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Ecommerce Essentials: Customer Reviews – Part 1

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4 weeks ago

By Lee Crawford, UX Designer

We live in an age of digital advancement, but there are nonetheless many brands that haven’t leveraged or worked to optimize the power of customer reviews. The reasons for this vary: Amazon has a monopoly; reviews crowd the product page; they overshadow the brand voice; and, particularly in the case of luxury, they introduce a populist voice detrimental to the brand’s projection of exclusivity.

On the flipside, brands also default to integrating customer reviews simply because they perceive these as one of the major consensus elements of popular retail sites. They don’t investigate the true value of reviews, and consequently fail to implement them in a meaningful way.

At BORN, we believe it’s important to ask why consensus has settled on particular design choices, especially because small design decisions affect optimization and performance. This is certainly the case with product reviews, which can be a powerful persuasion tool when appropriately applied.

To that end, over the next few weeks, we will publish a series of posts sharing our perspective on why and how best to integrate customer reviews into digital experiences.

Part 1: The Why

Marketers want to keep their customers happy. The challenge, of course, is how best to do that. The science of happiness and decision-making suggests that the best approach is to give customers what they need to satisfice. “Satisfying” is an approach to decision-making that prioritizes an adequate solution over an optimal solution.

In the consumer context, the concept boils down to this: consumers prefer to make satisfactory decisions instead of putting in the work and stress of making the ‘best’ decisions. This is due to lack of (1) information, (2) information processing ability, and (3) time to gather and process sufficient information for every purchase decision.

It is now thought that increasing choice-making satisfaction is even more important to retailers than increasing satisfaction with actual consumption. In essence, at least as much effort should be given to ensuring that a consumer’s experience choosing a product is positive, as ensuring that the product itself is satisfying.

Put another way, for retailers today, the customer purchase journey matters as much if not more than the purchased product.
What is this, if not a resounding call to action to optimize every element of that journey? And what, in the realm of ecommerce, is more critical to decision-making than user-generated content such as product ratings and reviews?

In fact, it has long been understood that social proof is a key pillar in the psychology of persuasion. Studies show that people rely consciously and unconsciously on others for most decisions. As ecommerce has evolved, practitioners have increasingly sought to harness social proof to take advantage of its motivational power.

Because the interactions involved in online shopping lack the immediate tangible and physical aspects featured in brick-and-mortar shopping, users have come to rely on “how others perceive content, services, and products that they find online.” This behavior supports design decisions that give indication of how others — ideally, others the users can relate to — feel about a product. The resulting reduction in uncertainty makes users feel more secure about their selection experience, thereby fostering decision-making.

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Research further indicates that users seek reviews for a rich, specific sense of what it’s like to own or use the goods they’re considering. Consider these data points:

  • 81% of people use consumer reviews in their purchase decisions.
  • Consumer reviews are trusted nearly 12x more than descriptions from manufacturers.
  • 30% of U.S. consumers begin their online purchase research by going to Amazon for product information and reviews.
  • Online reviews are second only to word-of-mouth when it comes to influencing consumer purchasing decisions.
  • A recent consumer survey shows that the impact of reviews on purchase decisions was second only to price — and above free shipping.

If anything, this trend is set to intensify over the next decades: “When compared to those over the age of 60, people under 45 are 61% more likely to trust consumer reviews more than the recommendations of friends and family.

With all these data points in play, it would seem that customer reviews are a mandate for any brand establishing a digital presence. However, our goal is not to serve an ultimatum. Rather, we are interested in how eCommerce can be used to achieve what we consider essential goals: building customer trust and confidence.

One of the challenges we see across industries is that the manufacturer’s word is no longer perceived as preeminent. It has become one truth among many—a truth to be refuted, validated, nuanced by each additional review and rating. If anything, we are moving firmly in a direction in which the only truth that matters is the aggregate voice of the buyers.

“Voracious information-seeking has become deeply ingrained in many consumers, and we can envision no scenario in which they will see traditional marketing as a better provider of product information.”

In such a climate, one can arguably say that to omit customer reviews is to lose sales. There had better be a really good reason.

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