Is third-party content more effective in generating online sales?

Discussion
Feb 14, 2017
Tom Ryan

With customers increasingly relying on customer ratings and reviews to guide purchasing decisions, has information from manufacturers and retailers become less important?

A study from Johns Hopkins University finds manufacturers are scaling back and posting less product information on their own sites because of the proliferation of websites, online forums, apps and other digital platforms that offer information about retail products and services. The brands are said to benefit from lower advertising costs as they avoid the production of expensive graphics and videos.

The study authors suggest that information on “fit” — such as whether a camera lens is effective both indoors and out or if a keyboard clicks softly or loudly during typing — should come from manufacturers while “infomediaries” should only verify or correct the companies’ claims about their products.

“In this way, the infomediaries can provide a valuable service to consumers,” said

Ravi Aron, associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, in a press release. “In the process, any incentives that manufacturers have to free ride on infomediaries will vanish and they will provide more relevant information, to the benefit of consumers.”

On the other hand, studies show consumers placing higher value on seemingly unbiased third-party reviews while having low levels of trust in marketing material.

Among some studies:

  • BrightLocal’s 2016 Local Consumer Review Survey found that 84 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.
  • According to a Harris Poll conducted on behalf of Lithium Technologies, online sites with product reviews (Amazon, Yelp, etc.) were trusted by 85 percent by younger generation respondents (Gen Z/Millennials) and 66 percent of older generations (Gen X/Boomers). Company/manufacturer websites were trusted by 66 percent of younger generations and 44 percent of older generations.
  • A 2014 survey from Ipsos found that 68 percent of Millennials trusted information from user-generated peer reviews versus 64 percent for professional/industry reviews (CNET, etc.) and 49 percent for company websites.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Should retail or brand websites steer browsers toward user-generated or internal content for product information? Has information from manufacturers and retailers become less relevant or helpful?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"They should be treated equally. User-generated and internal content serve different purposes for shoppers."
"While UGC is both inevitable and perceived as more credible, content is not yet a world that should be 100 percent outsourced."
"Shoppers simply don’t trust manufacturers’ claims and promises anymore."

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23 Comments on "Is third-party content more effective in generating online sales?"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

Third-party content, for good or ill, is now the reality of online retailing. Consumers have rightly become skeptical about product claims and reviews that were created by retailers and/or manufacturers. With access to vast amounts of information anytime and anywhere, consumers are doing their own research. While product information from retailers and manufacturers still have a place as a useful source of information, it’s not the only source or even the best. There is no substitute for product reviews from hundreds or even thousands of actual buyers.

Sterling Hawkins
BrainTrust

Like many questions, the answer sits somewhere in the middle. Consumer reviews are a reality today and do add a lot of value. But there’s still a place for the “expert” commentary that often comes from the brand.

Charles Dimov
Guest

The answer is definitely YES. The brand that steers consumers to user-generated content increases the trust level and confidence consumers will have with that brand. After all, it is easy to brag about your own offering, but it is a braver move to allow someone else (a third party) to make a fair assessment of the offering.

As for information from the manufacturers … yes the pressure is off, but they need to keep providing this content. The brand knows their product best. They should provide the starting information about how to use it, conditions of operation, when the service is most valuable and some best practices. As a consumer, I always find it frustrating to purchase some new tech toy only to find that the brand expected me to figure it out for myself. Get the consumer started … it is your responsibility — if you want to see that consumer buy again.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

Companies need to continue to provide product information. The consumer reviews and third-party sources talk about whether or not the product claims are accurate and whether the product works as promised. Those are different functions and the manufacturers should not shirk their responsibility.

Max Goldberg
Guest

Manufacturers and retailers should provide factual information about products, while encouraging buyers (particularly verified buyers) to leave reviews. They need to be careful about including a sales pitch within the information, as this is not trusted by consumers.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

User content continues to grow in importance, generally at the expense of seller- and/or manufacturer-generated information. This is especially true with later-stage Millennials and Generation Z shoppers. The challenge though is whether or not the infomediaries remain pure. It doesn’t take much of a leap to imagine a market where “user” generated content turns out to be created by sellers — just think “fake news” applied to retailing. If this turns out to be a broad-based practice, we may have to revise our theory of the case. As to the second question I think that “authority” is a less compelling argument than it used to be and content created by manufacturers and/or retailers is increasingly what lawyers would refer to as “fruit of the poisoned tree.”

Anne Howe
Guest

Manufacturers still need to own product spec info, and I’m not opposed to descriptive adjectives either. What’s missing from branded content is authentic storytelling, so consumers providing ratings and reviews have filled in those blanks. In general there is a nice balance, with personal experiences tipping the balance toward honest evaluations that are seen as trustworthy. I believe a less prescriptive approach is best, as long as brands are being vigilant about keeping an eye on what’s out there and what customers are asking for.

Emily Ritter
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

Could not agree more. Brands need to be vigilant about monitoring their product reviews and questions on third party sites so they understand what consumers are reading to measure them. You’d be surprised at how few brands have an organized program around monitoring product reviews.

Phil Masiello
BrainTrust

Brands need to be able to describe the product they are selling and provide the features and benefits of the product. That sets the foundation of whether or not the product fits the buyer’s need. Third-party reviews help to secure the consumers’ decision.

As an expert seller on Amazon, I can tell you that consumers check the bad reviews first. They don’t pay as much attention to the good reviews. They want to hear what people say is wrong with the product and also how the brand responds to the bad reviews. This is important to understand what the buyer is looking for. Every consumer knows a product is not going to get a perfect rating. They want to know what the brand is going to do if something does go wrong.

Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

Shoppers simply don’t trust manufacturers’ claims and promises anymore. They do trust the community of their peers and, as such, third-party content holds more credibility. It all comes back to storytelling and with today’s technologies, we can all share our experiences — good and bad — and opinions with the entire world within nanoseconds. Manufacturers and retailers should leverage how-to educational videos wherever possible. Retailers like Jamestown Distributors use this technique very successfully. If customers and see and learn how to use the products their experience will be far more rewarding. Better yet — let your customers share their stories and experiences. Retailers and manufacturers need to learn how to curate, manage and deliver these video clips to their audience!

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
Guest

I am a big skeptic about the merit of consumer reviews for brand-building, and suggest that the supply chain has been negligent in making facts and information available that can fuel trust. Evidence-based reviews offer value in describing product performance and customer satisfaction, but these are too often submersed in a sea of untrustworthy commentary. The small percentage of reviews that are legitimate and insightful are valuable but generally are a tail incapable of wagging the dog of broad consumer opinion. Sentiment analysis which tries to draw anything useful should be seen as an input to product development and business approaches rather than a way of salvaging value from social media investment. Brands must get their hand back on the handle end of the brand-expression whip.

Meaghan Brophy
BrainTrust
Meaghan Brophy
Senior Retail Writer
2 years 11 months ago

They should be treated equally. User-generated and internal content serve different purposes for shoppers. Internal content tells consumers what the product is, ingredients or materials and packaging details. User-generated content tells shoppers whether or not the item holds up to expectations on quality, fit and value.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

For the moment third-party reviews have a strong value to shoppers. Sure there are exceptions, and that general sentiment may change. However, it behooves a brand to highlight its five-star rating in its promotions. Ride the wave while it’s cresting.

Jon Polin
BrainTrust

Yes and yes. While UGC is both inevitable and perceived as more credible, content is not yet a world that should be 100 percent outsourced. Manufacturers and retailers must still own and take responsibility for the core, non-subjective content, e.g., product name, images, ingredients, nutritional info, etc. Let consumers (or third parties) then layer on top of that.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust
Doug Garnett
President, Protonik
2 years 11 months ago

Consumers look for three types of information. From the manufacturer or retailer they want accurate, useful and complete product information. In their shopping process they also want to hear reviews from independent authorities (often — but not always). And they want to hear experiences from consumers that have bought the product.

Unfortunately, retailer websites too often fall far short of providing good product information. And paid content makes consumers wary of reviews from authorities. So they fall back on consumer reviews to try to sort out whether a product purchase will be useful.

So user reviews are critical. User-generated content? I really hate that buzzword. People don’t create content. They write or make videos about what they think and their experiences.

BUT, too overt of a process of “steering” consumers to content sacrifices your credibility as well as that of the content. Consumers appreciate a laissez-faire world and reviews discovered by the consumer have more impact than reviews they’re directed to by any company.

Harley Feldman
BrainTrust

Consumers want product specifications and basic descriptions from the manufacturer as a best indication of what they are buying. However, we all check user comments about products as a source of how our fellow consumers like the product — it is like asking your friends but in large numbers. The challenge is that a fair number of comments should be checked in order not to be biased by one or two comments. Manufacturers need to use this consumer feedback to keep a handle on how consumers perceive and use their products.

Tom Brown
Guest
2 years 11 months ago

A few bad reviews are better for online conversions than all positive reviews. Online consumers do not believe manufacturers’ or retailers’ claims. They do believe negative reviews. Information from manufacturers is still important to get the ball rolling and fill in the blanks, but money is made from reviews that are perceived as real.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Content marketing is part of social media. And the term “content” includes articles, reviews, and more that come either direct from the company’s website or a third party. Anything positive that comes from a third party is implied as an “endorsement.” For example, while I’m not a retailer, we have a weekly guest post from someone in my industry (customer service). A survey of my readers informs me that they trust that I have vetted the content provider. They view the contribution on my website as a form of an endorsement. This is why Influence Marketing, where outsiders literally influence the market, is such a hot area today.

Min-Jee Hwang
Guest

The information provided by manufacturers and retailers has nothing to do with the actual usage of products. The user-generated reviews give real feedback about their experience with products and their pros and cons. Personally, I prefer to read both the specifications of an electronic and the reviews to get the best picture possible before purchase, but average consumers rely mostly on reviews to gauge whether or not to purchase. One of the reasons why Amazon is so popular is because of all the reviews they have on products. Even if I’m buying something on a different website with a better price, I still refer to Amazon’s reviews to see what people said about it.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

This is just like when marketers discuss whether they are in control of their brand or have lost it to social media. Manufacturers need to provide factual, quantifiable product information while retailers deliver authentic stories about the product that drive an emotional connection to the product. Peer reviews are meant to provide validation to that emotional content — subjective opinions on how people feel about a product. And that doesn’t account for “professional reviews” by “experts” who are not affiliated with a brand, such as 3rd party websites that review products in a given category.

Reality is that all of these are needed for most consumers to make a purchase decision.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

A good content marketing strategy is to embrace the opportunity for third party sites to post reviews, articles, etc. Assuming the content is positive, it is an implied endorsement. For example, when we post an article from a guest contributor on our site, it is assumed that we have vetted the author and his/her company. That is why “Influence Marketing” is a a hot area now. The influence a credible source can bring to the table is a powerful way to build credibility and trust.

Kenneth Leung
BrainTrust

People are trusting 3rd party content and reviews whether retailers like them or not. Spec information should always be provided as a source of truth on the attributes, but product reviews (accurate or not) is part of the landscape. The key is active participation in the reviews to ensure fairness and accuracy of the data.

Mark Price
BrainTrust
Mark Price
Managing Partner, Smart Data Solutions, ThreeBridge
2 years 11 months ago

Clearly, user generated content is placed at a premium. But there is a third category — sponsored content by independent experts, which is likely to have high credibility. Sponsored content, or even independent reviews by bloggers who have received samples, all work to federate information about the quality of the company’s products and can be an effective marketing tool.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"They should be treated equally. User-generated and internal content serve different purposes for shoppers."
"While UGC is both inevitable and perceived as more credible, content is not yet a world that should be 100 percent outsourced."
"Shoppers simply don’t trust manufacturers’ claims and promises anymore."

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