Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sephora Glosses Up Mobile Web Offering With Debut of MobileVoice Reviews App

Written by John Gaffney
Mobile applications continuing to gain momentum in the retail sector as Sephora and Intuit recently debuted MobileVoice, a product review application from BazaarVoice specially designed to allow customers to access reviews at hosted mobile websites via product categories, keyword search and product pages. The new application will also provide mobile-specific analytics to retailers and suppliers.

“Everybody wants to do something with mobile,” says BazaarVoice CMO Sam Decker. “This application allows the voice of the customer to enter the store. It allows retailers to leverage their mobile ambitions as well as leverage their word-of-mouth initiatives.”

The BazaarVoice announcement taps into the mobile wave as well as the continuing concern with user generated content initiatives and capturing the voice of the customer (VOC). A report to be released in late January from the CMO Council shows that 2/3 of the companies it surveyed do not have a voice of customer program in place. Only 12.9% of companies have deployed real-time systems to collect, analyze and distribute customer feedback, according to the CMO Council data. With U.S. mobile adoption by all accounts now well north of 75%, and adoption of smartphones increase by 478% according to Gartner, MobileVoice is designed to provide a new avenue for VOC.

A leading pioneer in the area of cross channel retailing and also CRM initiatives, Sephora is trying to capitalize on the huge success it has had with customer reviews on its successful website. The leading beauty chain which sells through more than 515 stores in 14 countries, will post signage in all its locations encouraging customers to access the reviews at m.sephora.com, as well as promote the new initiative on its website.

“We wanted to reach the next level for ratings,” says Sephora SVP Julie Bornstein. “It is just the perfect category for us and we’ve had wild success with them. We believe our clients will love to have the added technology in the store and it will increase the voice of customer to a new level.”

Bornstein is justifiably enthusiastic. Sephora’s launch with BazaarVoice generated more than 100,000 reviews within days. Many Sephora products have been reviewed by more than 1,000 customers. The company’s average product rating is 4.5 out of five. She also said suppliers and internal executives gain a tremendous amount of knowledge from reading individual product reviews, as well as aggregate data.

Intuit launched mobile reviews for its Turbo Tax product at m.turbotax.com on December 26th, 2008. The software giant’s rollout spotlights the opportunity for mobile reviews to benefit both suppliers and retailers, Intuit plans to promote its mobile reviews via in-store signage at retailer chains such as Staples, Office Depot, OfficeMax, Wal-Mart and Best Buy.

Although Sephora and Intuit are the first to debut MobileVoice, BazzarVoice’s Decker says new functionality is already being explored. For example, it is possible to integrate quick response codes into the MobileVoice platform, which automatically present anything from like product reviews to like product pictures. He also believes iPhone applications, which saw light from Amazon and Target last Christmas, could easily include reviews.
“There’s a lot of practicality here,” he says. “The data generated will help supply-retail relationships and I believe it will also enable cross-channel behavior from customers. And if you have to compete with someone who has mobile capacity, I believe you either have to get your own or suffer a disadvantage.”

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