While consumer input into product innovation and ad campaigns is nothing new and has only grown in importance with the internet, it's about to become a sort of marketing channel of its own. Bazaarvoice, an Austin, Texas, company that manages customer feedback for the e-commerce websites of major marketers such as Macy's, Home Depot, Sears and CompUSA, is starting to push its countless picks and pans to major shopping portals such as MSN, Google's Froogle, Pricerunner and Smarter.com.
The syndication deals Bazaarvoice has signed with these high-traffic destination sites for consumers who want to comparison shop are a signal that reviews themselves have become a major sales and marketing tool. Their mere presence on an e-commerce website is among the most important factors in turning a visitor into a buyer.
Jupitor Research report
A report from Jupiter Research, for instance, issued a call for retailers to "use consumer-created content throughout the full circle of customer interaction," citing research that 48% of online shoppers find it critical that retailers post reviews. That report also found that the number of online shoppers who found reviews the most important feature in a site doubled from 2005 to 2006.
"One of two people is going to leave your website if you don't have ratings and reviews," said Brett Hurt, founder-CEO of Bazaarvoice. "Our value proposition is that if you have customers who are going elsewhere to look for reviews, why not put these reviews where they go?"
The content is wholly owned by Bazaarvoice's retail clients. Under these deals, the portals are fed partial reviews. Bazaarvoice, in turn, is compensated on a pay-for-performance basis. To see reviews in their entirety, consumers are led to the retailers' websites. So, in the end, the portals are trading traffic for content.
'Very good content'
"The merchants are our clients, and we're getting very good content from them," said Martin Andersen, general manager of Pricerunner.com. "And if we give them good traffic, that will help us in the end."
Product reviews written by real people are perhaps the most underappreciated slice of the consumer-generated-media universe, the explosion of which has captivated the advertising and media worlds. But as marketers fixate on getting their virals on YouTube and making friends on MySpace, these relatively unsexy product write-ups have quietly become the most common form of consumer content -- Forrester puts it as the most-used form of peer-generated content -- not to mention the one with the most direct impact on purchase decisions.
Mr. Hurt said his company's experience with more than 40 clients has already showed that reviews can improve a host of online-marketing strategies, such as RSS programs and e-mail campaigns. "There are no shortages of benefits of listening to the voice of customers," Mr. Hurt said.