For the second time this year, Amazon has filed a lawsuit to stop fake reviews from appearing on its site. This time, Amazon is suing the 1,114 alleged fake reviewers themselves, rather than the work-outsourcing company that facilitated the reviews.
A spokesperson for Amazon commented, “While small in number, these reviews can significantly undermine the trust that consumers and the vast majority of sellers and manufacturers place in Amazon, which in turn tarnishes Amazon’s brand.”
Amazon knows the competitive advantage it has in its massive database of reviews.
Amazon’s Reviews Advantage
Let’s start with this fact: nearly 44 percent of web shoppers start their product searches on Amazon, rather than Google, according to a study published by BloomReach. Many purchase directly from Amazon, but others use Amazon as a source of product research—ratings, reviews, images, details—to purchase elsewhere or even offline.
Amazon houses what is perhaps the most comprehensive “word-of-mouth” collection of product details—anywhere. Amazon has steadily innovated its reviews program in ways that protect its integrity and enhance the usefulness of reviews by introducing:
Verified purchase markers
Reviewer profiles, lifetime helpfulness scores, rankings, and badges
Here, we’ll go through the shopper’s path-to-purchase, which is influenced by reviews at each stage:
Search: Shoppers search for a product or browse category pages, where results are influenced by product ratings and reviews;
Consider: Shoppers navigating search results and category pages choose which product pages to visit, where ratings and review counts are one of the few details available;
Purchase: Shoppers choose whether to purchase a product, with the ability to view specific reviews;
Evaluate or Share: Some purchasers will evaluate the product with a review or share offline (word-of-mouth) or online (social media).
1. Search phase: Reviews influence search results
Amazon’s customer-centric focus and massive assortment mean reviews are an important limiting factor in which search results that shoppers see first, although the exact ranking algorithm is not public.
Earlier this year, Amazon tweaked its formula for calculating star ratings to weight newer, better reviews more heavily. Before the change, star ratings were arithmetic averages of all the individual reviews’ star ratings. After the change, star ratings are now calculated using multiple factors: the age of a review, whether the review is a verified purchase, and the helpfulness of a review.
The quality of text reviews has always been important for conversion. But the new star rating calculation on Amazon means review quality, by directly impacting star ratings, influences search results themselves.
For other retailers with more limited assortments, fewer reviews, and a simpler search ranking algorithm (which is based primarily on text matching), reviews likely have much less sway over search results.
2. Consideration phase: Ratings and review counts impact which product page links shoppers click
In this consideration phase, shoppers navigating either physical shelves (in store) or digital shelves (category pages, search results) see product packages, names, and prices.
Unlike browsing the physical shelf, however, shoppers online also see star ratings and review counts – a potentially key determinant in which products shoppers click.
Furthermore, searchers can filter products by review count, which can eliminate your products before shoppers even see them.
In the search results for floor lamps below, for example, the difference between a 4.0 star rating and a ~4.5 star rating can be the difference between winning and losing that click.
Here, review quality matters most. A five-star review with little text and no useful details is much less influential than a high-quality review, which might detail the pros and cons of a product and be updated after a few months of use.
On Amazon, shoppers can post images and leave video reviews, which add to their authenticity and provide non-professional views of the product. For example, the reviewer below left a video of the Minion toy in action. 427 shoppers found his review and video helpful, which is 427 potential conversions generated by a single fan.
Although social media continues to make strides towards natively enabling eCommerce, retailers’ websites themselves remain the platform for the vast majority of sales. User-generated content here then, is more directly connected with the purchase occasion.
As Amazon sues to protect the integrity of its reviews, brands should also carefully and creatively manage their online presence:
Brands need (many) reviews. Electronics, Grocery, Health & Personal Care, and Beauty are Amazon categories where best sellers have very high review counts. If your products are listed in these categories, they need a large number of reviews just to compete.
Furthermore, there are sign that a steady stream of new reviews could become more important than a high review count. Given Amazon’s changes that weight newer reviews more heavily, at least for individual products’ star ratings, review velocity might become increasingly important to search rankings.
Source: Profitero Amazon FastMovers, September 2015
Review quality matters. With Amazon’s star rating calculation changes, review quality directly affects star ratings and, likely, search results. And as review counts climb across-the-board, frequent high-quality reviews—including those with images and videos—are more important than ever to avoid dilution.
With Amazon Vine, for example, you can leverage some of the best reviewers on Amazon to both increase your review count and quality.
Amazon isn’t the only option for reviews. Influenster, for example, boasts over 1.5 million shoppers on its product information engine, which houses reviews, images, questions, and user-generated content.
Download Profitero’s free FastMovers reports to benchmark your products to Amazon’s best sellers.