From the September 2006 issue of Entrepreneur

What do customers think of your products? Let them tell other shoppers by posting their comments on your website. As plenty of e-tailers have discovered, online reviews by happy customers carry more weight with other buyers than most forms of marketing communication.

"The more clutter we get in traditional media, the more consumers are talking to each other," says Peter Kim, a senior analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Tom Cox of Golfballs.com is a believer. "There [are] lots of great reasons to have reviews," says the 38-year-old co-founder and CEO of the $7.5 million business. "People who are shopping love to leave reviews. They provide relevant content for both readers and search engines."

The Lafayette, Louisiana, online retailer of golf equipment decided to add reviews to its site last year. Giving customers the opportunity to speak their minds has paid off so far. "Customers who have left reviews have purchased 58 percent more golf equipment than customers who haven't," says Cox. What's more, customers who leave reviews have a higher average transaction size and a greater lifetime value than nonreviewers.

Managing all those comments can get tricky at times. "Our customer service folks usually catch [inappropriate reviews] and clean [them] up," says Cox. "But if someone leaves a legitimate review, even if it's bad, we leave it."

A number of companies offer tools to help you get started: PowerReviews offers a free outsourced solution. Bazaarvoice's hosted and managed solution, which starts at $2,000 a month, monitors reviews and updates them regularly. The Prospero CommunityCM platform lets you manage online reviews yourself for about $395 a month.

Sam Decker, vice president of marketing and products at Bazaarvoice, has these tips for making reviews work.

1. Encourage customers to talk. "A simple gift certificate offered to customers to share new opinions can increase review volume 500 percent to 800 percent in a matter of weeks," says Decker.

2. Have them log in. "This best practice ensures that reviewers are invested in sharing their opinions [and] increases the credibility of the community," says Decker. "It also makes it easier to moderate and analyze the community."

3. Use customer comments in your marketing. Decker suggests you use average rating icons in ads and catalogs, or repurpose review text as copy for marketing collateral.


Melissa Campanelli is a marketing and technology writer in New York City.