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Consumer reviews work. They have been shown to drive sales, and so now they are used by most retailers online.
The problem is, marketers know this too, and it's no surprise that reviews are used as much as possible, particularly to improve seller ratings for PPC ads.
Having looked into this recently, i wonder whether the sheer volumes of review gathered for some brands' seller ratings are diluting the effect and making the feedback less valuable for other customers.
Google's seller ratings
Recently, Google decided to drop ReviewCentre from the list of review sites used to produce said seller ratings.
I heard of this via Will Wynne, the CEO of Arena Flowers, who had previously been pointing its customers to Review Centre.
The result is that the number of reviews of Arena have dropped, and his site's ratings have dropped as a result.
This is the explanation from Google's AdWords team:
I understand that you are concerned about the number of reviews dropping. I would like you to know that we are no longer crawling reviews from ReviewCentre. Google is working with external merchant review sites to receive content feeds that ensure more consistent review quality on Google sites. As a result, we will no longer show reviews from certain review sites. This is probably why you are experiencing a drop in the reviews.
To have seller ratings included in ads, sites must have at least 30 unique reviews from such sites and a composite seller rating of 3.5 or over.
Google has a list of 30+ sites which are used for reviews, including Bazaarvoice, Reevoo, Shopzilla and Trustpilot.
Will is frustrated by Google's decision, as he tended to refer customers to Review Centre due to its ease of use:
Standard procedure for a merchant (well, one with a brain anyway) is to email customers who seem to have had a good experience and ask them to write something nice about you on the easiest site to use. That is Review Centre as it's fairly straightforward to use (my friend David Brackin mentioned that he did a test and found that customers sent to RC were four times as likely to do a write up as customers sent to Trustpilot as it's a bit of a pain to sign up).
What that means is that not only is it easier for good reviewers to write good stuff, but also for bad reviewers. So RC can really look terrible if you are bad as people really lay into you on it. I suspect that this is the reason that they've been excluded...as brands were complaining about overly negative reviews being written and impacting their stars. We don't mind as we have a good service so get good performance.
Presumably, Google is implying that Review Centre is less trustworthy as a review source than the other 30 or so sites, but there do seem to be odd review patterns from some sites.
Numbers of reviews
Here, the top PPC ad has almost 60,000 reviews. That's a lot, about ten times more than Interflora.
In fact, the sites in this sector seem to have more reviews than others, though this may just be the nature of the business (Will tells me it's pretty tough out there!).
That's a lot of reviews, and I'm not surprised that Will sees something suspicious in the quantity, though I think it can be explained by the relatively aggressive techniques used to gather reviews.
Companies like Feefo and Trustpilot are emailing customers on behalf of their retail clients very soon after purchases, and reviews can be left relatively easily using this method.
In some cases, they are going through past transactions and emailing these customers to 'backfill' the reviews. These are not only used for PPC ads, but also on site:
In addition, customers may buy multiple items in any given transaction, and each one can qualify for a separate review. Add to that the fact that customers can review the same product on different platforms, and one purchase of, let's say, five items can generate 10 -15 reviews.
The process for gathering reviews
I asked Feefo about how the company gathers and uses reviews.
How does the process for gathering reviews work?
I took some screenshots a few days ago for a presentation explaining the customer journey for Expedia customers, so I’ll use that example if you don’t mind.
Following the completion of a purchase, the customer receives an email comparable, and when the customer clicks to leave feedback, they see the following screen:
The feedback is then fed through to both Feefo and the merchant:
We also publish the feed to Google, which uses this data to generate Seller Ratings.
How are you able to gather such high numbers of reviews?
Feefo has the highest response rate in the industry at present, anywhere up to 25% based on current merchants (special interest / niche organizations tend to generate higher feedback rates). Our average rate is 16%.
I saw in your discussion you were comparing to people like Amazon for example. This can be confused by Trustpilot (amongst others) offering a ‘free’ service which allows consumers to blindly leave a review on a company.
They are then able to use this as a sales technique to those companies: “Have you seen the negative feedback you are getting?” to offer enhanced levels of service and whatnot.
This is based on consumers going out of their way to find any possible way of leaving a review, which will obviously be skewed towards those incensed by a negative experience.
If you are buying an item from Amazon for example, you are not prompted in any way to provide feedback on how good the service was, but it does have its own internal email-based system of generating specific product reviews / external seller reviews.
Our system sends an email to all customers that have completed a purchase (from a Feefo merchant) inviting to leave feedback.
This means that the experience is fresh in their mind, and takes no longer than 15 seconds. Time commitment is a massive turn off for people bothering to leave feedback.
They have not gone out of their way at all, and simply have to tick one or two boxes (depending if they offer just service, or service and product) and write as much or as little (a written review is only required for a negative rating to explain why).
They may in fact already be in their inbox checking the email confirmation for the product at the time of being invited to leave feedback, so the perceived exertion or commitment of doing so is lessened even more.
You can see the huge difference in companies like Expedia, who are Feefo clients, but are sometimes left feedback on the free version of Trustpilot.
The automated Feefo emails have generated tens of thousands more responses in comparison to those who went out of their normal behaviour to deliberately leave feedback on Trustpilot (which also requires Facebook login if they are not a paying Trustpilot client).
In retail for example, there is also the chance that someone might buy 2, 6 or even 10 different items in one transaction. They would be able to leave feedback on each of these.
The merchant can then generate reviews specific to individual products, as well as their general service. We offer full integration for this, so merchants can display the relevant reviews next to the products etc.
Are purchases verified in any way?
We verify reviews by insisting on a transaction ID to correspond to all reviews left, something we believe has influenced our standing as a Google Licensed Content Partner.
A notable competitor in the reviews industry recently lost its partnership with Google, and this will be a significant impediment to the business moving forward.
How much do you charge retailers for the service?
Prices scale depending on the size of the company and the number of transactions they complete.
We are proud to say that we don’t punish businesses for success. So if they sign up for Feefo doing x amount of transactions, but by the end of the period they have committed to are doing x+y number of transactions, then they will still be paying the same amount.
Prices are from £99 per month, and scale up accordingly. Our highest paying customer is in the thousands. We also charge a setup fee which structures a merchant’s account to ensure they can get the most from the service.
Is there a 'risk' that, after a few hundred the numbers become meaningless, and perhaps even less credible?
It’s a difficult question to answer, as it’s somewhat subjective how to define ‘meaningless’ and would likely differ between individual consumers and how recognisable the business is.
For example, consumers are likely to require less reassurance about a business they have heard of than those they haven’t.
I would say that there is likely a critical mass (depending on the size of the business) to which initially the number of reviews is what matters most, and after that the most recent feedback alongside the relevance (eg are there reviews specific to the product a consumer is intending to purchase?) become more important factors.
Historic data also gains significance for the merchants themselves. An often missed aspect of reviews is the business intelligence offered directly by genuine customers.
You might be able to track how your service has improved from the previous year, or identify a particular product / aspect of your customer journey that is generating negative feedback for example. You can then use this data to improve your offering.
Flowers seems to be a particularly competitive market, are there other sectors where the number of reviews are high?
The vast majority of our reviews are generated by retail merchants of various descriptions.
If you follow these links, you will see reviews from hundreds of thousands of customers, M and M Direct for example:
Retail is an obviously competitive market, with direct rivals only a click away, but we are seeing major growth with travel-based organisations and financial institutions.
How effective are seller ratings in PPC ads? Can you provide any examples?
According to Google, "On average, ads with Seller Ratings get a 17% higher CTR than the same ads without ratings”.
We are often trying to get specific numbers from clients for our marketing, and they are reluctant due to fears of providing information to competitors etc. We are often told in confidence however, that some of our merchants improve even on this statistic.
I understand the process used by firms like Feefo, and how it can gather large numbers of reviews, but I do wonder how useful they are to customers.
At least, I'm not sure such an approach would work so well on product pages where, although the overall star rating can help, the detail and presentation of reviews can be more useful.
Here on Kiddicare, the pros and cons, best uses etc can help customers to decide on a product:
It seems that it's all about the seller ratings and keeping that score above 3.5, thanks to the incentive of increased CTR, more than the usefulness of the reviews themselves.
Then again, perhaps gathering more reviews gives a fairer impression, as angry customers are more likely to make the effort to leave reviews, thus skewing the overall picture.
What do you think? Let me know below...