(Re)views in View
Adapt or Drown
There’s a common myth about sharks: that they always have to keep swimming to survive (ok, a few species of shark do, but the vast majority do not). That myth is actually a truth for ecommerce brands. Standing still is a certain way to drown. The other wrinkle is that the ocean of ecommerce is ever changing. Certain truths of one era become discredited pitfalls of the next and there’s no forgiveness in consumer trends for brands that aren’t adapting. So when a renowned institution like Baymard makes a statement like “User Reviews Are Much Less Important for DTC Sites”, it’s unsurprising there have been some ripples.
Before we go further in understanding the space reviews occupy in the DTC ecosystem, it’s important to take a quick survey of the context. The year is 2022. Ecommerce globally has seen unprecedented growth across just about every vertical since 2019. (about 1% per year prior, 3% in one year) While the tail end of 2021 into 2022 shows some recalibration, the way that people shop has likely been permanently impacted. The knock-on effect of this shift is that as more consumers have been exposed to buying online; they’ve become more savvy. As Baymard appropriately identifies, reviews are part of the game that consumers have to navigate to find products that meet their needs while being priced appropriately for the quality being purchased.
Doesn’t it seem like reviews should be the answer here? In physical locations buying goods, a consumer can see a product in real space, touch it, or even try it on. There’s not yet a version of the metaverse or augmented reality that quite gets it perfect. But as Baymard shows in their research, reviews may not fill this gap quite the same as they once did. There are a few likely reasons for this:
- Reviews are ubiquitous: Between Amazon, big box store sites, and brand sites, our experience is that it’s rarer to find an ecommerce sites without reviews. But how are users using them? What’s the critical mass of reviews to lend weight? (especially with the massive review counts of Amazon et al)
- Reviews are talked about: Ubiquity has lead to visibility. There’s plenty of chatter online about how reviews are not to be trusted, the quantity of fake reviews on Amazon, scams to pay for unverified reviews, or employee orders at a discount generating 5-star reviews.
- Reviews are curated: Ecommerce was once an arcane, novel shopping channel. People have been at it for a bit now, and the level of knowledge many shoppers have of how ecommerce works has grown. So when you see a store with only 5-star reviews with a smattering of 4-star, a consumer knows that something fishy may be going on.
This list isn’t exhaustive, and there are certainly other trends at play like a much higher degree of competition, other parts of the consumer journey (including offsite, like social media) and changes in consumer expectations. But amongst this swirl of consumer distrust of reviews, do they still have a part to play?
How Reviews Can Fit into the Mix
For now, we think the answer is yes. It’s important to read deeply into the Baymard study, and the related documentation of their approach. There's also a number of considerations for what reviews are, and how they fit into the ecommerce experience as a whole for consumers:
- As noted by Baymard, reviews are often looked at, even if only deeply by a relatively small set of consumers. That gives some indication of a behavior related to user expectation. In addition, presenting reviews with less curation may give a bit more authenticity, which may overcome one of the key reasons why product reviews on DTC sites are not trusted. Let's not leave out confirmation bias is a real part of consumer behavior.
- Reviews are not just for the site visitor. Oftentimes working in ecommerce, it becomes easy to get mired in worrying about conversion from the product page, or the average value of orders for a period of time. For some brands, this can be critical. But lifetime value, or average revenue per user can be equally important as a brand grows to help keep acquisition cost low. Reviews provide another mechanism of engagement, and a channel for the consumer to be heard. (key correlated factor: listen to your reviews! What’s your process for how to handle the consumer making a negative review?)
- Well executed review implementations can gather information that can provide more than just some stars and a few pithy words. If you’re selling shoes or apparel, ask about fit. If you’re selling backpacks, ask about comfort. Make what reviews display relevant for your product catalog. Then allow filtering and sorting for particular parameters as needed. As an agency, we’ve implemented methods collecting data including quizzes, or creating a pet profile in the account portal. With the right tools to collect and report, and a well setup review process, a more complete picture of a consumer’s view on your brand can be achieved.
- Let’s not forget the SEO benefits. That’s a whole topic in and of itself, but Reviews, as a form of UGC, can have a strong impact on organic page visits (again, helping to reduce acquisition costs).
This too is not an exhaustive list. But it speaks to the idea that reviews don’t exist in a vacuum, they’re part of a whole. They are one vector for building a site that authentically communicates to consumers about the brand. Baymard makes that point about DTC sites in the post linked earlier: “In fact, many users want to feel like the site shares their tastes, values, and goals.” Approaching reviews from this context, of building brand affinity and reinforcing the opinions that site visitors have, may be a way to unlock more value from reviews. But also, measure the results. Validate that how you are presenting reviews is impactful. Understand what your shoppers want to see to make purchases, feel connected to the brand, and provide valuable feedback.
Remember, don’t be a shark. Follow Dory’s advice instead: Just keep swimming.