Do ratings & reviews make sense for apparel etailers?

I was recently asked this question, and it set me to thinking. In the fast twitch industry of apparel retailing, where merchandise may only have a shelf life of 6-8 weeks, does it really make sense to ask people to provide feedback on clothing and accessories?

My knee jerk response is, of course, YES! People love to talk about their clothes and the other things they buy. Even if they’ll only wear it for one season. Though only a small percent of consumers will ever actually create content, giving them the opportunity is like opening the golden gates – a mutual flow of trust between consumer and retailer.

Also, truth be told, an iPod, blackberry or digital camera doesn’t have much longer shelf life these days. Ratings and reviews not only inspire other people to buy, but they inspire return user engagement – that is, getting people back to a site to give feedback, explore and buy more. Asking customers to share their opinions and recommendations is key to growing brand equity in the online marketplace.  

Here are the top reasons to put ratings and reviews on apparel sites:

  • They make for cheap user generated content
  • If executed well, they make for great for SEO
  • The content adds visual depth and credibility to product pages
  • Easy way to syndicate offerings and spread word of mouth
  • Peer support helps with decision making, therefore sell through
  • Helps with return user engagement (people return to the site to write a review) and repeat purchase
  • Look at Zappos and Amazon.com.  According to InternetRetailer.com:

    Zappos.com Inc. says its customer base has topped 8.2 million, giving the online shoe and apparel retailer a leg up in reaching its 2008 sales goal of $1 billion, says CEO Tony Hsieh. “Back in 2003, we had set the goal of hitting $1 billion by 2010, so we’re very excited that we’re on track to hit the $1 billion milestone ahead of our original goal,” he says. Sales in 2007 exceeded $840 million.

    Other achievements so far in 2008 include carrying more than 4 million items in its warehouse system, and continuing customer loyalty. “On any given day, approximately 75% of our sales are from repeat customers,” Hsieh says.

    Some traditional retailers with progressive online visions, have embraced ratings and reviews to what appears to be remarkable success. Check out these reviews on a dress sold at Target.com. Here’s a sample that is highly relevant – and turns Target into a lovemark.

    Five starsLoved it so much I bought another!, June 30, 2008

    Reviewer:  AnnaSee all my reviews

    I also have this in gray but was excited to find it in black, too. This is a great dress. One word of caution is it’s a little tight around the bust–and I’m only a B cup. It’s definitely worth ordering if it ends up fitting you. Otherwise, returns in the store are a snap!

    First, both customers and companies want to be spared the inconvenience and expense of returns. The women reviewing this dress give a lot of information about themselves (such as height, body type, what they were looking for) because they value that information during their own purchase process. In this case, the fit was great, but the bust tight (not a dress for busty gals, so don’t order it if you are). And the huge retailer bonus – “it’s easy to return in the store.” Compliments from a customer just don’t get better than that.

    And if you do buy it in a store, it can be fun to go online and tell other people about how much you like or dislike it. What a great way to hear the voice of your customer on a daily basis without having to call them down or invest in huge research projects.

    Then again, a lot of major apparal retailers take a pass when it comes to ratings and reviews.  Kohl’s, Nordstrom and Bed Bath and Beyond offer great selection and customer service, but don’t give customers the chance to talk about their purchases online.

    On the other hand, Macy’s and DSW (Designer Shoe Warehouse) recently launched with Bazaarvoice and have seen some interesting results. Macy’s fit slider for footwear is hard to see, but useful.  DSW’s “Fit Technology” graph is helpful and impactful but a bit hard to understand at first glance. 

    The extra information from users is absolutely necessary to making a purchase decision. If a shoe runs narrow, I know it won’t work for me. If it only looks cute in small sizes, it will not do for my size 9.5 paws and will get sent back.   

    My grandfather, Earl Harris, a retail veteran and consultant to companies like Abercrombie & Fitch once told me this: Online shopping would never best the brick and mortar experience until it could be as sensual, as tactile, as socially satisfying and as experiential as buying in a store.

    I see ratings and reviews as a dimension of the sociality and tactility of shopping. It’s too expensive for retailers to create extensive fit content – and when it comes to the truth about fit and fashion, there’s no one we trust more than people who we believe to be like us.

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