For a corporation as huge as Unilever - the firm has 400 brands and turned over €52.7 billion last year - it’s hard to imagine more customer reviews of its mayonnaise or cotton bud products making a huge difference to its bottom line. (In fact, its hard to imagine many people being bothered to write reviews of Hellmann’s or Q-tips in the first place - or researching them before making a purchase).

After all, buying a jar of Hellmann’s isn’t like buying a house. No one spends hours trawling review websites and forums, endlessly vacillating between Hellmann’s or Heinz,  speed dialling their other half in the supermarket aisle in an agony of indecision ("Darling, I simply cannot work out which choice is best for our family").

Nevertheless, the company enlisted Bazaarvoice’s reviews platform to collect consumer-generated content (CGC) in 2013, and in the process claims its seen a significant increase in customers wanting to buy its items in-store or online.

Jenna Spivak Evans, innovation and digital capabilities manager at Unilever, said:  “Reviews instil a lot of trust among consumers and give them the confidence to make a purchase. And we’ve seen that there’s a positive correlation between review volume and number of orders.”

In order to get people reviewing its mayo, Hellmann’s asks for feedback in its email banners; while Q-tips homepage features a rotating banner ad; and Dove for Men asked people who provided positive feedback on social media to submit a review. Another tactic has been free samples to customers in exchange for a write-up. That increased reviews for beauty brand Suave to more than 5,000. 

Some 76% of shoppers are more likely to make a purchase if they’ve read a positive review, according to Forrester. Although it’s worth noting customers are far more likely to read reviews of higher value products. For low value goods typically bought in-store, like most Unilever's brands, it’s more difficult to gauge the full impact of CGC on sales.

Making a bad thing good

Arguably, bad reviews can be as useful. Unilever cites one unnamed brand which got a lot of bad reviews after the product had been “reformulated.” An investigation found people had also complained to the call centre, and it consequently identified a faulty batch that had caused the problem. 

Replacement products were sent to all the customers who had reported an issue, along with communications about why the product had been reformulated.

The company is also in the process of integrating data from customer review submission forms into its CRM system.

“Integration of CGC into CRM will give us deeper demographic information and provide an incremental way to understand different current consumers’ needs,” said Evans. “We can use the data and insights to create more personalised experiences and targeted marketing messages.”

Increased CGC has at least helped the business improve communications with customers and understand how their products are being received by different demographics. 

Now, to write that 3,000 word review of a Hellmann's egg-mayo sarnie...