Putting Consumer Reviews to Work: PowerReviews Takes on Amazon, Looks to “Social Navigation” for E-Retailers

10/17/11Follow @wroush

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“there appears to be a divide between community and commerce” and that only 29 percent of consumers have ever used their social networks to gather shopping advice.

What’s a much bigger priority at PowerReviews, according to Chen, is exploring how e-retailers can plumb the information the startup collects to create new “social navigation” schemes. “Remember our original vision for taking reviews and using them to create good recommendations? That is starting to become a reality, and that is where we are going with our clients,” Chen says.

He explains through an example. “Right now, if I go to an online store and I’m looking at buying some shoes, the results are sorted by keyword, price, best sellers, maybe ‘featured’ shoes. You can sort the reviews according to ‘Top Rated.’ That much is obvious. But because we are collecting structured data, we can say that a given shoe is top-rated by a professional, or by doctors or teachers. We also have a field called ‘Best Uses’ so you can ask whether these shoes are good for orthotics, or for wet weather, or if you are a nurse.”

These types of recommendation are totally different from the “collaborative filtering” mechanisms long used by Amazon and other sites. Those algorithms simply tell you that “You bought Item A, and other people who bought item A also bought item B.” With social navigation, you can find out what people who are actually like you—people who have self-identified as nurses or teachers or investment bankers (well, probably not investment bankers)—thought about each product.

At the same time, retailers can also dig into the tags and terms that customers use in their reviews and use the wisdom of the crowd to create new product categories that could facilitate browsing on their sites. “If water aerobics is a common tag, or turkey hunting, or women’s suits for weddings, why don’t I create a category for that? Why not use this feedback to adjust your whole sales model?” says Chen.

It might be a long time before Chen’s company can get everyone to start their product research by consulting customer reviews. After all, there are always going to be people who go to Amazon by default because they like the company’s prices, or they’ve already bought into the company’s free shipping program, Amazon Prime. But ultimately, “consumers don’t want to depend on retailers to guide their shopping,” Chen argues. “There is always a channel conflict or profit motive behind the scenes. Retailers can’t be the one-stop shop. Although maybe someone will solve this. Walmart is trying to solve it. Amazon is trying to solve it.” Or maybe PowerReviews will solve it first.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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  • Lawrence Kahn

    At least Amazon publishes negative reviews. I don’t know if PowerReviews or J&R decided to ignore my one-star review of an extremely expensive shower radio with major flaws, but I do know I can’t trust them. In 2005 I bought a very expensive Asus laptop from NewEgg. It turned out that negative reviews exposing the faults of this laptop had been written before my purchase, but NewEgg chose not to publish them. Reviews are useless if they’re censored, and I believe PowerReviews censors submissions. It’s all perfectly within their terms of use, of course, but they’re not honest reviewers – they’re promoters, and nothing from PowerReviews can be trusted.

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