The Next Generation
Executive Summary: Customer product reviews are becoming a fixture on retail and consumer brand websites, with over 80% of retailers planning to feature them by the end of 2010.The accelerated adoption of customer reviews indicates a more enlightened approach to handling negative comments—that is, occasional negative reviews do not hurt sales.
Reading product reviews is a growing part of consumers’ prepurchase search ritual. Over the past few years, consumers have increased the number of reviews they read and the overall time they spend reading them. Retailers should be aware that consumers trust reviews largely to corroborate other research they do. So it is important that merchants not view peer-to-peer marketing as a single-source solution.
There is no doubt that online customer reviews can raise sales-conversion rates, lower product returns and increase loyalty. But the most sophisticated brands that use reviews are
also deriving benefits from leveraging the content of reviews in marketing copy, integrating it with social networks, incorporating it into search campaigns and employing it to improve product design and innovation.
_ What role do customer product reviews play in consumer decision-making?
_ How are brands leveraging reviews to improve site usability?
_ How are brands using reviews in their sales and marketing channels?
_ How can reviews be integrated with social networks?
_ How are reviews used to improve business intelligence?
Retailers have become more sophisticated in how they use customer reviews.
While they used to be satisfied with using reviews to achieve higher conversions, fewer returns and greater customer loyalty, today’s retailers are accruing newbenefits from leveraging them across their organizations.They craft marketing messages that draw upon the language used in reviews; they repurpose reviews by featuring top-rated products andpositive comments in email promotions, print catalogs and in-store promotions; they ensure that their customer reviews show up in paid and natural search-engine listings.
To attract new customers, retailers are enabling customers to share their reviews with Facebook friends and Twitter followers.And, most important, retailers and brands are using reviews to improve marketing initiatives, product design, merchandise assortment, supply-chain processes and even financial controls.
Peers are an invaluable source of product advice. For many purchases, shoppers find the best advice comes not from family and close friends but from strangers who have similar
interests or who embody a lifestyle the shopper aspires to achieve. Take, for example, a person who wants to buy a treadmill to lose weight. Friends and family might not have expertise in evaluating this equipment but an exercise enthusiast might be a better source.
Customer reviews complement other information sources. Consumers rarely depend solely on customer reviews to make a purchase decision. Instead they use them to corroborate
information obtained from other sources such as expert opinions, video demonstrations, coupon sites and comparison-shopping engines. Many shoppers also consult product reviews before visiting a store to inspect an item in person.
According to the “2010 Edelman Trust Barometer,” the number of people who view their friends and peers as credible sources of information about a company dropped from 35% in 2009 to 27% in 2010.The opinions of friends and peers still matter, but marketers must realize that peer-to-peer marketing is a part of the solution, not the entire solution. Consumers are also looking to experts and company employees for purchase advice.
Sharing reviews with social network friends has intriguing potential. Most of the action has focused on enabling shoppers to push the reviews they write to their Facebook friends and Twitter followers. Shoppers benefit by sharing their product opinions with friends, and retailers gain by driving new customers to their site.
However, sharing in the reverse direction—pulling Facebook profile information onto a retail site—is the new frontier. Bringing the social experience onto a retail site makes the most sense because this is where people are in the act of shopping. On Facebook, where people gather mainly to communicate with friends and meet new people, commercial messages are easily ignored and can even cause resentment.
Amazon.com’s July 2010 beta launch with Facebook offers a glimpse of the potential of pulling Facebook member data into a retail site.On Amazon’s site, customers can log into their Facebook account to see recommendations for movies, musicand books, based on Facebook profiles for themselves and their friends. Similarly, some retailers have the tools to invite Facebook members to incorporate their profile data into the reviews they write.This would allow a shopper to follow the product recommendations of Facebook friends who are experts in particular categories such as hiking gear.