Recently our competitor, Bazaarvoice, made an announcement that implied they, and not retailers, control what consumer review content appears on retailers’ websites. They announced that an “Open Network” is one where they continue to control access and charge access fees to the retailers in their network. PowerReviews defines an Open Network as one that permits content to flow without a gatekeeper and without access fees.
With so many eyes focused on the Open Network, I want to take this opportunity to provide clarity and certainty to the industry on how PowerReviews plans to protect the broad availability of consumer reviews.
Here are the facts.
What is well understood about review syndication?
As most brands and retailers know, review syndication is an important best practice that ensures optimal review coverage and depth. Brands collect reviews from their customers and syndicate those reviews to retailers for the benefit of consumers, the retailer and the brand. Brands and retailers count on companies like PowerReviews and Bazaarvoice to perform the mechanics of collection, moderation, syndication and reporting.
Most brands and retailers also know that for the last six years, Bazaarvoice and PowerReviews have “cross-syndicated” brand content to our respective retailers. And the industry is generally aware that Bazaarvoice was compelled to do so because a court determined they had violated the law and acted anti-competitively when they acquired and were subsequently forced to divest PowerReviews nearly four years ago.
What is not well understood about review syndication?
What most of the major retailers never fully understood or specifically agreed to, was Bazaarvoice’s practice of charging brands “access fees” for their reviews to appear on retail sites. These fees resulted in many brands not being able to afford syndication — and retailers, brands and consumers missing the benefit of better review coverage. It is common for retailers to charge fees to brands, it is unheard of for a third party technology company to do so without the explicit consent and knowledge of the retailer.
I liken this practice to a vendor who supplies shelves to a retailer and then decides, without consulting with the retailer, they are going to charge slotting fees to brands. Or an e-commerce technology platform vendor telling a retailer that brands that sell on the retailer’s site must pay the vendor a fee. Both of these examples seem absurd, but this practice of charging brands for access has been the Bazaarvoice business model for years. In fact, we estimate that Bazaarvoice has charged brands at least $100 million dollars in access fees over the past six years.
Not only has Bazaarvoice been charging exorbitant access fees to brands without informing the retailers of the practice, but for years they also required brands to use the Bazaarvoice collection platform if the brand wanted to syndicate review content. Under competitive pressure from PowerReviews and the industry, Bazaarvoice only just recently announced they would syndicate content from brands not using their platform.
But here’s the thing. It is really not up to Bazaarvoice to decide on behalf of the retailer what content will and will not appear on the retailer’s site — it is up to the retailer. And the majority of Bazaarvoice’s largest retail customers agreed nearly a year ago to continue accepting content from brands using PowerReviews. And we expect the rest of the major retailers to follow suit in the coming months. The fact is, retailers want the most content possible on their site.
They don’t want their technology vendors trying to lock their brands in to a specific technology platform, and they certainly don’t want their technology vendors charging exorbitant access fees which ultimately prevent them from receiving as much content as they could from their brand partners.
So what is PowerReviews going to do about it?
PowerReviews is making the following commitments to retailers and brands:
- PowerReviews will not charge access fees
- PowerReviews will continue to syndicate brand content to retailers who do not use our platform
- PowerReviews will continue to accept syndicated content from brands that do not use our platform
- PowerReviews will drive innovation and competition in this space
Should Bazaarvoice attempt to block access to review content we will work directly with retailers (as we already have been) to ensure they have access to the content, and we will make sure brands using Bazaarvoice’s technology have access to retailers using our technology. Our simple message to Bazaarvoice clients is “Bazaarvoice does not own your content and does not control what content appears on your site. You do.” Period. Full stop.
The agreement we currently have in place with Bazaarvoice has established methods of exchanging content, and we pay each other for basic services such as onboarding clients, moderating content when needed and product matching. We have nearly six years of operational experience with these methods. We have provided them with a proposal months ago to continue this relationship beyond July and thus far they have not responded.
We hope and expect that pressure from retailers and brands who do not want to see any interruption and see the power of choice and competition, will persuade Bazaarvoice to eventually agree to extend this agreement. However, for now it appears they are retaining a position that they can return to the old way of charging access fees.
So, to ensure continued syndication without access fees we are establishing direct connections with retailers and brands, and will be providing a solution that eliminates access fees and helps more brands and retailers benefit from syndication.
Some things you should know about PowerReviews
- PowerReviews has over 1,000 customers who reach more than 500 million shoppers each month. We currently syndicate 60 million pieces of content, across 4 million products, from more than 500 brands, to more than 500 retailers. Brands and retailers that use our platform represent hundreds of billions in sales.
- The direct syndication partnerships PowerReviews has in place with major retailers that do not use our technology help us reach another 500 million shoppers each month.
- The PowerReviews platform is capable of efficiently and affordably servicing the smallest to largest retailers and brands. We are proud of our ability to handle global clients with hundreds of sites and brands while also working with new, innovative and emerging brands. Our goal is to introduce tens of thousands of brands and retailers to content syndication.
- PowerReviews is based in Chicago, has 150 employees and has been in business for eleven years. We have an intense focus on the needs of our clients and a passion for the value of reviews and user generated content and feedback. We believe passionately in the power of transparency and accountability. And we have seen 95% net retention of our clients.
- Nearly 200 Bazaarvoice customers have switched over to the PowerReviews platform over the last three years.
- Over the last four years, PowerReviews has made substantial investments in the flexibility and sophistication of our moderation and matching technologies and services. We consider our capabilities to be best-in-class. And we have some new and innovative network-based services being released this year. We look forward to sharing those with you soon.
In conclusion, PowerReviews will operate a truly open syndication network that does not charge access fees, respects brand relationships with retailers and does not dictate to retailers what content can appear on their sites. We will accept content from brands that do not use our platform and we will syndicate to retailers who do not use our platform. This approach will benefit retailers, brands and consumers alike by encouraging competition and choice.
For more information please see our Open Syndication Network position paper and fill out this form to learn more. For current clients if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your Client Success Director