"This is kind of a no-brainer for Wal-Mart," says Vikram Sehgal, research director at Jupiter Research. "We've surveyed consumers, and overall, they do find reviews useful." In 2006, 48% of those researching or buying products online described reviews as either "very useful or useful," he says, "and they often read through reviews to confirm that they are making the right decision. The whole idea is that there is wisdom of the masses."
And about 52% of those in Jupiter's survey have either written a review themselves or contributed some kind of feedback, he says, adding that customers who use online reviews are also more likely to be younger, as well as more affluent--two audiences Wal-Mart has been courting.
Sehgal says that for the most part, consumers do respect the collective wisdom of other shoppers. While retailers and manufacturers have been accused of putting in fake reviews, "it benefits buyers to have the comments as transparent as possible," he says.
Nor does he think deleting the inevitable hate missives that will be aimed at the retailer will hurt its image as an honest seller. "Most people understand that there is some editing involved in commerce sites, particularly to get rid of vulgarities. I don't think they mind--some may even appreciate it."
And it's clear Wal-Mart is including negative reviews: "The straps that hold the seat are not long enough to allow the baby to touch the ground," one shopper wrote about a Fisher-Price Jumperoo. "The poles that hold the seat do not shorten or raise for different heights."
Another change is the completion of its Site to Store rollout, begun back in March. The company says the service, which allows customers to order products online and have them shipped for free to a local Wal-Mart, has already generated $5 million in savings for online shoppers.
And meanwhile, those who are intrigued with Wal-Mart's more clandestine activities will be happy to know it's dealing in some counterintelligence. More than a million associates and readers have been asked to join a pledge that once Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is released at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, "the secret of who dies will not be discussed at registers in case a customer does not yet know," the company says. "Nearly 17,000 people have taken this vow of silence online at www.makethepledge.net."
Wal-Mart, which surveyed Potter fans, found that 89% of intended purchasers say they'll read straight through to the end rather than skip to the final pages to find out what happens.
"To continue the campaign of secrecy," the company says. "over 50,000 ear plugs are being handed out Friday by Wal-Mart stores."