Should we allow User Reviews on our Point of Purchase?

I was on Amazon.com yesterday, shopping for Chris Anderson’s Free, the follow-up to the awesome Long Tail.

After scanning the editor’s description, I immediately went South, down to the User Reviews, to see what the early adopters were saying.
Then I got distracted, because I started to think . . . what would it be like if User Reviews were on our point of purchase site, just like Amazon?  What if we had User Reviews on our primary ticketing sites?  What if we allowed our buyers to go back and let people know just what they thought of Wicked, 9 To 5, Altar Boyz and others?
This was a question posed at one of Situation Marketing’s industry panel discussions a few months ago, and it sparked an interesting debate.  Situation’s Founder and Broadway’s unofficial Digital Czar, Damian Bazadona, revealed an interesting statistic that he got from the discount site Goldstar.  According to Goldstar’s guy, the average review for live events was 3.2 stars out of 4.  To restate the obvious . . . given the chance to give their opinion, customers gave shows a pretty dang positive review on average.
But surely there are downsides, right?  What about the poor Producer who whines, “But what if my show gets negative reviews?”
To that producer I say, “Produce a show that people like!”
You have to have confidence in your product.  In an age where word of mouth (and online word of mouth, which I am now officially calling and coining the phrase, “Word of Web”), means more than ever, passionate people who post about your show can mean butts in seats.  Yes, they can also spread around the bad germs as well, but if you’re producing a show, you’ve got to go out thinking you’re going to get the positive comments, or you shouldn’t bother producing the show in the first place.  You give the NY Times and all the other critics free tickets, not knowing what they are going to say, right?  You don’t go into hair salons and try to tell people to “Shhhhhh!” if you hear them saying something negative, do you?  Your job as a Producer is to produce a great show that people want to see.  Your job as a 21st century marketer is to not only make sure people are reminded to talk about how much they love a product, you have to give them the tools to talk about how much they love that product.  User reviews do just that.
Does anyone think Amazon.com sales went down after they revolutionized the e-commerce industry and starting putting user reviews on its site?  Yes, individual products may have been hurt, but overall, sales had to go up!  Again, what I’m saying is don’t produce a crappy product, and you shouldn’t worry about where your User Reviews are posted.
Take a lead from Dell, which has user reviews for every product they sell on their own website!  Here’s one of my favorites:

 

Title: Totally Disappointed  

Pros: 
Finances

Gaming

Review:
Pros:  None
Cons:  Had nothing but trouble since I booted up. CD/ DVD drive doesn’t read some disks, computer crashes with memory dumps, hard drive had problems, Games and spreadsheets just crash.

Worst computer I ever bought. I’m probably have to go out and buy another computer.

Ouch!  You’d think they would remove a review like that, right?  Nope.  Dell knows that you can’t please everyone, and they have faith that the total positives will outnumber the total negatives.  And it worked. For this product, the average review was 4.3 out of 5 stars.

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Comments
  • Keith Kenny says:

    Ticketmaster are already doing this in the UK, emailing people who’ve booked through them (and have just seen a show) to come back and comment on it:
    http://www.ticketmaster.co.uk/Priscilla-Queen-Of-The-Desert-The-Musical-tickets/artist/971786
    I presume, for them, it’s an exercise equally about building up return traffic and an increased opportunity to browse their site.
    Incidently, I find Amazon user-reviews so wide-ranging and detailed that it often takes me even longer to make a decision (such a thing as too much opinion – not always helpful!)

  • Brad says:

    The Weston Playhouse has started doing this with all their productions. Worth a look:
    http://www.westonplayhouse.org/blog/?cat=7

  • I certainly write reviews for everything I see, and I do (if they were Goldstar tickets), add the reviews to Goldstar. I also consider the Goldstar reviews when ticketing a show. I’ll note that (at least out here in Los Angeles), Goldstar is one of my primary ways of ticketing shows (unless I’m a season subscriber to that theatre).

  • The problem is that there are plenty of people who love shows that end up flopping, but no one gets a chance to hear their comments unless they are on Talkin’ Broadway or Broadway World. I think this can only mean good things. How many people loved THE WEDDING SINGER, JANE EYRE, and others that didn’t make it?
    I often go to Amazon just to read comments, then buy elsewhere. For this to work, people would have to know where to find comments, which I’m not sure would work for tourists, which do make up a large percent of New York audiences.
    And as Dell proved, even worthless crap can get positive ratings.

  • Will says:

    I think this is a great blog entry!

  • Tom Atkins says:

    Whatsonstage.com is another UK example of user-driven content and reviews. Average star ratings from users appear alongside star ratings from critics on the same review pages.
    I completely agree with your notion of marketing in the 21st century. It does seem to be more about arming the people who will talk about your product with the tools to be able to do so at an increased volume (there are people who just love to talk, aren’t there?), rather than trying to do all the talking yourself.
    With a one-nighter I was working on recently, it was clear that a lot of family and friends of the company would be interested. I saw it as my job to provide the tools to enable company members to talk MORE to these interested groups and provided a range of promotion tips, links and advice in a single quick info pack. We sold out a 1000-seat house three days later.
    That worked for a one-nighter, and I’m sure it wasn’t just that idea which won it for us, but I see no reason why something similar couldn’t be sustained if you find the right people, the right groups and “tribes” (to use a Seth Godin phrase). I guess it’s the Salespeople, mavens and connectors stuff again?
    PS. Reading user reviews might take longer than glancing at stars, but I trust them a lot more.

  • I lead the social media effort for a large media company and am often asked to present on why social media is something companies should embrace — not avoid.
    My short answer to the negative review question is that the conversations are already taking place (just not on your site) and people are already being influenced by others’ opinions. So the question is, do you want to participate in that discussion? Do you want the opportunity to correct misrepresentations or factual errors, engage your customers and as a result increase brand loyalty and evangelism?
    If yes, what better place to present your point of view, answer criticism or even just acknowledge the agreement to disagree than on your own site?
    Social media is something that all companies, big, small, performing, investing, etc., need to embrace and should add someone to their organization who already has experience, as we say, “in the space” (not an exec who just happens to have the time and a Facebook page or an intern just because s/he’s young.)

  • mermu11 says:

    User Reviews may have made a big difference for 9to5. I knew alot of regular folks who saw the show who loved it.

  • Gabe says:

    This is one heck of a great post thanks, and great job

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