How To Attract Customer Reviews

Customer ReviewerI recently sat in on a Webinar with Lauren Freedman of The Etailing Group and Power Reviews.

The Webinar was based on a study conducted by the Etailing Group involving 1,200 consumers who shop online at least four times per year, and spend $500 or more annually.

We all know review content has many benefits – customer trust, long tail search engine benefits, reduced returns and so on. Customer reviews are a sensible entry into social shopping – the review thread is like an online forum. But populating your site with review content is a challenge for most if not all online retailers. Most customers are annoyed by entering credit card information. How can you motivate them to take time contribute product reviews?

Ask For It.

Jay Shaffer from Power Reviews offered this simple advice: ask for it. But he warns against dangling a carrot of a % or $ discount on the next order. One of the Webinar participants asked for elaboration – what’s with offering incentives?

Shaffer mentioned that the manufacturing industry has a long history of paying folks to write canned reviews and testimonials. The ecommerce industry is sensitive to this issue, and really should shy away from these tactics as they might draw criticism or hurt the perceived authenticity of the reviews. Remember that if you offer these incentives to all your customers, they may not trust their peers as much. (On the other hand, it does encourage repeat sales which is good).

A better approach mentioned in the Webinar is Orvis’ contest with gift card incentive. Sent with a subject line: “Win $100 By Reviewing Orvis Gear,” customers were presented with a chance to win, but not a direct kickback for content contribution.

Orvis Review Offer

Personally, I still think offering a bit of a discount on a future order is fine, it communicates that you value your customer’s business and time it takes to write reviews. It’s a thank-you. Many retailers offer discounts after purchase anyway with their order confirmation emails, I don’t see this as sinister. What’s your opinion?

People Are Motivated To Help Other People

Not mentioned in the Webinar, but I think its a good idea is to remember when writing your review request copy that many customers are motivated by goodwill when contributing reviews. According to the linked article, of 90% of 1300 surveyed say they write reviews to help others make better buying decisions, and more than 70% want to help companies improve the products they build and carry. Communicating the feel-good benefits of adding your voice to help others can be as effective motivators as discounts and contests.

Make It Easy

I like the idea of asking for a simple star rating, and making it a 3-second process. Think about it, and check the radio button for the star rating you would like to give your purchase. This is an example from Blue Nile:

Blue Nile Review Email

I’m not sure if there is a direct input box further down on this email, but that would be a great idea – the customer doesn’t have to leave their email program to submit a review.

Email Follow-Up

The timing of the email follow up is key. Of course you must follow-up after the product is in your customer’s hands and the customer has had some time to use and evaluate the product. And you don’t want to wait too long, either.

So review solicitation is like any other email campaign – care must be taken to choose an effective subject line, body copy and offer. And you should be monitoring your open and conversion rates. Split testing subject lines, timing, offers and email messaging will help you optimize your campaigns.

One hiccup is if the item is a gift. You’re wasting your time to ask a gift giver to review the product, and this will skew your true conversion rates. A great way to identify gifts is to ask during checkout and offer a free personal note or special gift wrap option. This won’t catch all your gift orders, but for the orders that are indicated as gifts, you can remove that order from your email follow up campaign. Enclose a review request inside the product box if possible, so the recipient can still participate in your review program. Plus the gift recipient gets introduced to your company as the place where the gift came from.

I’ve observed that gift retailers like ProFlowers, Red Envelope and 1-800-Flowers don’t have review content – and that seems to make sense. Most of the items will be gifted and what can you say about a bouquet of flowers?

Delightful Deliveries is one example of a gift retailer that does use reviews, and claims it has raised conversion by 20% for items with reviews. Delightful Deliveries asks for reviews from gift giver and recipient.

Delightful Deliveries Reviews

What I like about this approach is it doesn’t require the customer to write anything – you can rate the product on pre-defined criteria and answer a yes/no question “Would you recommend this product to a friend?” It doesn’t give you the long tail SEO benefit this way, but it does make it easy for a customer to get the overall opinion of the product quickly without having to sift through tons of reviews. You’ll notice customers also have an option to write a longer review.

Package Inserts

Famous Footwear has had success from including review requests within packaging sold in retail locations, claiming it drove more participation than any other marketing effort. I don’t see why you couldn’t do this for online channels too. There’s always a chance your email will be ignored, why not remind all end users of your products that you have a website and they can contribute reviews?

Getting Creative

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that in cases like a mom-and-pop organic coffee retailer, you could gather review content from people who haven’t purchased your product. Offering samples in exchange for reviews seems to me to be an ethical and effective way to get honest, unbiased content that will help you as a retailer and customers. Be sure to let the testers know that you’re not expecting rave reviews – just honesty. If you have a personal relationship with the reviewer, that can influence them to write positive reviews even if the experience was blah. So it may be better, if possible, to select strangers.


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18 Responses to “How To Attract Customer Reviews”

  1. What Blue Nile is doing is a great idea. I’ve found that the challenge with getting product reviews is that it requires a customer to return to the product page of an item they have already purchase. I know that I rarely do that.

    I’m currently working on a project with C28 similar to what Blue Nile does, although we probably won’t put the actual review questions in the email, because most email clients these days are disabling forms.

  2. Nice post Linda, and very timely!

  3. Great Blog Post! Reviews were once a novelty… soon they will be the status-quo. Retailers need to do as much as possible to engage visitors and and build their consumer generated content bank.

  4. Thanks for your comments, everyone.

    @ Charles, welcome! Retailers also face the challenge (and disappointment) when seasonal stock clears out and phewt – there go all the hard earned reviews. Anyone have any ideas how to re-purpose that content? Perhaps keep the review content on site in an archive with links to similar, current products? Pros/Cons?

  5. eCopt says:

    Wonderful as always Linda! The Power Reviews white paper link seems to be acting up though. I found it and downloaded it despite that, great paper, just thought others would want to grab it also.

  6. Thanks Matt! Fixed the link to the white paper.

  7. These are some great examples of what Bazaarvoice clients – Delightful Deliveries, Famous Footwear, and Orvis – are doing. I agree that customers want to give their input whether it’s online or off, and I think Famous Footwear’s solicitation in boxes is an easy, inexpensive way to get people to contribute. We also know that new review content drives higher natural search results, and we have had clients who, with a little effort, were able to dramatically boost review volume.

  8. Hey Linda!
    One other very interesting point is also to know how to get reviews on a product that the reviewer has really been using or buying. I met an English company called Reevoo that partners with merchants to send their clients review forms after all purchase and which set itself like a honnest third party in the review process.

  9. Hey Pauline, thanks for pointing that out. Revoo sounds like a good idea. Do you know how they motivate customers to actually complete and turn in those forms? Are there incentives?

  10. I plan to add reviews in the coming months. This article has plenty of good starting material to get things going.

  11. Nice post! I always try to encourage interaction with customers from my sites…it makes business more personal and gives an additional reason for them to come back again!

  12. I’m loving the idea of a package insert. One of our sites is about to start the follow-up email idea, because reviews are almost non-existent. We may go with the package insert too, especially with the holidays coming up.

  13. Last Piece Software also offers a customer review solution. We have found the follow up email is very effective at having people respond to talk about products. We give them a few days for delivery and usage, then remind them a couple of times. Trying not to annoy them. We have seen 30% response rates for these emails. We trigger these emails from our solution. The message is critical in the email. Letting them know it will help other consumers, and the its a fast process. Attracting reviews after the implementation is the key to a successful launch and this article had some great ideas. Thank you.

  14. Reviews are of utmost importance these days as they provide previously unavailable yet extremely important “intelligence”. Whats great about reviews whether of a merchant or of a product is that a stranger is offering a helping hand to another expecting nothing in return.

    The merchants we work with spend between 100k to a million monthly. Mostly on PPC advertising. Intelligence or knowledge delivered by way of reviews play a pivotal role in a prospective customers purchase decision.

  15. We value our customer reviews for products & service – We value any interaction with our customers.

  16. Well I have reviews running on my website now, and have collected over 800 over the past few months.

    Personally like to read the reviews people send in because people write how encouraged they are about their Audio Bible product and it encourages me as well.

  17. Nice article. I have a couple of clients who have used postcard type review requests listing some of the social review sites (i.e., Yelp, Google, InsiderPages, etc.) The conversions (2%) are rather low because consumers generally need to have an account on the review site. This can be problematic when it comes to getting reviews in the first place.

    Another attempt that has proven slightly better (25%), is to have a review/feedback form on the website with an enticement of $100 or such for the monthly drawing. This might sound steep, but in that market the average sale is $4,800.

    The best method so far has been to use a third party review site such as CustomerLobby which allows submittal of email addresses for a “canned request for review”, a personalized email from the company with a link to the review submission form and lastly a phone call from a live person. This has converted quite well.

    Some of the benefits to using a service like CustomerLobby, is third party and Google is now picking up their snippets on the local search results page.

    I have also started to see “Black Hat” review services pop up. These companies have multiple ip’s, email accounts and write reviews based on geography and keywords. Google will ferret them out sooner or later. What does amaze me is the prices advertised $1 a review and 3 backlinks (directory sites and blogs).

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