Social Commerce & Customer Reviews

These days, I don’t spend my money anywhere until I’ve read customer reviews. From a new apartment to skincare products, if I have a choice between my total lack of knowledge and someone else’s experience, I’m going to take their opinion into heavy consideration.

Online customer reviews are plentiful, and, according to Adweek, we care more about those reviews than what our friends say when it comes to making purchase decisions. Fortunately, there are plenty of people out there who love giving their opinions, present company included. Jeremy’s recent blog post on Yelp highlighted an entire community of people reviewing for no other reason than because they wanted to. The only motivation for those of us who love to review is our desire to showoff. And nothing is more gratifying for us showoffs than to be able to plaster our opinions all over our social networks, which brings me to the whole idea of “social commerce.” In future tense, any business selling products that doesn’t utilize some customer review functionality is absolutely going to see it hurt their bottom line. Customer reviews encourage purchases, without a doubt.

Power Reviews just launched a service for retailers called Brand Connect, which offers a two-tiered approach to reviews: Listener, which will track what customers are saying, and Megaphone, which allows reviewers to push their reviews out to their social spaces like Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. Their website didn’t offer any sort of demo of the product, but this blog post on Cnet had a few screen shots to offer. I also snagged some screen shots of the reviews in action from the Fetchdog site.

Listener apparently has a fairly wide reach, applying consumer segmenting tactics like categorization to the insight they gather. They can also do real-time tracking of “detractors” so that brands can minimize the impact of negative reviews. This element of the service is most interesting to me, because while I personally believe it’s never a good or ethical idea to delete bad customer reviews, it is helpful to keep a close eye on them for damage-control purposes. If, for example, the product really does have a terrible flaw, you’ll catch it quickly via customer reviews.

Megaphone allows the consumers to share their reviews via their social spaces, thereby turning their followers into potential customers. When they publish a review to their wall, only a snippet is shown with a “read more” link at the bottom, bringing the friend back to the product page to finish reading the review. Nice touch.

I’m interested to see how this functions once it’s rolled out. Does anyone have any experience using this service or company? I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments.

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  • Rachel Nabors
    Posted at 19:48h, 25 September

    No experience with the company, sadly, but wanted to chime in that I rarely buy from big bookstores anymore. I usually stop in for some tea and browse until I find a few books I really hit it off with, take down their numbers, then check what everyone is saying about it on Amazon when I get home. This practice usually results in my buying the book at Amazon because I am no longer in the store, and Amazon waves shiny discounts at me. But if the big bookstores had a way for me to check what other coders thought of “Handcrafted CSS” without my having to go home and search Amazon, I’d be more likely to make the purchase in the store.

  • RogerJH
    Posted at 13:44h, 28 September

    Nice post Olivia. Customer reviews are an essential part of the online shopping experience. E-commerce marketers ignore them at their peril.

    The kinds of services you describe will only get more sophisticated and, in the short term, more numerous. We are in the emergence phase of this technology. Longer term, I think we will see a consolidation with two or three big players.

    On the down side, part of the problem with online reviews is policing users who are paid to post reviews favorable to a product (or unfavorable to the competition). Amazon has dealt with this partly by having their users confirm a “Real Name” but to what extent this controls gaming the system remains to be seen.

  • RogerJH
    Posted at 13:45h, 28 September

    Sorry, I posted twice!

  • Paul Marsden
    Posted at 15:55h, 09 October

    Thanks Olivia, nice post, thanks. Indeed, it will be interesting how these review tools are rolled out. Sure, they help customers, and to the extent reviews are good, they boost sales. But to maximise utility for clients, these tools need to have more strategic utility. For example, it would have been nice to see PowerReviews aggregate reviews to provide the Net Promoter Score (would/would not recommend) – and segment clients by store spend in order to prioritize improvements… Have posted a post on your post here –

  • Darby Williams
    Posted at 17:51h, 09 October

    Hi Olivia – I’m the marketing guy at PowerReviews. To get more feel for our reviews solution, you can check out some of the retailers and brands that use us… REI, Staples,, Dicks Sporting goods, Brookstone for a few. We use a “tag-based” technology to capture and display reviews – you can see the different when you go to one of their sites and click “write a review” link on one of their product pages. We list predetermined “Pros”, “Cons”, “Best Uses” and “Describe Yourself” tags or people can write in their own. That’s why we can show a “Review Snapshot” of the top-cited pros-cons-uses at the top of the individual reviews, which makes them easier to digest quickly (which I think will become more important over time when you see dozens or hundreds of reviews).

    It’s this tag-based approach that, in fact, enables us to do social listening in a meaningful way – with *structured* content that tags allow.

    – Darby

  • olivia hayes
    Posted at 14:25h, 21 October

    Hey all, thanks for taking the time to comment!

    I can’t wait to watch the evolution of this idea, because I truly believe that online word-of-mouth is going to be considered one of the most valuable kinds of promotion.

    Roger – I get what you mean about people paid to post reviews, it’s a problem. A similar issue exists with bloggers who are given free swag to review without disclosing that it was free, thereby informing their readers that their opinions may have been swayed. The FTC is cracking down on those bloggers, forcing them to be more transparent, so perhaps reviews & review applications will be herded in the same direction?

    Paul – I agree with you on the utility point. The exciting part about social media is that most applications and services are living, breathing collaborations that can evolve based on feedback, especially when developers are really listening…

    …as they clearly are in this case. Hi Darby, nice to hear from you! I’m excited about the possibilities of PowerReviews and the needs PR’s could meet for some of our consumer goods clients. I *heart* a good tagging function!

    Keep us updated on new developments with PowerReviews, and thanks to all of you for your insightful comments!

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