Reviews Take the Ruse out of Online Shopping

If all of the holiday commercials bombarding you on the tele are any sign, ’tis the season to be jolly… and racking up your credit card bills on the perfect holiday gifts. The holidays are a stressful time of the year that always seem so far away until they creep up behind you and scare the daylights out of you. Think I’m being dramatic? Today is 19 December, and Christmas is 6 days away. I’m sure you’ve already done all the holiday shopping you need, right?

Well if you’re like the millions of consumers who haven’t, chances are you’re scouring the web, hitting up sites like Amazon or eBay, to find that perfect gift for Granny. No, no, another candle simply won’t do this year, but you read a great review about some orthopedic slippers, and well, they have five-star reviews, so what the heck!

I’m willing to bet some similar scenario has happened to you at one point or another. The fact is, society today is fast-paced, impulsive, and picky. That is why retailers have tried to keep up the pace. According to the Wall Street Journal and a survey done by the UPS, 51% of purchases are made online. For the first time, more than half of consumers stayed home in their sweatpants and ordered from a glowing computer screen, credit card in hand!

Of that majority, a whopping 66% of those people read and are influenced by customer reviews, which makes complete sense. If gone are the days when people could hold a tangible product in their hands, test it out, try it on, or ask a knowledgeable sales associate, then how do consumers reconcile the risk they take in purchasing a product, seemingly blind?

Retailers have certainly taken note of this fact. In an effort to prevent competitors from writing inflammatory views about other retailers’ products, Amazon now requires reviewers to write from an account that has spent at least $50 on their site on a valid credit card to eliminate those with an agenda. Seem like a hassle for them? Research shows that these verified buyers are likely to be more complimentary anyway, with an average .45 increases in “stars” given.

However, the same retailers are wary of making their products seem too good to be true. As the Wall Street Journal recognized, “Negative reviews bring authenticity to a site’s library of reviews…”. This doesn’t hurt them as much as you’d think. A Northwestern study found that five-star ratings are not the most influential; “purchase likelihood” peaks between ratings of 4.2 and 4.5 stars.

The problem in this system is that only 4% of shoppers will actually write a product review. Usually, we’ll complain and send it back or gush to our friends about it, but when asked to share our thoughts online, most people pass. That is why some companies now reward customers with a point system, in which enough reviews adds up to money that can be spent on the site. Think about it: a few sentences, positive or negative, and you’ve got dough to put towards those orthopedic slippers for Granny!

But even these so-called “deals” and “rewards” can be complicated and confusing, especially if you don’t read the fine print. Often, online shopping seems like more of a hassle than it’s worth. Adding to that, shipping can be expensive, the product could arrive too late, and it could be a horrible product that you wouldn’t have bought in-store. But online shopping is important to the modern consumer because it puts the power in your hands. You don’t have to worry about a sales associate trying to butter you up to sell you a product you don’t need; many people distrust them anyway. I can say from personal experience that I’ve tried to avoid their over-the-top, borderline-aggressive desire to help me. “Can I help you find something?” “Yeah, the door, because I am out of here.” Instead, you have Sarah, from Manchester, who tells you that she’s usually a size 8, but the pants were a bit snug so go up to a 10. This is unbiased honesty that you wouldn’t receive otherwise.

So thank you to all the Sarah’s of the world for making this holiday season a bit more manageable. I hope that your parcels arrive on time and undamaged, that your gift be well-received, and most importantly, that your credit card not be declined. Happy (online) shopping!

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