Allowing customers to review products online used to be a scary prospect for e-tailers (how can you control what people say about your product??). For some, it still is — a few luxury websites have avoided adding a “Reviews” function, to avoid offending the fashion houses whose clothes and accessories they stock.
But many sites — most, in fact — have fully integrated customer reviews into their sites, and are actively using them as a sales tool. Why? Because customer reviews are incredibly important.
The key is influence: Study after study has found that shoppers are highly influenced by peer reviews. An eMarketer survey found that “92% of US internet users read online reviews” and that “46% were influenced to purchase products by reviews.” And eConsultantcy’s research has shown that “a high product rating will increase likelihood of purchase for 55% of consumers.” Similar to Tweeting or Facebooking about a product, when you add a review to a website you are in some way endorsing whatever you’re reviewing–and the site is benefiting from your feedback.
As such, even the big department stores are catching on. Nordstrom unveiled reviews in late 2009; Saks, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and Neiman Marcus in late 2010. Last week, Topshop sent an email to its list announcing the addition of reviews — and encouraging customers to write them by offering a chance to win one of three “goodie bags” worth $370.
Retailers are also finding ways to incentivize leaving a product review. Big online retailers like Amazon aggressively solicit reviews (buy something and after it’s delivered, you’ll receive an email prompting you to review it on the site) and allow other users to vote on the value of the review. Some sites are now going so far as to police reviews for grammar — according to Slate, shoe-seller Zappos “uses crowdsourcing to fix the grammar and spelling in the site’s reviews.” That’s because, according to reports, “a well-written review tends to inspire confidence about the product, even if the review is negative.”
For review-readers, the key is authenticity – shoppers trust each other to leave unbiased feedback about a product, as well as tips on fit, cut, and quality. What do you think? Do you leave product reviews online? Do you read them before buying a product?