Between The Lines: What Reviews Really Tell Consumers

Not all websites provide straightforward reviews. Some companies remove bad reviews from their website.

When they are left up to do their intended task, reviews can reveal the details of a well-run company or one that is facing significant issues.

Michael Blumenthal, co-founder at Near Media, with help from GatherUp, tracked reviews from 101 Walmart stores across the United States. Using natural-language processing and auto-tagging, the team of search experts created tags to filter reviews based on review comments about stock levels -- which most stores continue to experience, spurred on by COVID-19 and disruption in the supply chain.

The data reveals how reviews offer insights about businesses, their strengths and the problems they face.

Collectively, the team uncovered nine words and phrases in the reviews and used them as proxies for stock levels: bare, empty, nothing, out of, restock, shelf and shelves, stock, stock levels, and stocked.

Based on reports in Walmart’s first- and second-quarter calendar earnings call, the Near Media team tracked the data from November 2019 through September 2021. Across 101 stores during this time, Walmart accrued 185,990 reviews, with about 80 reviews per location per month.



Interestingly, of those 185,000 reviews, just over 7,500 mentioned stock-related issues.

The data experts at Near Media worked to gain insights into consumer sentiment about stock levels, and plotted the average ratings per month over the time period.

The data shows relatively high satisfaction ratings in reviews about stock levels from November 2019 through January 2020. As the pandemic set in, sentiment declined until May 2020 and then showed a partial recovery through October 2020. Since then, Walmart has seen a regular, slow but steady erosion in sentiment vis-a-vis Walmart's stock levels, according to Near Media.

The analysis makes an interesting point: It indicates that Walmart, coming into the busy season, has a ways to go to achieve the inventory levels expected by its customers.

The data also shows that the volume of reviews increase as consumer satisfaction declined.

Near Media is a new company created by data geeks and search experts Blumenthal, David Mihm, and Greg Sterling to explore the intersection of the internet and local businesses. One of the projects they are involved in, besides analysis, is small business education.

The company partnered with regional Score affiliates to do lunchtime digital marketing training.


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