Above-the-line (ATL) advertising refers to more conventional media such as television, radio, print and billboards, as opposed to digital channels such as websites, online display advertising and email.
The research seeks to understand the importance of ratings and reviews in consumer decision-making at a more general level, as well as the value of using specific Trustpilot assets, such as the logo, stars, ‘TrustScore’ (Trustpilot's proprietary rating) and reviews.
The key findings of the research are as follows:
Ratings and reviews are the most important sources of information in the consumer buying decision- making process
A survey of 2,000 UK consumers carried out by London Research has found that ratings and reviews are the most important sources of information for consumers when they are in buying mode, ahead of a range of other digital and offline touchpoints including search engines, ecommerce platforms and television advertising. More than three-quarters of UK consumers (77%) regard customer reviews as ‘very important’ or ‘important’, while 74% attach the same level of importance to consumer ratings (i.e. scores or stars). Consumers are most likely to regard ratings and reviews as ‘very important’ in the context of buying holidays / vacations (43%), followed by financial services products and retail products (both 41%), and lastly property (35%).
Trustpilot increases consumer trust and the likelihood that people will buy from a brand
The consumer survey shows a high level of awareness of Trustpilot in the UK market, with more than half of consumers (58%) aware of Trustpilot ratings and reviews. More than a third (36%) said they had written a Trustpilot review. More than three-quarters (76%) of Trustpilot-aware consumers said they agreed that a good Trustpilot score makes them more likely to trust a brand, while 72% said that a good score makes them more likely to buy from a brand. The Trustpilot logo is the most important driver of likelihood to buy, mainly via its impact on trust.
Many brands are missing an opportunity to harness Trustpilot in their above-the-line advertising
A separate London Research survey of advertisers within Trustpilot’s database found that only 8% of businesses are harnessing Trustpilot for their above- the-line advertising, compared to 84% who are using it on their websites. The overwhelming majority of advertisers (91%) who are either using or considering the use of Trustpilot in ATL advertising activity regard trust-building as a ‘major benefit’, while a further 7% see it as a ‘minor benefit’. The second most important business benefit cited by advertisers is the creation of a more customer-friendly brand, cited as a major benefit by just under three-quarters (73%) of business respondents.
1. The importance of ratings and reviews in the customer journey
In a world of declining trust in advertising, ratings and reviews have emerged as the most important sources of information in the consumer decision- making process, ahead of other touchpoints such as social media and search engines. Ratings and reviews are important drivers of trust which, in turn, drives consumer propensity to purchase. This section also looks at the relative importance of ratings and reviews in different sectors, including travel and retail.
Trust in online advertising has declined in recent years, with growing numbers of consumers becoming intolerant of ads due to disruptive experiences and an avalanche of often irrelevant information. It was estimated last year that 11% of the global internet population were using ad blockers1. Furthermore, international research2 published by Rakuten Marketing last year found that the majority of consumers associate online ads with fake news, a phenomenon that has done much to damage the credibility of information sourced online.
According to the Rakuten survey of 2,500 consumers in the United States, United Kingdom, France, German and Australia, 80% of respondents said that online advertising had not improved over time, on any device or platform. The display advertising industry has also been tarnished by ad fraud, and its association with inappropriate and sometimes disturbing content, which can be damaging to a brand’s reputation. Brands including Adidas, Mars and Diageo withdrew campaigns from YouTube last year after their adverts featured on exploitative videos. A study by London Research3 published in January 2018 found that 79% of senior executives with responsibility for ad buying were worried about levels of transparency in programmatic display advertising (79%).
It is against this backdrop of increased cynicism that customer ratings and reviews have become an increasingly vital source of information for consumers when they are interested in purchasing a product or service from a brand. Retailers and other brands have become mindful that shoppers can easily and quickly compare brands by cost, quality and customer experience, making it more difficult to stand out from the online competition.
As consumers, we often want reassurance that we are buying from a trusted brand and also that the product or service has been well received by others. If ratings and reviews are positive – and, crucially, also perceived to be authentic – then this kind of social proof can often be the tipping point for making a decision to purchase something. Research by BrightLocal4 has shown that 91% percent of people read online reviews, and 84% trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.
With this context in mind, a key objective of this proprietary research was to explore in more detail the relative importance of consumer-generated ratings and reviews in the purchase decision-making process, compared to other digital and traditional media touchpoints.
Customer reviews and consumer ratings emerge as the most important sources of information when consumers are interested in buying something (Figure 1). More than three-quarters of UK consumers (77%) regard customer reviews as ‘very important’ or ‘important’, while 74% attach the same level of importance to consumer ratings (i.e. scores or stars).
Over the last few years the customer journey has become increasingly complex and non-linear, with consumers often engaging with multiple online and offline touchpoints - often across multiple devices - before they make a decision to purchase something.
After consumer ratings and reviews, the next most important touchpoints in influencing a buying decision are search engines (e.g. Google or Bing), company websites and more generic ecommerce sites such as Amazon, which consumers routinely visit for information in the build-up to purchasing something. Separate research by BloomReach5 shows that consumers in the US are actually now more likely to start their product searches on Amazon than on Google.
It is important to note that not all these touchpoints are mutually exclusive. Ratings and reviews can themselves feature across other touchpoints, such as search engine results pages, company websites, within email campaigns, and on sites such as Amazon which sell products from multiple brands. In an offline context, the main focus of this research, they can also feature across offline channels such as direct mail and TV advertising.
This study finds that direct mail, social media, TV advertising and online display advertisements are the least important touchpoints when consumers are interested in buying something. That is not to say that they are not important for building brand awareness, with seeds of interest in products and services often planted sub-consciously. But there is no escaping the fact that consumers regard these channels as less influential when they are on the cusp of making a purchasing decision.
Figure 2 shows the different touchpoints mapped against both their perceived importance (i.e. based on the percentage of respondents regarding them as ‘very important’) and their impact on propensity to buy. The latter is determined through multivariate regression modelling, with the scores on the x-axis representing rescaled weightings for each touchpoint based on answers to a question relating to their likelihood to buy. As the chart suggests, marketers should be paying particularly close attention to promoting the touchpoints in the top-right quadrant, namely ratings and reviews, when it comes specifically to driving purchase intent.
While other touchpoints are not as strongly correlated to propensity to purchase, they can of course play an important ‘upper-funnel’ role in the customer decision-making journey, for example by raising awareness in brands and their products and services, most obviously in the case of brand advertising conducted through TV and online display media.
When it comes to influencing their decision to buy something, two of the least important channels from the perspective of consumers are direct mail and TV advertising. The statistical analysis confirms that they have relatively little impact on likelihood to purchase, and this reflects their diminishing importance as lower-funnel drivers of purchase in the digital age.
After ratings and reviews, search engines and social media are found to be the next most important drivers of purchase. Consumers are much more likely to acknowledge the importance of search over social because the former typically features much more prominently when consumers are in buying mode.
Research by marketing technology company Pardot has found that 70% of buyers return to Google at least 2-3 times during the course of their research, to get deeper and more detailed information6. According to a consumer study by Forrester, 74% of consumers use search engines for consideration and purchasing.
The same Forrester7 research found that social, while it doesn’t match search for volume, does provide impactful and trusted information to customers while they are engaged in shopping behaviour. Their study showed that 43% of consumers were influenced by a company’s social post when shopping, and 30% reported that they were influenced by paid social ads.
Based on our research, marketers seeking to convert consumers into customers should focus on touchpoints in the ‘promote’ top-right quadrant shown on Figure 2, namely ratings and reviews. Those touchpoints in the left-hand quadrants should be maintained and monitored. Advertisers should strive to understand how different touchpoints and channels work together to build trust and positively impact the decision-making process during the customer journey, and then invest accordingly.
Companies should also consider how they can do more to harness the power of ratings and reviews across other touchpoints, including offline touchpoints such as television and direct mail. As we shall see later in the report, relatively few companies are using Trustpilot ratings and reviews in their above- the-line advertising or direct marketing.
Comparing the importance of ratings and reviews for different types of purchase
Figure 3 shows the relative importance of ratings and reviews across four particular categories. Consumers are most likely to regard ratings and reviews as‘very important’ in the context of buying holidays / vacations (43%), followed by financial services products and retail products (both 41%), and lastly property (35%).
The value of positive reviews for travel companies such as hotels and travel firms cannot be overstated, given the emotional importance consumers attribute to booking a holiday they can look forward to, and the amount of money often associated with this type of purchase.
Separate Trustpilot research8 found that 64% of consumers consider a company’s reviews before booking a vacation with them, and over one- third (39%) say that they consider those online reviews more powerful when booking a trip than a recommendation from a friend or family member.
As with booking travel, the purchase of financial products and services can also represent a significant financial outlay, also commonly resulting in thorough due diligence for consumers before they take out a particular product. As can be seen in the chart, in the context of finance-related products, almost three- quarters (74%) of consumers describe good reviews as at least ‘important’.
An even greater proportion of consumers (78%) regard good customer ratings and reviews as being very important or important in the purchase of retail products, and (as we shall see later in the report) the ubiquity of reviews written and read by consumers provides further evidence of their influence.
While consumers also value reviews in the context of property, the customer experience typically relates to estate agents or online property websites, rather than the actual properties being purchased themselves. That probably explains why this sector lags slightly behind the others when it comes to the influence of positive reviews, though two- thirds (66%) of consumers still regard them as at least important when considering property-related purchase decisions.
It is important to note that ratings and reviews are not restricted to these categories, with consumers turning to reviews for a range of products and services, covering everything from buying a car to booking a plumber or choosing a doctor.
2. Consumer awareness of Trustpilot and brand assets
Trustpilot has significant recognition in the marketplace among consumers. A survey carried out by London Research shows a high level of awareness of Trustpilot in the UK market, with more than half of consumers surveyed aware of Trustpilot ratings and reviews. More than three-quarters (76%) of Trustpilot-aware consumers said they agreed that a good Trustpilot score makes them more likely to trust a brand, while 72% said that a good score makes them more likely to buy from a brand. In the context of various Trustpilot assets, the logo is the most important driver of likelihood to buy, mainly via its impact on trust.
Trustpilot, founded in Denmark more than ten years ago, has emerged as a leading ratings and reviews platform with significant traction and recognition in the marketplace among both consumers and businesses. Consumers leave more than one million reviews on the platform each month, and the site is now ranked by Alexa as a top-100 UK website. There are now more than 40 million online Trustpilot reviews, with more than 200,000 businesses reviewed.
The consumer survey carried out by London Research shows a very high level of awareness of Trustpilot in the UK market, with 58% of 2,000 consumers surveyed in January this year saying that they are aware of Trustpilot ratings and reviews.
As well as exploring the relative importance of different touchpoints during the customer journey, the consumer survey also contained questions specifically about Trustpilot. Of those UK consumers who said they were aware of Trustpilot, more than three-quarters (76%) said they either ‘strongly’ (28%) or ‘somewhat’ (48%) agreed that a good Trustpilot score makes them ‘more likely to trust a brand’ (Figure 5).
Furthermore, 72% of Trustpilot-aware consumers said that a good Trustpilot score makes them ‘more likely to buy from a brand’, including 28% who strongly agreed and 44% who somewhat agreed.
Just as consumers are encouraged to buy from brands with good ratings, the reverse is also true. Consumers are discouraged by poor reviews. The survey also revealed that the majority of Trustpilot- aware consumers (54%) are unlikely to buy from a brand with a poor Trustpilot rating, defined as 0, 1 or 2 stars. Four in 10 consumers (40%) said they were ‘not very likely’ to buy something from a brand with a low rating, and 14% said that they were ‘not at all likely’ to do so (Figure 7).
The reality is that consumers will still buy products with poor ratings. For example, consumers will see that negative reviews may relate to specific features, services or types of design or product functionality which don’t matter to them.
However, as the research shows, poor ratings can significantly reduce confidence in the likelihood that consumers will make a purchase, especially if there are products and services available from other companies with better ratings.
The popularity of Trustpilot reviews is further highlighted by the proportion of consumers who have written a Trustpilot review. More than a third (36%) of Trustpilot-aware consumers said they had done so.
Trustpilot brand assets and consumer recall
The final element of the consumer survey was aimed at establishing the level of recall for different Trustpilot brand assets in adverts, including the logo, stars, reviews and the Trustpilot score (TrustScore).
For the uninitiated, consumers can leave a Trustpilot star rating from one to five stars. As explained earlier, the TrustScore (out of 10) is a related metric which takes into account star ratings, but also includes other factors such as the number and age of reviews. There is more information about TrustScore and its formula on the Trustpilot website.
As shown in Figure 9, the most recognised Trustpilot brand asset is the stars, cited by 42% of Trustpilot-aware consumers as something they can recall seeing in adverts featuring Trustpilot, closely followed by the Trustpilot logo (40%). A third of consumers (33%) recall seeing reviews in adverts, while just under a third (30%) remember seeing the TrustScore.
Trustpilot drives trust, which increases propensity to buy
On behalf of London Research, Bottom Line Analytics carried out structural equation modelling to understand in more detail the direct and indirect impact that different visual elements of the Trustpilot brand have on consumer trust for brands and propensity to buy.
A key finding of this research is that the Trustpilot logo and other brand assets drive both trust and also the likelihood that they will purchase something. Our statistical analysis found that the Trustpilot logo is the most prominent driver of trust, and closely linked to Trustpilot stars which are more of an ‘enabler’ than an actual driver of trust. The second biggest driver of trust is reviews from customers.
With regards to purchase intent, trust is by far the largest driver. The Trustpilot logo and other components of authenticity are relatively less important in driving purchases, but are important antecedents of trust, and, by extension, likelihood to buy.
Keeping in mind their importance for driving trust, advertisers should experiment with different combinations of Trustpilot visual assets, and also look to include reviews where the nature of the creative assets allows.
Figure 11 shows as rescaled percentages the impact of each Trustpilot asset on propensity to buy, an action which ultimately all companies harnessing Trustpilot assets are attempting to drive. The left-hand side of the chart shows the combined percentages for both direct and indirect impact, while the right-hand side of the chart shows the breakdown for ‘indirect’ and ‘direct’ impact.
To reiterate, the Trustpilot logo is the most important driver of likelihood to buy, but this is mainly via its impact on trust. After doing its job of driving trust, it has relatively little impact in the subsequent purchasing decision. At the buying stage, although it was seen that ‘trust’ itself is far more important as a driver, the TrustScore and stars assume greater significance, while the reviews (like the logo) assume less significance.
The survey also found that consumers remember seeing the Trustpilot logo and stars in advertising, with television emerging as the channel where consumers have by far the greatest recall (27%), versus 14% for print in second place, and outdoor advertising (13%), in third place.
In the next section of the report, these findings will be compared with the advertisers’ view on which offline channels are being used to feature Trustpilot.
3. The business perspective-advertisers missing the opportunity to build a trusted and customer-centric brand
London Research also carried out a survey of advertisers to understand the extent to which they are using Trustpilot in their above-the-line marketing activities, and what they perceive as the benefits of embracing this reviews platform. Many companies are missing out on an opportunity, with only a small minority of businesses surveyed using Trustpilot in their ATL campaigns. The advertisers surveyed regard the ability to build trust as the most significant benefit of using Trustpilot in their advertising. This section also includes viewpoints from some of the brands using Trustpilot in their advertising, including Glasses Direct, Lending Stream and PlantShed.
As well as exploring consumer attitudes to ratings and reviews and, more specifically, Trustpilot, London Research also sought to understand how advertisers are harnessing Trustpilot in their above-the-line marketing activities, and the benefits of embracing this reviews platform.
It is clear from Figure 13 that many companies are missing out on the significant opportunities afforded by the use of Trustpilot in above-the-line advertising. Only 8% of those businesses surveyed - predominantly advertisers using Trustpilot - are using Trustpilot in their ATL campaigns, compared to 84% who are using it on their websites.
The majority of companies surveyed are also using Trustpilot on social channels (56%) and in email marketing campaigns (54%). When it comes to offline marketing, advertisers are much more likely to be using Trustpilot in direct mail, with a quarter (25%) saying they are doing this and another quarter (25%) considering this.
Only 14% of consumers recalling seeing Trustpilot in print marketing (direct mail), compared to 27% who recall seeing Trustpilot in television adverts. Although 16% of advertisers are considering the use of Trustpilot in ATL activity, the high percentage of advertisers saying they have no plans to use Trustpilot in this way (76%) suggests a lack of awareness about the opportunities.
Why advertisers aren’t using Trustpilot in this way
A third of advertisers (33%) say they simply ‘haven’t got around to it yet’, while around a quarter (24%) say they ‘haven’t previously considered it’. Interestingly, relatively few advertisers say that they are not using Trustpilot in their ATL advertising because their TrustScore isn’t high enough (only 7%), suggesting that this isn’t a significant barrier for the vast majority of businesses. Similarly, only 7% of businesses point to a lack of awareness of Trustpilot in their markets.
It should be noted that the vast majority of those saying ‘other’ (31%) say that they are not doing above-the-line advertising, with their focus purely on digital marketing activity.
Figure 15 shows in what types of above-the-line advertising businesses have included Trustpilot, though a small sample size of 29 companies for those using Trustpilot in ATL marketing campaigns should be noted.
There is more emphasis on print (60%) and outdoor (44%), than there is on television (36%), a channel where there is more than twice as much consumer recall than there is for print and outdoor (27% for TV compared to 14% for print and 13% for outdoor advertising).
The use of Trustpilot in radio advertising or podcasts (12%) is small compared to other offline channels, aligning with lower consumer recall for radio or podcasts (9%).
The vast majority of advertisers leveraging Trustpilot are using the Trustpilot logo and stars (92%). More than half (60%) say they have used their TrustScore, while 48% say they have included excerpts from Trustpilot reviews in their ATL campaigns.
This is more or less in kilter with the consumer recall shown in Figure 9, though consumers are marginally more likely to remember seeing reviews (33%) than the TrustScore (30%).
When it comes to including reviews in their adverts, for some brands there may an issue of over-cluttering their creative where ‘real estate’ is at a premium. As was seen in Figure 15, 13% of advertisers not using Trustpilot in their ATL advertising said the primary reason was that they didn’t want to dilute their creative or clutter their adverts.
Voice of the advertiser – the benefits of using Trustpilot
Trustpilot ratings and reviews are harnessed by many companies across a range of different business sectors for a variety of reasons, ranging from the desire to create a more customer-friendly brand through to more immediately commercial outcomes such as increased revenue from both online and offline sales.
The importance of ratings and reviews in helping to build trust among consumers is underscored by Figure 17. This shows the relative importance of a number of business benefits for companies in the context of their offline marketing activities. More than nine out of ten advertisers (91%) either using or considering the use of Trustpilot in ATL marketing activity regard trust-building as a ‘major benefit’, while a further 7% see it as a ‘minor benefit’.
A good example of a brand relying heavily on consumer trust is MyOptique Group, which is the company behind Glasses Direct, a leading retailer of glasses online. With a 9.4 TrustScore based on more than 65,000 reviews for Glasses Direct, the company regards this validation as particularly important due to the relatively small proportion of prescription glasses purchased online compared to many other types of product.
According to Jonathan Zetlaoui, Head of Customer Experience and Analytics, MyOptique Group, building trust is critical to business success: “Trust is key to MyOptique Group, especially for prescription glasses. Indeed, they are both a fashion accessory one wears every day, and a medical device. Emphasising our USPs - like free Home Trials and free returns - is important to build that trust; so are customer reviews. Ultimately, our customers are our best advocates.”
The second most important business benefit through the lens of advertisers is the creation of a more customer-friendly brand, cited as a major benefit by just under three-quarters (73%) of business respondents. For many companies aspiring to become more customer-centric, ratings on trusted third-party sites such as Trustpilot can become a key performance indicator for assessing whether they are providing a better customer experience.
Lending Stream, part of GAIN Credit (formerly known as Global Analytics), is another good case study of a brand that has sought to differentiate itself through great CX. They are currently using Trustpilot in television advertising and direct marketing as part of a rebranding exercise which is aimed at cementing the brand’s position as a customer experience leader in the loans sector.
Very much a data-driven organisation, the company has metrics and remuneration schemes based on its Trustpilot score which has become a core business goal. Alex Woodcraft, GAIN Credit’s Head of Customer and Market Insight, explains: “Our use of Trustpilot in our advertising is about building trust with the consumer - a high TrustScore shows that you will get a good user experience ... We will be using Trustpilot as a cornerstone in our ‘customer delight’ activities.”
PlantShed is another company that has embedded Trustpilot at the heart of its culture; According to the US-based florist’s Ecommerce Director, Ilias Iliadis, the authenticity of Trustpilot reviews is crucial. He told London Research: “Trustpilot has helped a lot with our online strategy because of the credibility it gives. We know that people feel more comfortable because Trustpilot is a well-known brand for reviews... It’s difficult to get good reviews on Trustpilot because they are real. Customers can see the difference.”
According to some brands interviewed for this report, Trustpilot has gone from being a differentiator used by disruptive brands with a customer-centric focus, to more of a ‘hygiene factor’ embraced by brands that recognise that a healthy Trustpilot score and critical mass of positive reviews are a necessity rather than a ‘nice-to-have’.
The impact on harder metrics
While brand and customer experience objectives are more top-of-mind for businesses considering the benefits of using Trustpilot in above-the-line advertising, advertisers are also very aware of the positive impact of the association on harder commercial metrics.
Evidence of the upside can be challenging for most companies to quantify with hard data, due to the difficulty isolating the specific impact of Trustpilot as part of their above-the-line advertising campaigns. Many advertisers have put their faith in Trustpilot because of qualitative input they receive from their customers about the importance of ratings and reviews, and also because of the upside they have seen when they use Trustpilot on digital campaigns, which are typically easier to measure, test and optimise.
Despite the challenges associated with quantifying the benefit, three in five advertisers surveyed (60%) point to improved online conversions as a major benefit, while more than a third report an improvement in offline conversions (36%) as significant upside.
In the case of digital conversions, this shows the extent to which brands are taking a holistic approach to their advertising campaigns, with the use of offline advertising to promote ecommerce now very much part of a mainstream approach to marketing. The ability for brands to measure the uptick in online activity - for example the immediate impact of a TV ad on search and website activity - has accelerated this process.
Advertisers also recognise that the use of Trustpilot in both online and offline marketing can help them to integrate their digital and traditional activities, with 42% citing this as a major benefit, and a further 43% saying it is a minor benefit.
This section summarises the key findings of the report, and also contains some recommendations for advertisers about the implications of the research.
There is a significant opportunity for many businesses to harness the power of ratings and reviews in their above-the-line advertising campaigns, to complement how many businesses are already embracing this approach on their websites and through other digital channels such as email, search and social.
This research highlights the importance of ratings and reviews for building trust during the customer journey, and for increasing consumers’ propensity to buy. Among UK consumers, ratings and reviews are shown to be easily the most influential touchpoint in influencing their purchase decisions, ahead of a range of both digital and offline channels.
Consumer awareness of Trustpilot ratings and reviews stands at 58%. More than three-quarters (76%) of Trustpilot-aware consumers agreed that a good Trustpilot score makes them more likely to trust a brand, while 72% said that a good Trustpilot score makes them more likely to buy from a brand. Despite the importance that most consumers attach to positive ratings and reviews, high levels of Trustpilot awareness, and good levels of recall for seeing Trustpilot brand assets in adverts (particularly on television), relatively few businesses are currently leveraging Trustpilot in their above-the-line advertising campaigns.
This is surprising as companies recognise the benefits of using ratings and reviews platforms to help improve trust, and to help cement the idea that they are customer-friendly.
Advertisers should seize the chance to mitigate rising scepticism for advertising by including consumer ratings which give their adverts more authenticity.
By including ratings and reviews in their digital and offline marketing activities, advertisers can present a more integrated and customer-friendly impression of their brands, which is ultimately likely to make them more commercial successful.
London Research was commissioned by Trustpilot to carry out a survey of 2,000 nationally representative UK consumers in January 2018. The survey included questions about sources of information and touchpoints used during the buying process, and also specifically about Trustpilot. Of those people surveyed, using a Toluna consumer research panel, 1,162 (58%) said they were aware of Trustpilot ratings and reviews.
Further statistical analysis was carried out on the consumer survey data by London Research partner Bottom-Line Analytics, in order to gain a deeper understanding of the relative importance of different touchpoints in the customer journey, and also to understand the role of different Trustpilot brand assets - such as the logo and stars - in driving brand trust and propensity to purchase.
Additionally, an online survey of more than 300 businesses was carried out in December 2017 and January 2018. The survey was fielded to companies within Trustpilot’s international database of advertisers, predominantly including businesses already working with Trustpilot. Businesses using Trustpilot in above-the-line advertising were asked further questions.
Senior executives at a number of brands were also interviewed in order to understand in more detail how they leverage the Trustpilot brand and assets in their above-the-line marketing activities.