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New report examines the value of customer reviews in e-commerce

The digital era has brought hitherto unimaginable volumes of both information and misinformation to our fingertips, to the point where many have lost confidence in the trustworthiness of the content they read online. A combination of long-standing consumer skepticism towards marketing and the combative political environment in which we now live has accentuated and fueled continued distrust of the internet as a reliable source of truth.

This doesn’t mean that the age of trust is behind us, however – credible market research shows that trust is an essential factor in consumer purchasing decisions, and it’s part of the reason why we turn to a particular brand or purchase one product over the other. According to the numbers, the one area that buyers still manifest unwavering trust in is the opinions of their peers, which makes reviews of products, services and the businesses that provide them amongst the most important factors in building brands.

This is no less true in Australia and New Zealand, where 70 per cent of online shoppers read reviews, whilst 40 to 45 per cent identify them as central factors in their purchase. Not only do consumers say that reading reviews is an enjoyable part of the shopping experience, a whole industry has arisen around the collection, interpretation and reporting of reviews. All this serves to recognise the fact that reading and leaving reviews has become a central part of modern shopping behaviour.

This phenomenon is the focus of a new report co-authored by Inside Retail and Trustpilot, a leading consumer review platform that aims to create an independent currency of trust. The report, “What Did Other Shoppers Say”, offers consumer insights as well as practical tips to help businesses understand the importance of reviews and their increasing relevance in contemporary e-commerce.

One of the core insights of the reports is the value of negative reviews. Whilst businesses naturally tend to hope for glowing endorsements from their customers, 72 per cent of Australian consumers say that they’re more likely to make a purchase decision based on a mix of reviews that skew positive rather than trust an unlikely string of overenthusiastic recommendations. Human ranges of opinion have far more credibility amongst wary shoppers than do improbable volumes of praise.

This common wisdom stands against a backdrop of heightened suspicion of overt marketing campaigns, with 71 per cent of Australians convinced that brands tell lies in their communications – which is why 41 per cent of this market decline to read advertising material of any kind, whilst around 60 to 65 per cent of the Australia/New Zealand market choose consumer reviews as their primary source of information when it comes to conducting research on brands and products.

With trust levels so low for merchants’ own claims, it’s no wonder that 70 per cent of shoppers point to user-generated content such as reviews, testimonials, star ratings and images/video of consumers using products as having a high impact on their decisions to make a purchase.

As an important part of the co-branded report, Trustpilot offers four detailed insights as tips for Australian and New Zealand brands on how to optimise reviews to generate maximum brand trust. Foremost amongst these is the need for businesses to explicitly work on building trusted brands by collecting and responding to reviews – whether positive or negative – and use review widgets along every marketing touchpoint. They should also focus on their SEO search profile so as to stand out online organically rather than inauthentically appearing on search results as ad placements – and accumulating customer reviews is one particularly effective method of achieving better such rankings.

Advertisers who are engaging in paid campaigns should enhance the effectiveness of those outreaches via social proofing – creating an environment that attracts Google Seller Ratings. This approach has been shown to increase click-through rates by up to 10 per cent.

The report also advises retailers to learn more about customer preferences so they can be sure they’re delivering what consumers are asking for. This returns a higher yield of customer loyalty and offers a goldmine of insights in the form of user reviews, which in turn serves to attract new customers.

The scope of the “What Did Other Shoppers Say” report is designed to build a renewed appreciation amongst retailers for the powerful benefits that reviews can have on their business. Insights and tips delivered in the report can help enable businesses to deliver on their customers’ expectations and set themselves up to become more responsive to emerging consumer trends, keeping them well abreast of the game.

The report launches later this week. Book a reputation check here to learn how your brand’s current reputation impacts on your business.