SHANGHAI: Customer reviews are an important aspect of Chinese ecommerce platforms that foreign brands often overlook and fail to integrate into their digital presence, according to a leading consultancy.

Brand consultancy Labbrand noted that around eight in ten Chinese online consumers rated and reviewed products and checked out the online comments of others before making any purchases.

"Reviews are not an option," it stated. In its experience, reviews consistently ranked as "one of the most important sources of information in the customer journey and the most important feature that Chinese customers expect brands to provide". This held true whatever the sector, whatever the category.

One reason for this is that China is essentially a "low trust society" where consumers tend not to assume things like product quality and safety. "They are amongst the world's most skeptical and least loyal consumers," said Labbrand, "and require extensive proof of quality and reliability before any major purchase."

That, along with the fact that many brands in the Chinese market tend to be essentially commodity items, means that reviews can act as one of the few differentiators between brands.

Online shopping site Taobao was among the first to integrate user reviews into product search rankings and to feature them prominently on product pages, since when all Chinese e-commerce platforms have done so.

Labbrand also recommended profiling and ranking reviewers to make them more useful to readers. So, for example, "reviewers on a furniture ecommerce site can be profiled based on the size of their household and the type of apartment they inhabit".

It added that while Chinese consumers were rarely reticent in talking about their experiences of a brand, "a little nudging is sometimes needed". So rewards – loyalty points, discounts, access to exclusive branded content – could help ensure a steady stream of quality reviews.

Another way of building trust was to let users themselves upload pictures of the products they had bought, so reassuring potential buyers that product quality and appearance is consistent with the pictures featured on the website. "We believe that it should be standard for all brands looking to sell anything online in China," declared Labbrands.

Data sourced from Labbrands; additional content by Warc staff