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One of my newest projects is enhancing the user experience for a well-established industrial product site. (Instead of Home Depot's variety, think "huge variety of locks in many sizes, shapes and possible uses.")

As you might imagine, the products are durable and long-lasting and purchases are based on use, need and consistent quality. In my initial review of the site, I found that less than 0.01% of products have a review.

My 'gut' feeling is that there doesn't need to be a review capability on a site where users don't require social confirmation to make their choices. Removing the empty 'review' tab on product pages would allow me the opportunity to change/clean up the UI. The people I need to convince of this are old-school and obsessed with how Amazon does their website (which is understandable, considering that Amazon has a similar style sales site).

Are there examples of websites that don't have reviews on their products?

  • Is there any supporting research to influence the removal (or non-inclusion) of user reviews on product-based websites?

  • Is there any research/documentation on the adverse influence of 'no reviews' or 'zero stars' on user's product selection?

I looked at the answers on these two questions, but didn't see what I was looking for: reviews or features, what's more important for product page? and how do we encourage users to write reviews on product pages?

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Is the UX for writing a review adequate in the current (old) system? Is it possible there are so few reviews because of poor UX in the current review system? (ex: cumbersome registration required; no follow-up emails asking for a quick one-click review; review panel is obscured/way at the bottom of the page; etc) – HC_ Mar 28 at 22:58
    
You should add incentives; gaining reductions on futur purchases, for example. – Knu Mar 29 at 14:03
up vote 15 down vote accepted

tl;dr

Social confirmation is a good thing in most cases.
Don't give up on it until you've exhausted all your options.
Then try, try again.

Reviews are not a required feature

Not every site has the volume or customer interest to generate a lot of [good] reviews. I have personally seen this in two contexts:

  1. A product line that was primarily focused on gifts. It's hard to incentivize the recipient of a physical product (whose email you probably don't have) to write a review.
  2. A controversial product that is likely to generate as many haters as fans. Think of something like wholistic health treatments -- reviews don't always look good.

Reviews are an expected feature

However, even where you may not have the volume or customer interest to easily generate reviews, customers will still look for them. And if they don't find them on your site, there's a chance they'll disappear down the search engine rabbit hole looking for confirmation.

In most of the cases I've encountered, a lack of reviews results from a lack of review strategy. You need to remind and incentivize your users at the right time via the right mechanism. In the case of #1 above, we were able to create a healthy influx of reviews by building a solid feature then driving customers (and recipients) to it. Now it's a major part of their ecomm strategy.

Reviews as product refinement

The primary thing that users love about reviews is unmitigated, non-marketing product information, ie real-world product descriptions. This can work against one particular product, but it can be good for the overall catalog if used correctly. Amazon realized early on that this was a good thing and they needed to embrace this feedback as a way of refining their inventory.

In my example #2 above, the company moved away from reviews because of the negative effect. It made sense in the short term, but I think it did them a disservice in the long run for few reasons.

  • They had been casting their net too wide and attracting the wrong audience: people who didn't believe in their product.
  • There was also a valuable group of people who were skeptics and expressed important psychological factors that turned them against the product. Public reviews are the only way they will ever gather that feedback.
  • Among those who believe in a controversial product, there are many users who appreciate hearing opposing views so they can decide where they side. This is a complicated but valuable facet of social confirmation.

Seemed like the comments should be in the answer

Your reviews don’t have to look like their reviews

The easy answer

When the executives say to themselves "I can haz revooz!", their mind usually goes straight to a site like Amazon or a service like PowerReviews. Those are great models for high-volume, general appeal products. But they might be too much or too unstructured for other markets.

The quintessential ecomm reviews solution

A tailored solution

If you know incentivizing reviews will be a challenge and you know your users don't have much to say ("I got it, it worked"), then you can also guess that the normal ecomm solution will be too much for them. So is there a simpler way?

How about just gauging satisfaction in general terms? Here's one way the review workflow could play out. On the product pages, you could aggregate this into a visualization of satisfied vs not.

Simple "good" / "bad" review solution

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I feel like the review strategy could be revisited at a later date, so it's not a bad idea to include them at some point in time. We have a huge volume of sales and customers, but the products themselves are durable, long-lasting and don't generally warrant anything other than 'I picked the thing that worked for me and it keeps working'. That said, I like the 'unmitigated, non-marketing product information', and I think that could be better on the site. – maigen Mar 28 at 18:29
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Don't feel the need to do reviews like everyone else. Maybe you can send an email with a simple choice: Were you satisfied with this product? [ ]yes [ ]no. You're reviews may end up being a data visualization of satisfied vs not. – plainclothes Mar 28 at 18:37
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^ I should add to that that users should also have the option to make additional comments. Whether or not you choose to display it on the product detail, it's still valuable feedback that should be captured and reviewed whenever possible. – plainclothes Mar 28 at 18:39
    
^ I really like the idea of the email followup with satisfaction results - rather than 'doing reviews like everyone else'. I think that would be a very satisfactory merging of cleaning up the UI AND getting user feedback :) Thanks so much! – maigen Mar 28 at 20:04
    
Our comment stream here felt more like an answer. I've incorporated and expanded on it. – plainclothes Mar 29 at 17:37

Review's aren't always necessary or helpful

I disagree with other posters who espouse the view that social reviews are desirable per se and one should exhaust efforts to enable social reviews on a site.

There is nothing magical about social reviews: they are simply another design feature of a site which has pros and cons, and serves an objective.

Reviews can help communicate authenticity, transparency, fan culture and other social qualities for a site/brand. Search rankings and discoverability improves with reviews.

But, reviews can create problems with spam, snootiness, distraction, and loss of brand fidelity (social reviews can cause brand dilution because they may distract users from the core values or message of the brand, or may represent a user demographic that is different from the aspiration of the brand).

The decisions of (a) whether or not to include social reviews for a site, and (b) how much effort to expend building and maintaining reviews should incorporate these pros and cons into an evaluation of whether the reviews would support or damage the objective of the site.

Here are some examples of sites which do not currently support social reviews:

  • Rolex, Moncler, Louis Vuitton and many high-end brands don't support reviews because brand fidelity is very important to them. These businesses want to support a particular perception of their product and customer base, so the presence of social reviews from, say, a working-class contractor or a school kid may cause cognitive dissonance for users who are looking to buy into a prestige brand.

  • Startups often don't support reviews because although their product may benefit from reviews, (a) they take too much time to administer with limited resources and (b) when a product has just reached market, early negative reviews can have a very damaging effect on the adoption of a product. Sure, the startup could spend a lot of effort building and maintaining social reviews, but that effort is often far better spent elsewhere.

  • Pharmaceutical companies, legal services, and safety product companies often do not support reviews because they may create a regulatory issues or a negative legal fact pattern that can cause real problems (class action product lawsuits in the US often adduce negative product reviews as supporting evidence).

  • Industrial or commercial product vendors often choose not to include reviews because (a) their customers are reluctant to post reviews so it's hard to get decent coverage (0 reviews for 100+ products is worse than not having any reviews at all); (b) reviews can create moral hazards for customers (customers may use reviews to complain about a business, as a negotiating tactic in sales, as part of a warranty claim, etc).

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I like my nuclear reactor sample better ;D – Devin Mar 28 at 17:41
    
"social reviews can cause brand dillution" < IME, this is more indicative of poor brand strategy than the failure of the reviews feature. Reviews tend to highlight the brand that really is rather than the brand the product / marketing team wants. – plainclothes Mar 28 at 17:48
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@plainclothes. I disagree. Louis Vuitton and Moncler are fabulously valuable brands with profitability and longevity that is beyond question. For very good reasons, commercial reasons, reviews do not make sense to them. There are many industrial companies which do offer product reviews....but the decision must be evaluated on the basis of merits rather than a feature for feature's sake. – tohster Mar 28 at 17:53
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I appreciate that you pointed out two reasons for both safety product companies and industrial product vendors (this company is both) don't provide or have reviews. Those were both really helpful examples of why not to use them. This company sells over 100k products, and literally 15 of them have a review. The idea that 'if it's working, there's nothing to say' is one of the main reasons that I feel this company's products have so few reviews. Thank you for the feedback. – maigen Mar 28 at 18:20
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@MSkjelstad you're absolutely right about Grainger's implementation. They still struggle to get high engagement, but I suspect there are areas of the catalog where it matters more than others. Particularly where products are more commoditized and users are evaluating price vs value. – plainclothes Mar 28 at 18:34

Well, it's not "needed" by definition, this is something you'll need to research and eventually define.

As a general rule, the more users, the most chances you'll have they review your product. This way, if you're selling knickers on a site with a big customer base, these customers will probably interact with a review system (whether it's reviewing or reading the reviews to make a decision). If you're selling satellites or nuclear reactors, quite possibly you won't have any review at all!

The above example is an obvious exaggeration to make a point, which is: "Everything in UX depends on context, nothing exists isolated and no answer applies in 100% of cases"

So, if your product is massive, is better to have some reviews. You can display a "review" tab based on conditional (if $review >=1 --> display $review; else --> display nothing) if you want. You can use empty reviews to invite people to add their reviews. You can use many techniques to achieve this, which are out of the scope of the question and should be defined by you based on.... testing!. But remember: testing may also show you don't really need it, so be open to that result as well.

Besides the links (and answers on your links you mention) , you might be interested in this article by NNGroup: Ecommerce UX: 3 Design Trends to Follow and 3 to Avoid. You will see their recommendation is, not only to have reviews, but to make them more robust:

The Good: More Robust Reviews

Reviews help users understand more about the quality and use of the product. Reviews can answer questions or address concerns that users have about the product, because they’re written from the perspective of people who needed or wanted, and actually used the product. Offering reviews is helpful, but sites are increasingly taking reviews farther by offering additional information about the reviewer or by better summarizing the reviews.

Many sites are adding details to reviews: relevant details about the person writing the review, such as gender or age, or particular product criteria for evaluation, such as sizing or quality. Sites are recognizing top contributors and letting readers rate the value of the review. They are summarizing keywords and phrases used in positive and negative reviews, or even highlighting quotes from useful or descriptive reviews.

Such additional information, when done well, can help make it easier for users to get the full benefit of others’ opinions. Reviewer details let users find reviews that are pertinent to their situation or use, and review summaries help users wade through large numbers of reviews to see what common issues or strengths the product has.

Finally, some insight from Shopify: The Top UX Elements to Optimize Your Clients’ Product Page Design (you should read it all or just jump to "Reviews"):

Reviews

Customer reviews are used in two different ways by users. Firstly they are used to assess the quality of the product and of your service. Buyers are looking to be reassured that what you say on the rest of the page is true.

enter image description here

Secondly, buyers often use reviews to find out about features that might not be listed on the page.

If we take our shoe example, reviews might be read by users to check if the sizing of the shoes is accurate —e.g. if a size 5 of this shoe is larger or smaller than normal. If you are selling a bicycle on your product page, a review might detail the feel of the saddle. And if it's a washing machine, a review might highlight just how long the quick wash takes.

If you can build up a good set of reviews, they will add credibility to your product page and help sell the product on your behalf.

Finally, it’s important to not hide any negative reviews. If all the reviews are overly positive it leads users to question their accuracy and validity. Be sure to offer a link to negative reviews as these often highlight aspects such as fit, that in the long run might help reduce returns and refunds — a topic we’ll be discussing in a future post.

Conclusion tldr;

It's NOT NEEDED, but it's BETTER

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I agree with all of the examples you've posted and the reasons given for reviews and why they're good and necessary. In response to the comparison of knickers and nuclear reactors, I think this client's products fall somewhere in between. Knickers have a significantly higher replacement rate than do nuclear reactors. I replied to @tohster below with the example of 'if it ain't broke, why worry about it?' in my guess at why there are so few product reviews on the site full of industrial products with technical specs that aren't based on user preference (ie: this bolt didn't fit). – maigen Mar 28 at 18:26

It looks like you have the results of an unintentional bit of research. You have proof that a feature on your site isn't being used. Without an understanding of why people aren't using it, I'd consider its lack of use as a vote for removing the feature.

However, it would help a lot to understand why it's not being used. Maybe people are interested only in purchasing, and they're confident enough in the product. Maybe the feature isn't visible enough. Maybe the review process is too much effort. Additional research could tell you more.

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I'd tweak your logic a bit to say that you can't tally any votes against the feature until you understand the problem better. Based on what we know here, the specific evidence is entirely inconclusive. – plainclothes Mar 29 at 18:11
    
I think there's a combination of factors at work: - the target demographic is older and less web-savvy. There are still a ton of call-in orders rather than online ordering - the review process is definitely too much effort (considering the audience). You must be logged in, give a star rating, give a title, give a comment... - I'm definitely planning to put together some ideas for a 'yes/no' review process that can be gathered via email and do some A/B testing. – maigen Mar 29 at 20:23
    
Good analysis, @MSkjelstad. – Ken Mohnkern Mar 29 at 21:12

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