Crowd Sourcing Customer Reviews: Kmart’s Success and Angie’s List Fail.

57% of shoppers trust customer reviews as a research source.

Stores are cashing in on the popular trend of showcasing customer reviews to soft sell products in store, print and television advertising campaigns. This sales technique gained large scale popularity during last year’s holiday shopping season. It plays into three key psychological triggers of human nature: helping others, trusting others and potential individual notoriety.

This combines the surging social media mindset of crowd sourcing to achieve goals. Many companies believe that since conversations are already taking place throughout the web they should be proactive in providing a home base for them. Jim Raffel is an advocate for this concept.

Earlier this month, Kmart began displaying customer reviews on store shelves. Their technique isn’t new. What defines their crowd sourcing as a success is in the execution through social media channels. On their blog they wrote “…we hope to bring the Kmart online and in-store gaming communities closer together, and connect casual and more hardcore gamers…if you write a qualifying video game review on MyKmart.com, there’s a chance your review could be featured on our store shelves!” Brilliant. Appealing to each of the three psychological triggers.

The numbers

The 2010 Social Shopping Study found that 57% of shoppers trust customer reviews as a research source. Trust, one of the three triggers mentioned above, is degraded when the product does not have enough reviews to make an educated decision or does not contain “enough” negative reviews to seem realistic.  50% of shoppers do research online prior to a purchase.

Kmart’s Success with Customer Reviews

Kmart Customer Reviews

By Kmart taking the online research away from a monitor, or web enabled smart phone, one can imagine the level of impulse buys will increase. How many times have you stumbled onto a product in the store but wasn’t sure if it was good enough to purchase? What if it was rated 4.5 out of 5 stars and included an excerpt from an online customer review? If it’s within your price range chances are you will be more likely to take a chance. It’s an interesting marketing ploy when it comes down to the numbers and psychology involved.

Angie’s List Fail with unrelated Customer Reviews

Angie’s list is, according to their website, “where you’ll find thousands of unbiased reports and reviews about service companies in your area. Our members share their experiences with each other so that you can choose the service company that’s right for your job the first time around.

This service has been around since 1995 and has built a business model based on the concept of crowd sourcing customer reviews. But instead of products, the reviews are for service providers. Based on this, while looking for a mechanic you would want to read reviews related to the quality of work provided right? The agency behind the recent advertising campaign for Angie’s list doesn’t seem to share your common sense and misleads you.

At some point his unrelated kindness will be expected of him.

The ad, seen above, recites a woman’s review of her long term plumber Joe. In the middle of his plumbing job the woman called to let him know she was running a little late. Unfortunately, she had a dog that needed to be let out as well. So, according to the woman’s review, Joe “sacrificed his time and dignity” to “parade” the dog up and down the sidewalk until her dog was done with her own “business”. And that is why Joe is the only plumber this woman will ever use.

I understand the kind gesture behind what Joe did for her. Some people may even want to hire him because of this. But when you have a long term client you will almost always go out of your way to help with small things such as this. It’s an unwritten and unspoken part of your working relationship. But advertising that long term customer benefit raises concerns. Customers today want everything. It’s all or nothing. If Joe is providing that service for someone down the road they want that as an option as well. Even if they haven’t been paying him for odd jobs for 6 years.

Common Sense: To be effective, the review needs to directly relate to the service or product.

Kmart did this well. They effectively announced a system via their blog that includes current customers. It plays into rewarding individuals for a few minutes of their time to write a review. This review, if positive,  will help sell more of that product. It’s more influential than traditional advertising. It’s social media advertising. Crowd sourcing your paying customers to help you increase revenue further and, in return, boost customer satisfaction.

Angie’s list didn’t convey a proper message about Joe and his abilities. He may be the nicest plumber in town but the likelihood he will go out of his way like this for a first time client is unlikely. It’s a perk reserved to long term business clients. But thanks to this national ad, his kindness will now be expected of him. By everyone.

Both exploit the nature of social media interaction. One focused on the community and rewarded them with the chance of inclusion on store shelves by writing proper reviews. The other focused on a review that assumes you understand Joe is a good plumber and then sells you on his thoughtfulness. The latter lost focus on the key point. Quality of the core needs.

When paying for a product or service I’m not too concerned about value added. I want core aspects of my needs to be met. These core aspects need to be reviewed and not assumed. Otherwise the customer review becomes useless.

UPDATE: Angie’s list contacted me stating “We’re working on new commercials now & will definitely pass your post on to our ad people. Thanks for a well-reasoned critique!

11 Comments

  1. David OvertonReplyJuly 21, 2010 at 9:05 am 

    I'm looking at that sticker though & it really doesn't call out that it's review by another customer on the sticker. It looks like something you'd pull out of a magazine review. (I personally don't trust those reviews, because the relationship between game companies and professional reviewers can be a little hazy) Having some sort of user name or location of that review would be useful. (Espically if it's local)

    Expanding on that further, maybe having a text link or QR code to bring you to the review and expand the reading from that snippit would be intresting. Either in a text message or a direct link.

  2. Joshua GarityReplyJuly 21, 2010 at 9:18 am 

    That's a good point. It's possible they are trying to blur the lines between professional review and customer review. I can't read the smaller print due to the photo from Kmart's blog. Maybe they list the username or reviewer information? That would be a nice touch.

    Utilizing a QR code that took you directly to the product page on Kmart's site and then showcased product photos, video/trailer, customer reviews and the like would be a great idea. I really like your mindset on that.

  3. David OvertonReplyJuly 22, 2010 at 12:52 pm 

    That's something that I think a lot of people aren't yet at. I'm recently out of college looking for work & there are a lot of directions people can go with the curiosity of a customer and showing them what they can do just with a cell phone. Stores that offer cell phone services and media content are in the best place to take advantage. (Wal-Mart & Best Buy)

    I've noticed some movie companies are flirting with text codes, although one of the more interesting things I can think of is integration with companies as products make the slow change from hard copy to digital formats. With a visit to a store you would then get a free download from a new album under such and such a service. Other fun things to drive people to a store would be exclusive trailers for a new movie or video game (and one that actually matters which something signifigant not just a different order of shots)

    With those who are on the cutting edge of smart phones one thing that would really bring value, is that with a product a code or link they can use on their phone for do-it-yourself set up. Those interested wouldn't really take many sales from services sold in a store & at the end of a video, you could have a code or coupon that can give a certain amount off for that brand taking a shot at your issue. (Which has high margin, so as long as a store is overly busy, would still bring in wanted services business)

    I would think that looking professional, with nice typography (which the sticker does seem to lack) would be fine, obviously it needs to be read. I think making a comment sound like it came from a professional reviewer would be working against itself. Promoting for customers by customers, really shouldn't have a huge amount of polish (in my humble opinion)

    One thing they would really have to be careful of I think, is to not allow this to be sold to vendors. Although profitable, one major backlash to the brand would to have a good review on a game that was by a large amount of people a bad game. This would be a blow to the program (saying it's customer reviews) and the brand (not just advertising for the game, but putting up that thin layer of “trust” up for sale)

  4. MegReplyJuly 22, 2010 at 1:26 pm 

    I personally trust my own experiences, people I know, & word of mouth. This, basically because you can have “a good review on a game that was by a large amount of people see as a bad game.” (Thank you, David Overton!) Companies who use their customers' reviews 1) filter the reviews (obv. selecting the one that showcases that product best), 2) often provide incentives for the reviews (potentially creating customer exaggeration), 3) do not accurately represent the whole of reviews re: that particular product (1 good review out of 50 reviews).

    Within my company's group of customers, people are much more interested in “unbiased” forums. They like to hear what other users are saying about certain companies, products, or services, but in an environment that isn't touched by the Bottom Line. <— unfortunately (?), social media is so popular because many people have learned the manipulating nature of marketing and don't trust it. Why would we trust what a company says about itself or its products? They only have their own interest in mind. Why would we trust reviews on their moderated sites/stores? Of course they will showcase things in the most positive light.

    In the fight for authenticity and transparency (I love those words and so regret they're now 'buzz' words), I think businesses would be better off directing people to unbiased platforms of review (if available). On such sites, both biased and truthful reviews will be posted – some people just have it out for or ate some bad Mexican for lunch – but overall, a good product will end up with a hefty amount of positive/genuine reviews. To negative comments, biased or not, companies can showcase their true interest and engagement with their customers by *how* they reply.

    'least, those are my current thoughts on the matter. :)

  5. Joshua GarityReplyJuly 23, 2010 at 7:32 am 

    Wow. Very well thought out Meg. Truly liked “Why would we trust what a company says about itself or its products? They only have their own interest in mind.” I may have to make a note of your comment and use it as a base for a future article :)

    Essentially, unbiased is rarely unbiased because it will always be powered by motive.

  6. Joshua GarityReplyJuly 23, 2010 at 11:02 am 

    For those curious, Kmart did get in touch with me regarding the article. They said “Thanks”.

  7. David OvertonReplyJuly 25, 2010 at 7:06 pm 

    I guess the real point that we could make is, anything that is considered “spotlighted” by a company is in most cases going to be positive (even if by a majority of players it shouldn't be for some games) If anything they should make sure to only spotlight these reviews if the overall review of a game is above a certain threshold. Taking into account the possibility of a flood of positive reviews from guerilla marketing firms.

  8. David OvertonReplyJuly 26, 2010 at 2:06 am 

    I guess the real point that we could make is, anything that is considered “spotlighted” by a company is in most cases going to be positive (even if by a majority of players it shouldn’t be for some games) If anything they should make sure to only spotlight these reviews if the overall review of a game is above a certain threshold. Taking into account the possibility of a flood of positive reviews from guerilla marketing firms.

  9. Joshua GarityReplyJuly 25, 2010 at 9:21 pm 

    True. You would be hard pressed to find a company raving and going out of their way to implement customer reviews if they were bad. Which actually gives me an idea for a new post. How to fix the problem…hmm…damn you two for invoking thought :)

  10. Joshua GarityReplyJuly 26, 2010 at 4:21 am 

    True. You would be hard pressed to find a company raving and going out of their way to implement customer reviews if they were bad. Which actually gives me an idea for a new post. How to fix the problem…hmm…damn you two for invoking thought :)

  11. Phil GerbyshakReplyAugust 31, 2010 at 10:14 pm 

    For me, random reviews by random people seldom sell me…unless they are negative and point to a flaw I don’t care about. Like someone who complains that a Flip video camera has no zoom and is too easy to use. Duh, of course it is. That’s what I love about it.

    Usually though it’s about a feature that I didn’t need, or an expectation I didn’t have, that convert me to a sale quickly.

    The other ways…not so much.

    Good topic to think about for all retailers!

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