By  on October 15, 2009

The recession might have flooded the market with excess inventory and penny-pinching shoppers to the benefit of, but the Web site’s not counting on that to keep business humming.

The 10-year-old e-commerce site, which had revenues of more than $830 million last year, is constantly trying to understand its customers and figure out new efficiencies for brands that use the site to liquidate inventory or simply drive sales volume.

“We’ve got more information about consumers than we know what to do with,” said Geoff Atkinson, senior vice president of customer relationship management and demand management. “We know what they searched for, what they’ve clicked, what they’ve bought. That’s the whole game: ‘How do you leverage all that data?’” See a video highlight of Geoff Atkinson discussing the role of online reviews>> uses its databanks to target customers — for instance, taking advantage of a cold snap and sending customers details about the current coat offerings.

But customers, as it turns out, voluntarily do a lot of the heavy lifting on the Web site, helping to bridge the gap between the store and the online experience by weighing in with at times extensive reviews of what they bought.

“Reviews are huge,” said Atkinson. “If you put a review up on the site, just one, you can see an immediate lift for the product.”

Even bad reviews can make good business sense.

“They actually limit the number of returns coming back for a product,” Atkinson said. “It’s important to post bad reviews. If it’s a bad review, you don’t want that product selling. You’re going to get all sorts of returns. You’re going to get all sorts of big issues if you’re getting a lot of bad reviews and not posting them.”

Atkinson said customers who contribute reviews visit the site more frequently and become more loyal. So not posting a negative review can mean alienating one of your best shoppers.

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