Pros and Cons of Online Customer Product Reviews

By Julie Rains on 28 August 2010 (Updated 5 January 2011) 0 comments
Photo: YanC

Making a purchase decision on an e-commerce site can be agonizing for me. I can't detect sturdiness, read the care instructions, or figure out the fit from a digital image. Further complicating my decision-making processes are unusual methods of presentation: One company offers product descriptions that are the same for all items in one category; another gives sizes in terms of clothing but not body measurements.

How should a cautious e-shopper like me choose? Sure, I can talk with a customer service representative, which is useful but often time-consuming. Getting insights from fellow shoppers who may have the same needs and concerns as I do is invaluable: enter customer-written product reviews.

There are pros and cons to product reviews, not only for shoppers like me but also for e-commerce businesses:

PROS

Drive sales and reduce returns:

  • Give shoppers a feeling of security by reading about others who have purchased and used products that they are considering
     
  • Offer insight into most appropriate applications of products
     
  • Provide additional resources to customers that can improve the product experience (for example, a reviewer provided installation instructions and pointed to an online product manual not included with the original item), potentially reducing returns
     
  • Improve overall credibility of e-commerce business by allowing contrary opinions on the website
     
  • Bring out positive attributes relevant to consumers but possibly not covered in original product descriptions

Improve marketing and merchandising:

  • Expand methods of filtering (or sorting) products by ratings
     
  • Provide content for promoting products based on customer ratings
     
  • Give merchandising teams insight into aesthetic design and functional features of most significance to customers
     
  • Aid marketing team and copywriters in improving product classifications and descriptions based on common uses and desirable features of products cited by customers

CONS

  • Give shoppers a skewed impression of a product if there is just one review or rating, especially if the review or rating is not positive
     
  • Allow disgruntled customers to publish vindictive or damaging information
     
  • Increase shoppers' wariness of items with a prominent "be the first to review this product" notation, which may further stall sales of slow-moving products
     
  • Require resources to monitor either individual reviews or the product-review system as a site feature
     
  • Seem irrelevant if a solitary review was posted years ago

By asking customers to submit reviews of recently purchased products (typically, by sending a follow-up email), e-commerce businesses can increase the number of reviews on their sites. Generally, this approach will lead to a more reliable portrayal of product quality and usefulness. These requests can engage customers and convey the site owners' desire to improve the shopping experience.

More sophisticated systems have capabilities that can mitigate many of the cons relating to product reviews. Features may include mechanisms for allowing site visitors to rate the helpfulness of customer-generated product reviews; add comments to reviews; and flag inappropriate comments.

Shoppers can easily get bogged down by analyzing customer-generated commentary, hesitating to buy an item that seems like a good purchase but doesn't consistently get positively glowing reviews. Tools that can help shoppers sift through this information include summaries of reviews and ratings; prominent displays of "most helpful favorable review" beside "most helpful critical review"; overall score accompanied by ratings in categories such as ease of use, features, quality, features, and value; forms that bring attention to key concerns of shoppers with pros, cons, and best uses along with summaries of reviews, such as those found on FetchDog's website.

To create context and show the perspectives of contributing reviewers, personal information such as age, gender, and interests relevant to the product might be displayed next the review (for example, a customer creating a review of a certain tent on REI or backpack on L.L.Bean might indicate the depth and ruggedness of their experiences). Links to other product reviews may be provided to give a broader picture of individual likes and dislikes (for example, links to book reviews posted by customers on Amazon.com). In addition, contributors may be ranked or given badges to denote credibility.

Other cool features include the capability to upload photos and videos to accompany reviews, and the opportunity to share reviews on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Digg.

If your e-commerce business isn't ready for customer-generated product reviews, consider these alternatives to helping customers make good but quick purchasing decisions:

  • Customer testimonials and simple return policy to give shoppers a feeling of security
     
  • Detailed product descriptions that indicate best applications of products, convey unique features, and basic or premium value
     
  • Hand-picked product offering of best items rather than multiple SKUs
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