Monday, 6 December 2010

To review or not to review that is the question

There are many ways to tell when an issue or topic has gone mainstream. You could look at press clippings or even Google it and see the number pages. If it’s very current you could even just see how many people are discussing it on Twitter. However I have created a new monitoring tool which I like to call “the one show test”. The One Show, long lost child of Nationwide and the Blue Peter for adults is now famed for the varying topics it covers. So when something is picked up by them you know it has reached a critical mass. So it was with the debate about the pros and cons of customer review sites.

The piece in question was regarding the rights and wrongs of the tourism review site Tripadvisor. Over 40m people a month log on the site to read what others have said about hotels and activities to do when on holiday. The coverage on the One Show stemmed from the class action that Tripadvisor is facing in the US from some US hoteliers who claim that negative reviews are defamatory. As the reviews can be anonymous, the hoteliers say there is no way of verifying that the reviews are genuine and from people who have really experienced their hotel or service. I was recently a judge for the recent EDP Tourism Awards in the online category and at the awards night last Friday I asked some of those present their views both on TripAdvisor and reviews in general. Most were positive but also voiced the ease of potential abuse.

As the web becomes more social focussed and less a big data warehouse,e so this move to reviews will continue. Ten years ago most of what was said about a business was probably put there by the business themselves, now, most has come from others. Research firm Forrester recently published a European survey that showed that 54% of respondents stated that what others say about a brand directly affects their shopping basket.

Argos took the brave step of allowing open reviews against all its product lines online a few years ago. This is a business that last year posted sales from its website of £1.4billion and that is set for another step change this year. Not all the reviews are positive but overall they view their openness as only a positive for the perception of Argos and helps enforce buying decisions on positive products and stock decisions on poor reviewed one.

Locally, Naked Wines, the Norfolk based online wine retailer, also uses reviews as a key part of its offerings. My last purchase from them was driven from an email offering a discount on wines in return for reviews, and reviews and customer ratings are an integral part of the Naked Wines online offering.

As I have said in previous columns this trend will only continue so the choice is to exploit it to your benefit or ignore and potentially miss out to others who don’t.

Tim Youngman is head of digital marketing for Archant – follow him on Twitter @timyoungman