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It takes a lot to run a successful eCommerce store. The right choice of platform, a quality selection of products, great customer satisfaction, a website that runs smoothly, an amazing checkout process, and unparalleled shipping. It’s understandable why 80-90% of eCommerce stores shut down soon after opening.

There is, however, one thing that all great eCommerce stores have in common. They have multiple methods of convincing new customers to purchase, the strongest being customer reviews.

You probably use online reviews too, but you may not know the true power of social proof and reviews for driving sales. If you're wondering why online customer reviews as a form of customer feedback are the ultimate salesperson for eCommerce, we’ll show you why today.

The power of social proof - or why people trust strangers online

Think about the last time you wanted to purchase an item, whether online or in a physical store. The process is usually pretty similar, whether it’s a pair of sneakers, a TV, or a car.

  • You go to the manufacturer’s website or marketplace (such as Amazon) and read the specifications.
  • You go to the internet to read online customer reviews from other people like you.

While finding facts is important, real-life experience is more important, and you want to know what others (like you) think before spending your hard-earned money on online shopping. And without even knowing it, you’re using online customer reviews as a form of social proof.

The theory of social proof

There are many definitions online, but in essence, social proof happens when...

“people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect the correct behavior for a given situation”.
types of social proof
The different types of social proof. Source

Translated into plain English, we look into the other's behavior before making decisions on our own. In short, when we don’t know which choice to make, we look at others and their decisions. This is why you’ll look up online customer reviews to see what other online shoppers think before purchasing on your own.

Usually, social proof entails listening to someone we know (such as a friend or a family member) or a well-respected figure (think of dentists recommending a specific brand of toothpaste). However, these principles don’t apply when shopping for everyday items, and we need to rely on strangers' opinions on the internet through positive online reviews and other people’s feedback.

Strangers to the rescue

Most of the time, we associate social proof with someone we know and trust. But in general, we love reading what complete strangers think. Research shows that...

84% of people trust online customer reviews as much as they would trust their friends.

There are more interesting stats to learn from. 91% of people regularly read online customer reviews. Moreover, 68% of people form an opinion about a product after reading two to six customer reviews.

Essentially, even if a customer has no idea who the reviewer is, they’re going to trust them. The reason is simple - we are bombarded by marketing messages from brands throughout the day. In fact, the average person sees about 10,000 ads every single day.

For this reason alone, we’re more inclined to read genuine online customer reviews rather than marketing messages thought up by a team of copywriters, designers, and other marketing experts. And while there are plenty of fake online reviews (more on that in a little bit), it’s still a better chance than trusting the very person selling you a pair of shoes that they’re the greatest shoes ever.

#1 Most people read online reviews before purchasing

We intuitively know that a lot of people read reviews before grabbing credit. However, you may not see the magnitude of that number. 91% of customers read online reviews before making purchases. The numbers vary depending on what you’re selling.

The average number of reviews a person reads before trusting a local business. Source

For an eCommerce store owner, that means that you should keep track of customer reviews, both on your own website and external platforms such as Google reviews, Trustpilot, and others.

If you’re not collecting reviews on your own eCommerce platform, now is a good time to get started. No matter if you’re using Shopify, BigCommerce or something else, there are countless plugins that you can grab to collect and show online reviews directly on your product pages.

For other industries such as hospitality, customers will be more inclined to look up reviews on websites like Yelp, Google, or Facebook. However, in eCommerce, you can have a leg up and host positive online reviews on your very own eCommerce store.

After all, research by BrightLocal shows that the most common sources of fake positive reviews are Facebook, Google, and Amazon.

#2 The more customer reviews = the better

The best time to start collecting online business reviews? Probably yesterday.

You don’t want to just collect the good eCommerce reviews, their number also matters. Having a 5-star average rating doesn’t matter much if you got that average from 6 reviewers.

And if you’re wondering how many reviews are enough, there’s a pretty good estimate. You’ll need an average of 40 reviews on a product for the reviews to be credible. So, if you don’t already have an initiative for collecting e-commerce reviews, it’s a good idea to get moving.

It’s well-known that it’s mostly unhappy customers who are willing to leave a review while the happy customers aren’t inclined to do so. If you have no authentic customer reviews at all, make a conscious effort to reach out to all customers and ask for a review - just so you can get to 40 more quickly. 

#3 Bad ratings can literally kill your business

If you think that customers will let you slide if your products have a few bad reviews, think again. Of course, disgruntled customers are more likely to leave a bad review but if you let these reviews pile up, your revenue is bound to plummet.

The stats say that only 3% of customers would be willing to purchase from a business with an average rating of two stars or less.

While keeping an eye on many products in an eCommerce store can be a bit more challenging, you should track your worst performers. As soon as you see the average rating drop, it’s a good time to investigate and see what can be improved and how.

#4 Potential customers trust your reviews as if they came from family or a friend

As we explained above, there’s a good reason why today’s consumers are skeptical about messages coming from businesses. If you claim that your hiking boots are 20% more durable than the competition, it’s a bold claim but one that won’t move any mountains. A genuine review from a customer who bought them already - a completely different story.

The statistics differ from source to source and platform to platform, but the overwhelming majority trust reviews before making a purchase. According to BrightLocal, in the group of people aged 18-34, 91% of customers trust an online review the same as they would trust a family member or a friend.

The secret to achieving these kinds of results is making your reviews authentic. While there are fake reviews out there (an estimated 30% and more), you can make yours look authentic so that they become your ultimate salesperson.

The best place to get started is to let customers add their own videos and images. If you can take one lesson from giants like Amazon, let this be it - potential customers love user-generated content in reviews.

In fact, if a review has authentic product images and videos, your customers are 65% more likely to trust that it’s genuine.

#5 Besides your customers’ reviews, potential buyers read your responses too

When thinking about customer reviews in eCommerce, most businesses focus on the reviews themselves, which is only natural. However, it’s also a great practice to respond to customer reviews.

How many of them? Well, probably as many as possible. 89% of customers are highly likely to purchase from a business that responds to all of their customer inputs, even the negative reviews.

And if you’re not convinced by the number above, here’s another one - 57% of the surveyed customers (from the research above) stated that they would be not at all likely to shop from a business that doesn’t respond to customer reviews.

While you may be tempted to only respond to the authentic reviews that are putting you in a negative light, it’s a good practice to set aside some time each week to respond to all incoming reviews publicly. It’s a small task that can have a huge return on investment on your overall eCommerce store performance.

But what about the bad reviews?

Even if you sell something absolutely amazing like apple pies, you’re bound to get some bad reviews every now and then. As long as those bad reviews are not in the majority, you have nothing to worry about. However, you should not disregard negative reviews.

Each piece of negative feedback is an excellent opportunity to learn and to turn a dissatisfied customer into a happy brand ambassador. The key is in how you approach them.

For one, make sure all reviews, including the bad ones, get published. You don’t want to appear like someone who doesn’t want to make bad reviews public as you’ll enrage the customer even more. Second, take the time to really understand where the customer is coming from. Why did they leave a negative online review, what is the emotion behind it?

Then tell the customer you understand how they feel and try to unravel why they left a negative review. It’s often something that’s easy to resolve and don’t give up until you’ve made them happy. Once you’re done, you can ask the customer to edit their review to a more positive one.

A good idea to finish this process is to follow up with an NPS review and see if the customer would be willing to recommend you to their friends. In fact, if you use Survicate, you can easily track individual customers through your CRM and see how their ratings change over time.

Wrapping up

Customer reviews are a necessity in an age where people do online research for even the smallest of purchases. When done the right way, customer reviews can be the biggest impact on your sales, besides having an amazing product. All you have to do is collect those reviews and give them the attention they deserve.

And if you’re looking for an amazing way to keep customer feedback in check, try out Survicate! With a wide variety of surveys including NPS, CSAT and many others, you can always make sure that you’re delivering top-notch customer experience and products.

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