What To Do When Shoppers Don’t Trust Your Customer Reviews

August 25, 2011 by George Eberstadt

The New York Times recently published a piece about the industry of paid customer reviews.  This story surfaces periodically.  Even if it’s only a small percent of reviews that are paid for, the perception that positive reviews are bought (or that negative reviews are suppressed) undermines the value of all reviews, even the legitimate ones.  Here’s a typical comment responding to the NY Times article:

“When I search Amazon, I only trust the negative reviews. Too many of the 5-star comments sound phony.”

So if you have customer reviews on your storefront, what can you do to address review-skepticism?

One option is to augment your customer reviews with a Social Q&A system that enables shoppers to get their product questions answered by people who actually bought the item or service they are considering.  Done right, a Social Q&A system delivers answers to a shopper question within hours from multiple buyers of the item, and it enables the shopper to continue a back-and-forth exchange with those purchasers for follow-up questions.  In other words, it provides the sort of social experience that would be very hard to fake.  So shoppers can be confident that the answerer’s sentiment is trustworthy.

Further, a store’s willingness to put shoppers directly in touch with real customers says a lot about the confidence the store has in its products, service and customer satisfaction.  This confidence produces a “halo effect” that adds to the credibility of the store’s customer reviews, too.  Shoppers might figure “why would this store fake their reviews when they are giving me direct access to their customers?”

While customer reviews will continue to be an important part of the online shopping experience, complementing them with Social Q&A is a powerful way to improve review credibility and address the concerns of the review skeptics.

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Have you ever spotted a customer review online that you just knew was not legitimate?  Tell us about it below.

Adorama’s Approach Indicates a Change in Social Q&A

July 26, 2011 by John Swords

We’re thrilled to welcome Adorama to the TurnTo Network.  See the press release here. Adorama is one of the leading online photo gear specialists.  Though they apparently chose to skip the IR rankings in the most recent version, they were previously ranked as high as #381.



In their first full month using the TurnTo social Q&A product, Ask Owners, Adorama has seen a remarkably high engagement rate from their customer base.  Questions about popular items received an average of 4.3 social answers each, with the first of those reaching the asking customer in about an hour.  The answer rate on question emails sent to past purchasers was 9%, bringing a large number of past customers back to the Adorama site and providing valuable user-generated content for future visitors and for SEO.

While we’re delighted at the success Adorama is having with Ask Owners, we think the real significance here is bigger than just: further evidence that “TurnTo works”.  The real significance is this: social Q&A for ecommerce is no longer just a tag-along application to customer reviews; social Q&A is now emerging as its own category of ecommerce tool.  Leading online merchants are starting to take a top-down approach to defining what they want from social Q&A – and it looks different from what their customer reviews vendors have been offering them.

Before they chose TurnTo, Adorama did a competitive evaluation of alternative Q&A tools.  Presumably it would have been convenient for them to work with the product from their customer reviews provider.  But Adorama didn’t just want the most convenient solution.  They wanted an approach designed from the ground up to tap into the enthusiasm, expertise, and good will of their customer base.  In short, the wanted a truly social approach to Q&A.

If Adorama were the only online merchant we were hearing this from, we might figure it was an exception.  But they’re not. Unlike 2010, when most merchants adopting Q&A were just reacting to vendor push (hey, including ours), we now talk to many who have already developed specs and RFQs with demanding requirements.  In particular, they want Q&A to be a key part of their Social strategy, not just a customer support tool.  They see that, used right, Q&A enables shoppers to get in touch directly with past customers that can help them make smart purchase choices.  In short, they understand that with real social Q&A, customers become salespeople for them in the best sense of the word; not paid advocates, but trusted advisors.  And while they recognize that it’s simple to just accept what their reviews vendor offers, those that want to achieve this vision are looking for true best-in-breed providers – ie they are looking elsewhere.

And that is not just a nice vendor success story, it’s a sea change!

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For more details, check out the formal announcement in our Press Room.

The Whole 9%: Social Q&A Data and the 1-9-90 Rule

July 12, 2011 by John Swords

We’ve been noticing an interesting correlation between the well-known 1-9-90 rule derived from online forums and the participation rate in our ecommerce-based Q&A system.

Initially noted by Bradley Horowitz in 2006, the 1-9-90 rule claims that online forums can be divided into 3 participation groups: Creators (1%), Contributors (9%) and Lurkers (90%). Creators will initiate content production unprompted. Contributors will respond to content others have initiated. And lurkers just read. (For a primer on the 1-9-90 Principle check out Bradley Horowitz’s post, and for some serious number-crunching check out Dr. Michael Wu’s articles.)

Here’s what we noticed. The TurnTo system emails questions from people shopping on an online store to past customers who bought the item that the shopper is considering. The people who receive those emails are a pretty random sample of the overall customer base of the store. And those randomly selected customers answer those shopper questions at an 8% rate per email sent (average across all stores using TurnTo – top stores get a 10-12% answer rate). That’s awfully close to the 9% that Horowitz observed on forums. And it suggests that from a “participation” point-of-view the composition of an online store’s customer base may look a lot like the composition of the membership of an online forum. Namely, a small percentage will initiate a dialog, around 9% will respond, and the rest will read what the other two groups produce.

This is a significant insight if you run an ecommerce business and want to build deeper customer relationships through online community. There’s a big part of your customer base that is very willing to engage if given the right invitation. You can’t count on them to actively seek out ways to contribute, but if you reach out to them, they will respond. Don’t settle for 1% when you could have 9%!

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Have you noticed online activity that relates to the 1-9-90 Principle? Tell us about it in the comments below.