Understanding the Divide Between How Online Shoppers Use and Write Reviews

January 05, 2018

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This article is by Michelle Delgado. Michelle is a content developer and marketer at Clutch, a B2B ratings and reviews firm based in Washington DC. Her research focuses on website builders, web design, and app development. Read the full study: 5 Ways E-Commerce Websites Can Collect More Customer Reviews

Whether you’re searching for a sporting goods store or a restaurant, chances are you have at some point glanced at online reviews to see what other customers have to say before making a purchase decision.  

If you’ve done this, you’re not alone. Nearly 1 in 5 shoppers identify online reviews as one of the most important factors influencing their decision to make a purchase online. This finding comes from a 2017 survey of 1,000 online shoppers conducted by Clutch, a B2B ratings and reviews firm based in Washington DC.

But even though shoppers recognize the value of online reviews, relatively few write reviews themselves. The same survey found that only 19 percent of customers return to a website after completing a purchase to submit a review of their item and experience.

This paradox presents a challenge for businesses. To understand how businesses can persuade customers to become reviewers, we’ll unpack what makes reviews so valuable, when customers are most likely to write reviews, and expert tips for how to request reviews from customers.

Why Reviews Matter

The rise of popular review aggregators such as Rotten Tomatoes and Yelp has elevated the opinions of average consumers to the status of trusted critics. Online reviews offer social proof, providing insight into whether a product delivers on its promises or disappoints upon closer inspection.

No matter how big or small a purchase might be, customers want to know that a product or service will be worth the investment.  

This is important for both brick-and-mortar businesses as well as e-commerce businesses.

For e-commerce businesses that have few or no brick and mortar locations, customers are not likely to have the opportunity to see an item up close before purchasing.  Without the opportunity to form their own judgments in person, customers turn to the next best thing: in this case, the relatively unbiased opinions of other people who have seen and touched the product.

For example, I recently logged on to Amazon in search of a small watering can to use for my house plants. I knew that I wanted a watering can with a capacity under two liters, a curved spout, and an attractive design that would allow me to leave the watering can on display when not in use.

I quickly found a copper watering can that seemed to fit the bill, but before purchasing, I checked the reviews to see if there were any flaws in the design or finish.

A customer who purchased the watering can in 2014 was satisfied and seemed to confirm that the watering can was worthwhile:

However, a more recent review from 2015 reported that the watering can leaked and that the finish had an unappealing, inauthentic look:

It’s possible that these two reviewers simply had different taste, and that the one-star review was the result of bad luck or a damaged product. However, it’s also possible that the company altered the original design, lowering the overall quality of the product. I ended up purchasing a different watering can with more five-star reviews.

Reviews like these can provide insight into an otherwise unfamiliar company. In my case, reading reviews also helped me understand the consensus about what makes a good watering can, including the materials, size, and placement of the spout.

By helping shoppers learn more about a product and company, reviews can validate a customer’s desire to purchase.

How Reviews Support SEO

At their core, reviews are simply another type of content that can enhance your website. By demonstrating user engagement and adding context, reviews can show Google that your business is a relevant local search result.

In addition to collecting customer reviews on your website, there are numerous sites that curate reviews of a wide range of businesses:

  • Yelp primarily curates reviews of restaurants and home services.
  • TrustPilot collects reviews on a wide range of businesses, including everything from electronics to legal services.
  • TripAdvisor offers reviews on hotels, restaurants, and things to do, including local businesses and attractions.
  • Amazon, Etsy, eBay, and other online marketplaces collect reviews that add value to multichannel selling.

Creating one or more of these profiles can also increase the number of times your business appears in search results–and increase the odds of a potential customer being persuaded by a positive review.

For example, Baked & Wired is a popular bakery and cafe in Washington, DC. If you Google their name, you’ll find that their website is the first search result:

Now, take a closer look at the second and third search results. Baked & Wired’s profiles on Yelp and TripAdvisor occupy these two spots, and both provide rich snippets that display positive ratings directly in Google’s search results.

By maintaining a presence on multiple review sites, Baked & Wired is able to command the three most important search results, dramatically increasing the likelihood that searchers will click through to learn more about their business and ultimately make a purchase.

In addition to helping your website’s SEO, reviews across multiple channels can help your business dominate Google search results.

Happy Customers Are Most Likely to Write Reviews 

Conventional wisdom would have you believe that reviews come from customers who represent the opposite extremes of very high satisfaction and very low satisfaction.

A recent study found that this might not tell the whole story. Clutch’s survey found that one-third (33 percent) of customers who write product reviews do so when they are especially satisfied with their purchase, compared to only 2 percent of dissatisfied customers who write reviews.

The takeaway for businesses? The process of garnering reviews can begin the moment a customer clicks onto your website.

By focusing on delivering intuitive user experience, prompt delivery, and attentive customer service, you can increase the likelihood that satisfied customers will write reviews.

First Offer Solutions, Then Request Reviews 

Companies should think creatively about the ways that customer service and reviews intersect. Beyond the obvious ways that good customer service can lead to positive reviews, experts recommend that companies treat review outreach primarily as a customer service opportunity.

Let’s think back to the earlier example of the watering can I looked at on Amazon. Imagine I had placed an order, and when it arrived, the watering can did end up leaking. If I received an email requesting a review, I would be unlikely to say anything positive, if anything at all.

Instead, experts recommend that companies reach out roughly a week after a product has been delivered to offer solutions, before requesting a review. In my theoretical case, my frustration over the flawed watering can might disappear if I was offered an opportunity to voice a complaint leading to a replacement or full refund.

Once you’ve had a chance to solve any potential problems with orders, you’ll have insight into which customers are most satisfied and likely to write a positive review. From there, subsequent email outreach can invite customers to reflect on their experience with your product and company.

Prioritizing Customers’ Happiness Can Lead to More Reviews 

Companies that aim to garner more customer reviews should begin by thinking through the buying process from a customer’s perspective. A user-friendly website featuring clear product descriptions and helpful reviews from other customers can provide a positive and satisfying experience from the very start.

Once a customer has received their product, companies should engage by first offering to solve any problems they may have experienced with the order. Only then, after multiple attempts to ensure customer satisfaction, should they invite customers to write a review.

Happy customers are most likely make future purchases and encourage their friends to become customers. The increased likelihood that they will write positive reviews is just one of many benefits.

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