Reviews can play an important role in giving consumers the confidence to buy. They can also be incredibly overwhelming. For example, the reviews on Amazon for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix rival the length of the book itself, but without any of the plot intrigue or fancy writing. No one is going to read all those reviews, damned be any far-buried nuggets of useful information.
When you look at why people love reviews, you see that consumers are only interested in how the information impacts them. They need to know whether a product is right for them, so they want reviews with relevant information from people in their same situation. The question is: How do you get the most relevant and accurate information to rise to the top for each individual?
Several companies have attempted to tackle this question, and it looks as though all of them are leaning toward friend-based, social solutions. Here are a few experiments with making reviews and recommendations relevant to the consumer.
A new start-up, Friendize.Me, is experimenting with product advice and Facebook social circles. The idea is that reviews are best from trusted friends, so the service will sift through your Facebook friends (and friends of friends) for the most relevant connections and ask them to respond to questions you may have about a product. Ideally, consumers chat with friends already online, but they can also receive emails if the most relevant friends or connections are offline. On the plus side, the reviews would be 100 percent personalized. On the downside, it seems unlikely friendize.me will be able to find a trusted source for every product on the market, and our need for instant gratification is not satisfied if we have to wait for someone to email us back.
Amazon is also testing a social review feature, which lets consumers Ask a Friend. It essentially follows the same concept as Friendize.me, allowing consumers to message friends via text or e-mail about a product and get feedback right on the product page. Now all we need is friends who are constantly connected with their phone or e-ma…ah. Well this seems like a good idea.
Yotpo organizes reviews on brand.com and retailer sites based on the reviewer’s social network information. The service “takes into consideration the social relation of the [review’s] author and the searcher,” pulling the more relevant reviews for each consumer to the spotlight. The goal is to make reviews transparent, so consumers know who’s review they are reading. Though we’re not exactly sure how this works in practice, it seems like a big brother move that might make people wary.
Another approach to relevant reviews is a completely separate site. Wnki (formerly get.com) has created a platform that lets users rank and comment on products within a category. So, for example, if you want to look for a guitar, you can go to the guitar section and see a list of guitars ranked by reviewers’ preferences. Short comments appear next to the guitar, telling the consumer whether it is good for beginners or how the strings hold up.
WalMart.com has a consumer-based Q&A section (scroll toward the bottom of the page). Potential customers ask a question, and other users can respond with their queries. The highlight from this? It is searchable. This could be a good solution to the overwhelming amount of reviews on product pages, although it leaves out those without specific questions. It also doesn’t give you information from people you know, so the issue of trustworthiness is still in question.
Social is the Answer to Relevant Reviews
Reviews are not like a friend you bring to the store to find the perfect gift for your mother. They are their own class of information. As consumers, we do our best to gauge whether they are accurate (based on our gut) or whether they are relevant (based on lots of sifting and unnecessary reading).
It’s exciting to see small startups, such as friendize.me, and big corporations, such as WalMart, experimenting with social ways to bring trust and relevancy back to reviews. Yet, while it seems that social will be the answer, it isn’t yet clear whether any of these ideas will revolutionize commerce.
Even as reviews become more social, consumers will still look for accurate, non-salesy, thorough product descriptions. These are the key to giving consumers the confidence to buy. Product descriptions and social reviews paired together will lead to an empowered consumer that will feel educated enough to buy.