Surprising research: Stop worrying about product review ratings

Many clients I speak with are concerned about having positive reviews from customers for their products. And rightfully so. Product reviews from real customers helps to improve your brand’s “social proof” and reduces potential purchasing friction. In fact, its such a critical piece of online shopping conversion that it’s a core part of our Amazon launch process for brands.

But a new study by Northwestern University, has found that you shouldn’t get too hung up on achieving a perfect 5-star rating for products in your online store or marketplaces like Amazon. In fact, having a few middle-range reviews of your products help to make your overall rating seem more credible to skeptical buyers. Across 40 categories tested, sales increase along with the star rating up to 4.5 stars, but after 4.5 stars sales actually drop off.                                       

4.2-4.5 is the ideal average star rating for purchase probability
— Northwestern University, 2016

A few other key findings from the research which are pertinent for brands selling on Amazon:

  • Negative reviews help make buying decisions. The company PowerReviews, who provided data for the study, also cites that 82% of shoppers specifically seek out negative product reviews.
  • Reviews matter less for cheap products. Star ratings had a stronger influence on expensive items compared to the inexpensive items within the same category.
  • The ideal number of reviews varies. When reviews are shorter, more reviews matter. If reviews are lengthier, the number of reviews has a less significant impact.

What we do at Bobsled Marketing to optimize reviews

  • Get ‘meaty’ product reviews. We have Amazon’s top-rated reviewers to sample our clients’ products and write a review. These reviewers got to the top of the pile by being voted as writing the “most helpful” reviews, sometimes with videos and photos. The quality of this type of review is so much more valuable than a few one-line reviews, so we spend a lot of time seeking them out.
  • Respond to negative product reviews. Even when a review seems unreasonable, silence is not the answer. Since other customers are sure to seek out and read the negative review, a swift and professional response from the brand on the matter demonstrates that the brand is responsive.
  • Remind customers to leave a review. Sadly, while reviews are critical to the buying decision of many customers, less than 5% actually take the time to write a review. We’ve found that sending one or two helpful reminders through the Amazon message system helps to quickly build the number of reviews of your products.

Increased sales is not the only benefit for brands when it comes to product reviews. They are the ultimate feedback loop for improvement and new product development. Companies should view product reviews as an opportunity to improve and fix problems, not an annoyance or task to be done.