Putting Consumer Reviews to Work: PowerReviews Takes on Amazon, Looks to “Social Navigation” for E-Retailers

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traffic at Buzzillions, the partner site, was lagging, and the people who were coming to the site weren’t ready to buy, so there wasn’t as much affiliate revenue coming in as anticipated. “We assumed the monetization would be comparable to a standard comparison shopping site like Shopping.com, but it turns out that customer who are just reading reviews are further away from the checkout process,” Chen says.

All of those revelations took a couple of years to surface, Chen says. “We had to deploy a solution, collect a bunch of reviews, sell against our competitor, put the reviews into a credible site, and then learn the fundamentals of that business” before the flaws in the plan became visible.

But by 2009, PowerReviews had started its business-model pivot, toward charging retailers for the review platform. To make it worth the price, the startup has added new features like AnswerBox, plus a system that automatically recommends site changes to make product pages and customer reviews more visible to search engines.

There was a silver lining to the company’s original plan, Chen says. Because the review platform was free, PowerReviews never added much customization. “We didn’t branch the code to accommodate clients,” says Chen, which meant the company had a streamlined, efficient product that new customers could build into their sites quickly. “You can plug in your credit card and launch [reviews] within an hour,” he says. “We are a 100-person company live on 5,500 sites, collecting 20,000 to 30,000 reviews a day, so it is an incredibly efficient business we have.”

If you visit a site with customer reviews powered by PowerReviews, you notice right away that the reviews are a lot more detailed than those on Amazon. For an example, check out this Staples.com page for an illuminated PC keyboard from Logitech. A whopping 538 people have reviewed the item—329 of whom consider themselves “power users.” You can tell at a glance that the keyboard is popular—it gets 4.7 stars out of 5 overall. But you can also see why it’s popular, on a granular level: 478 of the reviewers said that the keyboard has a comfortable design and 378 said that it’s reliable. At the same time, though, 18 reviewers say it’s difficult to clean, and 13 say it’s not compatible with some computer models.

To see how PowerReviews is working to take advantage of the social-networking revolution, check out a very different customer: Nutrex Research, a seller of nutritional supplements and weight-loss products. If you’re really curious about Lipo 6, Nutrex’s “liquid capsule fat-burner” supplement, you can click on the Reviews tab and use the Facebook buttons to “Subscribe to reviews,” which will send new reviews of the product straight to your Facebook news feed, where your friends can see and comment on them. Or you can click a “Get advice from friends” button to post a poll asking what your Facebook friends think of the product.

The big idea behind the Facebook tools is to encourage consumers to tap their existing communities for shopping advice—which, not coincidentally, feeds into retailers’ viral marketing efforts. At the moment, though, these tools may be nifty add-ons rather than must-have features. A social shopping study commissioned by PowerReviews this summer concluded that … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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3 responses to “Putting Consumer Reviews to Work: PowerReviews Takes on Amazon, Looks to “Social Navigation” for E-Retailers”

  1. Lawrence Kahn says:

    At least Amazon publishes negative reviews. I don’t know if PowerReviews or J&R decided to ignore my one-star review of an extremely expensive shower radio with major flaws, but I do know I can’t trust them. In 2005 I bought a very expensive Asus laptop from NewEgg. It turned out that negative reviews exposing the faults of this laptop had been written before my purchase, but NewEgg chose not to publish them. Reviews are useless if they’re censored, and I believe PowerReviews censors submissions. It’s all perfectly within their terms of use, of course, but they’re not honest reviewers – they’re promoters, and nothing from PowerReviews can be trusted.