SEMA News - September 2009

By Joe Dysart

Turning Opinion Into Gold


Forrester has been closely tracking the rise of online customer
review domains.

With 73% of online retailers seeing customer reviews as a key priority in 2009, according to a recent Forrester report, it’s no wonder the cultivation of online reviews is becoming an art form. Retailers that have already seen online reviews translate into healthy sales increases are rolling out next-generation versions of their sites faster than you can say “thumbs up.”

And others are playing catch-up by creating instant review domains from syndicated customer review services. More often than not, these tricked-up domains are expertly designed to aggressively woo would-be reviewers, slice, dice and sort reviews for shoppers well acquainted with the medium and, in some cases, portray prolific reviewers as mini-celebrities.

“We expect online reviews to get more sophisticated in the coming years, giving rise to new features like social navigation, review syndication, personalized reviews and review-based quality metrics,” said Megan Burns, lead author of Forrester’s January 2008 The Design Guide for Online Customer Reviews."

Popular for the past few years, online review domains really began turning heads last year with the release of reports like that of Opinion Research in June 2008, which found that 83% of all online consumers confirmed that online evaluations and reviews influence their buying decisions. The company also found that 32% of the same sample group said that they had personally posted a product or service review online.

Not surprisingly, other studies have sparked similar respect. Fifty-five percent of retailers who sport customer reviews online rate the tactic as very effective, according to Sucharita Mulpuru, co-author of the December 2008 Forrester report, “Myths and Truths About Online Customer Reviews." And 73% of retailers say that customer review domains will be an “investment priority” for them during 2009.

Netshops, an online specialty retailer of home and lifestyle products, reported an increase in sales of 26% due to the addition of customer reviews,” Burns said. “Petco found that products that had been reviewed by customers had a return rate that was 20.4% lower than the return rate for products that hadn’t been reviewed. And, in a current study by ForeSee Results, customer satisfaction was 11% higher among visitors who said they had seen customer reviews on a site.”

For retailers looking to compete in the rush for online review gold, the path is clear: Upgrade or perish. Those preferring the former may want to take a gander at the following best-of-breed primer, based on insights from top customer review marketing experts:

Nail The Basics: Every customer review should at least feature common critical design elements, said Forrester’s Mulpuru, including date, headline, rating, reviewer, body and what Forrester calls “optional metadata,” or other readers’ comments on the review’s veracity, helpfulness and the like.

PowerReviews offers an Express version, designed for small businesses, which runs $80 per month.  

Aggressively Pursue Reviewers: It’s not enough to simply offer a link from a product page to a reviews domain anymore, Mulpuru said. “Tactics like adding a link to write a customer review in the order confirmation e-mail are the new standard.”

Offer Reviewer Guidance: You’ll accumulate more reviews more quickly by giving customers a better idea of what you’re looking for. eOpinions suggested answering questions such as “Why did you buy this product?” and “What do you hate?” Requesting that reviewers employ proper grammar, spelling and punctuation also helps. And review length guidelines— asks for 75-300 words—can also work wonders.

Post Details About Reviewers: Reviews pack more punch if customers know who’s doing the opining. Some sites, for example, require all reviewers to be “verified owners” of a product. And others request that their resident sages rate their expertise level. “ asks people who are reviewing a laptop to describe themselves and gives them the option to choose one of four predefined labels: ‘Technically challenged,’ ‘Tech-Savvy,’ ‘Avid Gamer’ or ‘Multimedia Professional,’” Burns said. “If those options don’t resonate, users can enter their own labels.”

Post Numerous Reviews For Each Product: Generally speaking, the more product reviews you run for an item, the more sales you’ll realize, according to the “Netshops Case Study” conducted by the University of Nebraska at Omaha. “More reviews deliver a broader perspective, balance out anomalies and increase the likelihood that shoppers will find a review from someone like them,” Burns said.

Make Reviews Sortable, Filterable And Searchable: Online shoppers greatly appreciate the ability to sort through reviews based on a product’s overall rating, pros and cons, best uses and similar variables, Burns said. Essentially, making review data malleable allows your customer to quickly sort through multiple reviews with questions such as “Why did you like this?” or “What’s tops in this product category?”

Summarize Reviews: Sophisticated review sites such as initially offer busy consumers a representative sampling of reviews. Amazon also enables shoppers to quickly read a few sentences from the best and worst reviews and check out a product’s overall star rating.

Scope Pre-Packaged Solutions: While it’s possible to create a reviews domain from scratch, plenty of service providers are available. BazaarVoice (), used by JC Whitney and others, skews toward higher-end, enterprise-level solutions, while PowerReviews offers both. The PowerReviews Express solution, for example—which you can see in action on eBay’s ProStores—runs $80 per month. “Over and over again, we hear from small businesses that online customer reviews not only help them attract and convert customers but also compete against larger, more well-known players, as customer reviews immediately establish credibility and trust,” said Andy Chen, PowerReviews CEO.

Consider Syndicated Reviews: Well-moneyed retailers can create instant review domains by subscribing to syndicated review services such as BazaarVoice’s Syndicate Voice. Essentially, the service instantly populates a retailer’s site with reviews gleaned from other online stores and manufacturers that have agreed to participate in the program.

Consider Sharing Reviews With Shopping Portals: PowerReviews aggregates reviews from participating retailers on its mega-shopping review site, Buzzillions. Of course, not all retailers like the idea of sharing content generated on their own site with portals. But PowerReviews gives its participating retailers an incentive: a link back from its Buzzillions site to the store site originating each review.

See Negative Reviews as a Customer-Relations Opportunity: Besides helping you separate the dogs from your winning products, negative customer reviews can help you showcase your superior customer service. Many retailers actively respond to negative reviews in their forums and publicize their attempts to make things right—earning approving nods from every corner, according to Mulpuru.

Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan, New York.
Voice: 646/233-4089

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