Sporting Retailers Let Customers Talk, Sell

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Customer rating service PowerReviews has plans to launch a searchable shopping portal that will return results based on customer feedback in addition to relevancy and paid placements.

The announced partnership with sporting goods retailers Mountain Gear, Paragon Sports, Eastern Mountain Sports, Performance Bicycle and Evogear, brought the company one step closer to the site launch.

"It gives us the critical mass to give customers a lot of choice in the sporting goods caterory," said Andy Chen, PowerReviews' CEO.

In addition to sporting goods, PowerReviews, Millbrae, CA, partners with a significant number of camera and shoe retailers. No official launch date for the shopping portal has been set.

Right now, all of PowerReviews customers use the company's core service, PowerTags on their own Web sites to collect customer feedback as well as improve shopping customer's navigation and search.

PowerTags ask customers to add product descriptors that become searchable keywords rather than conventional free-form commentary. The feedback falls into three categories: "pros," "cons," and "best uses." The information is hosted on each retailer's site and shared with PowerReviews. Retailers and shoppers have customer feedback in more digestible format that is automatically tabulated by keyword.

"We're a prototype of how the retailer can improve their own navigation," Darby Williams, vice president of marketing at PowerReviews, said. "The templates and the tag group become a self-sustaining."

The year-old company offers its review service free to retail sites. Once the beta aggregate site at launches sites can opt into a pay-per-click program that charges clients for the leads they receive. The company also will generate revenue by selling contextual ads to third party advertisers.

If retailers do not want reviews published on the PowerReviews site, a monthly subscription offer is available. No retailer is using the subscription based model.

"When we talk to customers about potential negative feedback they say there is a much greater impact from trust then a potential loss of sales," Mr. Chen said.

The reviews are in the words of the consumer, incorporating lingo that is unique to user groups of the product. This has a short-term effect on searching but also may impact retailer's product line and promotional campaigns.

"Everyone is looking to differenciate," Mr. Chen said "Most people are struggling with how to help customers make decisions."

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