Richard Anson is the CEO and co-founder of Reevoo, which aggregates verified reviews for brands and retailers. 

I’ve been speaking to Richard about how he fosters a culture of innovation within the company, and how he sees the development of social commerce and Reevoo’s role in this. 

How do you see social commerce developing this year? 

Social commerce is at the heart of what we do. We see ourselves as a crowd commerce aggregation business. It’s all about building a brand that harnesses customer opinion and that is trusted by both customers and businesses. 

There has been a lot of talk about social commerce, and this year will be about the true implementation of social commerce. One key factor will be measurement, as retailers will want to see a return on their investments in social commerce. 

One thing Reevoo will be doing is connecting consumers to verified owners of products they are interested in. We pro-actively look for reviews of products and ask these consumers whether they would be happy to receive questions about the products from other customers. 

This service, Ask an Owner, is something that Sony and Tesco are using at the moment, and DSGi Group and Jessops have also signed up. 

Ask an owner1

Someone can ask a question and Reevoo acts as a trusted intermediary. We also moderate questions and answers to ensure accuracy. 

It has worked well so far, with 55% of questions answered within 24 hours. The fasted response was 12 minutes. 

The conversations are very granular which makes them more valuable. For example, customers will ask if the zoom will work well for sports photography, then people can respond and suggest a more suitable model. 

The measurement aspect of this is very important to us, and so far we’re seeing a 2½ times increase in conversions for customers using this Q&A service. 

Facebook is the most significant social space, at the moment, and Reevoo is allowing reviews and products to be posted on the site, and soon we should see the integration of these ask and answers product related conversation onto Facebook. 

The challenge is to ensure that this is done in a transparent and trustworthy manner. Facebook is first and foremost a social space, so brands and retailers should not abuse it by being too pushy. It’s a huge opportunity though. 

In the UK, with a large proportion of people online, there isn’t an endless source of traffic for retailers, so they need to get the maximum value from the traffic they get. Retailers will be asking whether social commerce will drive value, and measurement and proving this ROI is key for Reevoo. 

It’s an exciting space and Reevoo is at the heart of it. 

The Ask on Owner service was highly commended in Econsultancy’s Innovation Awards, how do you encourage innovation within Reevoo? 

We have tried hard to foster innovation within Reevoo, and we do this in a number of ways. 

For example, we allow developers time and space every Thursday to do what they want to do, and products like the iPhone Reevoo site have come out of these sessions. 

Our development process is also extremely agile, we plan and release as soon as something is ready, while the wider business also has plenty of opportunity to talk to developers and share ideas. 

Recently, we took 15 members of the team away for the week, with the agenda of coming up with something that would help the customer, and justbuythisone was the result of this. 

It’s about dealing with the paradox of choice, as customers are often overwhelmed with the amount of choice. So we thought: how can Reevoo help shoppers? 

These ideas feed back into the business and provide us with more tools and products for our clients. We are starting to distribute versions of justbuythisone to retailers and brands, and one brand has just signed up to add this functionality to their website.

How many clients does Reevoo have?  

We have around 100 retailers using Reevoo at the moment, and we’ve seen big growth since last year. 

In December 2010, around 8m consumers engaged with our reviews, and these reviews are delivering between 10% and 18% uplift in conversion rates across the sites that use them. 

We have a real belief in the business, we have a great product and in the coming year we’ll be making much more noise about this. We have been relatively quiet in the past, but there is much more marketing to come. 

The key to the success is trust, and you need this to work in the social space. It’s hard to gain and maintain in general, not just on the web. Maintaining this trust has been vital for Reevoo. 

For example, we have seen lots of commentary in the press about Tripadvisor, such as talk of a class action by hoteliers who are angry at what they see as malicious reviews impacting their sales. 

Reevoo is about trustmarks, the reviews are by people who have purchased the product in question, and shoppers and retailers know they can trust these reviews because of this. 

You talked about having a code of practice around online reviews on this blog three years ago – do you still see the need for this? 

We have moved on from that, and Reevoo has become more of a trustmark in itself. 

Reeevoo will provide reviews showing the good, bad and ugly on products. Our retailer and manufacturer partner really respect this. 

How can reviews be used by multichannel retailers? 

This is what I call Total Commerce. Two years ago, we had to operate in channels, and there was more conversation than action about multichannel. 

The consumer often uses a whole series of different channels before they come to a decision about a purchase, and many offline purchases are made thanks to research and browsing which happens online. 

For example, electrical sales online are worth around £5bn per year, but when you take into account the effect that online research has on purchases that are made offline, then this could be worth up to £16bn. 

The challenge for retailers is to promote this seamless experience, making it easy for customers to browse online and buy in store. 

What part does mobile play in this? 

Mobile is key here. Over the last year, we’ve seen growth in adoption of mobiles for shopping. The numbers are relatively low at the moment, but are still interesting. 

Only around 8% are actually transacting but this will increase, and Reevoo has a part to play in providing customers with the kind of data they can use whether shopping online or offline. 

Retailers need to look at how store staff can help customers with mobiles to access this information. 

For example, if you are an electrical retailer with several competitors in the same retail park, how can you stop customers visiting all of the other electrical stores? 

Do you have any expansion planned for 2011? 

Our heartland has been consumer electronics, but we are now looking to expand into other verticals. We are also looking globally as well. We have a presence in several European markets, but we will be launching in the US this year. 

Most retailers now seem to be convinced by the value of reviews, do you still find any still worry about negative reviews? 

In the early days, a lot of my job was about educating people, but now it’s quite rare for concerns about negative reviews to come up. 

People realise that a whole string of positive reviews can make alarm bells ring, and it’s rare that a product will be universally panned. It’s the detail that is good, and some criticisms, such as length of battery life can be very valuable. 

I think one big change is the fact that more brands and manufacturers are interested in Reevoo. Brands have seen that conversation are happening around their product across the social web, and see that, by embracing reviews they are driving sales. 

Our model helps a brand engage in conversations on their own sites, on retailers’ sites and on publishers’’ sites such as Tech Radar. 

As well as displaying reviews on product pages, are your partner retailers incorporating this information into site search and navigation?

Yes, more retailers are beginning to use data like this. When we gather reviews we look at the type of person leaving the review, in the case of cameras, for example, are they a professional photographer, a keen amateur etc. 

This level of detail allows customers to decide which product is right for them, and retailers can pull this into navigation, as well as things like average review scores, which is something Jessops does. 

I think we will start to see Reevoo reviews used more widely. For instance, some are using these reviews in marketing emails.