OpenTable, TripAdvisor, Google Reviews, Yelp, Foursquare, Facebook, Amazon, Booking.com, the list goes on. All of these well-established brands rely on consumer-generated content to generate a huge amount of retailers’ and products’ reviews.
Consumers took notice. According to BrightLocal, 92% of web users now read reviews and 40% make a decision based on them. In an age where reviewing is commonplace, how do market researchers tap into this wealth of information found in the review space, to ensure the next customer’s experience is better than the last?
From analysing vast swathes of text and surmising sentiment, to old-school tried and tested methods; using reviews for consumer research should be a technique fit for any consumer researcher’s toolkit.
Trust in the Power of the Review
First up, businesses must understand and acknowledge the power of the review. Amazon’s review offering and Google Reviews serve as premium channels of communication with consumers and are invaluable for consumer insight. “Any business owner knows that technology has made every customer’s voice extremely powerful,” says Eric Rea, CEO of Podium, an online reputation improving business. When authoritative news sources fail to keep up, reviews are the next best thing; 90% of customers trust what they read in online reviews—consumer researchers should too.
According to Deloitte, the challenge for businesses nowadays is how to close the gap when dealing with millions of individual expectations—in an era when personalised service is the norm. Going through reviews individually to cater to consumer trends is time-consuming and costly; fortunately, there are means and methods out there which can aid consumer research firms to take advantage of review platforms.
Sentiment analysis and Text Analytics
The explosion of internet-generated content, coupled with methodologies such as sentiment analysis and text analytics, present exciting opportunities for marketers to generate market intelligence on consumer attitudes and brand opinions. Data analysis tools are the shortcut to quickly summing up the mood and reaction to a marketing campaign or a new release.
Text analytics is the process of analysing unstructured text, extracting relevant information, and transforming it into useful business intelligence. Sometimes referred to as text data mining, programs such as Microsoft’s Azure program not only analyses the real intention of customers by sample scales of 5, but also provides strategies to improve customer satisfaction, develops consumer strategy, and further enhancements to determine product strengths. In effect, when applied to a batch of reviews, text analytics can rapidly ascertain trends, patterns and basic consumer behaviour.
Sentiment analysis determines if an expression is positive, negative, or neutral, and to what degree. Both processes are paramount for combing over review platforms, empowering consumer researchers to engage with immense quantities of data and consumer viewpoints. Sentiment analysis programs, such as SAS, help businesses understand the social sentiment of a brand, product or service. In theory, sentiment analysis categorises opinions expressed in a piece of text just as a human might.
To cite an example of sentiment analysis in action, Forbes recently carried out an in-depth investigation into the social reaction of Nike’s decision to feature Colin Kaepernick in its 30th-anniversary ad campaign for its Just Do It slogan. Using sentiment analysis, they noted a marked sentiment transition from a negative outbreak in the hours following the tweet, which following two days of Nike campaigning shifted to a positive reaction, highlighted by positive tweets and online comments. The platform Forbes used, Sentio, combs ‘alternative’ data, including review platforms, Twitter and Instagram to evaluate consumer response to a new product, service or launch.
Keeping an eye on Review Monitoring
Review Monitoring is a well-known way of auditing and responding to aggregated reviews across multiple platforms. Companies like Reputology and Review Trackers keep tabs on brands and amplify the voice of the customer by monitoring reviews from over 100 platforms, including Google Reviews, Yelp and Amazon, to provide firms with feedback and even consumer insights into their offering. The larger review monitoring sites now offer customer experience analytics to paint a complete, accurate picture of the entire customer journey and can flag up any recurring problem areas.
Consumer research companies may feel the heat in the face of review monitoring services, text analytics and sentiment analysis, however, these services are gadgets that help to collect and aggregate data; the judgement and insight they offer are inchoate and primitive. The invention of the calculator did not bring about the end of mathematics; Microsoft Excel did not put accountants out of a job. Reviewing tools are enhancers and enablers—which when used well, can provide enriched insight.
Using Amazon, Reddit and Quora and for consumer research
On the old-fashioned end of the spectrum, Ramit Sethi, GrowthLab CEO and author of ‘I will teach you to be rich’ explains the unsung advantages of analysing three-star reviews to understand consumer trends better. He argues that ‘you cannot listen to everyone’s feedback; you are being pulled in a million different directions.’
Instead, he explains that filtering all reviews on an Amazon product to show only the three-star responses is the most effective means of understanding where and how to improve. Three-star reviews are the most balanced and include the products’ fortes and faux-pas. Evaluating three-star reviews is a neat trick for consumer researchers looking to provide constructive criticism to a business.
Ramit goes on to suggest using reviews alongside websites such as Reddit, or even Quora—websites for discussion and sharing—to ask difficult questions to consumers. Take opening a new coffee store, for example. The new café wants to maximise footfall and ensure a welcoming environment. Enter Reddit’s r/coffee, where you will find like-minded coffee enthusiasts keen to help out the business plan, offering suggestions on which genre of music should be played and at what level, tips for the distance between coffee tables, and even pointers on how to motivate new staff.
Quora.com provides similar results but offers a Q and A setup, as opposed to a group discussion. Although overlooked by professional consumer research firms, discussion websites are a tidy way of talking to consumers to find out how to provide the highest-quality service.
Spearheading consumer research with review platforms, and asking any potential follow-up questions through Reddit, and Quora can offer invaluable insight. Tread carefully, though: the internet is a minefield of misinformation, and any ideas procured from talking to consumers in such a way must be taken with a pinch of salt.
The Rise of the Fake Review
The proliferation of fake reviews across the web, from Amazon where counterfeit reviews spread like wildfire on new product pages; to Yelp, which recently cracked down on companies soliciting consumers for reviews when it suits them. The rise of the fake review is a source of concern for consumer research.
An undercover operation by The Times caught venues trying to buy five-star TripAdvisor reviews — as well as negative reviews of rivals. A glowing five-star review costs $50 on reviewsthatstick.com, a site that operates from a base in Asia. Other websites allow customers to bulk-buy reviews at lower prices, with one offering ten for £69.
To make matters worse, although market researchers would like to highlight their ability to spot a fictitious response in amongst the real accounts, a recent study by Cornell University in New York found that computer analysis identified 90 percent of fake reviews, while humans spotted just half.
Keeping it Real
Fortunately, there are applications to complement any consumer researchers’ online arsenal, notably, Fakespot.com, a data analytics company committed to changing the way people shop online. Their algorithm technology analyses millions of product reviews, scoping out suspicious patterns and incentivised reviews highlighting any unreliable reviews, ultimately providing a review grade for the product or service a consumer is browsing.
Saoud Khalifa, the founder of FakeSpot.com, created the company in response to the gargantuan amount of fake review companies. He comments: “I would estimate right now, across all categories, around 30% are fake reviews,” Khalifah says. “Of the Chinese no-name companies, I’d say 95% of them are fake reviews.”
A review to the future
Despite their apparent limitations, reviews (fake and real) are here to stay. Understanding their power and appreciating how best to wield the knowledge and insight they provide is crucial for consumer researchers. Along with surveying, intercepting consumers, tracking internet movement and CRM software, reviews are another way of talking to customers.
Thanks to review monitoring, text and data analysis, three-star filtering, and carefully avoiding fake responses, consumer research in retail can confidently approach new levels of depth and insight.