Why the Star Rating Isn’t Enough to Convince Shoppers to Buy

Why the StarRating isn’t Enough to Convince Shoppers to Buy

NAVIGATING CUSTOMER MINDS: How do you encourage shoppers to write a review, and not just give a star rating?

Reviews are important, but not necessarily in the way that you think.

navigating customer mindsIn the world of online shopping, shoppers love customer reviews. They help us figure out if the product lived up to the expectations of people who’ve already bought it. Yet, if we look at them objectively, they shouldn’t be that useful. On Amazon, over half of all reviews give the products five stars, and the average rating is 4.2 stars. In the end, we’re left with a J-shaped distribution, with most reviews awarding 4 or 5 stars and a few 1-star reviews – with very few in-between. But there are two components to a review: a star rating and the written words, and shoppers use the two bits of information differently.

If you were looking at buying a new electric toothbrush and didn’t know what model to buy, most people will simply type in ‘electric toothbrush’ on their preferred online shop (let’s be honest, probably Amazon) and then scroll down and view the product which matches their budget and has a good star rating. (On Amazon, products with a higher star rating appear higher up the rankings).

But the star rating isn’t enough to convince us to buy a product. Instead, we read what people have written about the product, and this is what convinces us to buy. It’s the richness of this qualitative information that makes a review feel ‘real’ and explains why a product’s star rating is a poor predictor of whether people will buy it or not.

How can you encourage shoppers to give ‘useful’ reviews?

If the written reviews are important, how do you encourage shoppers to write a review and not just give a star rating? If you’ve ever bought a product online a couple of days after it’s been delivered, the company will usually ask you to review it.

But if you bought an electric toothbrush, can you really give a useful review after having only used it for a couple of days? The evidence backs this up, the longer you wait to ask for a review, the more likely someone is to review their purchase. But how long should you wait? You don’t want to wait too long because you are missing the opportunity to influence other customers.

As a rule of thumb, you should ensure that customers have time to properly use the products and understand if they work, which will differ depending on the product. If you’re selling to younger consumers, this is even more important.

Asking them to review a product when they don’t feel they’ve had time to thoroughly test it will just irritate them, and the only way they can react to this is by not reviewing the product at all.

The key here is getting your tone right. Unfortunately, these emails are written by busy marketers who are already rushed off their feet. They often don’t give time to think about such a message. Rather than simply saying “tell others what you think of your new XXX”, it is more effective to borrow a few techniques from behavioural science and be clear in what you’re asking for. Something like: 

Want to help out other people just like you? Then why not leave a review of your new XXX.  Just click on the link and if you can, include a photo or two. Shoppers find reviews with photos three times more helpful. The best photos are ones that highlight something from your review – either what is great or bad about the product.” 

Also Read: Use These 7 Survey Questions To Know What Your Customers Think

People may not immediately think to include a photo with their review, but it changes how useful we find them. We’ve all heard the expression that a picture’s worth a thousand words, and it’s true with reviews. Shoppers find reviews that include a photo as more helpful. It helps reassure the reader that the review is written by a real person and that they really did buy the product. But it makes a difference what the photo is of.

The webpage should already include lots of photos of the product, so to add value, the photos in the review need to support the text. If you bought a new pair of walking boots and complained that the sole is coming off from the boot, it doesn’t help if you just take a photo of the boot or the packaging – the reader wants to see a photo of the problem. 

A good review doesn’t just need to include photos, it also needs to be detailed enough. On most websites, when you write a review, you’re presented with an empty text box. But we can redesign this process to encourage people to give more helpful reviews. In general, the longer the review, the more helpful it is perceived to be. However, this is only true to a point; once a review reaches a certain threshold, it starts to become unhelpful as it’s TLDR (too long didn’t read).

As a customer types their review they can be given visual feedback. This could take the form of an emoji. It starts off frowning and the more you type the happier it gets. Just like the signs that some councils use to encourage drivers not to speed, which have been shown to reducing speeding (at least in the short term). Or it could take the form of a visual bar, like the style used when you create a new password.

If it’s insecure, not long enough, or doesn’t include numbers or punctuation marks you get a red line. But as your new password becomes more secure, the line goes orange and finally green. It may sound a simple change, but it’s a highly effective technique. 

The future of online reviews 

With online reviews being such a powerful tool, it is no surprise that some of the largest ecommerce sites have started to experiment in how they can make them even more persuasive. For example, when a customer logs in and starts to browse, the reviews they see first will be written by people who match their profile.

You may think that it would be more important for the most recent reviews to be listed first, but the age of the reviews is not critical, as long as they’re reviewing the right version of the product. Instead, people find reviews written by people who are similar to them as more helpful – hence these should be listed first.

This may sound like a technical challenge to implement, but in order to leave a review a customer will have to log in, and so the company will already know where the reviewer lives and potentially their age. Of course, this only works if customers can tell if the person who wrote the review is similar to them.

So rather than people leaving anonymous reviews, reviewers can create a mini profile with a profile photo and a one-sentence biography. Not only does the photo help people to relate to the reviewer but people prefer reviews which include a profile photo

Likewise, a short biography can help improve the credibility of the reviewer. It’s no surprise that shoppers trust reviews written by experts more, but online it’s hard to tell who is an expert and who isn’t.  Biographies don’t need to be long, a few words can be enough to establish someone’s credibility or help you to relate to them.  “Mike D., busy Dad to two young girls” or “Becky, outdoor enthusiast loving life in the Lake District’. But in both cases, the website needs to have the capability to display the profile photo and a biography.  

Closing thoughts

For nearly 20 years, businesses have understood that online reviews can make or break sales. And while virtually all ecommerce platforms allow customers to leave a review, they’re rarely optimised. But with online transactions now accounting for 26% of all retail sales, this is something that businesses can no longer afford to ignore.