Unknown Truths About Ratings and Reviews

Theresa O'Neil, PowerReviews

Shoppers have come to rely on ratings and reviews when making purchasing decisions for just about everything - from hotels and books to movies and apparel. Ratings and reviews drive more conversions than any other type of user-generated content (UGC).

In addition, they are one of the best ways to improve SEO: a steady stream of ratings and reviews, images and Q&A keeps your site's content relevant and fresh with keyword-rich, permanent assets on your product pages. Ratings and reviews also provide actionable insights that brands and retailers use  to improve their products, services, and the shopping experience. Below are three key facts retailers should keep in mind regarding ratings and reviews.

1. People are more likely to trust the opinions of complete strangers over friends and family. 

Where family and friends were once the primary source for product information and feedback, ratings and reviews from complete strangers have now stepped in. And while the opinions of a consumer's personal network still hold great weight, online ratings and reviews are now the most popular method for gaining insight before purchase. Additionally, those under 45 are 61 percent more likely to trust online reviews from consumers they don't know, according to internal data. As today's shoppers continue to seek out recommendations from online sources, content like ratings, reviews and Q&A will become an increasingly important piece of the shopping journey for not only consumers, but brands and merchants as well. 

2. 95 percent of consumers read reviews, but only 42 percent leave them. 

While research shows that almost all consumers seek out reviews, only 42 percent actually leave them. In fact, only 32 percent of consumers ages 18 to 29 leave reviews. Because ratings and reviews are a vital aspect of the shopping journey, brands and retailers need to ask and encourage customers to create more user-generated content. 

To reach rating and review success, brands and retailers must motivate their consumers to leave more reviews. Up to 70 percent of reviews originate from post-purchase emails, so developing a post-purchase email strategy to collect feedback from customers is essential for retailers and brands. To improve response rates, make sure your user experience is mobile-optimized. And since more than 60 percent of purchases contain more than one item, it's allowing customers to review multiple products on a single page can significantly boost user generated content. Additionally, brands and retailers can use product sampling and incentives like sweepstakes to increase review coverage. In the end, the number of consumers who are leaving reviews just might catch up to the number of those who are reading them - a goal brands and retailers can only hope for. 

3. A perfect 5-star rating is NOT the most desirable. 

You might think that when comparing two products, the product with 1,000 reviews and an average rating of 5-stars is more likely to be purchased, right? Wrong. A study with Northwestern University found, not surprisingly, that customers are more likely to purchase a product with an average star rating of 4 than a product whose average rating is 3 stars. The same study found that purchase peaks between 4.2 and 4.5 stars as opposed to a perfect 5 star rating. This realization begs the question - why do purchases drop off once the average star rating is greater than 4.5?

As counterintuitive as it may seem, negative reviews actually help establish trust and credibility among consumers, since lower ratings are perceived as more authentic. Consumers perceive ratings which near a 5.0 on the ratings scale are just "too good to be true."  Instead of deleting or rejecting any ratings less than 5 stars, brands can instead utilize this information as actionable insight gaining clarity of products directly from consumers and using this feedback to improve products.

Consumers rely on ratings and reviews to make informed purchasing decisions, creating an opportunity for retailers and brands to create transparency and trust. By removing obstacles to review collection, brands and retailers can collect more of the conversion-lifting content that improves SEO, making their products easier to find. Savvy retailers and brands also embrace negative reviews as a way to build trust with shoppers and to gain actionable insights to improve their offerings and the shopping experience. 

The role and concept of a review is moving beyond the start ratings, keywords and descriptions as the industry continues to evolve. Reviews are becoming an ongoing discussion between businesses and consumers, allowing retailers and brands to listen and adjust their offerings to ensure their customer's needs are met with better products, services and an enhanced shopping experience. Increasing reviews means more traffic and better sales.

Theresa O'Neil is the SVP of Marketing for PowerReviews. She is responsible for building and leading the PowerReviews marketing team in the development and execution of programs that increase awareness of the PowerReviews brand and technology, generate leads and support direct and indirect channels to grow revenue and profitability.