History of Online Reviews

Topic: History of Online Reviews

Blog Feature 1

Let’s Talk About Developing Trust

A Brief History of Online Reviews

It’s no secret: over the last couple of decades, the internet has drastically changed the way we make purchase decisions. Less and less often do we need to travel across town and walk through a big box store to find what we’re looking for. It’s far more convenient to visit an online retailer like Amazon, click a button, and have a package show up on our doorstep two days later. When we do step foot in a brick-and-mortar store these days, we use our smartphones to compare prices and product reviews in the moment. And only when the star ratings, customer feedback, and our cost criteria finally align do we make the purchase.

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How We Got Here

So how exactly did this new world of online reviews get rolling? Let’s go back to 1999, when three main players entered the arena: RateItAll.com, Deja.com, and Epinions.com. Today these sites are essentially defunct, but back in the day, they generated over a million dollars worth of reviews in their first year alone. Needless to say, they were on to something.

At that time though, it wasn’t uncommon for businesses to go online and either bash their competitors or sing the praises of a friend or buddy’s company. “If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours,” was the mentality. Reviews were used by businesses as a marketing tool and an instrument designed to hurt their competition. There weren’t a lot of checks and balances (read: reviews based on factual truth), which isn’t that surprising. Anytime there's something of value, there will be those who want to game the system.

Fast-forward a few years, and here comes Amazon.com, changing the way the game is played forever.

AdobeStock_218133003The Evolution of Online Reviews: Amazon’s Story

Today, fifty-five percent of shoppers start their buying research on Amazon and almost a quarter will consult Amazon reviews even when they're physically standing inside a Best Buy or Home Depot.

Why? It comes down to cost, credibility, and reputation. Amazon’s reviews rank highly in part because they’re considered the most trustworthy. And how they got here is no accident.

As we discussed earlier, fake reviews are more common than people think. In fact, Yelp itself admits that about 25% of the reviews it receives are fake and never published.

But Amazon has gone to great lengths to root out fake reviews, launching over 1,000 lawsuits against those who post them. Then, they developed an algorithm that ranks and gives more weight to reviews written by people who actually bought the product. This results in reviews that are more authentic and helpful than the average site’s.

Furthermore, Amazon says it has always banned paid reviews. They recently began banning all incentivized reviews (posted in exchange for free or discounted products), with two exceptions: book reviewers, who often get free books for reviews, and those who or are part of Amazon's Vine program.

The concept behind Vine is simple: shoppers who consistently post a high number of helpful reviews are invited by Amazon to join the program. If they do, they’re sent free products to review, though they're not obligated to review the product or give a glowing recommendation. Companies pay Amazon to have their products featured in the Vine program. Amazon then identifies participation with a badge on the product page.

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Now, What Do All These Reviews Have In Common?

Quite simply, the characteristic all online reviews share is that they are seen by eyes of your customer. That is to say, the collected reviews comprise the voice of your business and your brand’s reputation.

We know we speak for many consumers—not just ourselves—when we admit to reading several online reviews before deciding who to do business with, what hotel to book, or which product to buy. And when we see that a business is responding to the reviews left by people like us, even the negative ones, in a positive and meaningful way, we inherently trust that brand or company more.

The power of online reviews won’t be diminishing anytime soon. And this is very good news. Even if your company’s current online reputation is less-than-pristine.

They say it costs 25 times more to convert a new customer than it does to salvage an existing customer or client relationship. It’s about building trust. One of the quickest ways to build trust is admitting fault and taking ownership of mistakes. When you respond to online reviews in an honest and sincere way, you not only right past wrongs, but boost your reputation and drive up revenue.  

And that’s a win for everyone.

Want help managing your business or brand’s online reputation?

We can help! Reputation Studio is an Enterprise Online Reputation Management (ORM) platform that consolidates customer reviews into one dashboard, automates the routing of reviews to teams, posts responses in real-time, and applies AI to provide actionable insights and track the sentiment and intent.

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History of Online Reviews