December 29, 2006, 12:00 AM

Generating new sales-spiking buzz

(Page 3 of 4)

PowerReviews also differentiates its service by offering a proprietary review-tagging system that lets shoppers see the overall percentage of reviewers who cited products for particular attributes, such as that a digital camera had a poor liquid-crystal display feature or that a down comforter was warm and pretty, says Chen, a former manager of Yahoo Shopping who also has served as vice president of product development at web site developer and operator GSI Commerce Inc.

Although Bazaarvoice’s system isn’t set up to mine the text of reviews, at least not yet, it tags reviews to produce reports that let a retailer see how a product has scored for the particular attributes each reviewer is asked to rate, says Bazaarvoice’s Hurt, the founder and former CEO of web analytics company Coremetrics Inc. For pet toys, for instance, reviewers are asked to rate them from one to five paws for overall value, pet satisfaction, appearance and quality. “A retailer like Petco then can see all toys that received a five-out-of-five rating for pet satisfaction,” he says, adding that customer Petco.com has integrated this feature into its site search-and-navigation function from Endeca Technologies Inc. to let shoppers find similar information.

Bazaarvoice’s review staff also manually tags reviews for particular content, such as comments on particular attributes, and adds that data to its analytics program for producing reports on review content.

Among Bazaarvoice’s other offerings, Hurt highlights three in particular designed to capitalize on the popularity of user-generated reviews through multiple shopping and marketing channels: SearchVoice provides Bazaarvoice-hosted landing pages with review content organized in a way that helps increase rankings in Internet searches for reviews of particular products (PowerReviews offers a search engine optimization microsite service that also optimizes search landing pages). Bazaarvoice’s SyndicateVoice lets retailers distribute their review content to third-party shopping sites. And its FeedVoice provides a hosted service for distributing review content through RSS feeds.

Third-party integration
Differences aside, both PowerReviews and Bazaarvoice employ the strategy of using web-based integration technology to not only provide a laundry list of features and services but also to integrate with third-party partners for mixing review content with features such as site search and e-mail marketing.

Evogear’s Decker, for example, is looking forward to turning on a new feature from PowerReviews that provides a link between Evogear’s review content and a customer’s personal blog, providing more opportunities to increase search engine rankings while tying in to the increasingly important realm of social networking in e-commerce. The more that a retailer’s review content is linked to blogs and in social network-distributed e-mail, the more it can raise Internet search rankings as well as promote the retailer itself and its featured products.

Indeed, being able to weave consumer reviews into social networking and viral marketing efforts is one of the biggest potential benefits of reviews, many experts say. “What we’re excited about is that this captures the whole area of social networking,” HP’s Taylor says, adding that an E-mail A Friend feature could become a part of HP’s consumer reviews.

Which could be a good investment because some retailers combining e-mail and customer reviews already are realizing strong returns from e-mail marketing campaigns that send reviews directly to consumers.

Bass Pro Shops, which launched consumer reviews through Bazaarvoice early in 2006, ran a pre-Thanksgiving e-mail marketing campaign via CheetahMail featuring “top-rated gifts” according to its user-generated reviews. The e-mail campaign, providing links back to landing pages containing reviews along with product details, doubled the performance of other, simultaneous e-mail campaigns in the ability to bring customers to BassPro.com, Seifert says. Bass Pro Shops plans to run similar campaigns throughout the year, he adds.

The merchant also has realized a 59% increase in visitor-to-sales conversion rates among shoppers who visited its Top-Rated Products page, where shoppers spend 16% more per order than the average ticket, he adds.

Perfecting products
Retailers also are using information on product performance gathered in reviews to work with product designers and manufacturers to help improve products. “Reviews sound a nice alarm when a product slips through the quality control process,” says Overstock’s Hawkins. “Manufacturers love this information.”

Fair Indigo used information in customer reviews to modify a zippered silk blouse after seeing a complaint that the zipper didn’t fit right, CEO Bass says. It made the modification after receiving reviews that some sizing was off and determined changing the sizing would also fix the zipper.

Reviews also can call attention to problems with inexpensive products that customers might not bother to return. Bass Pro learned through reviews that a popular and inexpensive plastic holder used for securing a fishing rod to a boat often was breaking. “The problem with inexpensive items is that people don’t necessarily return them, so you don’t know people are having trouble with them and thus you don’t know why they’re not coming back to shop,” Seifert says.

Bass Pro has since worked with the manufacturer to strengthen the holder. “It’s now getting five-out-of-five ratings,” he says.

On a similar front, consumer reviews can serve as an effective tool for testing new products, says Don Zeidler, director of marketing at online plant seeds and gardening supplies retailer W. Atlee Burpee Co. “If we want to try some product that we think will be a hit, we put it online. If it gets rave reviews, it affirms what we’re doing,” he says.

And in yet another area, customer reviews are helping to integrate multiple channels. Fair Indigo, which specializes in selling “fair-trade” apparel under a system designed to assure fair prices and working conditions at the source factories, is letting visitors to its single store near Madison, Wis., scan a product label at a computer kiosk to call up a page on FairIndigo.com with customer reviews and other product details. The kiosk helps in-store as well online shoppers better understand the value of fair-trade goods, Bass says.

While customer reviews can serve several specific needs, perhaps their biggest value lies in the positive impact they can have on all marketing and merchandising efforts, says Decker of Evogear. “Reviews are a way to add value for customers,” he says. “But in the process of helping customers make purchasing decisions, the reviews can help marketing campaigns.”

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