Consumer product reviews: here, there, everywhere

powerviewslogo.jpgUntil a year ago or so, it was hard to find objective customer reviews of some products online. Amazon had a fair amount of material, but has always been focused on books, movies, CDs, and electronics. What if you wanted to know about a sofa, or a lacrosse stick, boxing gloves, or a pair of women’s casual shoes?

Things have changed. A number of review sites have emerged, and they’ve been mobilizing users to create reviews at sites all over the Web.

Staples, the second largest retailer on the web, behind Amazon.com, is the latest to jump on the consumer review bandwagon. Power Reviews, a young Millbrae, Calif. company that creates customer review sections for e-commerce sites, has scored the office supply behemoth as a partner; until now, Staples’ products have lacked any reviews at all.

So far, Epinions has been the only real source for consumer opinions on office supplies, and its database does not encompass Staples’ massive, constantly shifting inventory.

Meanwhile, Chicago-based Viewpoints, another site offering reviews across hundreds of categories, has raised $5 million from a Chicago fund called i2 and a number of individual investors, putting it in direct competition with Buzzillions, which Power Reviews owns (see coverage here).

The product review market is now stuffed with contenders, from user-review sites like Epinions and Wize, to review aggregators like ConsumerSearch and specialized expert reviewers like CNet and Consumer Reports. There is also Amazon.com. When it comes to building customer reviews into e-commerce sites, Power Reviews competes with Bazaarvoice, as well.

Power Reviews has an interesting model. Studies have shown that customer reviews can boost sales by as much as 25 percent, and it offers to integrate its customer review service into online vendors’ sites for free. In exchange, these vendors solicit in-depth reviews from customers and share the results with Power Reviews, which then uses the data for Buzzillions. The company makes money when Buzzillions directs its users back to the vendors.

Buzzillions already has an extensive catalog of product reviews, spanning everything from obscure camera lenses that only the most picky professionals would use to sporting goods, women’s footwear and furniture. Power Reviews’ partnership with Staples will expand its reach into office supplies and could make it the most comprehensive source for office supply reviews on the net.

The company says it has unannounced deals with several major retailers and expects to have over one million reviews in its database in around six months.

It is currently in the process of raising its second round of financing, in which it hopes to secure $12-15 million.