a review for that specific transaction. On average, review-writing consumers will write a review once every four to 14 purchases, depending on the category, timing and other factors.

The survey found that more than half of online shoppers (57 percent) specifically look for websites with product reviews and that numerous reviews are important. While most claim they need no more than 10 reviews to guide their purchasing decision, the ideal number of reviews varied greatly — from less than 10 to more than 50, depending on the price point, product experience, level of importance and other factors.

In its study, PowerReviews said brands and retailers should streamline the process of leaving feedback to make it “quick and painless,” while considering offering incentives.

More than half (55 percent) of the consumers who aren’t writing reviews cite needing motivation to do so. Of consumers making more than $150,000, 69 percent cite the same need.

In a separate study on Centennials, PowerReviews said one way of overcoming the challenge of securing reviews is by sending samples to loyal customers in exchange for submitting online reviews. Sweepstakes, free shipping and discounts can also entice reviews. Indicating whether a reviewer received a sample or other incentive for writing a review is also recommended.

Retailers can also tailor loyalty programs to recognize and reward customers for engagement, including leaving reviews as well as interacting via social media or contributing user photos.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Should retailers provide incentives for the writing of online reviews? What type of encouragement or incentives make sense?

Braintrust
"There’s a slippery slope to incentivizing reviews. It’s possible to do so inappropriately and it’s possible to create the perception of skewing reviews unless there’s a clear and prominent policy statement about review incentives."
"I can’t believe this is even a question. This would be a disservice and muck things up by making reviews less believable."
"By sending samples to frequent customers and encouraging reviews, retailers build loyalty and community simultaneously."

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26 Comments on "Should consumers be given incentives to write reviews?"

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Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

Incentives seem like buying positive reviews, so retailers should use them with caution. Consumers like authenticity. Buying a review is not authentic, particularly if every reviewer is not offered the same incentive.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

A harsh restatement of the might be — should retailers buy reviews? Stated slightly less directly — should retailers pay for reviews?

People who leave reviews do so because they want to share their experience not because they want to collect an incentive. Even if there is not a statement that an incentive is offered, the word will spread that if you leave one you will receive X or Y. It would make me wonder: if I post a good review do I get a better incentive?

Yes providing incentives will generate more reviews, but will they as honest? IMHO the answer is no.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

There’s a slippery slope to incentivizing reviews. It’s possible to do so inappropriately and it’s possible to create the perception of skewing reviews unless there’s a clear and prominent policy statement about review incentives.

As I think deeper about it, the cons begin to outweigh the pros. For example if only some people are incentivized, others may be offended and stop writing reviews. One website I frequent does pay 50 cents per review and the quality of many of the opinions is barely worth that, given the typical one-sentence synopsis. There are other issues too, so for most retailers at this time — no, don’t stir the pot, stick to gentle e-mail reminders.

Tom Redd
Guest

Why not? A way to do this — as one website I shop at does — is to write the review to get into the reviewers contest. They do a real drawing each month and if they pick you then you get to pick an item worth $X. So it is not a kickback it is a contest. They are not tacky about it with some third party. We do it and some of us complain when we lose. The website shares the complaints — which are all funny. The best thing is that they build rapport with their shoppers and we come back for more, more chances to complain.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

The more incentive I get the more likely I am to write a review. I get a star from Starbucks for writing about a recent visit. I get a 5 percent to 10 percent rebate off a restaurant bill from iDine if I write a review.

I assure you in each case the reviews are not always good. If the service was bad, I say so. If the meal was poor I say so. There is no guarantee that a review will be good.

There are two values to customers reviewing their experiences. The first is that if the experience is good, people will know about it. The second, which may be even more valuable, is that if the experience is poor, the retailer can fix it.

Rick Myers
Guest
Rick Myers
1 year 4 months ago

No, definitely not. If they are, the review should be clearly marked that they received something in return.

Keith Anderson
BrainTrust

Transparency is key here. Given their influence, retailers themselves have a huge incentive to drive shoppers to leave more reviews. But aside from the questionable ethics of astroturfing, it’s getting easier to detect “fake” reviews.

Disclosure of incentives in the review text, labeling verified purchases, displaying a reviewer’s review history and encouraging open and honest reviews are all leading practices.

Warren Thayer
BrainTrust

I can’t believe this is even a question. This would be a disservice and muck things up by making reviews less believable. Sort of like Citizens United, allowing corporations to buy congressmen. Are you serious?

Kevin Kearns
Guest
Kevin Kearns
1 year 4 months ago

Incentivizing customers is a great way to motivate them to write reviews; however, as others have pointed out, it also risks tainting the authenticity of feedback, which is the main purpose of customer-written reviews. It can cause reviews to be more of a sponsored post, and all consumers take those with a grain of salt — if not completely disregard them.

There are several other methods that retailers can leverage in order to foster loyalty with customers and generate engagement. Once a customer has established a relationship with a brand, product reviews will follow (as opposed to being incentivized or those dreaded reviews that are solely the result of a negative experience).

Brian Kelly
Guest
1 year 4 months ago

Third-party research firms should offer an incentive for participation when necessary to ensure a representative sample. Retailers? Seems like leading the witness or an unrepresentative recruitment device.

Consumers are looking for transparency and authenticity. If a retailer isn’t providing that in its content, then it doesn’t add value to the brand.

Or as we like to say, “retail ain’t for sissies.”

Dan Frechtling
BrainTrust

Incentives help the shopper community as a whole because they balance negative reviews with positive ones.

Buyers are more inclined to review products when they are unhappy than when they are happy (37 percent to 21 percent in the PowerReviews survey). It’s harder to make a purchase decision when the boos have more of a voice than the applause.

Incentives can’t go overboard. By offering “status” to frequent reviewers like Amazon does, no currency changes hands. By sending samples to frequent customers and encouraging reviews, retailers build loyalty and community simultaneously.

Any incentive policy needs to be clearly disclosed, and no reviews should be removed just because they are negative.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

Paid endorsements? Well at least the write up needs to say, “this write up was provided by an actor, or a real consumer.” … Just like the Reality TV ad.

Larry Negrich
BrainTrust

Yes, incentivize a consumer for taking the time to give an opinion of the product and their experience. As long as the website isn’t paying for positive reviews, then the process produces more reviews — some good, some bad. More voices and opinions will help shoppers make better decisions.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

I believe there is nothing wrong with encouragement for customers to provide feedback. Not everyone is comfortable with doing these, nor does everyone have the energy nor interest in writing reviews. Retailers have to understand that and create enticements to provide reviews. Simple promotional offers are a great first step in testing the response from your audience.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

Consumers have an incredible BS meter. As someone who has filmed hundreds of testimonials, it’s critical that the company not intervene in the process. Review readers will usually detect those reviews that are incentivized and they just don’t mean much.

All in all, I felt the numbers reported above feel about what they should be. And any corporation that decides to mount a program to change them will be wasting their money.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

I personally don’t mind if a retailer (or any other business) asks me to write a review if I like their products. I do worry about the incentive to do so. The wrong incentive crosses the line into the “bribing” or purchasing positive reviews.

I once stayed at a hotel. They asked me to review their hotel online. Their incentive was that anything less than an excellent score they would fix. In other words, they wanted to be sure their service was good enough for a good review.

Same example with my car dealership. The service manager told me that they get bonuses when they get good reviews. He asks me to give them a review, and adds that if the service they give me is less than a 10, he wants an opportunity to get it back to a 10.

Those are incentives I can live with!

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

An incentive doesn’t have to mean payment (of any form) and retail does need to do much more to encourage or make it easier for folks to write a review or at least give a point score.

I have stayed at hotels where I later received an email asking me to rate my stay. Not a survey, mind you; that would take up too much of my precious time. No, just a quick score.

I am just saying that retailers need to give much more thought to this especially if the product is of a category that is influenced heavily by reviews. You know what they are!

And that is my 2 cents.

Bill Hanifin
BrainTrust

Caution should be exercised in providing incentives in exchange for reviews. Skepticism abounds among consumers when reading reviews as there is a history of scripted and planted reviews in e-commerce as documented over recent history.

Passion drives reviews, both negative and positive. Trolls and others with too much time on their hands generate lots of useless information in between.

How to encourage reviews that are useful to others? Ask about user experience and willingness to recommend over a timeline of 3, 6, 12 months from purchase date. Keep a conversation going with customers, not just prompt for a quick “give me 5 stars.”

The context and sincerity of the request will impact the quality of the response.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Based on the numbers in the article, it sounds like plenty of reviews are already being provided … so what’s the problem?

As for incentives, please, no. One of the advantages of peer reviews is that they’re spontaneous and representative — that’s the hope anyway — and much confidence in them would be lost with the thought that people are being bribed to write them.

Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

No, there should be no incentives for consumers to write reviews. Good service, good prices, good products should be enough incentive in themselves. Any other encouragement would distort the veritas of the process and add a question to the offerings and their true level of service/pricing/performance.

James Tenser
BrainTrust

Reasons why consumers may post online reviews:
1) Release anger about poor experience
2) Gain status in a community (like Amazon book reviewers)
3) Get paid by a brand — cash, points, samples, whatever
4) Get paid by a competitor to sabotage a brand
5) Respond to a brand request/reminder in absence of compensation
6) Fulfill a perceived social obligation to share back
7) Reward a brand for a positive experience

Providing incentives to reviewers can tend to create a pseudo-authenticity that is many times transparent to other consumers, but sometimes is hard to suss out. The risk of this practice, of course, is to cast doubt on every review, pro and con, making them unreliable as a decision-support tool.

Even paid “expert” reviewers, like the tech journalists who pick apart every new gadget as it is released, are subject to certain personal biases. The best disclose their influences, and rely on the intelligence of their audience to cover the rest.

The professionals are not anonymous, which provides a powerful incentive to protect their reputations. Perhaps banning anonymous consumer reviews might have the same self-regulatory effect?

Arie Shpanya
Guest

I agree that asking for a review with an incentive upfront can compromise authenticity, but retailers need to find some way to encourage customers to write them. Why not improve offerings, customer service, and shipping and handling time? Wowing the customer will make them more likely to share the experience they had with the product and service. Beyond that, well-written and timely email requests for every purchase could help.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

There’s too much friction involved in writing reviews, not a lack of money. Allow customers to leave a comment without having to remember their username and password (how many passwords do YOU manage?) and retailers will get more participation.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

I find it interesting that consumers readily read reviews, but reluctantly write them. It proves it is better to receive than to give in today’s “what’s in it for me” world.

Elizabeth Meaney
Guest
1 year 4 months ago

The Amazon “sort by Average Customer Review” feature used to be very helpful … until certain companies started buying reviews. Now it is very hard to sort through the true and the bribed. I’ve even seen listings on freelance writing job sites hiring people to write Amazon reviews.

How can we filter out false/sponsored reviews?

Geng Cui
Guest

There is a fine line between paid endorsements and incentivized reviews. The Endorsement Guides from the U.S Federal Trade Commission reflect the basic principle of truth-in-advertising in that endorsements must be honest and not misleading. In addition, the Guides require that any connection and incentive must be disclosed if there’s a connection (employee or relative) between an endorser and the marketer that consumers would not expect, as it would affect how consumers evaluate the endorsement. Disclosure of connection and any incentives is critical to ensuring the honesty of opinions. These guidelines also apply to online reviews and social media. We are doing research to examine the difference between voluntary reviews and incentivized reviews and the effect of incentive disclosure on the perceived credibility of reviews and consumer attitudes.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"There’s a slippery slope to incentivizing reviews. It’s possible to do so inappropriately and it’s possible to create the perception of skewing reviews unless there’s a clear and prominent policy statement about review incentives."
"I can’t believe this is even a question. This would be a disservice and muck things up by making reviews less believable."
"By sending samples to frequent customers and encouraging reviews, retailers build loyalty and community simultaneously."

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