An increasing number of ecommerce merchants are using product reviews. Many of these merchants find the reviews assist consumers in purchasing products that best fit their needs, making for a more satisfying shopping experience. But there are strategies for employing customer reviews, and some merchants are now using them in more innovative ways. To help us better understand product reviews, we spoke recently Pehr Luedtke, the CEO of PowerReviews, a leading product-review supplier.
Practical eCommerce: We’ve read that product reviews on mobile devices can help drive sales in physical stores. Can you explain that notion to us?
Pehr Luedtke: “Consumers are doing a lot of research before they walk into a store and, therefore, are much more educated than they used to be. What we’re seeing is that mobile devices in the store actually allow the sales associates to educate the consumer more. So, things like product comparisons or customer reviews can actually make that associate look even better than he or she would sort of without them.”
PeC: Let’s say I’m a customer in a physical retailer. I would pull up that merchant’s mobile-optimized site and look at that product on the merchant’s site and analyze the reviews for a particular product that I’m considering? Is that what we’re talking about here?
Luedtke: “There are sort of three implementations that I’ve seen. One is exactly that. So, you’re in a store and you click on its mobile site and it might have reviews. That’s one implementation. The second implementation is the actual Internet kiosks in the store itself. So, you can go to a review-optimized site or even just the company’s website that has all the reviews of the product. The third, which is most nascent here and I think really interesting, is actually arming the associates with the web devices. So, when they’re on their scanners or their in-store device, they actually have the reviews themselves, which makes them better sales associates.”
PeC: So, in all three examples, the reviews reside on the merchant’s website?
PeC: Are you able to speak to the sales increase that physical merchants are seeing with that type of technology?
Luedtke: “It’s very nascent. We don’t have hard data that shows that. I hope to work with some of our customer and retail clients to actually quantify the value of that.”
PeC: Say I’m an online merchant with a million dollars in sales. What should my strategy be on product reviews? For example, should I approve all the reviews, good and bad? Should I limit their length? Should I keep them rotated?
Luedtke: “The number one tip we give to all of our clients is to send a follow-up email three weeks after a purchase requesting a review. This email that retailers send out needs to be purely a solicitation [versus a sales pitch]. We find as the hardest thing, particularly for smaller sites, is actually to generate a really solid, deep set of reviews that actually are able to inform the customer and lead the customer through the purchase process.
“In terms of actually approving all the reviews, most of the solutions like ours actually do all the moderation for you. We review all reviews for things like profanity and spam. I would not limit their length. Length is extremely important, particularly for smaller merchants because Google really values the depth of content and richness of the reviews for SEO purposes. It’s very, very engaging in terms of traffic. Finally, in terms of good and bad reviews, we found through consumer research that often a well-written bad review is the most helpful for a consumer because, really, the value of a review is affirmation, not inspiration.
“So, if I’m about to buy a camera and the best-written negative review says, ‘It’s a wonderful camera except it’s not as waterproofed as advertised.’ But if I live in the mountains, I’m not going to take it in the local streams. But somebody then has taken the time to point out something negative, but that big of a thing doesn’t matter to me, so that actually really enhances the customer experience.”
PeC: In that example, if the reviewer said, “Everything about this camera is terrible and it’s a waste of money,” would you advise a merchant to approve it?
Luedtke: “Yes, I would. I think it has to be about making sure that the customer is happy. Because if the customer does not read that review and buys the product, it’s very likely that that customer is going to return the product and that doesn’t benefit the merchant, or the customer.”
PeC: What about enticements to get reviews? What’s your feeling on that?
Luedtke: “There’s quite a bit of a talk about this right now. We find that simply emailing your customers three weeks afterwards is enough to drive a very solid amount of reviews. There are instances where there have been promotions and enticements around it. I try to stay away from that. I think it has a potential, [but] I don’t know if it’s real or not. [There’s the] potential to skew reviews or at least to create the perception of a skewed review base, so I would rather encourage a merchant partner to engage their most energized and passionate customers with just the ability to write and not win a prize by doing so.”
PeC: You’re the CEO of a leading review provider, PowerReviews. How much does it cost for merchants to use your services?
Luedtke: “We start at about $80 a month. This is with an entry-level product targeted for smaller merchants called PowerReviews Express. We tier up significantly from that. With our larger enterprise clients or it’s a magnitude more than that on a monthly basis, but our entry level pricing is about $80 a month.”
PeC: You mentioned earlier that PowerReviews, your company, handles the moderation of the product reviews. Do those reviews sit on your web server or do they sit on your clients’ web servers?
Luedtke: “On the clients’ web servers. What’s important about that is it serves two-fold [purpose]. One is that our clients are not reliant on our systems and us. The second thing, which is more important and I think more relevant to retailers, is our experiences suggest that reviews sitting on the client’s server is better for search engine optimization.”
PeC: Does PowerReviews work with all shopping carts?
PeC: Regarding the process of approving product reviews, how does a merchant know if it’s a dishonest review, from a competitor or perhaps the manufacturer of a particular product?
Luedtke: “Two ways, really. First, we have procedures, algorithms and people in place in order to [catch dishonest reviews.] The second thing involves emailing your customers. When you email a customer who you know has bought a product three weeks prior, and that customer writes a review, you really have a pretty good sense that it’s a true customer. It’s not a manufacturer or competitor sort of writing the reviews for marketing purposes.”
PeC: Anything else on your mind for our readers as it relates to product reviews?
Luedtke: “I think the next wave [will be using] reviews as product analytics rather than to [directly affect] SEO and conversion. I think that’s a real gold mine today that [merchants] are sitting on.”