But how do you build and sustain a wealth of quality reviews across your own sites and those of your partners?

Answer: 1) Post-interaction email; 2) syndication.

There are two sorts of reviews found on retailer (and other) sites.

1. Organic reviews

These are ratings and reviews that the company has collected itself from its customers, probably with the help of a tool, such as Trustpilot, Yotpo, eKomi, Feefo or Bazaarvoice.

Let’s be clear, there are lots of ways that companies can and do elicit reviews from customers. These include incentivized requests (e.g. sweepstakes, coupons); post-checkout web survey; sampling (sending out free product; trialling services); requesting reviews via social media channels (paid and unpaid) and soliciting reviews via a homepage banner.

However the most common tactic for getting reviews is to request them via post-interaction email (PIE). According to a 2016 survey conducted by Bazaarvoice among its 5,000 retailer and brand customers, PIE is used by 87% of its brand clients and 64% of its retail clients.

This could also be called post-purchase email. But then PPE doesn’t have the same acronym appeal as PIE.

2. Syndicated reviews

These are reviews that were collected on different sites and/or by different companies.

These could be reviews that were posted on one retailer website and then reposted to another site in the same group that sells the same products. For example some reviews for products on Shop Direct’s Littlewoods.com were left by customers on the sister site Very.co.uk – see, for example, this perfume.

More commonly these are reviews that were collected by brands, perhaps while customers registered a new product to secure a guarantee, which are then supplied to the retailers that sell the brand’s products. These will be distributed through a syndication network such as Bazaarvoice, PowerReviews or Reevoo.

Why reviews matter

As noted in my previous article, which outlined the importance of putting someone in charge of reviews, consumer opinions of products are influenced not only by ratings but also by the number of ratings.

Research by Profitero and BzzAgent (June 2016) backs this up. The report concluded that there is a strong correlation between the number of online reviews a product has and ecommerce sales.

As shown in the graph below, just adding one review to a product with zero reviews will lead to a sales lift of 10%. Adding 50 reviews leads to a sales lift of 30%. Above 50 reviews products continue to receive a lift in sales, but at a diminishing rate.

Post-interaction email – PIE

When a customer has purchased a good or service or otherwise engaged with a company, it is increasingly common for the customer to receive an email asking for feedback. This will often then be posted to the relevant pages of the website. PIE generally gets good results – or better results than other methods – for the retailer.

Data provided to Econsultancy by Bazaarvoice, based on insights from its network of 5,000 retailers and brands, shows that this is certainly the case among its customer base. Of all organic reviews on retailer sites the vast majority come from PIE: 81% in APAC, 84% in Europe and 77% in North America. Of all organic reviews on brand sites 80% in APAC, 70% in Europe and 62% in North America come from PIE.

Conversations with retailers suggests that success with PIE is an industry-wide phenomena. Shop Direct, which runs the UK-focused online department stores Very.co.uk and Littlewoods.com, sends a PIE to every shopper post purchase.

Paul Hornby, head of ecommerce at Shop Direct, tells Econsultancy:

Our biggest driver for reviews volume is our post purchase email, which goes out weekly to every customer who’s bought from us. The email needs to go out at the right time and must represent a consistent customer journey across device.

We’ve found from experience that the email should be clean and to the point, with no sales tactics distracting from the call to action. We also introduced an incentive, which has definitely helped to encourage more feedback.

We’re now doing a piece of work to understand the optimum length of time to wait before asking for feedback, depending on product category.

The screenshot below shows a PIE from Very inviting the customer to write a review for two products purchased, with the added incentive of a chance to win £500 in a monthly draw.

Requesting reviews by email also works extremely well for smaller ecommerce vendors.

PuraVida, a San Diego-based ecommerce startup that sells hand-made jewellery from artisans in Costa Rica, has generated a volume of reviews for its best sellers that would make eyes water at many much larger retailers. See image below.

Griffin Thall, CEO of Pura Vida Bracelets:

We use Yotpo to gather customer reviews. To date, we have sent out over 1.7m emails and have received over 130,000 positive reviews.

After 12 days, the customer receives their first review request, five days later they receive their second, and five days later they receive their third. There’s no particular time, just the set amount of days after they purchase.

For the copy, we recommend being sincere, personable, and thankful that your new customer shopped with you.

After the customer writes a review, we email them with a coupon code to say Thank You.

We also use Delighted to monitor our NPS (net promoter score) on a weekly basis.

What works makes consumers read PIEs, click through and review?

Research by Yotpo, based on analysis of the 200,000 stores that use the platform worldwide, finds that review solicitation emails have an 8.1% response rate on average. Of course some PIEs will deliver a much higher conversion and some much lower.

As any email marketer would expect, just the smallest tweaks to the format and wording – particularly the subject line – can increase the email open rate and the response rate. Yotpo’s research highlights three dos and don’ts:

  • Do: phrase the request as a question (delivers an 86% increase in response rate); use an incentive (18.5% increase) and include your store name (10% increase)… duh!
  • Don’t: include urgent words e.g. now, today (delivers a 28% decrease in response rate); include customer’s name (19% decrease); use a TOTALLY uppercase word (5.8% decrease).

Great advice, but we’d add two more tips. Don’t: just take Yotpo’s word for it. Do: A/B test your emails to see which tweaks work for you.

When is the best time to send a review request email?

According to Yotpo’s analysis of 4.5m emails:

  • The best time is Saturday 8am.
  • The worst time is Thursday 3pm.

Syndication of reviews

Syndication of reviews happens more regularly than most marketers would expect and certainly more often than most consumers would notice.

There is a mutual benefit for the brand and retailer. It is in both their interest if product conversions on retailer sites are improved due to having more and better quality reviews and ratings.

Research undertaken by Bazaarvoice among its customer base finds that some types of retailers are particularly heavily reliant on the syndicated reviews. For food, beverage and drug sites 98% of the volume of onsite reviews are syndicated; in pharmaceuticals 93% are syndicated and in footwear it’s 91%.

Retailer dependency on syndication for reviews also varies by region. In APAC 81% of reviews are syndicated, in North America it’s 67% and in Europe 33% of reviews are syndicated.

Companies will commonly syndicate reviews via a network of brands and retailers, operated by vendors such as Bazaarvoice, PowerReviews or Reevoo. These network providers will verify the reviews/reviewers and distribute to the brand pages on participating retailer sites. The networks also notify brands and or retailers when reviews have been posted, particularly negative ones, so the brand/retailer can respond.

For example, if you checkout electric toothbrushes on Boots.co.uk there are a variety of products from Philips, Colgate and Oral-B, some with hundreds of reviews.

But closer inspection of the best sellers, shows that many of the 352 reviews for the Braun Oral-B Genius toothbrush are from the Oral-B site or Victoria.co.uk, which belongs to P&G (the parent brand), though many are also from Boots shoppers. The majority of 194 reviews for Philips Sonicare brush are syndicated from Philips.co.uk (as shown below). Similarly the Colgate Pro Clinical draws the majority of its 80 reviews from Colgate.co.uk.

Some products by comparison have no reviews, including Panasonic Sonic Vibration and LAB Chrome Sonic, both products are found at the wrong end of the Boots bestsellers list. If the two brands wish to improve sales, a good place to start would be soliciting reviews from customers.