Social Commerce in the Wake of the Bazaarvoice and PowerReviews Merger

George Eberstadt, CEO of TurnTo Networks, Talks Shop

By Alayna Frankenberry

Since the early days of Amazon, customer review platforms have been a critical part of e-commerce success. The simple ability to view buyer feedback gave shoppers a new level of engagement and confidence. Today, social Q&A platforms have evolved into a complicated and sophisticated business, providing options for just about any vendor site. But the evolution is far from complete, and thanks to the recent merger between Bazaarvoice and PowerReviews, change is once again in the air.

I recently had a chance to talk to an expert in the field. George Eberstadt is the founder of TurnTo Networks, a company that specializes in social Q&A platforms. TurnTo is Bazaarvoice’s lone remaining competitor. I asked George about his thoughts on the merger, including how it affected his business, and about what advice he had for e-commerce business owners. Here’s what he had to say.

Alayna Frankenberry:
1. How will the Bazaarvoice-PowerReviews merger affect the market, and how will these changes affect each service’s customers?

George Eberstadt:
I think the merger will have two effects. First, for the customers of both companies, prices will go up. Since we compete with both companies (for their customer Q&A products, not reviews), we’ve seen firsthand how the fight to win businesses puts downward pressure on prices and leads to discounting. We’ve heard numerous stories about how merchants got a great deal from Bazaarvoice when they threatened to go with PowerReviews, and vice versa. This happens not just on the initial sign-up for the service but also on contract renewal. Enough stores flip from one service to the other each year to make the threat credible. Now that negotiating leverage is gone.

Second, the support outlook for the PowerReviews enterprise products isn’t good. It’s hard to see Bazaarvoice putting the money into R&D to evolve two directly competing product lines – or training their sales team to sell both. They probably won’t retire the PowerReviews enterprise products immediately. More likely, they’ll just let them stagnate and move customers over to the Bazaarvoice platform little by little.

A.F. :
2. A recent Huffington Post article illustrated the histories of PowerReviews and Bazaarvoice. How does TurnTo’s origin compare to how these companies began?

George Eberstadt:
Let me reflect a bit more broadly here on how much a company’s starting point affects the products they sell, even as the pressure of the market pushes competitors to look more alike over time. Bazaarvoice took an enterprise software approach from the beginning and hasn’t had to change much along the way. PowerReviews started with the very clever idea of providing their service for free to merchants in return for the right to monetize the content on a proprietary product reviews site. The market pushed them to look more like Bazaarvoice, but because of their starting point, they ended up with a stronger multi-tenant SaaS architecture that enables lower cost integration and lower life-cycle cost. Great product, but in the time it took them to get turned around, Bazaarvoice got too far ahead.

TurnTo started with a focus on two-way dialogue rather than the monologue-style customer review approach. Our initial product connected shoppers to people in their social networks who could give them relevant shopping advice. In late 2009, we started to work on enabling dialogue between strangers rather than friends, which led us into the Q&A space. Because of our social roots, our approach to Q&A ended up being much more social than either PowerReviews or Bazaarvoice. For them, Q&A was primarily an extension of their customer reviews products. In a level-playing-field comparison, the TurnTo Q&A system generated 13 times more dialogue than either Bazaarvoice or PowerReviews.

A.F.:
3. Bazaarvoice has rebranded their Bazaarvoice Express service. Does TurnTo currently offer any similar services?

George Eberstadt:
We haven’t taken the approach of creating a separate brand for a smaller-store offering. We’ve found that having a super-easy-to-get-up-and-running product is often appreciated by bigger stores too, especially for the ease of trial it provides. Of course, TurnTo has many options for customization and integration – some of our larger customers prefer to take advantage of these from the beginning, while others implement them over time.

A.F.:
4. What services does TurnTo currently offer that Bazaarvoice and PowerReviews don’t?

George Eberstadt:
There are a number of differences that all come from TurnTo’s focus on being the best-in-class Q&A specialists. First, TurnTo’s patent-pending ActiveOutreach™ approach to Q&A delivers dramatically more social answers to shopper questions. Making that happen requires different designs in many aspects of the product – it’s not an easy thing to bolt on. We also have some unique features. One of these is called check-out chatter, and it allows a store to ask a question like “Why did you choose this?” upon purchase. It then places all the positive responses directly on the product detail page.

Our approach to search engine indexability is also industry-leading: only TurnTo enables both real-time interactivity for users combined with in-line index ability for SEO. Plus, we’ll be announcing further innovations in the areas of syndication and community shortly. Stay tuned.

A.F.:
5. How do you think the merger will affect your business?

 
George Eberstadt:
So far, the merger has been positive for us. Some merchants and brands that made a conscious choice not to work with Bazaarvoice have discovered that now they are, and they aren’t sure yet how they feel about that. For others, there’s just general uncertainty about what will happen next. So we’re seeing more and more merchants coming to us because they don’t want to put all their eggs in one basket. Others just prefer to work with best-of-breed specialists like us.

A.F.:
6. What advice do you have for business owners who are shopping for a user review platform for the first time?

George Eberstadt:
Bazaarvoice has a great, mature customer reviews product. You should have no hesitation about relying on it. Just keep in mind that customer reviews are not the only element of a successful on-site social strategy. Connecting your shoppers to your past customers through social Q&A is a powerful way to drive conversion and to produce UGC for SEO. For some categories, like fashion, social Q&A may even be a better starting point than reviews.