Do reviews matter for e-commerce?
Today there is little doubt that customer reviews make a difference when it comes to making a buying decision in online shopping. We can even calculate the impact of reviews on the bottom line of the business. Now, if you decide to use reviews, we can say there are two main stages: 1st a business needs to gather / collect reviews, and 2nd use them to improve the business in one way or another. Here we will touch on both of these steps and look at available options for review management as a process that can be used in every e-commerce business.
Why bother with gathering and using customer reviews?
It’s always good to understand the why question before proceeding with any large project like review management; otherwise without the why there might not be enough motivation to complete it. The most straightforward points are the use cases and benefits of reviews:
- Customer reviews improve conversion rate for website visitors (~16% based on a test for website 1M+ uniques per month)
- Reviews provide keyword rich unique content updated daily, helping to get more organic traffic and improve page rank
- A brand’s rating influences the buying decision of new and returning customers
- Aggregated reviews give the ability to discover customer problems and drive customer experience
And why would one need to get involved in the whole review process management?
- The ability to invite verified customers to leave a review increases the chance of getting not just more positive reviews, but also more reviews that are relevant to the business
- Controlling the quality of the feedback process allows you to improve it, i.e. one can control when an invitation is sent, the content of the invitation, and the ability to remind customers about it
- Choosing who receives an invitation can improve the average total rating
- By following-up on negative reviews (not just with review replies but email sequences) gives more options on how to reverse any negative feedback
Not all points above are necessary for every business, especially when getting started. If the process used can’t address any of these points, it might require changing the whole process later on, which can be costly and challenging to do. It’s helpful to consider how to manage reviews as if a business is receiving 1000s a month instead of not receiving them at all.
Collecting Customer Reviews
At the 1st stage, any e-commerce store that wants to get more reviews must have a review invitation process. Without it, it’s nearly impossible to get enough reviews to make an impact on the business. We define the review collection process as follows:
- A customer makes a purchase.
- A business sends a review invitation after the purchase (usually a few days after it).
- After a received invite, the customer can leave a 1-5 star rating and details on the service and product.
- The review gets published either to a third-party review platform or the business’s website. (We will explore both options later on.)
The invitation process alone is managed in one of two ways:
- Platform managed - The business has to send all orders data, including customer information, with an email address to the review platform, which handles review invitation send-outs to those customers.
- Self-managed - the business has to create an email campaign on an ESP (email service provider), and trigger email delivery to all new customers.
Note: Customer information must also be present in ESP before the business can use an email campaign.
These processes require implementation and support effort from a business to ensure the review process is working. We’ll look into more detail in what options are available for managing this from a vendor or self-management perspective. For now, we can outline the main pros/cons of each.
Platform Managed Invitations
- Easy to get started, especially if it integrates with your existing ecommerce store
- No need to have an ESP set up
- The invitation process is set up out of the box
- Has a limit on sent review invites
- Sending logic itself tends to be rigid with limited configuration
- Business is locked to the review platform, making it impossible to send review invites to other platforms (if collecting with more than one review provider)
- Can require custom integrations to be built to leverage all invitation functionality, e.g. product catalog
- No limits on sending email count
- Full flexibility on configuring invitation campaigns
- Support for multiple review platforms
- Must be sending customer data to ESP
- Setting up and managing this logic usually requires a technical person, usually a developer.
- Can require to creation of custom integrations with review platforms, e.g., for generating custom invitation links.
- It doesn’t solve review data lock-in as data still lives in a review platform itself (we’ll review this in more detail in the Usage part)
We can see that both invitation processes have certain limitations. On one hand, when using platform-managed invitations, you have to pay to be able to send limitless invitations and live with reduced flexibility. On the other hand, self-managed approach requires an upfront cost of setting up all the invitation logic normally requiring a developer which not all e-commerce companies might want to dedicate. Now let’s take a look at the next stage of review management.
Using Customer Reviews
Once we have a review invitation process in place and some reviews are collected, the 2nd stage is using them to improve your online business. Let’s take a look in more detail about some common ways you can use reviews.
Display your best reviews on your website landing pages
When Customer first lands on your website, it’s essential to show that he can trust your brand to make a purchase. Customer reviews are one of the best tools that serve as social proof from existing customers. The easiest way to add reviews to pages is by using a review widget.
As this is usually the beginning of visitors’ journey, the reviews you show significantly impact how they will perceive your brand. Therefore it is vital to have a way to identify which reviews are the best either by using a sentiment analysis or other means like manual curation.
Display reviews on category pages related to page keywords
Another less known way of review usage is showing them on contextually relevant pages, e.g. category pages. Here the simplest approach is to match page keywords to the reviews either exactly, through synonyms or topics. This allows not just visitors to see relevant reviews to the page category but also enhances the page’s contextual relevance that improves SEO.
To be able to use this feature the reviews have to be searchable by keywords in real-time, which not every review platform might support.
Show reviews on product pages
The most popular review usage is showing them on product pages. The main advantage of this is to allow customers to answer the question of whether they will be making the right decision in buying this product. Amazon has pioneered product reviews, hence why it’s almost impossible to sell anything on amazon without products having some reviews.
In addition to just reviews, things that enhance the usefulness is the ability to find the answer more quickly:
- By looking at the overall rating distribution
- Looking at the most relevant review topics related to the product
- Browsing product photos taken by customers
- Last but not least, looking at Q&A
Amazon is the prime example of how it can be done, but it might not be feasible for every ecommerce store to pursue all of this functionality, just because it requires a certain scale to collect that much review data. A good start is with the basics that have the largest impact:
- Don’t show an empty review widget when a product has no reviews as that can mislead customers to believe that the product was rated with the value of zero
- If you decide to show negative reviews, it’s better if they have a reply that addresses the problem of the customer
- Include rating distribution and the number value of the rating (not just stars), as that is a more objective evaluation of the product
Businesses tend to be afraid of negative reviews, but based on tests by different review platforms and agencies people that read negative reviews tend to convert higher than people who don’t read them. When a visitor is thinking about a worst case scenario and if it’s not that bad, it’s more likely to convince him to buy the product. That’s why having a relevant response in bad reviews can influence a 1-star review to be perceived as neutral or even positive if the original problem was solved.
Publish best reviews to social media
Reviews can serve your business even outside the website. One of the common options is to publish them on social media. This helps a business leverage more marketing content for free. This also helps raise awareness of the business for potential customers who haven’t visited the website yet.
Even though picking relevant reviews and posting them can still take up a bit of time for a social marketer. At StackTome we help to automate this process by selecting reviews based on best sentiment, keywords, and other metrics relevant to the marketing campaign.
Include reviews into your paid ads
Another way reviews help you gain more customers is through paid advertising. When you create ads on Google, your website’s total rating can be used in the ad itself, improving CTR (ad clicks) by 10-20%.
The one caveat is that the rating must be from a Google approved independent review website. We will look at this requirement in more detail in the vendor section.
Facebook ads also benefit from reviews. Based on some case studies, these ads can have 4x CTR compared to those without reviews. It works exceptionally well with product ads as there is nothing better than word of mouth to sell a product. Customer reviews are as close as you can get to personal recommendations online.
Understand common problems from negative feedback
Reviews are a powerful insight tool into what your customers think about your service and products. This is useful for catching any problems based on the most occurring keywords in the reviews. For example, if many customers are unhappy with delivery, you would see this keyword more frequently used in reviews with a lower rating.
Once a problem is identified and fixed relating to a single service issue or product, you should see new reviews with a higher rating in that particular area. In a way, this is how you can listen to your customers and address their needs to make their experience better which leads to higher CLV (Customer Lifetime Value).
Catch problems through monitoring CX (Customer Experience) metrics
Another way to keep track of the health of your business is through CX metrics. The gold standard of this is the NPS score, which essentially is a score from 1-10, rated by customers - “how likely you would recommend us to your friend”. If this metric starts dropping below six it’s a sign that there are some problems either with the service or with customers that are making the reviews. We can group these problems in 2 ways:
- Sudden drops in NPS from all review sources can be addressed by looking at why customers are complaining.
- While a reduced NPS score just from a single source can indicate that only customers that have negative feedback are motivated enough to leave a review. Fixing this might require tweaking your review collection process to balance positive and negative reviews.
Once the root CX problem is fixed, you should see the score increase fairly quickly. We could say that the effects of NPS might not be relevant in the short term, but in the long term, it might make it harder to acquire a new customer as negative ratings can cause them to reconsider buying from business competitors with a higher rating.
Review management process
Having looked at both stages of the management process, let’s consider the steps taken when managing reviews in-house or using a review platform to do it for you.
There are several levels of a self-managed approach for reviews. We can grade them as follows:
- Fully self-managed - collecting reviews on own website, managing invitation process, and usage of reviews
- Invite and Usage self-managed - collecting reviews on one or more review platforms, self-managing invitation process, and usage of reviews
- Only Usage self-managed - collecting reviews and inviting customers to review by leveraging one or more review platforms while using reviews without the help of review platform tools (e.g., via API).
We already covered 2 and 3 managed approaches when discussing the invite process and use cases. Now, let’s take a look at the Fully managed approach.
A fully self-managed approach requires a business website that has its own review collection/display functionality. This is commonly supported by e-commerce platforms such as Woocommerce, Shopify, and others through the help of plugins/apps. Alternatively, custom e-commerce websites can have their own functionality created, which has no limitations but requires development resources to create and maintain it.
- Free/Low cost when using an existing platform
- Very flexible when developing a custom solution
- Usually, just basic functionality when using a free option
- Limited/no customization with a free option
- Custom solutions are expensive to maintain due to a high development cost
- Reviews stored on a website are not approved by Google, making it impossible to use a seller rating ads extension
- Customers are less likely to trust reviews that don’t come from independent review websites, which can reduce the conversion rate
- Review data is stored on a website, making it more difficult to use for any analysis or more complex use cases without an extra effort to get them out
- Majority of reviews collected on public review platforms like Trustpilot, Google, etc., will be negative, due to negative reviewer incentives while positive ones are only collected on their own website
As we can see fully self-managing reviews is not a very good option unless the website is fairly small and is not intended to grow or reviews don’t matter at all, which is usually not the case for most online retailers. Alternatively, if a business has so many customers like Amazon, they can afford to manage reviews in-house.
Using a Review Platform
These days there are many review platforms to choose from when it comes to collecting and using reviews. We can see in Capterra 300+ products listed. Not all of them are the same. We can divide them into two major categories:
- For local business
- For e-commerce/online business
In our case, we’ll be focusing only on online business related review platforms. First, let’s identify core features that each platform should provide for managing reviews and any extra features that could be helpful.
- Review publishing - provides the ability to publish reviews on the platform.
- Invitations - facilitates the review invite process to get more reviews from existing customers.
- Review display - supports displaying reviews on a business website by using an e-commerce platform plugin, review widget, or API.
- Communicate - the ability to get notified and reply to a published customer review.
- Sentiment analysis - the ability to score reviews by sentiment to analyze customer complaints and find the best reviews.
- Conversion tracking - tracking how much reviews increase the conversion rate on the website.
- Marketing support - integrates with social media and paid advertising for publishing reviews and using them in paid ads.
- Google Seller partner - eligible for seller rating in google ads.
- Social Mentions - collect and get notified of all tags/mentions of a business on social media.
- Loyalty and referrals - allows customers to collect points and track referrals connected to reviews.
- Visual UGC - ability to collect, tag products on all images posted by customers to make them shoppable.
- Review syndication - publishes reviews across other websites that sell business branded products, e.g. on target.com
Now as we went through the majority of features, let’s take a look at the most popular vendors and compare them on functionality and pricing. As each vendor has different capabilities and prices, we can divide them into 3 groups: Enterprise, Medium business, Small business. This doesn’t mean that products in a small business category cannot be used by an enterprise, it’s just a way of dividing platforms that focus on different customer segments.
Enterprise Review Platform Vendors
Providers that are targeting large businesses, tend to have custom pricing based on customer-specific needs. Most of them also tend to have annual contracts as a requirement. Apart from the higher price tag they also support more advanced features that are more necessary for larger brands selling on multiple platforms.
Bazaarvoice is one of the oldest and biggest players in the enterprise e-commerce reviews space. Currently, they are the leader in review content syndication across many retail partners.
This means if a brand’s products are sold on their partner network, all the reviews will be distributed across websites belonging to the syndication network. For any brand, this is an important feature if they want their reviews to have the biggest impact across all online sales points. Besides syndication, you can find all the core features, integrations with the biggest e-commerce platforms, and conversion reporting capabilities. See the comparison table below for a full list of features per each vendor.
PowerReviews focuses on enterprise customers, even providing a dedicated Enterprise API. In terms of features, they list almost all the same features as Bazaarvoice. They even support a syndication partnership that allows their customers to distribute review content on a combined network of retail partners (PowerReviews plus Bazaarvoice).
PowerReviews’ unique offer is that they help businesses to improve the rate of verified reviews being collected. Normally it is required to ask for reviews proactively via email or through sampling campaigns that can take a while before enough reviews are collected. Quite recently, they introduced another way to get reviews with the “Fetch Rewards” partnership. The partnership allows products purchased offline to be reviewed online by levering receipts. This extends the reach of review gathering for brands that sell both online and offline and ensures the authenticity of the reviews coming from real customers.
Out of the three, Yotpo is the newest review platform that targets both enterprise and medium-sized e-commerce businesses. They provide the most comprehensive integrations with most e-commerce platforms. Also, it is a platform in a real sense, as it has its own app ecosystem allowing third-party developers to build apps that integrate with other tools for email marketing, social media, and so on.
One of the unique features they support that you cannot find on PowerReviews or Bazaarvoice is loyalty and referrals. It helps businesses not only to incentivize their customers to leave a review but also extend that to any other action, at the same time improving customer retention rate.
Medium Business Review Platforms
Review platforms that focus more on medium-sized businesses quite often have their reviews published publicly on their website. Publishing publicly allows them to focus on a wide variety of online companies, not only e-commerce. Usually, even if a business isn’t actively collecting reviews, it becomes necessary if organic reviews published the result in a relatively low total rating. The only way to increase the rating is to actively invite an existing customer to leave a review, which in a way forces businesses to participate in review management.
One of the first and by far most visited (50 million unique visitors per month) public online review platforms is Trustpilot. Trustpilot’s main advantage is the organic and direct traffic it receives. Anyone can review any business even if one doesn’t exist on Trustpilot yet. This unique feature favors the review platform as organic reviews grow their reach, including any company for a review. Trustpilot’s approach is similar to Google reviews which we will cover later. Nevertheless, Trustpilot also has e-commerce specific features, like native integrations with most of the popular e-commerce platforms except the enterprise ones like Salesforce.
They also make it easy to collect reviews providing multiple options for businesses. Invites can be sent automatically with their service, or businesses can self-manage invitations by inviting customers using a static link or with a generated link from Trustpilot’s API. This flexibility is valuable, as it allows a company to take control of its invitation process.
Even though Feefo also provides reviews publicly, it doesn’t allow reviews to be submitted externally as Trustpilot does. This difference alone ensures that only verified customers can make a review, which avoids any fake reviewers. Also, it aligns Feefo incentives with businesses that it works with, as they don’t provide a free account plan.
A unique feature that Feefo provides is the ability to collect, track and measure metrics related to Customer Experience, like NPS and customer surveys. One thing to note, while Feefo does have international customers, the majority of its customer base is concentrated in the UK, and most of them are e-commerce businesses.
Reviews.io is somewhere in between Trustpilot and Feefo in terms of their rules. It is accepts organic reviews for any company but also focuses mainly on e-commerce businesses similar to Feefo. Also, out of the three, it has the most e-commerce related features, like content syndication through Bazaarvoice, shoppable visual UGC, video reviews, etc.
A unique offer it has which tends to be found in more enterprise-level tools is competitor benchmarking. It allows any business to see its position in terms of reviews compared to other competitors.
Small Business Review Platforms
A significant number of review providers have gained their customers initially as apps through Shopify, Woocommerce, Bigcommerce, and other marketplaces. Most of them focus on core review features, but a few do have a relatively large extra feature base as well. One thing that separates them from the bigger platforms mentioned before is a lower subscription price range for the same number of features. Also, most of them don’t have a partnership with Google to use a seller ranking ads extension.
In the Shopify app marketplace, arguably the biggest competitor to Yotpo is Stamped.io, and for a good reason. In terms of features, they have almost the same amount of features even the advanced ones like content syndication using Bazaarvoice network and support for loyalty / referrals. In contrast to Yotpo, Stamped.io provides more transparent pricing, only requiring custom quotes for enterprise plans.
Stamped.io also has a unique feature called smart assistant. It provides review suggestions for a customer relating to a specific part of the product. This can lead to higher-quality reviews for businesses and allows new customers to discover answers more quickly.
When it comes to feature to price ratio, no competitor in the space can beat Judge.me. Their paid “Awesome” plan costing just $15 gives away all the features, integrations, and unlimited review requests. They are also honest in that they don’t provide any extra and advanced features like review analysis. Having said that, they do support full review exportability so that a business could fill in that gap themselves.
Even though judge.me focuses only on core features; it provides advanced invite request capabilities, sending review requests to multiple messaging channels: Email, SMS and Push notifications.
TargetBay is another solution that provides affordable review management with no limits. The unique aspect is that it’s a part of a suite of multiple products, which include tools for customer lifecycle marketing, shopping cart abandonment, product recommendations, and more.
The advantage of having a suite of products is that they can work together to improve marketing capabilities for a business. For example, collected reviews can be used directly in retargeting campaigns through Adroll integration, helping to improve ad performance. Another aspect unique to TargetBay, which can be an advantage, is giving over full review curation control to the business, allowing users to delete reviews if necessary without the need for platforms consent.
So far, we covered only paid vendors and their paid plans. It is worth noting that there are some free options out there that might be suitable for online businesses as well. Of course, free options have significant limitations when it comes to the invitation process and using reviews.
By far, the most popular free review source globally is provided by Google Business. The main drawback of using it for a website is that it tightly couples with Google Maps. This means its primary use case is for local rather than online businesses. Nevertheless, some businesses use it as an additional source, mostly because of improving the total star rating from organic reviews that Google accepts by default. As this is a free option, the invitation process has to be managed by the businesses themselves or another tool that integrates with Google Business. Another issue is that Google only provides the ability to leave a service review but not a review of a specific product. Therefore it makes it challenging to use these reviews for an e-commerce website. Lastly, Google doesn’t provide reviewers information like email, making replying to reviews the only means of communication with the reviewer.
More free reviews can be collected through Facebook. Though Google has some limitations on how reviews can be used and collected, this is even more true for Facebook. As reviews live inside a Facebook page, which gives them limited visibility and accessibility. Most businesses that use them are local places that use Facebook as a communication channel with their customers. Recently, reviews were rebranded as Facebook Recommendations, even though it’s still visually the same as a review, Facebook wants to simulate word of mouth online.
A notable mention is Trustpilots’ free plan. Trustpilot doesn’t impose any limits on how many reviews can be published on its platform for a specific business account as reviews are helpful for the platform to keep the organic traffic coming in. This allows any business to use a free account as long as they are willing to self-manage the review invitation process. This works when using Trustpilot as a primary or a secondary source of reviews.
Another generous free plan available is Judge.me. Their pricing has no limits to how many reviews can be collected even on a free plan. The free plan only limits customizations and more comprehensive reviews like questions available in the paid plan. When compared to other platforms, even just a free plan is still a bargain. This alone is a likely reason Judge.me managed to attract many online stores, at least based on their published stats.
- X* a feature is supported through an external integration, e.g., smile.io for loyalty programs
- +/– partially supported feature, e.g., mentions only collected on Instagram but not other social media
Note that the features/pricing listed here is only intended as a guide and is based on each review platform published website feature lists (updated on 2021-11-18). For the most up-to-date information, please refer to the specific company’s website.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Vendor
As you can see above, the comparison, pricing varies mostly based on the order volume and extra features. Also, some review platforms that are considered more popular among small/medium businesses have the same features as the enterprise ones. Therefore before making a choice, it’s best to look at business needs first and then review available options to meet them. We can do it by asking some of the following questions:
- What’s the expected order volume per month?
- Is it expected to grow?
- Do you need to have complete control of the invitation process?
- Are you selling your own product line or other brand products?
- What kind of reporting tools are required?
- Do you use Google ads?
- Do you use Facebook ads/retargeting?
- Are you planning to use more than one review platform?
- Do you require access to collected review data?
It is not a comprehensive questionnaire. Each business should define it’s own based on priorities and strategy. There are just a couple of things to highlight:
- Check if your platform cost doesn’t scale infinitely with your order volume, especially if you expect it to grow in the future.
- If you sell your own product line and want to sell on other retail partners, review syndication can be useful to distribute your collected reviews across other retailers/marketplaces and also leverage reviews that are collected outside of your e-commerce website.
How StackTome helps an online business with the review management process
At StackTome we believe that review management is an essential piece of a successful e-commerce business. Also, we believe that there is a sufficient amount of review platforms out there that allow publishing reviews, but there are fewer choices when it comes to leveraging the review data for improving the online business. This is why we provide a review management solution that integrates with other review platforms. Our product also provides additional features on top of review and order data.
How is our product is different from review platforms and other solutions:
- Leverages reviews to improve the e-commerce business through CRO, SEO, Reputation management
vs Review collection only
- Integrates with multiple review platforms
vs Lock-in to one review provider
- Provides full data ownership with syncing to any cloud data warehouse
vs Data has to be exported manually or integrated via custom AP
Some of the features our product supports:
- Orchestrates review invite campaigns for multiple review platforms
- Matches context-relevant reviews for different website pages
- Provides review widget and API to display best converting reviews
- Supports a dashboard to track Customer Experience metrics
- Integrates with Zendesk and email for responding to reviews directly
- Automates review posts on any social media platform
- Supports social mention monitoring and collection
Let’s look more closely at each one of them.
Orchestrates Review Invite Campaigns
StackTome provides a fully customizable invite process that includes review invites and reminders. Invites use orders data that can be fetched from an existing ecommerce platform or imported from a custom data source. Using the data, product allows a business to invite their customers to leave a review on one or more review platforms. The invitations integrate with each platform allowing reviews collected to be the same as if they would have been collected by using the platform directly.
For example, if the campaign is targeted towards Trustpilot, invitations will automatically generate a unique link for a service and product review with the help of Trustpilot API. Once the review is submitted, it will have verified status, making it eligible for Google Seller ads extension. This collection approach is compatible with a free Trustpilot account allowing businesses to collect an unlimited amount of reviews without extra fees to the platform.
Our product provides an easy way to match reviews specifically related to the landing page they are displayed on. An example below shows how StackTome displays reviews matched on a landing page “by-post”:
- All reviews have optional geo matching by city linking back to geo landing pages to improve their page rank
- Selected keywords are linked to other pages to improve their page rank with a given keyword
- Reviews are found with matching “by post” and configurable synonyms, e.g. “letterbox”
Displaying Best Reviews with Customizable Widgets or API
StackTome enables a website to display reviews by using a widget or API directly. The display review is enhanced by the following:
- A custom Machine Learning model to find the most positive reviews, that improves page conversion rate.
- Full customization of a review widget down to the HTML level so it can match any style required by a brand.
- Review API/Widget has a quick response time (average 50 ms), so there is no impact on page load speed.
Tracking Customer Experience Metrics
StackTome review app provides a reporting dashboard to track all review metrics across multiple review platforms as a timeseries:
- NPS - Net Promoter Score
- Review Count
- Review Rating
- Review Sentiment
Tracking Customer Experience Metrics
Responding to Customers
Based on a set of rules StackTome notifies of any new reviews that come in, so your Customer Success team can quickly respond directly through Zendesk or email.
Showcase Reviews on Social Media - Automatically
With the social media integration, your business can expand reach and acquire customers through any social channel by auto-posting your best reviews via Hootsuite.
Monitor and Use Social Mentions as Additional Reviews
It’s becoming more popular for customers to leave reviews in an unstructured manner on social media. These reviews don’t have any rating but can have a more significant impact than a review on a public platform. To leverage these “social reviews”, our app provides:
- Importing all mentions with images and videos from all social media, like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter
- Scoring each mention by sentiment
- Browse and search functionality for finding best and worst reviews
- Ability to get notified when a new mention appears
These are just a few examples of what our solution is capable of. We provide more tools like review conversion insights, the ability to segment customers using different events, preference management for privacy regulation compliance, and more.
We would love to show you the full scope of our product’s capabilities on a quick demo call – or if you would like to test drive it yourself, you can try a 14-day free trial.