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Thanks to the internet, it's never been easier for consumers to share their thoughts and opinions about products and services. That has spurred the creation of an entire online reviews ecoystem.
Popular reviews sites like Yelp, which is planning to go public, can literally make or break a business. Earn favorable reviews and a steady stream of eager new customers could be coming through the door. Earn poor reviews and attracting customers can become a difficult task, although there's some evidence that negative customer reviews aren't as bad as thought.
The businesses most affected by sites like Yelp are usually local and service-oriented (think restaurants and spas), but if the creators of the OpenLabel project have their way, Yelp-like reviews could be coming for just about any product with a barcode.
As detailed by Springwise, OpenLabel "enables anyone to scan a product barcode and append their comments" using a mobile app:
Using the Open Label iPhone app — which is now in private beta — consumers simply scan a product’s UPC barcode to open its virtual “Open Label”. There, they can read what others have said about the product, and they can also attach their own comments as to why it is or isn’t worth buying, focusing in particular on topics such as the manufacturer or producers’ environmental, safety, health or animal rights records. If the product’s maker has a poor record for sustainability, for instance, users can note that on its Open Label. Conversely, users of the app can also ask questions about particular products, and — in Twitter-like fashion — they can “follow” the people and organizations they trust as well.
Springwise notes that similar apps exist in other verticals, but the OpenLabel is taking what appears to be a more ambitious approach in trying to aggregate reviews for any product with a barcode.
Obviously, it remains to be seen just how many consumers will actually use OpenLabel. The project will also have to deal with the issue of negative bias. In many cases, those most likely to go out of their way to review a product or service are those who don't like it. The local nature of reviews sites like Yelp gives loyal patrons an incentive to help promote the businesses they do like, but it's not certain that the same loyalty will translate to positive reviews for products.
More importantly, OpenLabel's success could be determined by its focus. On this note, it appears that the project's creators are interested in cultivating reviews around 'social' issues, like a product's impact on the environment or a manufacturer's labor record. While there may be a place for this, the more mainstream play is probably around reviews focused on the basics (does the product do what it's supposed to, is it of high quality, is it worth the price, etc.).
But even if OpenLabel's social slant relegates it to a niche, manufacturers should prepare for the day when their products are reviewed in a Yelp-like fashion. Sooner than later, somebody is going to get the model right.