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Shannon Glass, associate VP of Internet strategy and operations at Bath & Body Works
Shannon Glass, associate VP of Internet strategy and operations at Bath & Body Works

Reviews and ratings help consumers communicate and marketers build brands, David Ward reports.

When personal care retailer Bath & Body Works began carrying a new shoe line called FitFlop, the company found the ratings and reviews from its online customers to be educational.

“Most customers were giving it a five-star review and loving it, but we were also getting a limited number of low reviews,” explains Shannon Glass, associate VP of Internet strategy and operations at the Reynoldsburg, OH-based company. “We discovered from the reviews that the sizing was off, so we changed our product page copy to note that, and recommended how to buy the shoe that best fits.”

Ratings and reviews sections have been an integral part of e-commerce for more than a decade, and are widely credited with helping drive the popularity of some sites, includ­ing Amazon.com. Now, with buzz surrounding user-generated content, more brands realize that consumer reviews and ratings can be more than just customer service tools.

“Consumers want to connect and communicate with each other, to learn from each other's purchase patterns and basically to rely on each other to make the right decisions,” explains Brant Barton, co-founder and VP of business development at reviews software provider Bazaarvoice. “Pro­viding a way for consumers to come to your site and [offer] an honest opinion of your products can really help build trust around a brand.”

Reviews offer experiential touch

Reviews and ratings are especially important for brands in transition from bricks-and-mortar — where products can be touched and tried out prior to purchase — to the Web.

“We're a very experiential brand — we sell products that people like to smell and touch before they buy,” says Glass, who brought in Bazaarvoice to handle the reviews and ratings when Bath & Body Works launched its e-commerce site. “We view reviews as a perfect opportunity to bring women together on our site.”

Bath & Body Works currently uses only one of three offerings from Bazaarvoice — its Ratings & Reviews software — but Glass suggests that it has been such as success that this fall it will add a second service, Ask & Answer, that allows consumers to post questions about products and get responses from consumers who have already tried them. Bazaarvoice also offers a third service, Stories, which offers consumers the opportunity to describe their experience with a product or service in detail, complete with pictures.

“David's Bridal is already using this,” explains Barton. “Brides can write and provide pictures about their weddings and honeymoons, and other customers can use them to [get ideas for] their weddings.”

The real power of reviews comes from the fact that they cut across demographic lines. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion on consumer products that they're willing to pro­vide with just a little prodding. And an increasing number of consum­ers truly value insights from other consumers and seek them out when doing their online shopping.

“We've found that 40% of the cus­tomers we surveyed saw the reviews, and 25% said it influenced their pur­chase decision,” says Glass.

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