Product reviews can play an important role in ecommerce. Almost nine out of 10 shoppers read product reviews, and many studies over many years have shown that reviews help shoppers to make online buying decisions.
To discuss ecommerce reviews, I recently spoke with Paul Kirwin, C.E.O. and founder of Channel Signal, a product review monitoring and analytics firm. What follows is the full audio interview and, also, a transcript of it, edited for length and clarity.
Practical Ecommerce: Why are product reviews important for ecommerce?
Paul Kirwin: Ninety percent of consumers read product reviews. Peer-to-peer conversations are very important. Consumers view product reviews as direct feedback from other consumers.
And when companies measure the voice of the buyer, they can understand what products to fix and what products are really getting traction. They can fix the products the consumers don’t like, and then marketing can utilize the language of the buyer in its marketing material, to leverage what buyers think.
PEC: So the value of reviews is the customer intelligence that merchants can get from them?
Kirwin: Merchants obviously want to read the positives and you want to understand what you’re doing right, because that’s direct feedback from buyers. But what you’re also getting is direct criticism from buyers on what products are not working. A lot of times, buyers talk about the brand. They talk about the brand’s customer service. They talk about the performance of the product. You’re getting a lot of rich information from the buyer.
The difference between product reviews and social media posts is mostly buyers. When they sit down to write a product review, the sentence structure is better, the slang is absent, the bad language is absent because buyers know that they are communicating directly to consumers that they respect.
PEC: How does Channel Signal parse those reviews? Does someone manually read them? Or are you using an algorithm or a programmatic way to measure sentiment?
Kirwin: Channel Signal works with a lot of different companies, but most of the time it is larger companies that receive a fair amount of product reviews — think in the hundreds or thousands, on a weekly, monthly, or a quarterly basis. There are a lot of reviews.
Companies that aggregate all of those reviews into one platform can look at the performance of individual products and categories. They can measure individual brands.
PEC: Are there keywords that you’re looking for? How does that part of the process work?
Kirwin: If you’ve got a lot of reviews and you’re using a platform like Channel Signal, you’re looking for words. For instance, if the word “money” comes up in your product reviews, it’s not a good thing. When consumers use the word “money,” it’s usually in the context of “Not worth the money” or “I spent my hard earned money.” We look at those positive and negative trigger words.
For a smaller company, look for the products that are getting positive traction and those that are getting negative traction, and why. Start looking at those product reviews and distilling down the actionable pieces of information on the products, to fix, and also the products to promote via the positive reviews.
What a lot of companies are doing now is, one or two weeks after the purchase, they write an email to the buyers and invite them to write a product review. In that invitation they say, “We’d love it if it were positive, but if it’s negative, we’re going to improve the product with your feedback.” You can aggregate and collect more product reviews that way. That’s how you should start.
PEC: Anything else?
Kirwin: Buyers now have a large and powerful voice through reviews on ecommerce sites. That’s why brands feel like they need to start measuring them. Buyers are becoming the best sales force that the brand has, especially on the positive side.
Also, a lot of brands measure their competitors’ reviews. As they measure competitors, they can see what the buyers like and don’t like about them. It’s a helpful comparative analysis.