Larger retailers such as Shop Direct and Argos in the UK have already moved in this direction.

The importance of reviews 

A study by the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London asked 18 subjects to give a star rating to 210 products based on an image and description on a retailer site. Then they were shown products with the consumer ratings and asked to rate again. The researchers also studied which part of the brain was used by reviewers (but this is way beyond the scope of this article… or author).

The following image, taken from the UCL paper, shows the same product image of a pair of headphones, one has a summary description and the other is accompanied by a summary of reviewer ratings. Below that is the ratings the subjects gave when they gave their impression of the product.

Summarising the research Science Daily (May 2017), reports:

‘After seeing the online reviews, participants’ judgments were heavily influenced by the reviews and gave ratings that were in between their original rating and the average review score.

‘The number of reviewers also matters. The higher the number of ratings, the more closely the subjects would align their new rating with the average rating. The lower the number, then less closely the new rating would be aligned.

‘You don’t need to be a scientist to do some user testing or A/B testing along the same lines.’

A successful reviews/CGC program hinges on four things

  1. Building a wealth of quality reviews and ratings across all products. This is partly down to facilitating native reviews (left by users of your site) or syndicating reviews from elsewhere.
  2. Tracking and analysing reviews, both across the company’s own sites and third party sites – for example, brands need to be aware of reviews and questions posted on retailers’ sites – and feeding back information to relevant departments, partners and suppliers.
  3. Responding to reviews, especially the negative ones, and answering questions, as quickly and professionally as possible.
  4. Facilitating and taking advantage of other types of user generated content, such as images and videos.

So what part of the business should take responsibility for reviews?

To answer this question it is important to understand the company’s motivation for the reviews and CGC program. Improving online sales is the obvious, and often the main reason, but it is rarely the only one.

This is highlighted by the results of a Bazaarvoice survey of over 500 retailer and brand clients (the majority of them European) of its reviews network. It asked: what are the key value drivers your consumer-generated content program is expected to impact?

  • Online sales was the top motivation for CGC engagement highlighted by 83% of all respondents. Why? Better reviews and ratings sell more products.
  • Website engagement is next with 66%. Why? Improved loyalty and customer experience.
  • Search engine optimisation at 63%. Why? Reviews help SEO.
  • Enhanced customer service at 49%. Why? Close monitoring of reviews means issues can be picked up early, e.g. highlighting need for product replacement; reduce calls to call centre.
  • Product development at 35%. Why? Incorporating customer feedback into product design. According to different data from Bazaarvoice 14% of brand reviews and 8% of retailer reviews highlight product flaws.
  • In-store sales at 31%. Why? The use of online reviews isn’t restricted to online sales.
  • Reduced returns at 28%. Why? Peer reviews help customers make more informed choices.

Digesting these results it’s clear to see how many business departments at both retailers and brands would, or should, take an interest in reviews. There are considerations for customer service, customer experience, ecommerce, marketing, merchandising and more.

So it’s not immediately clear who should take charge of reviews, whether responsibility should be shared, or whether there should be a cross-department reviews and CGC team.

Should retailers and brands put someone in charge of reviews?

We put this question to Prelini Udayan-Chiechi, VP marketing EMEA at Bazaarvoice who replies:

Yes you should have someone responsible not just for reviews, but someone looking after your community and your CGC as a whole. This is community in the sense of interacting with customers via forums and reviews. It’s not social media as that tends to be a different department.

Many companies that we work with have allocated individuals and teams from 1 to 2 individuals to larger teams running the program full time. Argos is a great example, with the team also working closely with brands to help drive volume around the products.

A bit of cyberstalking on LinkedIn shows that the UK online/catalogue retailer Argos has two “Reviews and CGC managers”. It is unusual to find dedicated reviews/CGC roles like this among retailers. Unfortunately the company was unavailable for comment, at time of publication, so we’re unable to tell you more about these roles.

Shop Direct, which runs the UK-focused online department stores and, has a dedicated Reviews Analyst.

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

The Shop Direct product reviews analyst looks after product reviews for our sites, along with other user generated content like questions and answers. They’re part of the Findability team, which includes product recommendations, search and navigation, and syndicated content.

Product reviews help to increase conversion, so the reviews analyst’s ‘bread and butter’ is to increase the number and coverage of quality reviews across our sites.

Tracking, analysing and responding to reviews and questions

Inviting/encouraging customers to post ratings and reviews and ask questions is great but the systems need to be in place to ensure that the ratings and reviews are monitored and that questions and any negative reviews are answered swiftly.

It is also imperative that such valuable feedback does not go to waste. Relevant departments from Customer Service to Merchandising to Product Development (at suppliers) need to be notified and when necessary to act upon the information.

The Shop Direct reviews analyst shares responsibility for answering reviews with the merchandising team and insights are shared across teams.

Paul Hornby continues:

The Shop Direct buying and merchandising teams have been trained on our reporting and insights tool. They can monitor product reviews and respond when necessary, as well as identify product development opportunities, quality issues and fit insight, for example.

When they give valuable feedback, our customers want us to respond. It lets them know we’re listening and acting on their views. And, when the reviews are negative, responding increases trust between us and the customer, and helps us manage their expectations.

In the US, it isn’t common to find roles or teams dedicated to reviews and CGC either.

We asked Keith Anderson SVP, strategy and insight, Profitero and the author of this useful ratings and reviews report (June 2017), if it is common for US companies to have dedicated reviews personnel. He said “Not really”.

Among retailers, he explained, responsibility usually falls to Marketing or the brand team within Marketing. Sometimes it is merged with social media. Among suppliers/brands, it usually falls to brand managers to monitor overall performance (star rating, review count) and to customer service teams to respond to negative reviews.

Anderson believes is important for retailers and brands to track and answer reviews.

Reviews are increasingly influential. They’re among the most trusted sources of information for shoppers and consumers; the “half-life” of a review or rating is much longer than more ephemeral social media like Facebook Likes or Twitter shares; and reviews are displayed at the point of sale, when decisions are made.

Responding to negative reviews helps neutralize negative feedback on a micro level (people appreciate a personal response), but also reflects favourably on the brand in a macro sense – it signals that a brand is responsive and cares about customers.

More on customer reviews: