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Customer 2.0

Attention shoppers: we have arrived.

We’ve all been doing the ecommerce thing for a while now. We’re all semi-pro online bargain hunters. We all finally feel safe using our credit cards online. And the government is finally getting around to taxing online commerce (bastards), because they know it’s gotten to a level that some pesky tax won’t pull us back from.

Online sellers are giving Main Street a run for it’s money like it’s never seen before.

Think about it: 20 years ago we were bemoaning big, bad WalMart swooping into smalltown America and squeezing out the Mom and Pops.

– The mom and pops cried “foul!” Economists cried “competition!”

And then a few years later it was the demon spawn Barnes & Nobles and eviler still Starbucks hastening the extinction of our local bookstores and coffee shops.

– The purists cried “foul!” Everyone else cried “vente soy latte!”

But now we find ourselves in the middle of an even braver, newer world: ecommerce has fully matured. And now no one’s safe. Even brick-and-mortar behemoth WalMart.

Oh, the irony.

Today a small town semi-savy Grandmother with a little extra time on her hands can easily find most of what WalMart offers elsewhere, for cheaper. With free shipping. And points. And she does.

We have arrived.

There’s a lot less cries of “foul” now too.

Why? For one, it’s not just the hardware stores, bookstores, or the coffee shops that are getting a beatdown; it’s every kind of shop imaginable, save for restaurants and nail salons.

But the main reason no one’s complaining is that the benefit to the consumer (you know, us) has finally gotten past the tipping point: everything’s cheaper, and who’s going to cry “foul” on that?

The unfettered competition made all the prices lower, just like it tends to do. And it’s a beautiful thing.

But lately another powerful phenomenon has come to the fore. One which will certainly throw yet another wonderful wrench in the works: Consumer Reviews.

You thought consumers had power before? Well, you’re in for a treat.

Now it’s not only their pocketbooks they’re speaking with. It’s their mouths. Fancy that.

Welcome to Customer 2.0.

Message boards. Blogs. Dedicated, free review sites like yelp. Dedicated, paid review sites like angieslist. And even company’s own sponsored forums, customers are making themselves heard. And loudly.

Consumers are making their experiences known, and their opinions count in ways that were simply impossible to count before.

And, moving forward, it will be very, very interesting to witness how this will affect individual businesses, and the marketplace in general.

I predict the consumer will win once again.

No, the customer isn’t “always right”. Just like “there’s no bad PR”, there’s always exceptions to rules like those.

But there aren’t just “angel customers” and “devil customers” either. There’s a patchwork spectrum of anything and everything consumers have to offer. From the truly good, bad and ugly, to suspiciously-glowing self-reviews and the vendetta carpet bash. It’s all valid, and if handled correctly, all helpful. But if business merely try to “bucket” them instead of simply learning from them, they will =fail.

So, with billions of consumers sounding off about the good, bad and everything in-between, how will we know what’s worth listening to?

Well, the market will sort that out, too.

Crazy, that.

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