The Supply Side: Opines helps retail vendors garner product reviews

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 1,112 views 

Opines, a retail showroom, opened in the Northwest Arkansas Mall in Fayetteville this past August and has been helping suppliers to Walmart and Sam’s Club garner hundreds of authentic reviews for large ticket items sold online.

Kim West, CEO and co-founder of Opines, said suppliers to Walmart and Sam’s Clubs with newer product launches needed to amass dozens of authentic product reviews to have an item uploaded and sold on the retailers’ websites.

That might be easy for lower-cost items that could be sent to reviewers. But when it comes to a bulky patio set that seats 12 people or a subwoofer for an automobile sound system, the shipping cost and higher product price make it much harder to get product reviews for newly launched products. That’s where Opines can help. The showroom store can stage bigger ticket products or bulky items that the vendors deliver.

West said Opines works with Fayetteville-based Field Agent, dispatching the jobs to thousands of crowd-sourced agents across Northwest Arkansas. Each review assignment pays between $10 and $15 and is done in the showroom with the agents sitting on the furniture, checking out the quality, and interacting with the items as they upload the reviews.

“The inventory turns over about every 10 days, and we have 18 setups this week,” West said during a recent interview. “All but two are patio furniture sold at Sam’s Club, and two are stereo equipment from a Walmart.com supplier. Field Agent made these new jobs available this morning, and we have had steady traffic of reviewers coming in and uploading their reviews.”

West said Field Agent works with Opines to send the suppliers daily reports of all the reviews uploaded. West has a research background, having done marketing research for Procter & Gamble early in her career. She is married to Rick West, co-founder of Field Agent, who said his firm kept hearing from supplier customers about the need for a more efficient way to garner reviews for larger and bulky items.

“Field Agent is a tech company, and we didn’t want to start a marketing research vertical,” Rick West said. “That’s when Kim and I founded Opines. A separate business, Opines contracts with Field Agent for some technology assistance.”

Kim West said she has a one-year lease for the retail space at NWA Mall and is looking forward to working with more suppliers in 2024. After Christmas, Opines will feature bedding for a retail supplier. She also has drawn interest from fine jewelry sold at Sam’s Club and bicycles, which she said would be an offsite showroom located near the local trail system.

J.R. Means, co-founder of Coronado Casuals, was in Fayetteville recently watching Field Agents rate and review 16 patio furniture groupings sold under the Member’s Mark brand at Sam’s Club. Based in Indianapolis, Means said his merchant buyer at Sam’s Club recommended Opines to beef up rating and reviews ahead of the product launch in late January.

Means has a partner in China where the furniture is made. He said a majority of the revenue from Coronado Casuals comes from brick-and-mortar stores that started in Europe and expanded to the U.S. and online, where sales are naturally gravitating. He said the furniture on display at Opines will be sold online beginning in January under the Member’s Mark brand. A few pieces to be determined later will be available for purchase in physical clubs.

Means said the Sam’s Club business dates back about three years, and with the expansion of the product line, Opines allows for authentic ratings and reviews from consumers for brand-new items ahead of them launching online.

“This is an expense to ship product to the Opines showroom, but it pales in comparison to how much it would cost to do my own event or ship product out to product reviewers,” Means said. “I have been impressed with how smoothly this process runs. I get the review uploaded each day, and over the course of a week, I will get the needed reviews required by Sam’s Club for new product launches.”

Means said he wasn’t sure what to expect, wondering if it would be a warehouse or some off-the-beat location. However, the best scenario was a storefront in a busy shopping mall during the holiday season. He said he won’t need to come in person next year, as he trusts the Opines team and its contracted support from Field Agent to generate the reviews and ratings needed for online commerce.

“The reviews are also a big help to us as product manufacturers,” Means said. “We want honest reviews; the bad ones that inform us of problems are just as valuable as those that rave about the product. We warranty our products, but it can be expensive to reship and replace faulty items. We want happy customers, and honest reviews and ratings help potential customers make better-informed purchase decisions.”

West said she had been surprised at the traffic that just stumbled into the showroom to ask how to buy the items on display, a bonus for those vendors using Opines.

“We are still figuring out what we can do to help online suppliers navigate the rating and review requirements for high-end or bulky products. We have worked with Walmart and Sam’s Club vendors but would also be open to helping brands who serve other retailers, too,” she said.

Editor’s note: The Supply Side section of Talk Business & Politics focuses on the companies, organizations, issues and individuals engaged in providing products and services to retailers. The Supply Side is managed by Talk Business & Politics and sponsored by Firebend.