Death of Review Gating, Google Changes Topics, Amazon Goes to the 'Burbs

Death of Review Gating, Google Changes Topics, Amazon Goes to the 'Burbs
Photo by Nikola Knezevic / Unsplash

Review Gating Is Dead

Review gating is the practice of routing satisfied and dissatisfied customers down different pathways. The happy customer is asked to write a review, the grumpy customer is mollified or ignored but not solicited to review. Many reputation management vendors enable this practice. Conceptually it makes sense: segment customers and address them individually. But review gating is unethical and now clearly illegal. The FTC has fined CA-based Fashion Nova $4.2 million for selectively publishing only positive reviews. This is a form of consumer deception, which the FTC is charged with prosecuting. The settlement requires Fashion Nova to post "all customer reviews of products currently being sold." It cannot selectively publish only positive reviews. The agency also notified (.pdf) 10 review platforms that they can no longer "avoid collection or publication of negative reviews." There are some interesting questions raised that we'll address this week on the Near Memo.

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya / Unsplash

Our take:

  • Paid-for fake reviews are rampant but there's also lots of "gray area" behavior (i.e., review gating) the FTC now appears to be addressing.
  • There's new formal guidance for marketers and reputation management platforms around permissible and impermissible review collection.
  • Since last year, when the FTC signaled it would address review fraud, we've been anticipating this. Enforcement remains a question mark, however, given the agency's limited resources.

Google Topics Marries Contextual and Behavioral Targeting

Google FLoC is dead. Earlier this week the company admitted its cookie alternative was no longer viable given widespread objections and resistance. For example, Wordpress, which powers nearly half of all websites, had threatened to treat FLoC as a "security concern" and block it by default. Yesterday Google formally announced a new approach to replace FLoC: Topics. FLoC grouped people into cohorts, based on browsing behavior, and targeted them by group. (Google touted the early success of this approach.) Topics, by contrast, tracks categories of content/sites (e.g., sports, travel). The tracking only covers the previous three weeks of browsing. Ads will be served on the basis of that recent browsing history. Google says users will be able to add or remove topics in a control panel and there will be full transparency.

Our take:

  • In the abstract this appears to be stronger, more privacy friendly approach – a marriage of contextual and behavioral targeting.
  • It could work well for marketers, though it won't produce the kinds of very individualized ads that cookies did.
  • Google is powerful but many publishers and marketers are banking (perhaps unwisely) on a "Universal ID" approach to succeed cookies.

Amazon Goes to the 'Burbs

Amazon Go, as you undoubtedly know, is a next-generation convenience store that relies on sensors, machine learning and a mobile app to offer a "Just Walk Out" (JWO)  experience. The customer collects his/her items but never stands in a checkout line. Amazon is now expanding Go to the suburbs. Currently there are roughly 30 operating Go stores in the US and UK, with more on the way. Amazon's larger format grocery store, Amazon Fresh, also offers a cashier-free option in selected stores. (There are currently 11 Fresh stores with 28 more on the way.) European grocer Aldi just launched its own cashier-free store. And there are multiple startups working on checkout-free experiences. Amazon is also licensing JWO to other retailers. Consumer surveys indicate high levels of interest in Amazon Go and checkout-free retail experiences.

Our take:

  • Technology won't totally replace cashiers, but many thousands of jobs will disappear. There were ~3.4M cashiers in the US in 2020.
  • Labor shortages will continue to drive the adoption of new technology and automation, including self-checkout and checkout-free experiences.
  • Retailers need to balance efficiency and customer experience. Automation can enhance CX; it can also destroy it (think: IVR).

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