They say that when you buy from a small business, a real-life person does a happy dance. The same goes for when they receive their first online review—unless, of course, the review is negative. In this case, it’s hard for small business owners not to feel a little deflated.

Regardless of the review’s tone, business owners may be wondering: How important are online reviews to customers? Do they attract or deter other shoppers from buying products, services or software? To answer these questions and help businesses learn how to manage reviews, we surveyed 258 Australian online shoppers.

Online customer reviews

How important are online reviews to customers?

Australian shoppers are savvy, and it’s extremely unlikely they’ll make a purchase without doing their research first. According to our survey, 98% of Australians read online reviews before they make a purchase, and 94% believe them to be trustworthy.

By extension, Australian buyers have taken on a kind of communal ethos—84% expressed they’d left a review online at least once in their life. By sharing their experiences, shoppers hope to make the buying decisions of future customers a little easier. 

Who is most likely to leave a review?

Our research found that 56% of the respondents who had left a review online did so because the seller had prompted them to. This highlights a simple and manageable solution to engaging customers in the reviewing process: Ask them! 

There are plenty of free review management platforms that will help motivate loyal customers to share their experiences. Businesses that want to leverage this technology should take into account their typical customer demographic. However, it’s also useful to have a basic understanding of the average Australian customer reviewer too. 

Two-thirds of respondents who had left a review online have a job (full-time or part-time), and 78% of respondents who had left a review fit within the 20 to 40-year-old age category. 

Women were also twice as likely to leave reviews than men.

Which gender reviews more?
Which gender reviews more?

The research also revealed that Australians are foodies! Restaurants, bars, and cafes were the most reviewed category at 14%, followed by food and beverage products at 12%. Electronics and technology products (11%), clothing and accessories (11%) and education and training (11%) came in as the joint third most popular sectors to review. 

Most review categories in Australia.

Why do customers review?

Although some customers need a gentle nudge to leave business reviews, just under half of them happen without any kind of prompt. According to a global study by Trustpilot, the motive is usually to:

  1. Help other customers make a better purchase decision.
  2. Share an experience.
  3. Reward a company for good performance.

However, the research also showed that reviews can be a result of buyers acting on emotion, positively or negatively. If the customer has had a poor experience, they’re likely to vent their frustration—particularly if they feel personally wronged or mistreated. 

In the same vein, an exceptionally good experience can move a customer to share it with others. This happens more often for customer experiences with small or local businesses.

What does the perfect review look like?

The data revealed that Australian’s trust positive and negative feedback with equal importance. They also prefer a range of written content over a perfect star review. 

We asked respondents:

When browsing online, which of these two online customer reviews would make you more inclined to trust the product?

Product A: Five out of five-star rating with 5 written reviews

Product B: Four out of five-star rating with 15 written reviews.

More than three quarters (76%) of respondents said they would prefer product B. 

This result demonstrates that written comments can carry more weight than star ratings. But star ratings still serve an important purpose: They help businesses know if their previous customers were happy. Similarly, they help shoppers make a snap judgement on the quality of a product .

So, what do shoppers look for when checking reviews? 

What do shoppers look for in reviews?
What do shoppers look for in reviews?

According to our research, businesses should ensure their reviews platforms include:

  • At least 15 written reviews.
  • Fresh reviews, ideally submitted within the last three months.
  • An honest reflection of the brand.

In the eyes of a consumer, a perfect star rating feels superficial. No product, service or software is without flaws. With that in mind, businesses should never delete reviews that discuss the difficulties or challenges faced with the product, service or software.

Why should businesses care about reviews?

Together with the fact that 98% of Australian’s won’t buy a product, service or software without reading them, customer reviews also help to:

Improve website visibility

When your business consistently gets good feedback online from customers, it affects your ranking in search engines. As a result, you’ll sit higher up in the search results and more customers will discover you.

Convert browsers into customers

Shoppers trust the word of other shoppers almost as much as their peers. Reviews create a huge network of micro case studies for your business.

Create a community

Customers have the opportunity to engage with each other, and with you. Businesses can thank customers directly for their appreciation, or let them know they’re listening to their feedback. 

Drive conversations

Customer review pages are a fantastic source of information for social listening. The conversations not only provide key insights into the quality of your product, but they can also help shape the messages behind your future marketing campaigns.

How can businesses drive positive online reviews?

Here are a few ways you can create social proof of your product, service or software:

  1. Give them lots of different platforms: Don’t limit your customers. There are plenty of spaces for customers to give their opinion, including your social media sites, third-party review sites, and platforms like Google my Business.
  2. Ask them directly: Deploy an email campaign to your existing customers using email marketing software. Alternatively, automate the process using review management software.
  3. Stress the importance of reviews to staff: Customer service teams should always follow up a positive customer conversation with an invitation to review your product, service or software.
  4. Make it easy: Include a link on your website that brings customers directly to your most popular review platform. Why is this so important? According to Neil Patel, ‘if a customer has a good experience with your business, they aren’t likely to go out of their way and leave a review. Customers who have had a negative experience are likely to go out of their way to speak their mind.’ 

Bear in mind that while positive reviews are the goal, you don’t have complete control over the social perception of your business.

How should businesses respond to a negative review?

More than half of our survey respondents admitted they’ve published at least one negative review online. Yet, 58% of the respondents didn’t get a response from the seller, despite 82% of them stating they wanted one. 

In most cases, consumers simply wanted to help other shoppers with their purchasing decisions by sharing their own experience. Acknowledging a negative review is crucial because users want to know that the problem has been heard. It also helps to rebuild broken trust. But for a small business, who has little to no staff dedicated to this area, it can be tricky to know where to start when it comes to formulating a response.

According to the respondents, Australians most want businesses to:

  • Offer a refund (90%)
  • Correct the issue (88%)
  • Write like a human, not a corporation (85%)
  • Take accountability (85%)
  • Provide an explanation (81%).

Bad reviews can happen regardless of the quality of product, software or service. No matter how undeserved they feel may, businesses shouldn’t shy away from the concept of negative reviews. 

Whose opinion counts?

As well as customer reviews, we asked respondents to give their opinions on other sources of information. Respondents said their peers are the most trustworthy, while influencers were the least. The media and journalists were also listed as reliable sources.

Trust has a significant impact on the purchase decision journey, so businesses must pay attention to the information that helps to convert shoppers into loyal, happy customers. 

Would you like to learn how to leverage reviews to boost SEO and PPC performance? Discover how Capterra connects with software buyers using customer reviews today.

The methodology of the study

To collect the data for this article, we conducted an online survey. The answers come from a sample of Australian online shoppers. The survey includes the answers of 258 participants who qualified to complete the survey through screening questions (out of a total of 300 participants) in January 2020.