eTail Germany 2020

09 - 11 March, 2020

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Here’s How Otto is Filtering Out the Noise to Help its Customers Make Better Choices


Founded by Werner Otto in 1949, mail order retailer Otto began life with a hand-produced catalogue offering fewer than 30 styles of shoe and nothing else. Telephone orders were introduced in 1963, and the company went online in 1995. Today, Otto is still very much a family-owned company with most of the shares in the hands of board chairman Michael Otto and his family.

Expanding significantly beyond a product portfolio of a relative handful of shoes, Otto is now an ecommerce giant which offers everything from clothes and jewellery to technology and home furnishings. Michael Otto and family are #174 on the Forbes global billionaires list, and #13 in Germany, with a net worth of $9.4 billion.

Having been operating in the online space for nearly as long as there has been one to operate in, Otto has seen ecommerce blossom from a novel curiosity, into the primary method of shopping used by people all over the world. To stay relevant in an increasingly crowded market, Otto has had to continually innovate to ensure its customers get the very best ecommerce experience possible.

Product Reviews

Product reviews are a key element of an online retailer’s ecommerce strategy. Soliciting a review from customers post purchase is a great way of staying in touch and encouraging repeat business. Many retailers have found innovative ways to combine a request for a review with the promotion of other products – such as sending a discount code with the email.


When customers post reviews on a website, it counts as fresh content in the eyes of Google’s algorithms. This means, not only are customer reviews great for drawing customers back to a website for repeat business opportunities, but offer an all-important SEO boost as well.

One of the issues with product reviews, however, becomes apparent when they are viewed from the perspective of a potential customer who may be interested in purchasing the product in question. Popular products can often have hundreds of reviews written about them, and, while they usually have a breakdown of the aggregate numerical scores at the top of the section, it can be hard to find specific information on specific relevant features.

A Fresh Strategy

Otto is looking to address this issue by implementing artificial intelligence (AI) technology in its customer review software. The idea is to allow customers to select specific features of the product they are interested in learning more about, and filter the reviews accordingly.

“No one wants to buy a washing machine enough to want to read over 1,700 evaluations. Yet user feedback is an important source of information from other users, and a crucial factor in the buying process. So it’s all the more important that customers get easy access to the information they require”, says Marc Opelt, Member of the Management Board, Marketing and Spokesman for Otto.

This means if a customer is looking at a pair of trainers, for example, they will be able to filter the reviews along the lines of what the fit is like, whether the stitching is of robust quality, or the softness and comfort of the insole. For a washing machine, the important information is likely to include ease of operation or economical concerns.

The options for filtering will be based on questions which have been asked by other customers, allowing the AI to learn as it gathers more data. Every night the algorithm – based on machine-learning principles – scans the review text, automatically analysing for aspects from the entries and identifying them as positive, negative or neutral, and finally grouping these aspects into semantically similar categories.


The AI software being used was developed in-house at Otto’s innovation labs, and no other retailer is presently offering its customers the ability to intelligently filter product reviews in this manner, putting Otto far ahead of the pack.

Looking Ahead

It’s clear Otto’s reputation as an ecommerce innovator is well earned. And now with its AI-powered product review software, it’s a reputation which won’t be diminishing any time soon.

The final word goes to Marc Opelt, Member of the Management Board, Marketing and Spokesman for Otto.

“The subject of artificial intelligence will continue to shape the online retail of the future. Our objective must always be to give our customers genuine added value with the aid of innovative technologies. The new filter function for product evaluations on is therefore a good example of the smart deployment of machine-learning methods that will make the buying experience on even better.”

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