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 Reviews Roll In As Sites Add Video

Monday, January 14th, 2008

News Analysis: Reviews Roll In As Sites Add Video

Amazon, Orvis, PetCo jump on next wave of customer feedback.
January 14, 2008
By Kenneth Hein

The written word may be powerful, but video is mightier still, and there’s the rub for marketers.

As Amazon, Orvis and PetCo encourage consumers to upload video reviews, the marketers give the public a dynamic tool to tout or trash products.

Before a fan plunks down $69.95 for the Hasbro Star Wars Darth Vader Voice Changer, for example, they may want to watch the video review posted by Gregory J. Daniel on Amazon.com. “This is an example of what the Darth Vader helmet will sound like when you make the mistake of buying it. Don’t I sound just like Darth? Can you even hear his voice, or is it just like a droning in the background.”

Amazon has no issue with such reviews. “Written reviews have been tremendously successful, but when you can actually see the item in action all the writing in the world [can't compare],” said Colin Bodell, vp, Amazon.com, Seattle, which added video in November. “We want to deliver a richer shopping experience and give them as much information as possible so it will lead to a more satisfying shopping experience.”

While a video review for a book may not be necessary, Bodell said they were particularly helpful for new toys like the latest Tickle Me Elmo or complicated consumer electronics devices.

For Orvis, a video of a customer catching a trophy fish using its Zero G Saltwater 909-4 fly rod speaks volumes. “It’s another reason for people to come to our site,” says Brad Wolansky, vp-eCommerce for the Sunderland, Vt., firm. “They want to engage with us and brag about their fish. Of course, we like to see them stay on our site longer—we like video for all those reasons. We also like the fact that it can make a customer feel good about their purchase decision. That’s the root of customer reviews, making them feel more secure.” Orvis added video in August.

Video consumer reviews are still new, very new. They make up only a small fraction of Amazon and Orvis reviews. But, this is expected to change quickly as more consumers embrace video and more marketers offer reviews on their sites (See “New Ideas,” page 10). Video phones and the simplicity of some of today’s desktop applications make creating video “less of an event,” said Marc Karasu, president of MeasuredUp.com, New York. Karasu left his post as vp-marketing of Hotjobs.com to quarterback MeasuredUp.com. The site encourages consumers to sound off about good and bad products and customer service. Next month, the site is relaunching with video capabilities.

Video is a natural for consumers under 30, as they are heavy users of such sites as YouTube, he said. Video can be powerful “if you are shooting secret footage of an outrageous customer service experience,” Karasu said. However, “if it’s someone standing front of a store talking about what happened,” not so much.

Video is currently only about 1% of all reviews, according to Sam Decker, CMO of Bazaarvoice, the ratings and reviews service that created Orvis and PetCo’s consumer review section, based in Austin, Texas. However, Web sites can leverage this small pool of video reviews for a larger impact. Sections can be created showing the top-10 video reviews. Consumers can also be connected directly to the videos via e-mail links and RSS feeds.

In this respect videos not only offer a valuable opinion, but also entertainment value. “We’ve had other people linking to our site to watch the videos, there is always that entertainment opportunity,” said Bodell. “We look forward to more content as it gets easier to put video up there. It will also be better produced once the technology gets better and high-speed connections continue to become more prevalent. People will find creative ways of using it that we haven’t even envisioned yet.” Authors reading chapters of their books and explanations behind their writing is starting to appear on Amazon. Brands are also invited to post product demonstrations, as well, said Bodell. However, “they can’t be blatant advertisements,” he said. “They can buy ad placements.” Amazon weighs each submission based on its value to buyers in aiding their purchase decision.

Does this start to blur the lines of marketing? Probably, said Seth Godin, author of the new book Meatball Sundae. “If it is clearly labeled as to who is producing the video, call them what you want. ‘What is advertising?’ is a question we ask every day.”

Regardless, video is “a logical, predictable next step in the evolution of consumer reviews,” said Godin. Still, there are benefits to the written word. “Video is a lot less casual. You can spend 30 seconds writing a few sentences, video is more of a commitment,” he said. “Plus you can scan a whole page of written reviews, but you’re not going to watch a whole page of videos.”

khein@brandweek.com

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