The Current, delivered daily.
Ecommerce is transforming how we interact on the web.
As brands and retailers find new ways to connect and engage with shoppers, new features often blossom.
This has been true since the '90s, when platforms like eBay and Amazon were inventing shopper experience as we know it today.
One of the innovations to arise from this period was the product review. Harnessing the internet’s communication and crowdsourcing capabilities, reviews brought a process of validation that was previously conducted via product research and word of mouth onto the same listing where shoppers found the rest of the details about an item, and ultimately made the decision to buy.
Underscoring their importance, reviews were one of the areas where Amazon made one of its notorious early stands. In an interview with Harvard Business Review editors, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos talked about the decision to post reviews of books in the company’s early days:
In the very earliest days (I’m taking you back to 1995), when we started posting customer reviews, a customer might trash a book and the publisher wouldn’t like it. I would get letters from publishers saying, “Why do you allow negative reviews on your website? Why don’t you just show the positive reviews?” One letter in particular said, “Maybe you don’t understand your business. You make money when you sell things.” But I thought to myself, We don’t make money when we sell things; we make money when we help customers make purchase decisions.
Amazon’s reviews have evolved since then. For one, they became ratings in fall 2019, and allow users to choose to communicate their opinions on a product by selecting only the number of stars that corresponds with their satisfaction (though written blurbs are still an option, too).
Development will continue, but on the whole reviews are an entrenched part of ecommerce. Shoppers seek them out: A study from Podium said 93% of shoppers use reviews to make decisions. For many, they've replaced Consumer Reports and passing neighborhood conversation as the source of info about a product.
As ecommerce expands into new categories, it's no surprise, then, that the new wave of platforms that power it are incorporating reviews to the experience. In some ways, they might look a little different, depending on the product sold. With reviews still being fresh, it offers a chance to get a glimpse at where reviews are heading.
This is taking place as a new era of grocery shopping emerges. The category emerged as an ecommerce force in the pandemic, as pickup and delivery options became attractive to shoppers. Going forward, grocers are building out ecommerce capabilities for a customer base that’s showing interest in continuing to have digital options. A pair of recent developments suggest reviews are a key ingredient of online food shopping.
Grocery shoppers have long prized the best information when making choices about which brand to purchase from the many on a shelf, or deciding whether a product lives up to the packaging. Reviews provide a new resource. In a survey conducted by PowerReviews, 90% of online grocery shoppers read ratings and reviews at least occasionally, up from 82% in 2021. In fact, having reviews is now seen as key to the shopper experience, as 83% of grocery shoppers said they are more likely to purchase a new grocery item online if customer reviews exist for that product, per the survey. The company is now putting reviews on display with one of the country’s largest grocers.
Albertsons adds product reviews
PowerReviews partnered with Albertsons Companies to provide reviews and ratings on 11 of the grocer’s websites, which include Safeway, Vons, Jewel-Osco and Shaw’s.
Along with reviews themselves, the company is providing the ability to syndicate user-generated content to related product pages.
“Customer-generated ratings and reviews empower purchase decisions,” said Jill Pavlovich, SVP of Digital Customer Experience at Albertsons Cos. “We’re proud to be one of the first grocers to offer this authentic conversation with our shoppers about their favorite products.”
As with most things in grocery, it’s a bit different to review a food product than other kinds of merchandise. Especially for fresh items, seasonality and crop quality can make a big difference. Nevertheless, the reviews and ratings can provide context and experiences to shoppers. Safeway’s website shows reviews for products from laundry detergent to Clif Bars (“Favorite snack,” says one subject line) to milk and eggs (“No broken eggs!” says one review). A Reviews tab on the page highlights a positive and negative review, and offers a search option.
Instacart's Shopper ratings
Instacart's Shopper ratings system. (Courtesy photo)
Grocery ecommerce can also bring a unique interaction between the person preparing an order and the customer. That’s built in to the model of Instacart, which provides instant grocery delivery from local stores. Ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft brought ratings of the people behind the process into the so-called on-demand economy. Harnessing this model for grocery delivery, Instacart features ratings of its Shoppers, which are the roughly 600,000 people who pick and deliver groceries after orders come in via app. As with Uber, the ratings are a way for the company to collect feedback, and impact how likely Shoppers are to be linked with the next order.
Recent changes to this system offer a look at ratings evolving in real time. After receiving feedback that the rating system could improve, the company announced the following changes on May 24:
- Instacart will now prioritize which Shopper gets an order based on whether a Shopper has a rating of 4.7 or above. This changes a system that prioritized access to orders based on having the highest rating possible, which affected shoppers' ability to get work if they had anything below a five-star review.
- Instacart will forgive more ratings that are beyond a Shopper’s control, such as ratings from a customer that consistently rates below 5 stars.
- A new screen called Your Stats will show info like customer rating, customer feedback and statistics like how many orders they've completed.
Shoppers will also get to leave their own reviews of sorts. The company is adding a feature where shoppers can provide feedback after an order, including reporting a rude customer and the ability to block a customer.
With these changes, Instacart said it is aiming to build a community based on “best intent.” This brings up an interesting acknowledgment about ratings and reviews in general. While including negative reviews is an important step toward ensuring feedback is genuine, it's important to remember that they offer a subjective look at a product or experience. Everyone has their own opinion, and they're willing to share it online. While this is a powerful tool, a review system must be a productive part of the shopper experience. After all, Bezos said the ultimate goal of a review was to provide a good experience for customers, and help them make decisions about what to buy. Ultimately, a successful system comes down to trust. Customers must believe they’re getting good information, and that it can lead them to an item they’re happy with. In turn, this could inspire customers to leave reviews of their own, and make more purchases. That's a five-star experience for everyone involved.
Trending in Shopper Experience
Campbell Soup Company CEO Mark Clouse offered thoughts on messaging amid inflationary shifts in consumer behavior.
After months of elevated inflation and interest rate hikes that have the potential to cool demand, consumers are showing more signs of shifting behavior.
It’s showing up in retail sales data, but there’s also evidence in the observations of the brands responsible for grocery store staples.
The latest example came this week from Campbell Soup Company. CEO Mark Clouse told analysts that the consumer continues to be “resilient” despite continued price increases on food, but found that “consumers are beginning to feel that pressure” as time goes on.
This shows up in the categories they are buying. Overall, Clouse said Campbell sees a shift toward shelf-stable items, and away from more expensive prepared foods.
There is also change in when they make purchases. People are buying more at the beginning of the month. That’s because they are stretching paychecks as long as possible.
These shifts change how the company is communicating with consumers.
Clouse said the changes in behavior are an opportunity to “focus on value within our messaging without necessarily having to chase pricing all the way down.”
“No question that it's important that we protect affordability and that we make that relevant in the categories that we're in," Clouse said. "But I also think there's a lot of ways to frame value in different ways, right?”
A meal cooked with condensed soup may be cheaper than picking up a frozen item or ordering out. Consumers just need a reminder. Even within Campbell’s own portfolio, the company can elevate brands that have more value now, even if they may not always get the limelight.
The open question is whether the shift in behavior will begin to show up in the results of the companies that have raised prices. Campbell’s overall net sales grew 5% for the quarter ended April 30, while gross profit margins held steady around 30%. But the category-level results were more uneven. U.S. soup sales declined 11%, though the company said that was owed to comparisons with the quarter when supply chains reopened a year ago and expressed confidence that the category is seeing a longer-term resurgence as more people cook at home following the pandemic. Snacks, which includes Goldfish and Pepperidge Farm, were up 12% And while net sales increased overall, the amount of products people are buying is declining. Volumes were down 7%.
These are trends happening across the grocery store. Campbell is continuing to compete. It is leading with iconic brands, and a host of different ways to consume them. It is following that up with innovation that makes the products stand out. Then, it is driving home messaging that shows consumers how to fit the products into their lives, and even their tightening spending plans.
Campbell Soup is more than 150 years old, and has seen plenty of difficult economic environments. It is also a different business today, and will continue to evolve. At the end of the day, continued execution is what’s required.
“If it's good food, people are going to buy it, especially if it's a great value,” Clouse said.