If you have an online store you need eCommerce product reviews for your products, right? As a consumer I know I’ve certainly used them to help me make important purchase decisions and this has long seemed both best practice and essential to making sales.

Research in 2010 found that each ratings star added on Yelp translated to a 5-9% increase in business revenues. A 2011 study from third party review tool Revoo suggests that going from 25 to 50 reviews increases conversion by 18%. The same few bits of research backing up reviews get quoted a lot but they’re a few years old now. Perhaps attitudes are shifting and perhaps they don’t cover all cases?

For many smaller online retailers with their own brand sites, implementing an eCommerce product reviews gathering system is a big decision.

You might be wondering why anyone would trust these reviews if as the company you’re the one collecting them? And if the user knew they were being collected by your company, is more necessarily better?

This reminded me of a particular eCommerce brand I worked with in the past. Over the years they had gathered a lot of reviews on their products and always displayed them. They then A/B tested removing them, and it turned out for their product, having no reviews didn’t harm conversion at all.

Sites like Yelp, Amazon, eBay, and Airbnb are marketplaces where the product review is part of the offering. The products listed can be from anywhere and there can be thousands of them so the marketplace needs to provide a filter that helps users to make a decision between many similar options. The many reviews are an important part of this.

If you’re a an eCommerce brand just selling your own brand products then this comparison might be less important. You may not need eCommerce product reviews at all, or you might be able to succeed with some alternatives. Let me take you through the options.

Why you might not need eCommerce product reviews at all

You have a strong brand

As a smaller eCommerce site you could put your energies into building your brand. You can do this mostly by clearly offering a USP that others don’t or can’t. Make this clear enough to users (through the site including product page level) and they’ll trust that you are operating in a select field and can’t be compared to others.

The luxury market is particularly good at this: you won’t find many eCommerce product reviews on high end fashion sites.

You may instead focus on gathering feedback at the brand level on things like customer service, delivery, packaging, to build the confidence the brand is trustworthy. This is more of a pre-internet approach to gaining confidence in your customers and means they should care less about product reviews.

Rather than reviews, Everlane show their transparent pricing and sweatshop-free production

You sell in a highly subjective field

The main role of reviews is to find out if something is going to ‘work’ or function as expected. If the item for sale doesn’t really have a function but instead just ‘is’ then a lot of the need for reviews goes out the window.

For example if you sell things like art, jewellery, and most things in the decorative space, it’s role is to look good and the definition of this is highly subjective. This is dependent on the individual and they should be able to tell from the product imagery, so other people’s opinions on it matter a lot less.

The Tate product page is based around tools to help the user visualise the artwork on a wall

You have a good referral program

Word of mouth and a personal recommendation is worth more to us than almost any review, with 92% of people trusting it. When it comes to online reviews we don’t generally have a clue who has written them but we have friends and family who have known us for years.

If you have spent effort on leveraging those relationships with a well-functioning referral programme where existing customers make introductions to the brand, you can meet the requirement of social proof. There are plenty of eCommerce examples to dig through in lists of referral programmes like this.

Alternatives to reviews

Of course reviews do fulfil a role of social proof and just seeing that other humans have done something can help convince us it’s safe too. If you do want to try boosting sales then these alternatives to reviews on the product page can help.

Testimonials

Testimonials are close to reviews but only require you to gather a handful of them. In them you can present some glowing praise for your products, or just your brand.

As you’re not having to scale this up you could put more effort in and use video. This is often more convincing as seeing another person actually speak the words feels a lot more personal. This only works if they are genuine customers who look like real people, and not actors!

Breast pump makers Willow feature candid video testimonials from real customers, shot on their phones

Social images

Pictures paint 1,000 words and all that and in the age of mobile photography they surround us. You can use a tool like Olapic to pull in Instagram shots of customers wearing your product, or displaying it at home. This is great for things like furniture as seeing something in the surroundings of a home is a lot more useful than words.

Nixon Watches show images from social media users on their product pages rather than reviews

Press

This is usually reserved for landing pages but if you have great press quotes about your company then it can be worth re-enforcing them at product page level. After all, the user is about to decide whether to buy and it can’t harm to remind them if you’ve been reviewed by respected organisations.

Bellroy have only a single press quote on their product pages


eCommerce product reviews will always have an important place in eCommerce, especially for the large marketplace websites. However, as I hope I’ve shown, if you’re a brand selling through your own website, it isn’t necessarily the best way to present social proof.

You should of course continue to gather customer feedback about your products and service, as it’s hugely important for solving problems and getting better as a business. You just may not need to worry about displaying this to users.



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