Customer Reviews at Stores

Discussion
Jan 04, 2008

By Tom Ryan

Borrowing a page from online sellers, some brick & mortars have begun featuring customer reviews on displays at their retail locations. The big difference is that most of the reviews are positive.

Customer reviews have proven to be effective sales tools for online sellers such as Amazon.com, eBay, and other big sites. And having both negative and positive reviews offers the customer some reassurance in their product selection.

“Customers are the most candid. They’re telling it like it is,” Michelle Wagner, a 32-year-old Alameda, CA, resident told The Wall Street Journal. She had recently bought a stroller and maternity clothes based on customer reviews at babycenter.com.

But most brick & mortars have only chosen positive reviews – akin to movie ads that only show winning reviews from film critics.

At Cabela’s stores, for instance, customers can find a sign for a Texsport combination fan and light displaying a ‘five-star’ consumer rating along with a July 16 review from AlanK of Kansas City, Mo. He wrote: “As someone who does a lot of summertime tent camping, I can’t begin to tell [you] how valuable this little combo is. I hang it over my cot every night and I have a bright reading light and a cool breeze to go with it.”

Brookstone Inc, a specialty gadget retailer, also offered only positive reviews in its holiday e-mail blasts and January catalogs. “We’re not going to pick a one-star [rating],” Steve August, Brookstone’s operational vice president of customer marketing, told The Journal.

On the other hand, Staples, which began using customer ratings and reviews for the first time this holiday season on its printers and some of its paper shredders, features both positive and negative reviews, Display tags on the products feature customer ratings on a scale of 1 to 5 with three “pros” and three “cons” about the product that the retailer itself has written based on feedback from customers.

Discussion Questions: What do you think of using customer ratings and reviews as a merchandising tool at the store-level? How can stores capture what seems to be an effective sales tools for e-commerce providers? Does the display of only positive reviews of decrease the likelihood that consumers will find the postings credible?

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24 Comments on "Customer Reviews at Stores"


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Dick Seesel
Guest
14 years 4 months ago

I agree with the other commentators. There are few ways that an in-store sign can be updated frequently with the same sort of technology that drives the Internet. So the credibility of these sorts of customer reviews needs to be taken with a big grain of salt. The value of the concept may, in fact, backfire on the retailers unless they can ensure some balance and objectivity.

Max Goldberg
Guest
14 years 4 months ago

Online consumers like reviews because they are honest. The Internet is the great leveler. Consumers know this. And they like it.

When are retailers and advertisers going to realize that the “push” model of advertising is not what consumers want? Consumers want a free, open, honest dialogue. By only posting positive reviews, brick and mortar retailers are not giving consumers what they want. The retailer might just as well post an advertisement for the product.

Jeff Hall
Guest
14 years 4 months ago

We see the adoption of in-store customer product reviews as a fitting extension of the online experience, and another step in the evolution and blurring of cross channel retailing strategy. Consumers expect and deserve authenticity and honesty in their retail experiences, therefore it is necessary to provide a balance of both positive and negative reviews. To do otherwise could result in an erosion of trust between retailer and consumer.

Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
14 years 4 months ago

Contrary to some popular opinions, consumers are not stupid. Eventually, this will only be another way to insult their intelligence.

Considering the economic environment, I suggest retailers start posting some better prices to attract shoppers.

Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
14 years 4 months ago

I think how retailers package and present reviews in store will soon become an irrelevant question. Consumers will just use their mobile phones to get the whole story, either from the retailer’s own site, from a general product search, or increasingly from “meta-review” sites that pull together reviews of products across a bunch of different retailing sites and summarizes the info for easy consumption. Instead of trying to fight this by filtering the info available at the shelf, retailers (and, by the way, manufacturers) need to embrace it. Highlighting one or two reviews is great, but the real power of a 4- or 5-star rating is when a thousand people rated it that way, rather than a handful of people, and the “why” behind the rating is often times more important than the rating itself.

Andrew Gaffney
Guest
Andrew Gaffney
14 years 4 months ago
When you look at how Amazon, iTunes and other pioneers of the e-commerce space have changed the way people shop, there are two key factors. The first is reviews, which provide feedback from other consumers, and the other is insights into other similar products customers bought. I believe these two suggestive selling techniques will absolutely weave their way into the brick and mortar shopping experience. They have to in order to for the channel to continue to be relevant. I also don’t think it is a huge deal whether they include both positive and negative reviews. On most e-commerce sites all of the positive reviews are at the top anyway and you really have to sift through to find the negative comments. The real key will be posting reviews that have insights that will be relevant to other consumers, such as this printer worked really well with my new digital camera or it connected really easily to my network. I’m anxious to see how cross-channel retailers will now integrate other product recommendations into the mix,… Read more »
Lee Peterson
Guest
14 years 4 months ago

What’s at play here is credibility (of product and eventually brand)…who’s going to believe these “reviews” if there isn’t the occasional ‘clinker’? All product reviews are bell curve in nature and most consumers sense that, but still make their own choice in the end.

If retailers are going to do something like this, they’ve got to take the good with the bad. Be open and honest! This approach certainly hasn’t hurt Amazon.

David Livingston
Guest
14 years 4 months ago

They are meaningless unless they come from a third party. I like using Priceline.com for hotel reviews rather than the hotel’s own web site. Retailers that post only positive reviews might as well just make them up. Too bad retailers are not forced to report the negative reviews as well.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
14 years 4 months ago

Let’s dignify the customer by posting all relevant comments. Positive comments only will result in the customer viewing these comments not only as inappropriate for decision-making but also as disingenuous. On the other hand, a combination of positive and negative comments as they reflect goods purchased gives credibility to the retailer and forces the manufacturers to improve the quality of their offerings.

Doug Fleener
Guest
14 years 4 months ago

I really like the Staples approach since a con doesn’t always result in someone not buying something. It can often point out a positive like “too many features,” etc.

The greatest challenge to using reviews of any kind in a brick & mortar store is that they add value to the consumer’s experience and not just additional noise. As an example, I was recently in two different independent bookstores where they had the staff recommend particular books. In store number one they were sprinkled throughout the store and were very well written. As a matter of fact I chose a book based on what an employee had shared.

In the other store, they were everywhere. There were so many that I wondered how the employees had time to work if they were reading so much. There were too many of them and as a result they actually took away from my experience. One added value, one added noise. One resulted in a sale, one lost a customer.

Alison Chaltas
Guest
Alison Chaltas
14 years 4 months ago
Reviews don’t have to come from 3rd parties to be credible. Nor must they provide balanced feedback. What they do need to do is accurately reflect what the product delivers in a manner that fits with the store brand. Otherwise, they are useless or even negative. Some retailers have been very effective and credible using positive-only reviews in store for years, but typically the reviews come from staff. The ones that have been most successful are those that personalize the message with a name, face and even the in-store presence of the endorser. Trader Joe’s is one of the best at this today. Few shoppers realize how many of the store manager’s picks “hand-written” on the blackboards are really corporate promotions. The TJ’s touch builds credibility and they only endorse great products. Virgin Records was also fantastic at this idea with staff pics showing photos of the clerk and his/her favorites. Another chain with an individual feel. Many drug stores have also done a terrific job with pharmacist reviews, building on their professional trust.
Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 4 months ago

So much marketing and advertising is based on making CEOs feel good about themselves. Employees and shoppers can often tell the difference. But some shoppers swallow the baloney because they’re looking for any form of psychological reinforcement, even if the source is questionable. Cable TV shopping shows don’t include fair and balanced views of their products. The audience knows they’re being sold. Yet millions buy anyway. No retailer needs to satisfy everyone. There are retailers for folks who want to know all sides of the story (eBay, Staples, Amazon) and there are folks who just want to be reassured (QVC, HSN, etc.)

Giacinta Shidler
Guest
Giacinta Shidler
14 years 4 months ago

I like the idea, but as someone else mentioned, they should be used sparingly. Having reviews on every single display would really diminish their effectiveness. I could see this being most effective when trying to choose between two similar brands. Reviews could fill the void that (often) associates won’t, by highlighting some of the pros and cons of each item. Then, even negative reviews can be productive. Different consumers will be attracted by different features; and one person’s negative is another’s positive.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
14 years 4 months ago

I like the idea but retailers should include all reviews. Showing only positive reviews will gradually lose effectiveness as customers will not take them seriously. Be open and honest with your customers and they will trust you with their money.

Susan Rider
Guest
Susan Rider
14 years 4 months ago

I agree; unless you are going to give the total information, it’s useless. Retailers are missing the boat; they need to step back and realize they are the broker of these products.

Use this as a merchandising, inventory-perfecting strategy. If the product gets all bad reviews, do they want to carry it in their store anyway?

Ron Margulis
Guest
14 years 4 months ago

The retailer must be the advocate for the consumer. Period. While posting negative reviews in store or online may bruise the egos of some buyers, it will ultimately help retain customers and sell more products. In fact, why not have those buyers put a little skin in the game and make the reviews part of their incentive package?

Buyers and category managers are supposed to know the customers and if they are consistently promoting products that receive bad reviews, they aren’t doing their job. Marketing shouldn’t get a pass on this either. They should be working to deliver the offer framed by the retailer’s value proposition, and if the customer says the company isn’t meeting expectations then the marketers should feel the impact in the wallet.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
14 years 4 months ago

Based on the extensive discussion all I can say is that maybe reviews do work better in cyberspace.

Carlos Arámbula
Guest
14 years 4 months ago

It’s not a third party endorsement, so consumers are not going to expect negative reviews and some will be skeptical.

It’s a merchandising tool, it’s evolution of the shopping experience dictated by the web.

It can be taken further by inviting consumers to seek independent reviews and by ensuring that the endorsement experience is extended to online commerce sites with links to independent reviews.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
14 years 4 months ago

According to the persuasion research I’ve seen, the most persuasive arguments present positive and negative views. Word of mouth is effective because comments are realistic (not 100%) glowing. Presenting reviews that are only highly positive is likely to backfire on the retailer if the consumers call their credibility into question.

Ian Percy
Guest
14 years 4 months ago

I think Alison hit the mark by saying the critical thing is that ‘reviews’ must “accurately reflect what the product delivers.” This is about managing expectations. Retailers can turn reviews into wallpaper if they want but the only review that counts is the one going on in the mind of the customer standing there in the store.

If the review claims “Rated #1 in service” and the customer has been standing there for five minutes without so much as a “hello” you’d be better off with no reviews at all. Retailers have to earn positive reviews with every customer contact. If you’re going to brag — you’d better deliver.

We can also learn from the Iowa primary last night. Why did Obama win big? Because he inhaled! Amazing how telling the truth, no matter what that truth looks like, causes people to believe you.

Kenneth A. Grady
Guest
Kenneth A. Grady
14 years 4 months ago

While most of the discussion points seem to address using pros and cons in the in-store reviews, I think an issue as interesting is the use of the reviews themselves. As more and more information about products becomes available through the internet, retailers are falling down a bit by not offering information in the stores.

Yes, many people pre-shop using the internet and yes, some people won’t stand in a store reading for 30 minutes before buying. But, offering useful information not on the product, including reviews, can make the shopping experience more interesting and productive. Whatever information is provided, the retailer needs to be honest (and what an interesting way to spot-check the merchant–if the product gets a lot of bad reviews maybe that tells you what it isn’t selling). We need some novel ways to get more information in the stores without hanging paper all over the place or turning the store into a PC farm.

Joy V. Joseph
Guest
Joy V. Joseph
14 years 4 months ago

Unless retailers can put interactive terminals that can access specific consumer review websites, they should probably not bother putting up selective reviews–it’s as much a put-off as self-flattery. I am not sure if there is a single website out there that works like an aggregator that calculates some sort of average rating across comments posted on different websites. If there was one, then it would make sense for retailers to post this “Average Consumer Rating Score” next to products in brick and mortar stores.

Linda Bustos
Guest
Linda Bustos
14 years 4 months ago

I’d like to see research stations inside brick-and-mortar stores that allow customers to read online customer reviews while they’re shopping in-store. The danger here is that customers may find the same product much cheaper elsewhere should they be allowed to surf the entire web.

But having all reviews submitted to a retailer’s own website be accessible while the customer is in the store (many are not currently surfing the web from mobile phones) would add value. The problem is if you don’t have many reviews for a given product or only for certain products it may not add as much value.

Sam Decker
Guest
Sam Decker
14 years 4 months ago
I thought I’d share some facts and info that might be helpful to this conversation. According to Jupiter research, 66% of store customers have researched products online. We also know that over 70% of online customer seek out reviews before buying. And that 80% of reviews are positive. There are several citations for these stats at http://www.bazaarblog.com and http://www.bazaarvoice.com. In full disclosure, we are the provider of ratings and reviews solutions for many major online multi-channel retailers, including Cabela’s, Macy’s, Sears, The Home Depot and others. We help our clients with the multi-channel opportunities with reviews. As such, we’ve learned a lot about their use in stores, catalogs, emails, kiosks and elsewhere. And, to some of the comments above, we are developing a solution to serve reviews via mobile phones. On the topic of display in a store… 80% of product reviews are positive already. That’s fact across 160 of our clients across 15 industries. Other research backs up this phenomenon. So while retailers could show products with negative reviews, the right idea would be… Read more »
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