Bringing Customer Reviews To Life

Love them or hate them, customer reviews have come a long way and become an integral part of the online purchasing process. When Epinions launched in 1999 with one of the first review platforms, they had lots of VC money, a decent amount of traffic, but the new idea had problems making money. Meanwhile, brands and retailers were very skeptical about allowing customers to voice their opinions on their sites. What will they say? What if they say something bad?

For years, fear kept online reviews off sites other than 3rd parties like Epinions. But ever so slowly, the more confident brands willing to trust and openly communicate with their customers started embracing this new method of transparency. As the data came in time and time again showing conversions increasing when shoppers could read other people’s experiences, the tide started shifting.

It hasn’t been all roses. Learning how to manage reviews is a challenge for brands and retailers. How do we get people to write them? How do we deal with negative reviews? Can we delete the ones we don’t like?

Look around and you’ll find lots of different approaches. Some brands want to be fully transparent and respond to all negative reviews. Some actually delete reviews that hurt the brand. Some pay people to write reviews. Some of those are fake.

Where does this leave the shopper now that we’ve become accustomed to using reviews as part of our purchasing process? We’re slowly being trained to be really good data aggregators. The higher consideration we give a purchase, the more sources we seek for validation. We understand now that a lot of what we read isn’t true, but if we read a lot, then the truth should bubble to the surface. We’re given limitless information and have had to learn how to sift through all of it.

But how much time does it take to do all this research? Shouldn’t we be able to have sources we trust to quickly make decisions and get on with enjoying these items we’ve purchased?

We think so. Sidebar’s mission is to connect people with the best possible information sources — real product owners. Gone are the days of relying solely on anonymous reviews to figure out what’s real or what information applies to us. Now shoppers can choose real product owners they relate to, chat with them in real time, and trust the information they’re given.

John Hayden