Report: Ratings and Reviews Are the Top Factor in Online Purchase Decisions
The idea of ratings and reviews as absolute core to online shopping decisions isn’t new. Consumer reviews on e-commerce product pages have existed in some format since pretty much the advent of the internet.
But at PowerReviews, we wanted to understand how important they are in the post-COVID world we're now transitioning to and how this has evolved in recent years. This is why we conducted our Ever-Growing Power of Reviews study, based on survey responses from 6,538 consumers nationwide from April 2021 (we did similar surveys in both 2018 and 2014).
Some key things we found out:
- Today, 99.9 percent of consumers say they read reviews when shopping online at least sometimes. In 2018, this number was 97 percent, and in 2014 it was 95 percent.
- Ninety-eight percent of consumers feel that reviews are an essential resource when making purchase decisions, up from 89 percent in 2018 and 86 percent in 2014.
- Seventy-nine percent of consumers specifically seek out websites with product reviews, up from 63 percent in 2018 and 57 percent in 2014.
- Ratings and reviews have become the most important factor impacting online purchase decisions, ranking above price, free shipping, brand, and recommendations from family and friends. In 2018, price was the most important factor.
In short, ratings and reviews have always been important, but now are even more important.
So as impetus to shop online has grown across the population — a trend only accelerated by COVID — consumers have become more reliant on objective feedback from fellow shoppers. The rise of product review prominence and influence mirrors the pandemic-influenced trend of “squad shopping.” Amid lockdowns, socially distanced consumers who craved connection took to online channels to chat and share product recommendations with friends and family via video calls or screen-sharing technology.
When making an online purchase, consumers obviously can’t touch, feel or experiment with a product in the same way they could if they were buying it in a physical store. So they're looking for the validation required to gain the necessary confidence to hit the buy button. Brand trust is a big part of it. Shoppers need to be able to trust the brands and retailers they shop from. And what better way to gain this trust than reading what other consumers who have actually bought and fully road-tested the product think and feel.
To dig into these overarching trends a little deeper, we also asked some specific questions about how shoppers consume reviews.
The greatest portion of consumers (53 percent) read between one and 10 reviews. Yet 68 percent say ideally, a product would have 26 or more reviews.
More than seven in 10 consumers (71 percent) consider recency when reading reviews. The biggest portion of shoppers (34 percent) look for product reviews that are between a week and a month old, while one-quarter look for reviews that are between one month to three months old.
We also found that negative reviews are an important tool for modern shoppers; 96 percent of consumers specifically look for negative reviews at least sometimes. In 2018, that number was 85 percent. After all, negative reviews give shoppers an understanding of ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ — essentially enabling them to decide whether that’s something they can live with.
These supplementary statistics highlight how it’s the transparency and authenticity of review content that makes it really appealing to consumers, making reviews essential to the path to purchase.
Andrew Smith is vice president of marketing for PowerReviews, a UGC vendor specializing in helping businesses grow.
Related story: 9 Best Practices for Negative Customer Reviews
Andrew Smith is Vice President of Marketing for PowerReviews, and an experienced e-commerce technology marketer. When he's not thinking about his day job, he's running around after two small children in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood.