This is the fifth edition of our monthly snapshot (most recent versions here and here), originally established to assess the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on consumer behavior. As always, we draw our analysis from consumer activity across more than 1.5MM online product pages from more than 1,200 retail/brand sites.

This time, we focus on a five-month period (starting February 24 2020 and ending July 26 2020). Each report, we specifically analyze review submission levels, review length and sentiment, overall conversions/sales volumes and review consumption (both absolute and among those who go onto purchase).

After seeing drastic extremes over the course of March through May, we experienced continued stabilization for the second month running. Again, the overriding theme seemed to be that the market had well and truly settled into a “new normal”.

Key ecommerce market trends

01

Ecommerce purchase volumes and site traffic consistent over the past month

02

Review submission volumes continue to trail off, but still at higher levels than pre-pandemic

03

Reviews still converting more shoppers to buyers than before pandemic

Ecommerce purchase volumes and site traffic consistent over the past month

Over the past four months, we have reported aggressive growth in ecommerce purchase volumes since we started measuring at the back end of February. We consistently saw 3x increases in purchase volumes during April and May. However, this started to tail off in June, a trend that continued in July.

If you analyze the last two months, a very slight but notable decrease is actually evident. It’s too early to tell how significant or long lasting this will prove to be. However, there certainly appears to be clear overall stability with less drastic fluctuations evident. July ecommerce purchase volumes still peaked at almost double where they were at the end of February.

Traffic too has stabilized, remaining consistent over the past two months. As we mentioned last month, customers are now far more comfortable shopping online but have become less decisive over the course of the COVID era – perhaps due to broader economic uncertainty, job insecurity, and associated pressures.

Both traffic and purchase volumes stabilize throughout June and July
Both traffic and purchase volumes stabilize

Review submission volumes continue to trail off, but still at higher levels than pre-pandemic

In the June snapshot, we reported a giant 2.3x leap in review submission levels from April to May before highlighting a slight drop last month. These levels were maintained through July 2020.

However, it’s important to note that review submission volumes are still around 20% higher than where they were pre-pandemic. This is despite an initial drop off throughout March, when review submission actually fell right at the time “Stay at Home” orders kicked in. Consumers probably had bigger concerns at that time than writing product reviews.

In terms of the actual content of reviews, there were not any huge shifts. Sentiment – in the form of average rating – remains flat, which makes sense given the products themselves are unlikely to have changed significantly in this period. Review length is down slightly on pre-pandemic levels but, given the average review length is 154 characters, a decrease of 10-20% is not particularly significant or meaningful. In our June webinar, we focused on review length in detail and offered some tips how to improve review quality. Check out our blog for a summary of that webinar.

Review submission volumes continue to decline but up on pre-COVID
Review submission volumes continue to decline
Review length and ratings stable throughout COVID era
Review length and ratings stable throughout

Reviews still converting more shoppers to buyers than before pandemic

As with the other trends we highlight, the impact of review content on consumer behavior remains relatively consistent with what we saw in previous months. In other words, review content continues to be more influential on the path to purchase than it was before the pandemic. 

However, while the June and July high in total review interactors were identical (at 66% above the end of February levels), the proportion of review interactors who went onto purchase is actually down (the July peak was 63% below the equivalent figure for June). So consumers are interacting with review content at the same rate as they were last month but are then going onto purchase less than they were then. This is consistent with July’s decrease in orders overall and aligns with the idea that shoppers are becoming more comfortable browsing online, and are less “decisive” in their shopping habits.

But the bottom line remains: Shoppers are still heavily relying on review content to assess product quality and make purchase decisions.

Reviews interaction levels stable from June to July
Reviews interaction levels stable from June to July
Reviews still convert shoppers to buyers at higher rate than before pandemic
Reviews still convert shoppers to buyers at higher rate

Summary

The story for the August snapshot is stabilization. There are slight declines in many of the metrics we capture but they are not significant. Last month’s assessment that consumers have settled into a “new normal” when it comes to ecommerce seems to have largely borne out.

However, the declines in activity are certainly worth watching. Will they continue into something more significant or will they creep back up to what we saw in May and June?

The crazy numbers we saw at the start of the pandemic appear now to be a drastic reaction to drastic and unprecedented circumstances. It seems to be a safe bet that the more stable trends of May, June, and July will continue into August and beyond given there’s no end to the pandemic in sight.

Webinar Speakers

Carol Krakowski, Director of Insights at PowerReviews

Carol Krakowski headshot

Carol Krakowski partners with the Customer Success and Analytics teams at PowerReviews to maximize client value using PowerReviews data. With a passion for telling stories with data, she has more than eight years of experience analyzing ecommerce companies and datasets to power insights for internal and external audiences.


Brandon Matthies, Head of Product Management at PowerReviews

Brandon is focused on building products that help brands and retailers solicit, showcase, analyze and manage UGC content to improve consumer path to purchase and drive more sales.

The Definitive Guide to Product Sampling

By now, the value of reviews in converting browsers to buyers is well known. More reviews on your site = more sales.

 

Product sampling – the act of sending free or discounted samples of product to a consumer – is a proven strategy for accelerating the review generation process.

 

But product sampling campaigns contain a number of different elements and are serious challenge to execute.

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View our nuts-and-bolts Guide to learn:

How following best-in-class product sampling methodologies generate on average 85% review completion rates

The typical scenarios that lead brands to implement product sampling campaigns

The nine steps you need to follow to execute outcome-driven product sampling campaigns

Start Boosting Sales Performance with Product Sampling

Paige Thulin

We recently launched UGC Analytics, the number one UGC-dedicated analytics platform on the planet.

This powerful and game-changing technology – powered by AI and Natural Language Processing – enables you to optimize your product catalog, benchmark product and website performance, and understand, dissect, and improve consumer path to purchase.

Join us for this 60-minute webinar to explore:

  • What makes UGC Analytics the best on the planet
  • The background on why we built UGC Analytics
  • A first glance at this new technology in action
  • And much more

Webinar Speakers

Carol Krakowski, Director of Insights at PowerReviews

Carol Krakowski headshot

Carol Krakowski partners with the Customer Success and Analytics teams at PowerReviews to maximize client value using PowerReviews data. With a passion for telling stories with data, she has more than eight years of experience analyzing ecommerce companies and datasets to power insights for internal and external audiences.


Brandon Matthies, Head of Product Management at PowerReviews

Brandon is focused on building products that help brands and retailers solicit, showcase, analyze and manage UGC content to improve consumer path to purchase and drive more sales.

Generate Longer 5-Star Reviews by Maximizing the Value of our new Capability

We get asked a lot by customers: how can we generate longer reviews?

At the core of our company ethos is the concept of authenticity. While our competitors are releasing functionality that enables brands to selectively delete review content they don’t like, we are focused on building capabilities that drive high quality and real content that performs.

So we recently rolled out a feature focused specifically on this goal: the Review Meter.

What is the Review Meter?

An interactive character count positioned under the review commentary section that increases as your customer writes his or her review. Here’s an example of it in action:

As you can see, a little green bar grows as the customer types. Some explainer text beneath gently reminds customers to keep writing until they reach the minimum number of characters (this length can be customized to your own specification). Nothing stops the customer from submitting at that shorter length. But this provides some encouragement to provide just a little more detail – particularly if that customer has just been primed by you to talk about best uses or where they are using a product and why.

Once the customer hits that minimum character count, the meter lights up excitedly. The text also converts over to a “keep it up” message, further reinforcing positive behavior.

It’s very simple. But that small visual can go a long way in helping to encourage customers to talk just a little more about their experiences and/or why they like something.

Here’s what McKenna Rowe from DRINKS (featured in the image above) thinks.

Taste in wine creates a lot of debate and opinion. Our sample reviewer (in the above example) is explaining how he or she usually likes red blends, and is typically not particularly enamoured with dry wine. Others reading then gain a sense for this reviewer’s preferences, taste, palate etc. If this matches theirs (or even if it doesn’t but they know enough to understand), the impact is huge.

Review content is all about relating and connecting with the reader. The more likely your content is to do this, the more likely it is to have the desired result.

If you’re a PowerReviews customer, this is super easy to enable. Your Customer Success Manager would be delighted to talk you through it so please reach out if you’re interested.

Longer reviews have deeper impact

To understand the value of the Review Meter, you need to understand the very real and tangible impact of review length.

As we mentioned at the outset, we get asked this a lot by brands and retailers. How much of a focus should it be? What does the data say in terms of the value and impact of longer review content over shorter review content? And, most of all, what can they do to inspire their customers to leave more detailed reviews?

Read on to find out a detailed data-backed take on why curating longer consumer review content is worth your while.

Based on our own PowerReviews review interaction data (taken from analysis of 1.5m+ product pages across 1,200+ brand and retail sites), we can see the distribution of “helpful” ratings according to review length. By this we mean the average number of “helpful” votes review content receives from shoppers. This acts as a good barometer of review consumption and engagement.

As you can see, helpfulness increases in line with review length growth. The trend is very clear. The longer the review, the more helpful it is. 500+ character reviews – in particular – evidently offer huge value to shoppers.

This makes complete sense: consumers like to consume longer review content because it includes more detail that is more likely to be relevant to them. Take a coat for example. A longer review might go into the fit, the material, the zipper, the color, the warmth, reasons for buying and so on and so on.

But what does a “helpful” review mean in terms of outcome? Quite a lot, it turns out.

Review Sort Conversion Lift
Conversion rate of visitors that engaged with each feature
Highest Rating
157.8%
Lowest Rating
105%
Images
167.3%
"Most Helpful" Reviews
192.1%
Most Recent Reviews
80.9%
Oldest Reviews
107.3%

Of all consumers sorting review content, those that sort by helpful rating convert at the highest rate. This actually amounts to 192% above overall average conversion rates. So longer reviews are more helpful and helpful reviews have a huge impact on whether that shopper then goes on to buy that item or not.

Something else to consider about longer reviews: they provide more information about the product for you to analyze (assuming you have the NLP and text analytics to do so…check out our UGC Analytics platform if you don’t). What do consumers like about your product? What do they hate? How can you improve it ? Now project this across your entire catalog. That’s a whole lot of high-value and actionable information for you to leverage to drive positive and meaningful change.

Why do longer reviews generate better results?

It’s not surprising that longer reviews generate better outcomes. As detailed above, the more information contained within a customer review, the more likely it is to clearly articulate a specific use case and answer whatever questions a customer has. It’s also more likely to enhance buyer confidence.

But this value has numerous levels. Think about it: unstructured product feedback is feedback in your customers’ own words. No BS. In this social media-influenced world where everyone is used to interacting and providing their opinions online in public forums, reviews offer an excellent outlet to provide feedback and recommendations for others.

Their verbatim nature mean you also really get to understand how an experience or product made a customer feel. The longer the review, the more customer emotion-type information you get. Reviews that highlight how products made a shopper feel something positive resonate and connect with customers. As a result, they can be extremely influential in the buying decision.

Longer reviews also make the product more likely to be found. Review content – like any other copy on a web page – contributes to SEO rankings, thereby increasing web traffic. More eyes on a product – particularly when the search is likely to be highly intent driven – means more sales.

The More Negative the Sentiment, the Longer the Review

We wanted to see if consumer sentiment affected review length. The answer is it does and significantly so.

To do this, we looked at the accompanying rating provided by the reviewer alongside their review content. It’s clear that – even over an extended period – five and four star rated reviews (out of five) are consistently shorter than one and two star reviews.

To spell this out, negative reviews are longer than positive reviews. Intuitively, this makes sense. You’ve probably seen a lot of review comments out there that say simply “amazing, love my new spatula”, “this coat is wonderful” or similar.

Negative reviews – on the other hand – tend to have more detailed explanations of why the reviewer didn’t like the product (e.g. “Bought the oven online, was a seamless purchase and delivery process. I wouldn’t buy it again though because it doesn’t heat to the temperature it claims at any given time, I’ve verified with my own oven thermometer. When I baked a cake, it didn’t rise. It ruined my son’s birthday. Such a shame as this brand is usually super reliable and this is the third oven I bought for them. I’m shocked and disappointed” etc.).

Negative reviews actually average more than 200 characters pretty consistently. But positive reviews track more closely to what we described across all our data. Why? Most reviews are positive. In fact, the bottom chart here highlights that a whopping 85% of product reviews are 4 and 5 star rated.

This is an especially important point for you to consider. What this means:

  1. Longer reviews are more impactful and drive better sales numbers
  2. Positive reviews tend to be shorter in length but greater in volume
  3. You need longer positive reviews.

You need to focus on generating longer 5-star reviews

We offer extensive guidance on how to generate more review content. Check out this guide or this blog for more on that.

Here we want to explain: how do you convert willing reviewers into longer, helpful review content?

By this point, you have commitment from your customer to provide a review. They are already invested in the process. But you have to remember that your customers are most likely not experienced reviewers. They are also unlikely to be expert copywriters and they are probably not product experts. They may not even know where to start when it comes to providing information other shoppers look for.

Start with the Review Meter

Our Review Meter was designed with this goal specifically in mind. This is a very easy way to start increasing the length of your review content and generating more impactful reviews.

It’s very basic human psychology. Most people want to please others and/or achieve an objective. The way the review meter is set up, it hits on both these points. The bar only turns green when the review submission hits a desired length.

Given your customers have already voluntarily chosen to provide content, they already have a certain amount of commitment to the process. So play on this to ensure the review they submit is as valuable to you as possible.

Also Encourage Quality with an Optimized Review Submission Form

To fully optimize the power of the Review Meter, we recommend also optimizing your review submission form.

Why? Your customers may not know exactly what to write or what other customers find valuable. However, they know why they bought the product and their specific use case. So you need to harness their enthusiasm to share their experience to tease this information out of them.

Our customer Room & Board offers a great example of how you can guide your customers through the review submission process (full form here for reference).

They do this by planting a number of ideas in the reviewer’s head before they get to the form.

Specifically, they ask customers to select from a series of multiple choice checkboxes. The review form is related to a furniture item, so Room & Board ask reviewers to choose their uses (options: accent, informal, lounging, small spaces, formal, large spaces, primary seating, watching tv) where they live (options: apartment, loft, townhouse, house) and so on.

This very smartly plants ideas in the reviewer’s head that they will take into their comment submission later in the form. So “love this couch” becomes “I needed a modern looking couch that is super comfortable (mainly for watching TV) to be the centerpiece in my one-bedroom New York City apartment. I love how flexible it is…it’s equally great for lounging and as a formal piece for hosting” etc.

The form in effect guides customers to provide helpful review content. The review meter in effect acts as “the convertor”, providing the motivation to create the sort of content that leads to sales. 

And of course the checklist approach also has other highly complementary purposes. Namely, they help populate Pro/Con lists, use cases and demographic information at the top of the review display that summarize information contained in the reviews. These can then be displayed in an easily scannable and filterable way for shoppers, providing super impactful social proof from “people like me”.

In Conclusion

If you don’t care about review length, you should. Longer reviews are proven to drive more sales.

Why? During the research phase of their purchase cycle, consumers want authentic validation. If they get this, they are far more likely to follow through and convert to a buyer.

The more relatable the review content, the more likely it is to resonate and have an impact. And the longer the content, the more likely it is to contain this relatable information.

The good news is that there are some simple actions you can take to encourage these longer reviews.

First and foremost, you should leverage our new Review Meter. We built this capability exactly because brands and retailers are struggling to generate quality and in-depth review content. This plays on the concept of gamification to encourage reviewers to continue by way of a live character content.

But you should also think about adjusting your review form to fully optimize the power of the Review Meter. By guiding customers through the submission process by asking for relatable tags before they reach the commentary box, you plant ideas in the reviewer’s head that they take with them to when they start to write in their own words.

This – in tandem with the Review Meter – will help you generate the more in-depth and detailed review content that drives sales.

If you’re a PowerReviews customer, you can activate the Review Meter today. If you’re not, request a demo to see it in action.

Andrew Smith

Andrew is an experienced ecommerce technology marketer. When he's not thinking about his day job, he's running around after two small children in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood.

This is the fourth edition of our monthly snapshot (most recent versions here and here). This is our July version of the same report, analyzing consumer activity across more than 1.5MM online product pages from more than 1,200 retail/brand sites.

This time, we focused on a four-month period (starting February 24, 2020 and ending June 28, 2020). In each report, we specifically analyze review submission levels, review length and sentiment, overall conversions/sales volumes, and review consumption (both absolute and among those who go onto purchase).

We are seeing stabilization in most of the data we capture, as the market seemingly adapts to a new “normal”. But let’s dig deeper into the specifics of what this actually means.

Key ecommerce market trends

01

Both online order and traffic volumes flatten out to a (revised) “new normal”

02

Review submission levels fall slightly, but still significantly above pre-pandemic norms

03

Review content continues to be critical to converting browsers to buyers, with review consumption among those who purchase up on pre-pandemic levels.

Both online order and traffic volumes flatten out to a (revised) “new normal”?

Over the past three months, we have reported aggressive growth in ecommerce purchase volumes since we started measuring at the back end of February. We speculated then that we had hit a potential “new normal” with highs of a 3x increase between that end of February date consistent across both April and May. We also pondered the impact of “Stay at Home” orders being lifted, as was the case in some states in June.

Throughout June, this certainly had an affect. We saw fluctuating demand during the month, with highs (of 206% above end of February levels) consistent with April and May. But, for the most part, we saw lower order volumes than we did in those two months. On our last date for capturing this data (June 28th), order volumes fell to around double (+95%) what they were pre-pandemic. They were approximately at this level throughout June, indicating that reopening was definitely having an impact. COVID-19 has clearly driven consumers online and so it’ll be very interesting to see if this sticks longer term.

Traffic has increased steadily over the past four months and hasn’t shown any sign of falling recently, which demonstrates a clear shift in consumer behavior. Customers are now far more comfortable shopping online but have become less decisive – perhaps due to broader economic uncertainty, job insecurity and associated pressures.

Both traffic and purchase volumes stabilize in June
A (revised) “new normal” in place across the board
A (revised) “new normal” in place across the board

Review submission levels fall slightly, but still significantly above pre-pandemic norms

In last month’s snapshot, we reported a giant 2.3x leap in review submission levels from April to May. After this big increase, volumes dropped in June – peaking at 54% above pre-pandemic levels on June 15 (consistent with the high in April). This is to be expected to a certain extent given the drop off in purchase volumes reported above.

However, it’s important to note that review submission volumes are still way above what we saw pre-pandemic. This is despite an initial drop off throughout March, when review submission actually dropped right at the time “Stay at Home” orders kicked in.

In terms of the actual content of reviews, there were not any huge shifts. Sentiment – in the form of average rating – remains flat, which makes sense given the products themselves are unlikely to have changed significantly in this period. Review length is down slightly on pre-pandemic levels but, given the average review length is 154 characters, a decrease of 10-20% is not particularly significant or meaningful. In last month’s webinar, we focused on review length in detail and offered some tips how to improve review quality. Check out our blog for a summary of that webinar.

Review submission volumes fall slightly in May but up on “normal”
Review submission volumes fall slightly in May but up on “normal”
Review length and ratings stable through June
Review length still down very slightly on pre-pandemic levels
Review length still down very slightly on pre-pandemic levels

Review content continues to be critical to driving purchase decisions

Review content continues to be more influential on the path to purchase than it was before the pandemic. The June high of our review interaction measure (the extent that consumers who convert engage with review content i.e. sorting, filtering, etc.) proved consistent with what we saw in May at 74% and 68% above pre-pandemic levels respectively. Overall review engagement is up around 1.5x on “normal” times. 

With that being said, this has dropped since February and March. There are most likely two reasons for this: 1. Purchase volumes have also fallen in this period and 2. The initial surge was likely due to consumers flooding online, buying products they previously had never bought before, and searching for validation before purchasing.

Bottom line: Shoppers are still heavily relying on review content to assess product quality and make purchase decisions.

Reviews continue to influence purchase at a higher rate than pre-pandemic
Consumers still relying on review content to make buying decisions
Consumers still relying on review content to make buying decisions
Review engagement stable at around 1.5x pre-pandemic
Consumer interactions with online reviews remains high
Consumer interactions with online reviews remains high

Summary

The re-opening of a number of states led to month-over-month decreases in most of the metrics we capture: purchase levels, review submissions, and review interaction volumes.

However, these are still way above comparative figures from when we started our research pre-pandemic at the end of February.

Specifically, purchase levels are double what they were pre-pandemic (purchase levels had tripled in May and April). Review interaction volumes have consistently increased, and are up between 50% to 65% during this time period. This is indicative of consumers seeking out greater social proof as they shop for products they are not as familiar with.

Review submission levels are also up from where they were pre-pandemic but have slightly fallen off lately. This is to be expected given the reduction in overall sales volumes.

Given the tightening of restrictions in many states that reopened earlier and the rapid change in consumer behavior more generally, we would expect increases across the board during July.

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