The well-established e-commerce phenomenon of customer ratings and reviews is about to undergo its next evolution. Bazaarvoice intends to add a feature called Ask & Answer to its white label customer ratings and reviews service for retailers. The offering will allow consumers to seek more product details and feedback from fellow consumers.
"Shoppers have millions of questions unique to them that aren't addressed by the manufacturer's product description or a company's marketing department," said Brett Hurt, CEO and founder of Bazaarvoice.
As reviews and ratings are found to increase sales -- Bazaarvoice client Bass Pro Shops reports 59 percent higher conversions and 16 percent higher spending -- the social commerce provider expects Ask & Answer to provide an additional lift for e-commerce sites. The feature has similarities to services like Yahoo Answers, where users can post questions and be notified when other users submit answers.
"This is a solution that is extremely innovative and is likely something that retailers didn't know was possible," said Sucharita Mulpuru, senior analyst for retail at Forrester Research.
Forums "take customers away from a product page or path," said Sam Decker, VP of marketing and products at Bazaarvoice. "Ask & Answer keeps users on a product page." He added forums are typically a post-purchase activity.
Bazaarvoice expects the new content to help consumers narrow down product choices by discovering specific product features and attributes. "Not only does it help that one shopper, it helps 99 others," said Decker.
As with the firm's reviews and ratings, the question and answer content can be sorted and presented in multiple formats. In addition to posting the questions on the product page, questions or portions of an answer can be used to entice browsers on product category pages. The content can also be used to promote prominent or highly-rated items throughout the site and in e-mail and other communications.
Influencers, consumers who feel compelled to offer product recommendations and advice, are in large supply on the Web. A recent Bazaarvoice implementation with the online component of shopping channel QVC garnered an immediate uptake of reviews and ratings exceeding QVC's and Bazaarvoice's early goals.
While consumers are expected to supply the bulk of answers, e-commerce sites and even manufacturers have the ability to submit responses to clarify any questions consumers have or provide additional product information.
"Where I see the real opportunity is for customer service representatives at a company to answer questions outright," said Mulpuru.
Bazaarvoice serves 250 million reviews per month across 80 percent of the Internet Retailer Top 100 sites outsourcing reviews and ratings. Bazaarvoice declined to name clients who have signed on for the service at launch. Its existing clients include Overstock.com, Macy's, Dell, CompUSA, Sephora, Zappos, and the Home Depot.
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