Next Generation Product Reviews

There’s been a lot of recent media coverage about fake online reviews. Fakespot’s recent study found that as many as 52% of reviews on huge trusted sites like Amazon, Walmart, Sephora and others are fake or unreliable. Shoppers have come to rely on reviews to make purchase decisions. They’ve been trained to aggregate information, sorting what’s helpful and what’s not, to get a general idea of a product or company. They’ve known that some reviews should be ignored, but when they have to ignore half of them and it’s not clear which half, things get really complicated.

Some companies are offering reviews by “verified reviewers.” But what does this mean? Generally nothing more than verifying an email address. Somehow, having a working email address allows a reviewer to be “verified.” It may show they aren’t a bot, but not much else. Most fake reviews are written by real people.

At Sidebar we believe reviews can be much better. First, let’s start with authentication. Reviews should only be possible by people who have actually purchased products. Then the company should demonstrate to the shopper that this is true by showing labels like “Verified Purchase” and purchase date.

Second, transparency. Shoppers should have more context about who reviewers are. Instead of companies asking a shopper to trust an anonymous reviewer called “travelforlife4,” shoppers should be able to see a reviewer’s bio with info such as first name, photo, location, age, etc. Not only does it demonstrate that the reviewer is a real person, it also gives the shopper context about who they’re listening to.

Third, choice. Shoppers should be able to choose who they ask questions. It’s nice to post a question to a community, but if a shopper has no idea who will be answering and when, value drops dramatically. If shoppers instead see a list of available reviewers to ask questions and get to choose someone they can relate to, engagement and trust jumps exponentially.

Fourth, efficiency. Shoppers have specific questions about products they need answered. Will it last in the rain, will it be good at the office, will their 3 year-old son like it? Today shoppers have to read through a ton of reviews to try to glean the information they need. Shoppers should be able to ask their question and get an answer fast.

Authentication. Transparency. Choice. Efficiency. All of these lead to increased trust, engagement, community, and conversion. And all of these are provided through Sidebar’s real-time review platform.

John Hayden
Bringing Customer Reviews To Life

Love them or hate them, customer reviews have come a long way and become an integral part of the online purchasing process. When Epinions launched in 1999 with one of the first review platforms, they had lots of VC money, a decent amount of traffic, but the new idea had problems making money. Meanwhile, brands and retailers were very skeptical about allowing customers to voice their opinions on their sites. What will they say? What if they say something bad?

For years, fear kept online reviews off sites other than 3rd parties like Epinions. But ever so slowly, the more confident brands willing to trust and openly communicate with their customers started embracing this new method of transparency. As the data came in time and time again showing conversions increasing when shoppers could read other people’s experiences, the tide started shifting.

It hasn’t been all roses. Learning how to manage reviews is a challenge for brands and retailers. How do we get people to write them? How do we deal with negative reviews? Can we delete the ones we don’t like?

Look around and you’ll find lots of different approaches. Some brands want to be fully transparent and respond to all negative reviews. Some actually delete reviews that hurt the brand. Some pay people to write reviews. Some of those are fake.

Where does this leave the shopper now that we’ve become accustomed to using reviews as part of our purchasing process? We’re slowly being trained to be really good data aggregators. The higher consideration we give a purchase, the more sources we seek for validation. We understand now that a lot of what we read isn’t true, but if we read a lot, then the truth should bubble to the surface. We’re given limitless information and have had to learn how to sift through all of it.

But how much time does it take to do all this research? Shouldn’t we be able to have sources we trust to quickly make decisions and get on with enjoying these items we’ve purchased?

We think so. Sidebar’s mission is to connect people with the best possible information sources — real product owners. Gone are the days of relying solely on anonymous reviews to figure out what’s real or what information applies to us. Now shoppers can choose real product owners they relate to, chat with them in real time, and trust the information they’re given.

John Hayden