PowerReviews' feature enables photos next to text reviews

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As online shopping becomes increasingly mainstream, retailers seek ways to distinguish themselves from the pack by making the shopping and purchase experience more relevant and convenient for customers.

Customer-rating service PowerReviews today releases a new merchandising feature that lets customers include photos with their reviews that demonstrate product use.

"It's just another step in connecting the person with the product," said Andy Chen, CEO of PowerReviews, Millbrae, CA.

The company has partnered with a number of retailers including TicketsNow, Adorama, Sam Ash and Mountain Gear, to host reviews that are searchable by customer-generated keyword.

The new capability, which supports 10 different picture formats, invites customers to "spice up your product review" by uploading shots of themselves using products and adding a caption. It is running live with four retailers including Evogear and Abt Electronics.

The PowerReviews feature comes at a time when trust plays a large role in purchase decisions.

"Every retailer, every manufactor is trying to improve online transactions," Mr. Chen said. "The more human you can make it, the more credibility there is for your product."

New research from privacy certification company Truste and market researcher TNS suggests online shoppers in the United States may limit their purchases at retail Web sites this year due to security fears.

The "2006 Truste/TNS Holiday Shopping Online Trust" survey found that 82 percent of the more than 1,000 Internet users surveyed plan to conduct some online holiday shopping.

However, 63 percent of those respondents say they will limit their purchasing because of security concerns.

Some of the concerns that arose in connection with online shopping include a preference touch and feel of retail outlets (30.2 percent of respondents).

Smaller retailers may strengthen their chances with getting online holiday dollars by focusing on building customer trust and including photos on their sites.

More than 35 percent of consumers were less willing to purchase from a smaller online retailer than a larger one, with 51 percent of those respondents con cerned about never seeing the product and 47 percent c oncerned about product quality.

Retailers may have security concern too: brand security.

Images uploaded by consumers go through the same "scrub" at PowerReviews that a text entry goes through. A double-check system is in place so that a Web site manager from the retailer's company is also able to check the appropriateness of each picture.

Failing that, there is always the ability for an instant edit to anything that erroneously slips by two humans.

"If there's a problem, we can always remove things from the site," Mr. Chen said. "There's nothing too permanent about what's going to be a very rare and unlikely mistake."

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