July 2, 2010, 5:11 PM

Promises kept and broken

Search engines make it easier for disappointed shoppers to share their fury.

The shoes vexed her.

As my fiancée and I prepared for our low-key wedding this year, we faced hardly any headaches selecting our venue, sending out the invitations and choosing all the nice sentimental words for the ceremony. When possible we purchased our needed materials online; my wife, for instance, ordered hundreds of vintage buttons from various people across the nation so she would craft her homemade, non-organic “flower” arrangements.

But then came the shoes. My fiancée was going for a vintage look, and each night, it seemed, she would scour the web for that perfect pair. I don’t pretend to know anything about shoes—I only recently graduated from Payless to higher-priced stores—but I remember the weekly disappointment she had when she opened another package and learned the shoes were the wrong color, the wrong size, the wrong style. After all, who likes constant broken promises?

Finally she found the right pair, but not before unleashing her fury on whatever ratings and review sites were relevant. My fiancée—sorry, my wife—is not a person who gives in easily to desires of revenge, but she did want to make sure all those merchants, whether boutiques or budding eBay entrepreneurs, would not go unpunished for those weeks and weeks of pre-wedding grief.

The lesson? Just because you are dealing with customers who are a time zone or two away doesn’t mean you can treat them poorly and expect to get away with it. Sure, this seems obvious, but two developments this week should reinforce this lesson for any online retailer interested in having a fatter bank account.

First, Google Inc. indicated it would give more weight to reviews of merchants in paid search results. Some retailers may have had the luxury of ignoring reviews, but that is changing, says Scot Wingo, CEO and president of ChannelAdvisor Corp. “We think this is a top priority to look at right now—especially during the summer months,” he says. “You don’t want to roll into the holidays without having your best foot forward on these reviews.”

Second, Bing, the search engine operated by Microsoft Corp., said it is working with ResellerRatings.com, a provider of syndicated reviews of online merchants.  Bing had provided consumers with product reviews only. Consumers now will have access to more than 430,000 customer reviews of retailers. “This is a great way to help consumers make more informed purchase decisions,” says Michael Paulson, Bing director of product management.

So, online retailers, remember to keep your promises, or you might find it easier for your customers to tell the whole world you did not.

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