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User product reviews are a must for retailers and when used well can enhance the credibility of a site and nudge customers towards buying a product.

Reviews can have the benefit of bumping up conversion rates and average order values, as well as providing some unique content for the search engines.

Here are some tips for retailers on providing user product reviews... 

Show negative reviews

Obviously, no retailer wants to have a lot of negative reviews for the products they are selling, but having some criticism in the reviews can be a plus for retailers, as long as there is some positive feedback at the same time.

There is the issue of credibility here too, many customers will be looking for some negative reviews as an indication that the reviews are genuine. If your site has 20+ reviews of a product and all are positive, customers are likely to smell a rat.

Retailers need not worry too much about negative feedback; a recent survey by Bazaarvoice found that 87% of reviews left online are positive.

Provide an average rating

If you have a number of reviews of a product, providing an average rating in both product search results and on the product page provides a quick guide for customers, some of whom may not want to read all the reviews:

Amazon average user rating

Use a submission form

The reason for using a submission form is to make it trickier for fraudulent reviewers to post their comments. If you have a simple ratings-only system, then it's easier for people to exploit.

Instead, you should ask people to write a review of 100 words or more. Not only does this make it harder for people to leave fraudulent reviews, it also provides other customers with more useful information.

Consider Purchase verification

By allowing only customers who have bought the product from your website to leave reviews, you can at least ensure that the feedback is genuine.

The downside of this approach is that people want to see a good range of reviews when they are looking at a product, and it will take time build up a good number of reviews.

Also, this prevents customers who have bought the product offline or elsewhere from contributing reviews to the website.

Present reviews prominently on product pages

Product reviews are an excellent conversion tool, so customers should be able to spot them on product pages where they are most useful. One way to do this is by showing the average user rating next to the product price.

In this example from HMV, the user rating is prominently displayed, with a link to read the reviews underneath:

HMV user reviews

However, in this example Comet doesn't give enough prominence to its user reviews, provided by Reevoo.

The reviews are there, but on the right of the page, where it could be missed, and the site doesn't give an average user rating for customers to see quickly:

Comet user reviews  

Show user's review history

One problem for consumers when deciding on a product is deciding which reviews to trust, especially when there are a lot of reviews on offer.

Amazon and other online retailers do this by asking people if a review was useful, but it is also helpful to be able to see reviewers' other activity to help decide if their opinion is to be trusted.

An average rating for a reviewer would be useful, but failing this, then provide users with the option of seeing a reviewer's history:

Provide tools to filter reviews

On some sites, Amazon especially, there are a lot of product reviews to look through. When this happens, users need some help making sense of them all.

One way to do this is by providing an average rating, but this doesn't give any detail. Amazon has also added a chart showing the distribution of the reviews of the products.

In addition, the site uses people's rating of reviews to display the most helpful reviews:

A search box has also been provided to help users look through the reviews:

Amazon.com does this better by displaying the most helpful positive and negative reviews, something which would be useful on the UK version of the site:

Amazon postive and negative user reviews

Related stories:
Online review authenticity - do we really have a problem?
Interview with Reevoo CEO Richard Anson

Graham Charlton

Published 30 June, 2008 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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