User-generated content for ecommerce: reviews and beyond

The importance of customer reviews for ecommerce is well established. This article explains the latest best practices for reviews and how other types of user-generated content can be used to increase conversions.

Ratings and reviews

For ecommerce, and in particular retail, product ratings and reviews have long been a best practice. There’s a number of reasons for this, but among them are:

  • Reviews help a potential buyer to learn more about a product, in addition to available product information. Some product questions like fit (clothing) or compatibility (electronics) can be hard to answer in a product description. Buyers often want to help fellow shoppers to make a good decision.

  • Reviews act as social proof. Just seeing that other people have bought a product encourages a purchase. It has been shown that even a negative review will increase sales – if it’s worded politely.

  • A high rating can balance out a higher price point. If you have premium products in your store, higher ratings can help to highlight and increase sales of these products, even if they have a higher price.

  • Ratings help improve your ranking on a Google search results page. If you don’t have ratings but your competitors do, you will probably see less organic traffic.

The conclusion is that ratings and reviews increase sales, with some studies showing an increase between 15-20%.

Even if ratings and reviews are used most with consumer retail, B2B businesses (such as wholesale distributors) and consumer brands can also benefit. For brands in particular there are lots of opportunities to offer even more granular and structured reviews.

Example from The North Face, which offers customers a way to give structured reviews.

Best practices for ratings and reviews

There are a number of ways to use customer reviews to both increase sales and provide a better experience. The ability to moderate content and reply to reviews are particularly important.

  • Make it easy to submit a review and contact customer support. It’s a good idea to ask for a review after a purchase has been made. It might make sense to give some kind of benefit to a buyer submitting a review. If you send an email asking for a review, make sure that you either earlier, or in the same email, offer an easy way to get in touch with customer support. If the customer has an issue with the product, it’s better to resolve that first.

  • Let visitors rate the helpfulness of a review. This helps potential buyers to quickly learn about a product without having to read a number of reviews, and reviews that offer little value are demoted from top positions. Some retailers (such as Amazon) offer both the highest rated positive review and the highest rated critical (or negative) review, which is more helpful and transparent than just picking a positive review.

  • Be able to proactively respond to reviews. This has an even bigger impact on third-party review sites, but being able to respond to a negative review goes a long way in blunting the impact of the review (and making the customer happier). It also show potential buyers that you listen and care. This obviously requires a workflow where you can easily see and respond to the latest reviews, and possibly get a notification when a review matching a certain criteria is posted.

Customer-submitted images and video

Product images often play a hugely important role in guiding a consumer to a purchase. Many leading retailers and brands have realized the difference that having many detailed images and videos can make. There are ways that user-generated content still can help though.

  • Good and extensive product photography and video is a large investment. Many retailers still rely on images submitted by their suppliers, which might be limiting and create less differentiation. Customer images and video can help by providing helpful and unique content just for your site.

  • Customer images seem more truthful and honest than professional images (and sometimes are). Even if they are probably visually much less appealing, they have higher credibility and act as social proof. There isn’t a lot of independent research done on customer-submitted images, but as evidenced by online retailers such as Amazon and others, they increase conversion beyond just reviews.

  • For the hotel, travel and hospitality industry, customer images are particularly important. They are a staple of third-party review sites such as TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Google, and they often go a long way to remedy any impression of overly staged or edited images. See also my article on user-generated content for brands for more about this.

Images and video might be more sensitive than just text, so proper guidelines and a moderation process should be in place. In particular for video moderation is typically more time consuming, but there are good options both for machine and manual moderation that can help. At the same time, you should make an assessment of the risk for abuse in the context of your site and audience. If you only allow identified buyers to post content, the risk can be reduced drastically in many cases.

When considering images and video in particular, some companies might opt for using established social media channels instead of on-site user-generated content. I’ve listed a number of pros and cons with the different approaches, where I also discuss where in the sales process each option makes the most sense.

Questions and answers

The final area where user-generated content is helpful is for questions and answers. These can be both pre-purchase and post-purchase questions; the latter will probably fit best in your customer service section. They can also be general in nature or apply to a specific product.

Q&A example from Amazon. In this case, an off-topic (but funny) question has been rated the highest – this highlights that it isn’t necessarily a best practice to delete off-topic questions, as long as they aren’t offensive or abusive.

There are different ways to go about Q&As, with some companies choosing to rewrite questions before posting to make them more generic or clean up spelling and grammar, while others appreciate the fact that customers can readily see it’s an actual user-submitted question. Yet another option is to allow for both user-submitted questions and answers, which is pretty close to a more traditional customer community.

Regardless, this kind of content requires involvement and buy-in from your customer service team, since active participation is required to make the most out of this content.

What Episerver Social does

Episerver Social is a cloud API to gather, manage, and deliver user-generated content of any kind. It could be reviews, photos, or posts to a discussion group.

Episerver Social makes it very easy to capture the data on your web or ecommerce site, reliably stores it, and then finally delivers it with very high performance. Episerver Social also makes it easy to set up custom moderation flows.

Do you want to add user generated content to your Episerver web or ecommerce site? Episerver Social is fast, lightweight, and very easy to begin using. If you are a developer, we offer access to a developer service you can try out. 

Learn more about Episerver Social and contact us to get started!