Recent studies by Nielsen Online, Harris Interactive, Yahoo Small Business and others have made this crystal clear: Most online buyers check, and are influenced by web-based customer reviews. Findings vary a bit, but some 90 percent of online buyers say they read customer reviews at least "some of the time" when they are available, and 71 percent agree that customer reviews offer comfort that they're buying the right product or service from the right place.
Why leave this to chance or other websites? Small online retailers are beginning to take the initiative, embracing the realm of "user (customer) generated content" and driving revenue by helping customers post reviews on their sites. Discgear, a Texas-based maker of CD and DVD storage cases, began incorporating customer reviews on its website in late 2008. Within a month it had 100 reviews on the site and was able to create a user community where customers help each other find the right products. What's more, Discgear has received valuable ideas that it's using to make product design changes.
Alpaca Direct, which sells alpaca and pima goods (sweaters, socks, shirts), credits customer reviews with boosting conversion rates - a key measure of how many people actually buy once they've clicked through to the site. Alpaca Direct learned an important lesson. Rather than filling its website with company-generated marketing copy, it decided to let customers be the prevalent voice on the site. That helped build trust. And just as important, customer content helps increase visits through improved SEO.
How to get customer reviews on your site
How can you join the customer reviews revolution? It's actually quite easy with web-based applications that will put the functionality on your site for a modest monthly fee. The top choice in Small Business Computing's latest Excellence in Technology Awards competition was PowerReviews. Their small business product, called PowerReviews Express, wins raves from small business owners for easy implementation, and starts at $80 per month. Finishing a close second in this annual awards competition, with votes cast from small business owners themselves, was Bazaarvoice.
Both companies have been leaders in devising customer review implementations that are easy for small business to install and manage. Both also offer solutions to install Q&A on your site as well.
I asked Kamran Lofti, Director of PowerReviews Express, how a small business would go about integrating the solution on a website. Here's his response:
"We knew most small retailers have few engineering resources at their disposal so we designed PowerReviews Express from the ground up to be as easy as possible to integrate. There are only three steps to the integration that can be done in a few hours.
- "Step 1 is to upload some product information which we use when displaying the Review Forms customers complete.
- "Step 2 is to select the best review form for each of your product categories. PowerReviews provides over 2,500 different review forms to choose from so no matter what your product, there is a review form with the appropriate pros, cons and best uses for you to install.