Online retailers find that consumer-generated content such as product reviews and ratings have a significant influence on consumer purchasing behavior. According to Jupiter Research, over three-quarters of online shoppers leverage consumer-generated content, while nearly half of all online shoppers find such content “useful” when making purchase decisions. Moreover, those who do find it “useful” also spend more at, return items less frequently to, and demonstrate more loyal toward online retailers that provide the content. (“Retail Marketing: Driving Sales through Consumer-Created Content,” August, 2006).
Yet today, few online retailers are leveraging consumer-generated content such as reviews and ratings to sell green products. Those that do tend to be more mainstream online retailers like Amazon that have integrated green into their product lines. Green sites such as Gaiam and Green Guide Home hold promise, but have too little consumer-generated content on the site today to impact consumer behavior on a broad scale.
There may be two reasons for the limited adoption of consumer-generated content in the green retailer space today:
First, green is a nascent category where there are few standards and little hands-on experience with the products by consumers. Expert opinions may be equally (if not more) beneficial to consumer purchase decisions than the opinion of the general population, especially if those experts can bring clarity and perspective to a category where little exists. Sites, therefore, tend to focus on expert tips, reviews or ratings (eg, The Daily Green, Yahoo Auto Green Center), or complement expert recommendations with consumer reviews, albeit limited today (eg, Alter Systems, Gaiam, Green Guide Home).
Second, many green sites today are not direct retailers, and hence are disadvantaged when it comes to soliciting consumer-generated reviews and ratings. Indeed, most green product sites serve more as product information aggregators and filters than traditional online retailers.
Because products are ultimately purchases on another site or at an offline retailer, such sites have fewer opportunities to solicit product reviews directly from consumers. Such sites include: product aggregators (eg, Great Green Goods, Green Shopping, Green Guide Home) and lifestyle sites (The Green Guide, Sprig, The Daily Green).
Nonetheless, the dearth of consumer-generated content – specifically consumer reviews and rankings – is an underleveraged opportunity for green online retailers, product aggregators and lifestyle sites. As the number of “expert consumers” who can comment on the products grows, so too should options for consumer-generated content. Smart marketers will explore ways to solicit this content from consumers and leverage it to cultivate more loyal, higher spending customers over time.