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Amazon Launches New Twist on Product Reviews

Amazon pioneered product reviews, wisely betting they would help its shoppers feel more comfortable buying goods online, sight unseen. Last year, it introduced a new twist on product reviews called “Ask an Owner.” But Amazon wasn’t the first company to figure out that connecting would-be buyers with those who owned a product could help improve the buying experience and likely boost sales. TurnTo launched Active Outreach, which it calls “Social Q & A,” 4 years ago.

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos highlighted the Ask an Owner feature in a letter to shareholders last week in a section called “Experiments and More Experiments”:

“From a product page, customers can ask any question related to the product. Is the product compatible with my TV/Stereo/PC? Is it easy to assemble? How long does the battery last?

“We then route these questions to owners of the product. As is the case with reviews, customers are happy to share their knowledge to directly help other customers. Millions of questions have already been asked and answered.”

Another benefit of Amazon reviews is that they act as signposts to search engines, helping to drive traffic to product listings, and the same is true of the Ask an Owner feature.

Amazon spokesperson Erik Fairleigh said Amazon launched the Ask an Owner feature in November 2012 – the decision was based on customer feedback. It benefits sellers as well – Amazon heard from buyers that the feature gives them the confidence to make purchases, Fairleigh said.

“Ask an Owner” Feature Explained
Amazon highlights Ask an Owner on Amazon Product Detail pages – underneath the title and to the right of the 5-star “reviews” section. If there are no questions and answers already, the space is either left blank or contains text along the lines of, “Questions? Ask the owners and get fast answers.” If there are questions and answers, there’s a link to the section that also indicates how many there are.

Amazon instructs shoppers to scroll to the “Customer Questions & Answers” feature and enter a question in the text box and click “Ask.” The section is located underneath the listing description and ads and directly above the Customer Reviews section.

To answer questions, users click “See all questions & answers” and choose questions they can answer from the “Unanswered questions” feature in the right column. In addition, Amazon also emails owners – Email questions come from “Amazon Answers” (answers@amazon.com) with the subject line, “(First Name): Can you answer this question about (product)?”

Amazon said it does not reveal owners’ email addresses to other Amazon customers when they receive and respond to customer questions. It says it will send customer questions “no more than once every two weeks, and probably much less often.”

In the Ask an Owner help page, Amazon suggests shoppers ask questions specific to the product. “This is a great opportunity to get feedback from other customers who have experience with the product. Ask a question that will capture this experience. For example: Does this camera take good quality pictures in low light?”

Amazon tells shoppers not to ask questions about customer service, shipping or delivery, product availability, and the like.

TurnTo Pioneered Social Q&A
TurnTo actually pioneered the concept of “social Q&A,” according to founder George Eberstadt. “Active Outreach is our term for the mechanism of getting fast answers from real product owners by emailing them the shoppers’ question,” he said. “Without that, community answering doesn’t work. It’s not as easy as it sounds.”

Eberstadt said among the benefits of Active Outreach(TM) is increased conversion; SEO (search engine optimization); reduced call center load for merchants; and insights gained – “Q&A illuminates the questions that stand between a shopper and a purchase,” he said. “One computer manufacturer credits TurnTo with millions of dollars in incremental sales by enabling them to optimize the copy on the page for a new product within hours of its release.” See the accompanying interview with Eberstadt in EcommerceBytes Newsflash to read more.

Amazon User-Generated Guides
Amazon also has a feature called “So You’d Like to…” that also provides user generated content that contributes to a greater search engine optimization and potentially a better buying experience.

Amazon explains the feature on its website: “Have you recently become an expert at buying a DVD player? Do you know all of the books or products someone must have to learn how to make the perfect pizza? Did you just finish building a deck? Share your advice, experiences, and product recommendations with others. Your guide will appear on Your Profile and other places on the site.” It provides an example, “So you’d like to…Impress your friends with Yankee trivia.”

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com.