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From feedback to sales: Maximizing the impact of online product ratings & reviews
How CPG brands can leverage online ratings and reviews to maintain category leadership, develop new products, and grow market share.
Ratings and reviews play a critical role in shoppers’ online purchase decisions.
The more information a consumer can gather about a product, the more likely they are to buy it. Our internal case studies suggest a +1% increase in ratings and reviews can lead to a +3% increase in sales.
CPG is no exception. While there remains a perception that ratings and reviews matter less in everyday categories such as food and beverage, they are, in fact, vital and becoming more important all the time.
Following the shift to online buying during the pandemic, we have seen a marked increase in product ratings and reviews. Our data suggests the total number of online reviews across the US, UK, Germany, and Australia increased by +172% between 2020 and 2022.
Although higher-priced items continue to attract more ratings and reviews overall, it’s not unusual for CPG products to get dozens, and even hundreds, of reviews these days. This is especially true if a product has been reformulated, rebranded, or put into new packaging. As an example, a ground beef SKU from a major supermarket in the UK amassed nearly 1,000 reviews following a recent packaging change.
Ratings and reviews have gained further currency in recent months due to inflationary pressures and concerns about the cost of living. More than ever, shoppers are mindful of how much and where they are spending their money. As a result, they are turning to ratings and reviews to assess a product’s value and answer that all-important question: ‘If I purchase this product, am I going to get my money’s worth?’
To succeed in this challenging marketplace, CPGs need a clear strategy for generating, analyzing, and optimizing their product ratings and reviews.
How product ratings & reviews drive ecommerce sales
Getting the most out of ratings and reviews starts with a clear understanding of how they affect online sales performance.
Ratings and reviews boost sales partly because they help shoppers feel confident they are buying the right product for their needs. Plus, they create a virtuous circle that increases visibility on the digital shelf.
This is because retailer algorithms for search and shelf positioning take into account rate of sale (ROS). Strong ratings and reviews will result in a higher ROS than rival products, which in turn improves visibility. Many consumers also filter search results by ‘highest ranking’, meaning products with good average ratings are more likely to appear at the top of results.
However, products will only stay in those positions if there is continued conversion, making ratings and reviews a key factor in digital shelf success.
Crucially, ratings and reviews don’t just drive online sales; they inform in-store purchases too. 63% of online shoppers and 45% of in-store shoppers conduct research online before buying, and reading product reviews is a key part of that research process.
Optimizing your product ratings & reviews
To maximize the impact of product ratings and reviews, we recommend following a five-step process:
Step 1: Understand the health of your current ratings & reviews and establish benchmarks
Step 2: Identify your priorities
Step 3: Establish and mobilize your resources
Step 4: Use feedback to drive business strategy and improve products
Step 5: Track reviews over time
We explain each step in detail in our ratings & reviews guide, but the main takeaway is you need to really know your category and have solid benchmarks. In simple terms, this means determining what’s the average number of reviews for the category, and what’s the average rating, and figuring out whether you’re above or below those averages.
A digital shelf analytics tool like our ‘Learn from The Shoppers Voice’ fundamental makes this process quick, straightforward, and scalable. It allows you to see your ratings and reviews trends across retailers so you can easily compare them against category benchmarks and key competitors.
Priorities will flow from there. If a product’s average ratings are below par, the focus should be on analyzing shopper feedback to understand what the problem might be.
If a product sits below the category average in terms of number of reviews, the priority should be to encourage more shoppers to leave reviews. This typically involves working with the retailer on digital marketing campaigns to reconnect with shoppers after a purchase, or potentially incentivizing reviews. Some retailers also offer opportunities to generate ratings and reviews through their shopper loyalty programs.
Don’t forget to look outside of ratings and reviews during the initial benchmarking phase and consider wider digital shelf KPIs including availability, assortment and product content. Ratings and reviews don’t exist in a vacuum – to maximize their impact, brands need to get the basics right. Our ‘Fix the Basics’ and ‘Deliver Value That Counts’ fundamentals are a great starting point to understand current performance and ensure all key boxes are ticked.
Leveraging shopper feedback to inform product development and marketing
Savvy CPGs use ratings and reviews not just to gather feedback on existing products, but also to look for category white space, develop entirely new lines, and grow their market share.
Ratings and reviews are a rich source of insight into shopper needs and priorities. They cannot only help surface issues with product quality but also highlight unmet needs. Are shoppers expressing a desire for new flavors or formats? Would they like to see different pack sizes? Think of reviews as an opportunity to get some early steer on what shoppers are thinking, without having to go through a full focus group process.
Recently, some of our clients in the soft drinks sector successfully leveraged ratings and reviews in this way to scout for opportunities in the burgeoning CBD and alcoholic RTD beverages space.
Product reviews are also a fantastic source of consumer language that can feed into marketing communications and product descriptions to ensure your messaging resonates with shoppers.
Whether you’re launching new products or looking to maximize the sales of existing lines, the key metric to keep an eye on when gauging the success of your ratings and reviews strategy is the number of reviews.
An increase in the number of reviews for your products shows you are successfully engaging the shopper. And, typically, we see that a higher number of reviews means more opportunity for positive ones, which ultimately results in a higher average rating score.
Of course, sales and market share are also critical indicators. If buyer conversion goes up, it suggests your ratings and reviews are doing a good job of helping shoppers make that buying decision.
Common misconceptions and mistakes to avoid
Many CPGs are becoming more sophisticated in their use of ratings and reviews, so major missteps in this area are rare. However, one common mistake we continue to see is a lack of consistency.
Far too many brands go big on ratings and reviews around new launches and packaging changes, and forget about them the rest of the time. The brands that see the best results are those that monitor ratings and reviews consistently over time. You have to be proactive in this area to maintain category leadership.
It’s also a good idea to keep your reviews current and updated. Reviews are at their most persuasive when they are relatively recent, so brands need an always-on strategy for engaging shoppers and generating fresh reviews. As with so many aspects of the digital shelf, ‘one and done’ does not work.
The quality of reviews is also critical. A thousand reviews saying ‘this product is great’ won’t help shoppers make a decision. Make sure you monitor reviews to ensure they are relevant, spell out product benefits, and contain useful keywords.
Rich content, such as pictures and video, is always an added benefit, so brands should also consider how they can incentivise shoppers to include such content in their reviews.
Finally, don’t panic about low ratings and negative reviews.
Negative ratings and reviews can draw your attention to important issues that need to be addressed. Instead of running from bad reviews, use them to make the product better.
What’s more, the odd negative review can actually boost consumer confidence and increase conversion. Shoppers tend to be suspicious of sites and products that are devoid of negative reviews. Far from undermining consumer trust, having some critical feedback shows your positive reviews are legitimate – and your product really is worth buying.