Over the past 10 years or so, brands have come to recognise the power of user-generated content in general and user reviews in particular. It’s one thing for a brand or a retailer to sing the praises of a PC, a sofa or a pair of shoes, quite another when the praise – or criticism – comes from someone just like you who has spent their hard-earned cash on the product in question and found that it is, or maybe isn’t, worth the money.
Since 2005, Bazaarvoice has been helping brands both come to terms with, and profit from, the user review revolution. After receiving three rounds of investment totalling just shy of $20m, it IPOd in 2012, raising a further $103.9m in the process.
“What we do is help companies engage consumers using user-generated content,” says Aurelien Dubot, the company’s head of product marketing for EMEA. “We try to collate as much as is helpful for the average consumer to make a decision and place it in locations that influence people to buy.”
Typically, this involves syndicating reviews left by users on a brand’s site so that they also appear on retailer’s websites who sell the product. When a brand implements the Bazaarvoice Conversations solution and agrees to be part of the Bazaarvoice network, reviews posted on the brand’s site are syndicated to the websites of any retailers that have also implemented the Bazaarvoice Conversations solution. It works the other way too, with reviews that have been posted on retailers’ website syndicated to the brand’s website.
Having been at this for 10 years, the company has ample evidence of the power of user reviews to help in three areas. The first is in driving sales uplift. According to the company’s latest (8th) bi-annual Conversation Index report, brands will start to see an increase in conversions after the first review is posted.
The more reviews, the better the uplift in conversions. In the Beauty category, for example, the company has observed a 56 per cent increase in orders when the number of reviews reaches 15. And in the travel category, website visitors who read reviews show an average uplift of 52 per cent in page views, 83 per cent in time on site, 25 per cent in repeat visits, 61 per cent in revenue per visit, and 77 per cent in conversions, compared to those who don’t read reviews.
When it comes to mobile, across the Bazaarvoice client network, mobile shoppers who see customer content such as reviews show a 133 per cent higher conversion rate. And accessing reviews via mobile is on the rise, with 31 per cent of page views across the Bazaarvoice network seen on mobile in the UK, 24 per cent in the US, and 22 per cent each in Canada, Italy and Spain.
The second area where user reviews benefit a brand, the company says, is SEO (search engine optimisation). From the moment the first full page of reviews (typically around eight), is collected, organic search traffic to the brand’s site increases due to the SEO-friendly nature of constantly-refreshed user-generated content. In fact, Bazaarvoice says, adding reviews to a product page typically results in a 15-25 per cent increase in search traffic.
Finally, from around the 100 review point on, user reviews help with product insight. “One to three star reviews reveal a product’s shortcomings, but four star reviews are typically the most useful,” says Dubot. “These are reviews that are generally favourable, but where the user offers some suggestions for improvement. Additionally, a 4 star review tends to look more authentic than a 5-star review.”
Ah yes, that word: authentic. The reviews industry, if that’s the right word, is plagued by the problem of authenticity. Dubot argues that Bazaarvoice is in a better place to combat this than most, owing to the network effect, which enables the company to spot fraudulent-looking patterns and eliminate these reviews.
Reviews on sites in the Bazaarvoice network comply with the company’s policy for collecting and displaying user-generated content. Some of these sites – check out Argos as one example – choose to display a trust mark alongside the reviews to signify to readers that the review they are reading can be trusted as an authentic one.
Know your onions
If the idea of turning to customer reviews for independent advice before buying a product started to take hold 10 years ago, it has really gathered steam in the past couple of years. Even Dubot admits to being slightly surprised at the number of people prepared to spend time posting reviews of onions and broccoli when the company started working for Waitrose last year. Certainly, he says, consumers’ appetite for both posting, and reading and then acting on reviews shows no sign of diminishing.
“In some categories, such as health, beauty, pets and fashion, it’s about more than posting reviews,” he says. “It’s as if customers are saying: ‘I co-own this brand with you, and I want to add something to it’”.
That might strike some as taking it a bit too far, but if you really want evidence of the power of customer reviews, think about the last thing you bought and ask yourself what most influenced the purchase.
Let me give you a personal example. Last week, I bought a light for my bike; a reasonably expensive light, giving out 700 lumens, which, if you know your lumens, you will realise is bright enough to help you see potholes in the dark, as opposed to cheaper, less powerful lights which are intended to make sure you can be seen by other road users. A light to see with, rather than one to be seen.
I called in the bike shop en route to a meeting, purely intending to get a few recommendations from the shop that I could take away to “check out a few reviews” as I recall saying to the sales assistant. In fact, she convinced me that one of the lights I was looking at was perfect for what I needed, so slightly against my better judgement, I bought it there and then.
After the meeting, I headed back to the office and spent 10 minutes trying to fix the light to the quick-release bracket that attaches to the handlebars, without success. Then I spent another two or three minutes trying, again without success, to get my best micro USB cable to stay in the charging socket, which was buried too deep in the body of the light to work with any other cable except the one supplied with the light.
At this point, I did what I knew I should have done before I bought the light, and searched for some customer reviews, which revealed what I had discovered the hard way – that I had bought a dog. Half an hour later, I was back in the shop looking to exchange the light for a different model from another company, and 10 minutes after that, I was heading out of the shop with my new light. The shop was very good about it; the whole exchange process only took a couple of minutes. The rest of the time, of course, was spent on my phone, before I made my decision which light to exchange it for, reading reviews.