Posted June 25, 2007 2:14 pm by with 19 comments

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At Internet Retailer 2007, I was impressed with a presentation presented by Geoffrey Robertson, VP of eCommerce at JC Whitney. JC Whitney is the largest direct marketer of automotive aftermarket parts in the world, and is also one of the largest e-tailers.

Robertson discussed the recent addition of user reviews to their site and gave great information about the impact on sales. Here are the highlights:

1) User reviews have a huge impact on sales. JC Whitney reviews utilize a five star rating. Products that rated five stars saw a 16% increase in revenue, while products that rated four stars saw a 8% increase. However, products that rated three stars saw a 10% decrease in sales. Two stars resulted in a 23% decrease and one star resulted in a 31% decrease in revenue.

2) Companies need to aggressively solicit reviews. JC Whitney drove substantial reviews through an initial sweepstakes, and subsequent spikes in reviews were tied to post-sale emails. Do not expect reviews to come in without some effort.

3) User reviews do not necessarily improve customer loyalty. JC Whitney saw no correlation between the introduction of reviews and repeat business.

4) User reviews do not necessarily drive more organic search traffic. JC Whitney found no increase in natural search traffic because of their user reviews. (I would normally have been surprised to learn this, but at Vitabase, we have noticed the same thing.)

JC Whitney has greatly elevated the visibility of user reviews on its site, with a special focus on products that earn at least four stars. Interestingly, they feature the reviews all the way into the shopping cart.

  • “4) User reviews do not necessarily drive more organic search traffic. JC Whitney found no increase in natural search traffic because of their user reviews. (I would normally have been surprised to learn this, but at Vitabase, we have noticed the same thing.)”

    Maybe not directly, but the additional content to each page has to help with relevance.

  • Nice write up Greg, the impact of customer reviews seem to be a hotter topic of late. I’m surprised that the reviews don’t directly drive organic traffic, but I would think there are ancillary benefits. In addition to Jaan’s note, I would think the regualar addition of content (via reviews) to individual product pages would be beneficial to the ranking of the page itself.

  • Wow, it’s amazing that user reviews have the potential to harm your revenue more than they can help.

  • rick gregory


    Three questions…

    1) Did overall sales rise for them? Or did the same number of sales simply rebalance existing volume toward 4 and 5 star products?

    2) Did they require a minimum number of reviews for a rating to appear? I’d hate to have one or two reviews move sales dramatically, esp when the 3 star reviews have a significant negative effect.

    3) given that, did they feel that a 5 step scale was working or are the considering a half star increment, etc.

    4) and finally, how did they deal with issues of gaming the reviews? It must be tempting to spike your sales by putting a five star review up or conversely to hurt competitors by giving them a 2 star review. I’m not commenting on the ethics of this, but if these results are typical and they become widely known it’s going to be very tempting for people to game reviews.

  • Rick,

    They said that reviews improved sales, but did not give specifics. I do not remember them addressing your second issue or third issue. Regarding the gaming of reviews, they as well as other companies believe that quantity overcomes the gaming. Obviously, gaming reviews is a big problem that already exists, and is probably the biggest challenge that we face when using user generated content to increase sales.

    It is quite possible that gaming user generated content will become the new “spam” of the internet.

  • rick gregory


    thanks for the reply… during the dotcom era the company I was with bought a consumer review site and they also subscribed to the quantity overcomes gaming view… they just didn’t show scores until a product had five reviews…. they did other things, but that and watching IPs worked pretty well.

    Nice posts the last couple of weeks btw… thanks for diving into this issue.

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  • Greg, nice article.
    The third is an object to review.

  • Maybe I missed this but, was there a difference in new customer sales vs. repeat customer sales with the rating system?

  • Noah, JC Whitney did not give specifics about increase in revenue, but hinted that it did happen. Since they said the reviews made no impact on repeat business, that means they may have seen the growth with new customers.

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  • I wouldn’t have expected the decrease in sales for the three star reviews, at least not a 10% decrease. It’s interesting that a three star review which is essentially a non-positive and non-negative vote would have more effect than the positive four star review.

    It makes me wonder how a 10 star review would be received. Would the increase in sales begin with a rating of six or would it take an eight to generate an increase.

    On the other end would a three star system work better with both two and three ratings seeing an increase in sales and only a one star review lead to a decrease.

    I’d think there would be an ideal rating division to get the most sales increases.

  • Reviews really help breathe some life into a site. It makes it feel like you’re not the first person who’s ever been there. Reassurance is good.

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  • I would like to point out that a 3-star average review doesn’t necessarily mean a non-positive or non-negative vote. In many instances it means the users either loved the product or hated it.

    Here’s a short study discussing this topic on our web site:

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