Amazon pioneered them and other online retailers have followed suit. So are ratings and reviews worth adding to your website and what are the risks?

What is it?

A function on a retailer’s website that allows shoppers to rate goods, ask and answer questions, and give general feedback about their experiences with that particular brand.

Ocado is testing a ratings and reviews section on its website (Retail Week, last week), so shoppers can rate food products, which it claims is a UK first. Wine specialist Laithwaites has also launched the facility online.

Who is doing it?

Amazon has featured ratings and reviews for more than 12 years, and today most retailers have followed suit. Those that haven’t are looking into it as they continue to use the web to interact more with customers.

Tesco, Asda, and Sainsbury’s have the facility but only on non-food items.

How does it work?

Retailers can create the functionality in-house or by outsourcing. Etail IT company Bazaarvoice, which provides the service for various UK retailers, says it takes one to two months to get the service up and running.

Once implemented, retailers should allow negative as well as positive comments to engender trust with the users. However, they should monitor for inappropriate content that could be deemed offensive or illegal.

Retailers can set up alerts to notify relevant parts of the company, such as buying and merchandising, when a review has been posted. This data can then inform decisions.

Why do it?

Bazaarvoice chief marketing officer Sam Decker says ratings and reviews are now becoming a customer expectation. “Studies show 70% to 80% of customers seek out reviews before they buy online,” he says. “If you don’t have reviews on your site then shoppers have to go elsewhere.”

There’s a huge financial upside too, he says. Shoppers are less likely to return goods after reading a review to inform their buying choice. Customer satisfaction also increases and the conversion rate jumps too.

A reviews section also drives traffic and increases average order value.

What are the risks?

The potential risks can include brand damage, if shoppers post particularly negative comments. But such comments help reassure users the service is authentic and transparent.

Negative comments can also be useful to inform buying teams on what is working. “The entire company has to pay attention,” says Decker, who cites the example of US retailer Oriental Trading Company, which has pulled or improved 700 products on the back of customer reviews.

Decker says 80% of reviews are positive, with the average rating for all Bazaarvoice’s clients 4.3 out of 5.