July 16, 2009
Case Study

Boost Customer Reviews to Weather the Recession: 5 Steps to 17% Conversion Lift

SUMMARY: Customer reviews have been shown to lift site sales and conversions, but one eretailer has found that reviews can even lessen the impact of the recession on sales of brand name products.

See how a bathroom supply eretailer used a sweepstakes to encourage customers to submit their product reviews. The number of reviews surged to five-times their previous level, lifted site conversions 17%, and is helping the site fare better than its competition through the drab economy. Includes creative samples and the steps they took to get there.

Allan Dick, CMO, Vintage Tub and Bath, and Mike Deckman, Internet Marketing Manager, were hoping for more impact when they added customer reviews to their bathroom supply website in 2006.

"We were averaging about one, one and a half reviews a day. It was pretty poor," Deckman says.

However, the team saw that the distribution of those reviews was uneven: The volume of reviews for some items surged while others stayed flat. Looking closer, they saw that once a product had at least one review, it was much more likely to gain a second review, and was then even more likely to attract more.

Based on that observation, the team sought a way to encourage users to participate in the review program. They believed that if they could just "prime the pump," more customers would be inspired to add their own reviews.


The team built a simple, inexpensive campaign to incentivize recent customers to write product reviews. Later, they incorporated customers who had purchased as far back as two years prior. Little did they realize how important this campaign would become when the economy bottomed out about six weeks later.

Here are the five steps they took:

Step #1. Create a sweepstakes

The team built a ‘26 Weeks of Cash’ promotion, which gave $100 to a randomly selected customer who had submitted a review during the previous week. The campaign launched in mid June lasted for 26 weeks, into mid December.

Additional features included:

- Customers were entered into the drawing for every review they wrote.

- Every review that included a photo would receive two entries into the weekly drawing.

- Winners were drawn every Monday from the previous Monday-to-Sunday’s pool of reviews.

Tip: Get a lawyer

Contests and sweepstakes often have specific legal restrictions. The team had their lawyer review the sweepstakes’ rules and make a few small, necessary changes.

Step #2. Promote the sweepstakes

The team announced the sweepstakes and linked to a promotional webpage from several places on their website, including:
o Homepage
o Product category pages
o Customer account page
o Shopping cart page
o Company blog

- The promotional page included the full contest rules and guidelines (see creative samples, below). It also included an image of a woman in a vintage bathtub full of money.

- The page regularly updated with the name of last week’s winner, and visitors could click to see a complete list of past winners.

- The team also added a flyer into the products’ shipping containers to promote the campaign.

Step #3. Email recent and past customers

The team set up a triggered email to be sent to customers four weeks after their purchase.

- The email requested that customers return to the site to write a review of their purchase and encouraged them to upload photos.

- The email also had a banner ad that promoted the ‘26 Weeks of Cash’ campaign.

In August, about halfway through the campaign’s lifespan, the team started emailing customers who had purchased from the site up to two years prior. The email was nearly identical to the automated email for recent customers.

However, Deckman noted that including customers from prior years cannot be done with all types of products.

"Our customers are installing bathtubs and major appliances. They’re still using them after two years. They use them every single day, and by this time especially, they have an opinion."

The team was uncertain of how receptive its audience would be to the request. They started emailing small batches of customers and gradually scaled up the mailings’ volume over six weeks as they gained confidence.

Step #4. Manage the campaign

The team encountered a few surprising challenges as the sweepstakes ran its course. Among them:

- Inappropriate content

The sudden influx of reviews created a heavier burden for the site’s monitors. While the overwhelming majority of reviews were relevant and tasteful, some could not be published.

"The first image that we received was of an about six-foot-five man lying in his four-foot bath tub completely naked," Deckman says. "We laughed our tails off."

- Trouble reaching winners

At first, the team tried alerting winners by telephone, but were largely unsuccessful.

"Most people responded to emails; but if we couldn’t reach them, we simply mailed a check with an explanation,"Deckman says.

Step #5. Gather market data

In September 2008, as the national media was sounding the alarm on the economy, the team noticed a confusing trend.

"We noticed that sales of branded items were dropping at the same time that our conversion rate was increasing and all these reviews were going on our site," Dick says.

Having close relationships with many of their manufacturers, the team requested market sales data from three branded vendors.

The vendors responded by showing the team their aggregate sales data, minus Vintage Tub and Bath’s sales. The data did not identify any of the team’s competitors, but it did reveal a few overall market trends (see Results section, below).

This data, coupled with the team’s own site and sales metrics, helped them better understand the impact of the ‘26 Weeks of Cash’ campaign.


"We had a significant increase in conversion," Dick says. "We were very pleased with it."

- The number of product reviews increased about 400% over the course of the campaign.

- Sending the promotional email to past customers delivered a big boost. About 3% of the less-recent customers who received the email wrote a review.

Since these customers were likely to have owned and used their products for a long time, many wrote long, content-rich reviews. "The quality of those reviews was astounding," Deckman says.

- Conversions increased about 17% by the end of the campaign -- and have held steady at that position since. No other major changes to the website or review process were made during the course of the campaign.

- The campaign’s investment totaled $2,600 -- 26 weeks times $100 -- plus time spent.

Prompting customers to provide additional reviews also appears to have helped the team weather the recession better than their competitors.

Looking at the aggregate sales data provided by the three brand-name manufacturers, the team saw that even though their sales had dropped on these branded items, competitors’ sales plummeted -- sometimes by three times as much.

"The only difference between us that we could detect was the fact that we had surged on reviews a month prior to the recession hitting. And our competitors don’t have reviews on their sites," Dick says. "I think we can say with a pretty healthy degree of conviction that the product reviews on our site decreased the losses that we would have taken on branded items when the recession hit."

Useful links related to this article:

Creative Samples from Vintage Tub and Bath’s sweepstakes campaign

Blog post: 26 Weeks of Cash

Vintage Tub and Bath

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