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You should all know the rationale for retailers putting customer reviews on their websites. What is less explored is how customer ratings & reviews can be integrated with content from independent experts, respected industry voices whose opinions influence the masses.

Media sites are great at providing expert reviews and news content but retailers rarely look at the potential for content syndication in supporting website and conversion optimisation.

One such site is Electricpig.co.uk,  a tech specialist website offering news and reviews for the latest tech products and gadgets with over 440,000 unique monthly users. The content is written by experienced journalists and editors, not just tech obsessives, which makes it a good match for retail sites selling technology, 

The content reads well, and tech luddites like myself can easily make sense of it. I talked to James Holland from Electricpig recently about retail syndication opportunities, and I can see the potential value of such content for etailers. 

Online retailers, large and small, could integrate content from sites such as Electricpig with their own user generated reviews, giving customers a heady mix of savvy journalism and customer experience. Electricpig currently syndicates all news content to the Daily Mirror’s website.

Who should switch on to this content?

Any website owner who either sells tech product or provides product news and advice for tech and gadgets. The content is perfect for people who want to buy the latest tech but aren’t product experts and need some help in finding the best product for their budget. This means it is spot on for retailers that sell consumer electronics via their website, either direct or through third party distribution.

Why would retailers need this type of content? 

Customer reviews help give you a feel for the reliability of the product and brand you are considering buying from. What they don’t do is give you the reassurance that the review has been given by someone who is as discerning as you would like when it comes down to product quality and attributes. For instance, how do you know that Joe from Birmingham has 20:20 vision when he says the picture quality of the new Plasma TV is poor?

Though customer reviews are still valuable, content that has been written by experienced reviewers can be more authoratative for tech products. They are often better placed than your average punter to know whether product X really does have superior surround sound to product Y and no self-interest to promote one over the other. Their success depends on objectivity so trust in their content is key.

Why do I think this could add value to retailers?

Product specs are important but if a review doesn’t take into account the wider market, alternative products, and take steps to reduce the confusion readers face on the shop floor it’s completely worthless.

Technology isn’t a geeky pastime anymore, but it can still be intimidating. Who do you trust? Other customers can be helpful but do they really have the same demands as you? 

Sites like Electricpig can be a reliable resource for consumers, news junkies and tech fans alike. Their reviews can add objective credibility to customer ratings. This can help retailers, from the large multiples like Argos to large pureplays such as Dabs.com, right down to the smaller independents. Syndicating tech content can add value for your customers, they can review customer ratings, as well as reading the experts' verdicts to get a balanced view.

Summary of benefits:

  • So much information online, experts can make sense of this for you.
  • Customer reviews are as reliable as the people writing them. How do customers know who to trust?
  • Objective advice from respected writers can enhance your product selling pages.
  • Expert reviews and news can engage customers during the research phase of the buying cycle.
  • Markets like CE are driven by innovation, and you need someone reliable to stay on top of developments to give your customers the best possible information.

Please leave your comments on how content syndication could be used by retailers to tap into the consumer interest that already drives large volumes of traffic to media websites...

James Gurd

Published 10 December, 2009 by James Gurd

James Gurd is Owner of Digital Juggler, an ecommerce and digital marketing consultancy, and a contributor to Econsultancy.He can be found on on Twitter,  LinkedIn and Google+.

49 more posts from this author

Comments (11)

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arie struik (alaTest)

Great article! alaTest - our company - has focused on just doing this: aggregating editorial review content from trusted sources like cnet.com, pcworld, t3.co.uk and over 1200 others, displaying it on our website but also syndicating the review content to websites around the globe.

We would love to talk to you about how it works, our current clients include Comparison Shopping Engines such as Kelkoo, PriceRunner, Shopzilla, Ciao, Bizrate etc., retailers such as Neckermann, RedCoon and even since a few months a large Search Engine.

Consumers should be informed with all the available information to make the right purchasing decision. This includes user reviews, expert reviews, product details etc. We hope to be able to assist retailers in this process.

over 6 years ago

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Phil Oakley

James - It's true that customer reviews can often be bias in either direction, good or bad, as many people do not complete a review if the product meets their expectations so not pleased/displeased with the performance of the tv set in this instance. This is why I think you are on to something by integrating professional, credible reviews into retailer sites - Electricpig get 440k unique visits a month so the indication is they know what they are talking about.

For consumers they spend less time hunting for reviews, comparisons etc as it's already provided improving the shopping experience. For retailers the consumer can complete more of the research required, to move them into a buying mode in one hit, increasing the time spent on the site and making it more likely that they will transact.

over 6 years ago

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Stu Carey

Do you think the experts' reviews will become less credible in the eyes of consumers when associated directly with retailers' sites rather than remaining independent?

over 6 years ago

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Phil Oakley

@Stu - I think that will all depend on how they integrate the review. If they can show transparancy in that it is content from another site there won't be any problems.

over 6 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Thanks for the comments,

Arie - was not aware of your service so happy to find out more - please DM me on Twitter @JamesGurd.

Phil - thanks for your thoughts - i'm convinced that independent expert content can really help consumers. Joe Public (that's me!) is not an expert in tech products, so our reviews are inevitably biased by experience as you point out.

Stu - as Phil says, I don't see why expert reviews become less credible when associated with retail sites. The review is still by an expert who can objectively review the product in a wider context and pit it against other options. It adds value to the consumer at point of purchase or during research. The trick is to find a review specialist that will not compromise quality for revenue. That's why I really like Electricpig - they are experienced and qualified journalists and it would be self-defeating to produce biased reviews for financial reward as they would lose their loyal customer base fast.

Thanks

james

over 6 years ago

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Mark Bolitho, New Business Director - Ecommerce at more2

Hi James

One of our clients ( http://www.currentbody.com/ ) is doing this very well.

One of our concerns early on was that it might not be easy for users to find exactly the right product for them, but now the expert Q&A's and customer Reviews are becoming well populated they address just that very nicely.

It's being handled in an apparently objective way too so no issues here - just good, sensible advice by credible people.

It's had an extremely positive effect on sales so I can thoroughly endorse your argument and say yes, they are missing out if they don't use this approach - but temper it with the comments of the others because it will only truly be effective if it's handled in the right way.

over 6 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Mark,

Thanks for dropping by with the link to a client already doing this - I asked a lot of people but nobody else knew of a good example, so that's really useful.

Glad to hear the data supports the argument - would they be willing to share any stats? I now they can't provide commercially sensitive info, but any stats on sales uplift for products with expert and customer reviews would be really interesting.

Thanks

james

over 6 years ago

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Mark Bolitho, New Business Director - Ecommerce at more2

Hi James

Difficult one as it wasn't a case of implementing this and then seeing sales rise. All we can say is that the sales curve rose sharply as the reviews and questions became more populated.

Granted, this is a slightly assumptive statement, but the great thing about this is that it gives qualitative info too - lots of people actually say how helpful they found it and how it gave them ultimate confidence to buy.

Basket completion is good on the site - well above average, which would bear this out too.

Cheers,

Mark.

over 6 years ago

dan barker

dan barker, E-Business Consultant at Dan Barker

hi, James,

I agree totally with what you say. A very small handful of people are doing this - it's very strange that it hasn't become 'the norm' in tech as it feels like it should have. Here are a few general thoughts:

Outside of tech it seems ever so slightly more prevalent. A good example of this outside "tech retail" is econsultancy. They're a retailer selling reports & training, but there's a huge amount of expert content (for example your post just here) gathered around that.

Devil's Advocate Bit: Here are a few barriers that may be in the way of tech retailers doing what you suggest:

  1. Vendor Neutrality. For example, if I'm selling Canon & Nikon digital cameras, and I write a particularly glowing review of the latest Canon camera, Nikon's reps are going to be on my back.
  2. Vendor Funding. A lot of tech retailers take money from vendors in exchange for coverage, prominence, etc. That can be somewhat at odds with writing unbiased reviews.
  3. Economics. Tech products are surprisingly low-margin. Couple that with a huge inventory. Then throw in a very short shelf-life (3-months for a laptop for example), and it's very hard to justify the maths of paying for good, relevant expert content.

On the other side of that, some tech manufacturers have done this really well. eg. Robert Scoble & Jeremiah Owyang became famous doing what you're talking about (for Microsoft & for Hitachi). Though I couldn't say who Microsoft or Hitachi's bloggers are today.

Dell, who have the benefit of being both manufacturer & well-established direct retailer, have done well through blogging programs, as well as through things like ideastorm, twitter, etc. I always thought "Dell Hell" actually worked out quite well for them: It shocked them into become proactive about speaking direct to their customers in a (fairly) honest way.

Along the lines of Mark's Q&A stuff - BazaarVoice have had a similar product for the last few years, "Ask & Answer".

dan

over 6 years ago

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Mark Bolitho, New Business Director - Ecommerce at more2

All very valid barriers Dan, which does indeed bring it back to the user reviews, and especially the Q&A's.

Excuse my ignorance here, but is it not possible to reference 'expert' reviews from the other publications in some way?

I realise it's not the best move to take someone off site, but does copyright prevent retailers from reproducing external expert reviews?

I've seen a few using 'unbiased user reviews', but not particularly well: HiFiX, for example, has a smattering of reviews via Reevoo, but I think this can cause an issue through inconsistency - why have reviews for one product but not another? It then becomes a distinct possibility that people will go looking for external reviews and get side tracked, never to return.

Our aim is to create a mini forum on each product page to avoid such issues. It's fair to say that some items will have fewer reviews/comments than others, even none, which may be off putting to some, but this is where the Q&A is worth its weight in gold. With this facility, at least that person can ask a question and start some kind of dialogue with the business or stimulate another potential buyer into a conversation. Bingo, you have engagement.

over 6 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Mark, Dan

Some thought provoking comments as always.

Putting my retailer hat on, I would not want to drive someone away from my website because the moment they leave I have no influence over their click path. However, I want them to have access to content that adds value, not just extra content for the sake of it.

Therefore, all expert content needs to be incorporated into the website. You can display content that has been made publicly available (provided you reference this) but you can't use review content that has copyright without permission, in the same way you can't pick up images from other sites.

Dan - re the issue you flag of vendor neutrality, experts like Electripig are unbiased - they review the latest products, they don't focus on a brand. The onus should then be on the manufacturers to make sure they have relationships with the industry voices. 

We need to differentiate between product marketing and reviews. It is possible for Manufacturer X, say Canon, to buy promotion space on Retailer Y website to have preferential product placement in categories and run of site banners on key pages. At the same time, there could be expert reviews on competitive products such as a new Olympus model which have been syndicated from a specialist website like Electricpig. From the retailer perspective there is no conflict - they do not write the reviews, so if brands like Canon want greater PR exposure from industry experts, they need to influence the likes of Electricpig and other expert reviewers.

The economics challenge is probably the most salient as tech margins are notoriously low. However, if expert review syndication erodes your margin by a further 1% but sales conversion increases at a far greater rate to increase net returns, then there is a viable commercial model. The only way to know is to test this on a sub section of your catalogue and analyse performance using your analytics tools. You don't get anywhere online without testing new ideas.

Bazaarvoice's Ask & Answer is a neat tool though works in a different way as Currentbody use a team of experts to answer customer questions whereas A&A is more of a community tool. Both add value. Bazaarvoice also has BrandVoice that enables you to bring in manufacturer reviews for products to display all reviews left for that product, not just on your website.

I guess the conclusion is think more laterally in relation to product reviews.

Thanks for the thoughts gents.

james

over 6 years ago

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