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Friday, Oct. 12, 2007 at 10:35 am

Can Wal-Mart Revolutionize CPG Once Again With Product Reviews?

By Bryan Eisenberg
October 12th, 2007

Consumer Packaged Goods giant Wal-Mart (WMT) is once again changing the game when it comes to multi-channel e-commerce strategy. The big news this time is that they’re encouraging some 1.3 million employees to review products online. Although they’re clearly trying to beef up their own stockpile of online reviews (after adding the feature in July of this year), is it really any different than getting a recommendation from a salesperson in one of their stores? Or, for that matter, any different than having employees participate on a corporate blog?

Probably not, so long as the employees are told to be transparent about it, and not hype products in which they don’t believe. But what’s especially interesting about a multi-channel behemoth like Wal-Mart is that, given its size, this little feature might just change how CPG (consumer packaged goods) like toothpaste, razors and hair dye products are sold — and how they’re made.

What could Wal-Mart do with its online product reviews? How about placing rating or reviews from actual customers and employees next to actual products on actual shelves? After all, consumers find reviews extremely credible. Wouldn’t a scenario like that actually help drive sales?

(I know, I know… We’ve been blogging a lot about Wal-Mart lately. But there’s good reason for that. We are in the midst of witnessing the evolution from “always the low prices” to “always the voice of the customer.” They’re the world’s biggest living, breathing multi-channel case study.)

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Comments (5)

  1. Shortly before the arrival of my firstborn, my wife and I were at Babies “R” Us looking at baby seat-stroller combos. We wanted to buy one that day (we’d driven an hour to the nearest Babies “R” Us store) and I remember wishing for access to the Amazon.com reviews of strollers. Even though I had the actual strollers in front of me, I wanted the reviews too. Because I couldn’t project what long term ownership of these things would be like, or which features would turn out to be most important. So we left without a stroller, went home, checked the reviews, and then bought the stroller somewhere else.

    Had the reviews been posted at Babies “R” Us, it probably would have been a different story. Offline retailers, are you listening to this?

  2. Bryan – nice ‘bigger picture’ view of the issue – and employees are users too, so why shouldn’t they comment?

    The marketer in me agrees with your comments. The grumpy–old–cynic syndrome [that my wife insists I have developed over the years] says that negative comments won’t get much of a public airing – online or otherwise. A shelf talker with

    ‘”this toothpaste gave me a gleaming smile, but my teeth all fell out a few weeks later”, says Bob from Cleethorpes’

    on it, isn’t likely to make it into the stores.

    Also … my experience in the trenches is that shop–floor staff recommendations are usually either/or in nature – this toothpaste rather than that one – with a sale resulting either way. In an online review comments are usually limited to describing the product in isolation.

  3. [...] Can Wal-Mart Revolutionize CPG Once Again With Product Reviews? By Bryan Eisenberg Consumer Packaged Goods giant Wal-Mart (WMT) is once again changing the game when it comes to multi-channel e-commerce strategy. The big news this time is that they’re encouraging some 1.3 million employees to review products online. … [...]

  4. I can see pros and cons here. I think the employees could have great insight and actually provide very valuable feedback (granting they remain unbiased.) Plus, let’s face it, they have A LOT of employees, so this type of endeavor could actually make a mark in the number of reviews they have.

    The thing to think about it, what happens when all the reviews for a certain type of item are all bad. For example – coffee makers. I see 5 different coffee makers on the shelf, and none have higher than an average rating. I might walk out the door and visit my nearest Target for coffee makers. Will they have to test the data and review the item categories to make sure there is always at least one “winner” (or at least a rating above average!) in that category? Because at some point the product reviews will begin reflecting the type of product you carry in the store. If there are no winners, then what good is it to come into Wal-mart looking for a specific item? And we all know they carry inexpensive stuff…

  5. Tracey,

    You bring up an important point and one I should have made in the post. When Wal-Mart gets those bad reviews for products sold in their store they go right back to the manufacturers and tell them how to improve it or they pull it off the shelf and replace it with another product. That’s what happens when you are the 800 pound gorilla of retail.

    What you buy from Wal-Mart is a reflection of their brand. Why would they want to carry bad products for long? Wal-Mart looks for savings in efficiencies not by carrying cheap and poor products. It’s going to be a exciting time for Wal-Mart’s product makers.

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Bryan Eisenberg, founder of FutureNow, is a professional marketing speaker and the co-author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling books Call to Action and Waiting For Your Cat to Bark and Always Be Testing. You can friend him on Facebook or Twitter.

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