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5 Ways E-Commerce Websites Can Collect More Customer Reviews

December 13, 2017

Clutch surveyed 1,000 online shoppers to understand their approach to leaving online reviews. Follow these 5 strategies to motivate customers to write reviews for your e-commerce website.

In Part II of Clutch’s e-commerce series, we found that approximately one-in-five (18%) of online shoppers view product reviews as one of the most important factors influencing their purchasing decisions.

Reviews provide social proof, allowing customers to benefit from reading about others’ experiences with products. Social proof is particularly important for e-commerce websites, as customers seek additional information about the quality and sensory aspects of products they can’t see or touch before placing an order.

But collecting customer reviews presents a challenge for e-commerce websites. This article uses data collected from 1,000 online shoppers to understand what motivates buyers to write reviews and help e-commerce websites garner more reviews.

Our Findings

  • The majority (81%) of online shoppers do not write reviews.
  • The greatest percentage (37%) of online shoppers who write reviews do so out of habit.
  • One third (33%) of online shoppers surveyed are more likely to leave a review when they are especially satisfied with a product.
  • Only 2% of reviewers are motivated by a negative experience.
  • Nearly one quarter (23%) of reviews are prompted by email marketing.
  • Shoppers identify lack of time (20%) as the leading reason they don’t write reviews.
  • Incentives would persuade 10% of online shoppers to write reviews, while 5% of those who write reviews cite incentives as the reason.

By making changes in the process of collecting reviews, e-commerce websites can begin to address the reasons customers do not leave reviews.

Customers Write Reviews When Especially Satisfied

E-commerce websites can study online shoppers’ motivation for writing reviews to inform their approach to garnering reviews.

The more customers trust e-commerce websites, the more valuable reviews become. Steve Pearson, CEO of Friendemic, a social and reputation management company, believes that reviews are a driving force behind e-commerce.

“In an economy where we trust the collective wisdom of strangers, customer reviews are really critical to enabling those transactions,” said Pearson.

Customers who write reviews often do so to help other shoppers make informed purchasing decisions.

As Founder of Digitalux, a digital marketing agency, Dan Scalco helps companies improve their presence online. Our survey found that 37% of shoppers are in the habit of reviewing products. Over the years, Scalco has come to think these customers as brand advocates.

“A lot of companies add an extra layer to the process of collecting reviews to get customers to share their thoughts,” said Scalco.

For example, some e-commerce websites allow customers to share their reviews to social media, which engages shoppers’ social networks and potentially attracts new customers.

Learn More: Why Businesses Should Perform Social Listening

Our survey also found that shoppers are more motivated to write positive reviews than negative ones. One third (33%) write reviews to share especially satisfying experiences, compared to only 2% of shoppers who write reviews in reaction to negative experiences.

Graph of reasons why online shoppers write reviews.

By focusing on customer service and website improvements that enhance user experience, e-commerce websites can increase the likelihood that satisfied customers will return to leave reviews, and potentially become brand advocates.   

Customers Fail to Leave Reviews Due to Lack of Time and Incentive

E-commerce websites currently struggle to garner reviews from the 81% of online shoppers who don’t write them. Because this percentage of shoppers is so significant, there is ample opportunity to convert new reviewers.

81% of online shoppers do not write reviews.

Of shoppers who don’t write reviews, about half (53%) indicated a specific reason, while the remainder of online shoppers (47%) simply do not frequently review products.

Graph of reasons why online shoppers do not write online reviews.

These reasons reveal a lack of time and incentive as pain points that e-commerce websites can address to improve their process for collecting reviews.

5 Strategies for Collecting Customer Reviews

We’ll take a closer look at each of the factors that prevented shoppers from writing customer reviews and suggest five strategies e-commerce websites can use to motivate online customers to leave reviews.

Make Submitting Reviews Quick and Easy

A perceived lack of time prevented 20% of online shoppers from writing reviews. Although e-commerce retailers can’t control external demands on customers’ time, they can control the efficiency of their process for collecting reviews.

20% of online shoppers don't feel they have time to write a review.

To lessen demands on customers’ time, e-commerce retailers can design a review process that guides customers through the process of writing a review. For example, instead of providing an open-ended field, e-commerce websites can request star ratings, provide prompts or specific questions, and implement word or character limits.

Some e-commerce websites use reviews as an opportunity to publicly connect with individual customers. Jennifer Devlin Waller owns a skincare company called Celtic Complexion, which provides natural products designed to help people with sensitive skin, including the estimated 16 million people who struggle with rosacea.  

“[Connecting with customers] comes down to making people feel special and responding to their reviews,” said Waller, who previously worked as a Beauty Director for Nordstrom. “People are busy these days, and if someone takes the time to write a great review, you bet I'm going to make a big deal about it.”

To guide customers through the review process, Waller sends reminders. Two weeks after a purchase, she mails her customers postcards with specific instructions for where to write a review. Then, she publicly thanks reviewers on her social media channels and includes excerpts of reviews in her company’s newsletter.

“Customers get to see their name in print, and I know they love the acknowledgement,” said Waller.

Companies can also design an automated email to thank customers for writing reviews or include excerpts of reviews in their “About” page or a separate page of customer testimonials.

By efficiently guiding customers through the process for collecting reviews and thanking them for their time, e-commerce websites can demonstrate their respect for customers’ time.    

Time Outreach Emails Strategically

Email marketing is an effective way to invite customers to write reviews. Of the online shoppers who did write an online review, nearly a quarter (23%) were prompted by email.

Before inviting customers to write reviews, e-commerce websites can also provide an outlet for customers who are less than satisfied with the product they received.

“If any issues arise within that initial use of the product, you can usually remedy the situation and put a stop to any issues that might put a damper on positive reviews,” said Scalco.

An attentive response may transform an unhappy customer into one who is impressed by your customer service, increasing the likelihood of a positive review.

Ask your customers for feedback before requesting a review. 

As CEO of Black N Bianco, an e-commerce websites selling children’s formal wear, Lisa Chu has found success with this strategy. She begins her post-purchase outreach sequence by asking customers whether they experienced any problems or noticed any areas where Black N Bianco could have improved.

“This shows my customers I care about their experience and that I’m willing to improve any issues that may arise,” said Chu. “Customers are very reasonable and forgiving when I fix or improve their issues.”

Once any potential problems have been addressed, Chu invites customers to write a review. This process helps her to build trust with customers, who may feel more inclined to make future purchases or contribute a review.

To further fine-tune email outreach, Pearson emphasizes the importance of testing to his clients.

“You’re going to want to experiment with email outreach and find out what works best for your business,” said Pearson.

In general, experts agree that e-commerce websites should request onlireviews once customers have had time to use the product. In most cases, this window falls 5-7 days after a product is delivered. Among shoppers who had not written a review for a product ordered in the past 7 days, some (13%) had not yet received their product.

To test for the optimal time to send email outreach, try dividing your customers into test groups that will receive a follow up email after different intervals of days to see if one option emerges as the most effective.

From there, you can begin to try sending emails at different times of day or with different languages to see if you can drive conversion rates even higher.

Above all, email marketing should be true to your company’s style and values.

“Regardless of when outreach is sent, be very careful that it’s genuine,” said Pearson.

Outreach that fishes for positive reviews or otherwise seems insincere is unlikely to receive a favorable response no matter when it is sent.

Consider Offering an Incentive

Some brands offer small rewards and incentives to customers who take the time to write a review. These incentives range from entry into a contest to a credit toward future purchases.

We found that 5% of shoppers write reviews when offered an incentive. Companies that do not offer incentives miss out on reviews from 10% of online shoppers.

In truth, incentives exist on a scale from appropriate to downright illegal by the Federal Trade Commission. Offering any compensation in exchange for a positive review is illegal unless the customer discloses the arrangement within the review--which in turn destroys the review’s credibility.

Both Pearson and Scalco encourage clients to focus on preserving their reputations for honesty while nurturing relationships with customers.

“You want to offer the coupon and tell them to leave an honest, unbiased review, and no matter what, you’ll receive this incentive,” advises Scalco. “If you believe in your product and your company, there shouldn’t be an issue of having to pay for your reviews.”

E-commerce websites that offer incentives must (by law) provide rewards to any reviewer, regardless of whether the review is positive or negative. Several common approaches include:

  • A small discount or credit to be applied to a future purchase
  • Entry into a monthly drawing for a discount
  • A small product sample

For example, Waller, of Celtic Complexion, holds a monthly drawing for a free gift. Anyone who has written a review that month is eligible to win.

E-commerce websites should be sure to keep costs associated with these incentives in mind. A $10 or $25 store credit can quickly erode profits, while a 10% discount that invites customers to shop again.

In general, incentives should be cost effective and designed to show appreciation for all reviews, rather than only positive ones.    

List Your E-Commerce Business on a Third Party Website

Although reviews are valuable for shoppers seeking context and e-commerce websites alike, collecting them can be truly challenging for many small businesses. For 9% of shoppers who didn’t write reviews, the e-commerce business they purchased from simply did not collect reviews.

Fortunately, e-commerce websites have options beyond collecting reviews on their own websites. Companies struggling to collect customer reviews can opt to display a page of testimonials instead. Businesses can use testimonials to selectively display positive feedback about a product.

Because testimonials are clearly curated by companies, they are not as helpful in providing unbiased context, but can still provide some social proof that may persuade new customers. This tends to work well for companies that sell a limited inventory featuring a few signature items.

Many e-commerce websites also rely on third party websites to help them collect reviews. Customers may already be accustomed to writing reviews for various vendors on Amazon, Etsy, or eBay, so retailers pursuing a multichannel e-commerce strategy may benefit from those platforms’ well-established strategies for collecting customer reviews. (If you offer incentives, be aware that these third party sites often have community guidelines that may not allow certain types of rewards for reviews.)

Additionally, e-commerce websites can build a profile on third party websites such as Yelp or Trustpilot. These websites are already well known resources for shoppers, and they have cultivated a community of frequent reviewers, some of whom may already be your customers.

Your customers might already frequent third party review websites like Yelp or Trustpilot.

E-commerce websites that begin to collect reviews on multiple channels can also improve the efficiency of their internal processes with social listening and reputation management tools.

At Friendemic, for example, Pearson encourages clients to use do-it-yourself tools or try outsourcing services to a partner.

“We love helping small or medium businesses that would like to do a better job of generating and managing their online reviews and customer relationships,” said Pearson.

With the help of third party websites and social listening, e-commerce websites can explore alternative methods of collecting reviews that may help reduce the challenges they experience.

Empathy for Customers Should Inform the Process of Collecting Reviews

E-commerce websites that are struggling to collect reviews should view the process from their customers’ perspective.

The review process begins as soon as a customer lands on your website, and customers who have an especially satisfying experience with an e-commerce retailer are more likely to review their purchases.

Email outreach is an effective strategy for improving customer service and inviting customers to write reviews. By offering to fix any problems before requesting a review, companies can offer solutions before negative reviews appear.

Finally, streamlining the review process and offering incentives for all reviews can persuade customers who feel they have little time or incentive for writing reviews.

Although relatively few shoppers are in the habit of writing reviews, e-commerce websites have many opportunities to change their minds.

About the Survey

Clutch surveyed 1,000 consumers who had made a purchase online within seven days of taking the survey. The group was split almost evenly between male (43%) and female (57%) respondents. 

The survey captured online shoppers of all ages: 18 to 34 (21%), 35 to 44 (18%), 45 to 54 (20%), 55 to 64 (20%), and 65 and over (21%). 

Clothing, shoes, or accessories formed the largest category of items purchased by those surveyed (26%), followed by electronics (19%), home or garden (17%), entertainment (14%), health or beauty (12%), sports or outdoors (7%), and food or beverage (5%).

All respondents were based in the United States.