TurnTo Blog


Jeff Bezos considers Community Q&A important enough for his annual shareholder letter

By George Eberstadt

We are beaming!  No, Jeff Bezos didn’t mention us by name.  But this is just as good.  In his annual letter to shareholders, Bezos devotes an entire section to the success Amazon has had with their Community Q&A feature:

One recent success is our new feature called “Ask an owner”. It was many years ago that we pioneered the idea of online customer reviews – customers sharing their opinion on a product to help other customers make an informed purchase decision. “Ask” is in that same tradition. From a product page, customers can ask any question related to the product. Is the product compatible with my TV/Stereo/PC? Is it easy to assemble? How long does the battery last? We then route these questions to owners of the product. As is the case with reviews, customers are happy to share their knowledge to directly help other customers. Millions of questions have already been asked and answered.

As the pioneers of the Active Outreach(TM) mechanism for getting fast answers to shopper questions from real product owners, we were flattered a year ago when Amazon first rolled out this feature to see them following our model so closely.  Now, we’ve received the only bigger compliment we could have wished for: this approach has been the same smashing success for Amazon that it has been for the >100 stores that use TurnTo for Community Q&A.

Of course, we haven’t been sitting around waiting for Amazon to catch up.  Our newest version introduces great capabilities Amazon hasn’t got to yet: instant answers, FAQs, category and topic Q&A, a magnificent new user experience, mobile capabilities designed for the omni-channel world, and lots more.  So, Amazon shoppers, keep your eyes open; we’ve got a pretty good idea what you’ll be seeing next, and it’s fabulous!

Of course, if you sell online and are tired of eating Amazon dust, give us a shout.  We’ll show you what the future looks like, too.


Google has Created an Important New SEO Opportunity for Online Stores

By George Eberstadt

Scott Anderson of Iterate Studio sent me an internal memo he wrote last week on the implications of Google’s movement towards semantic search.  It’s interesting and important, and he offered that I could share it.  So here it is:

I pulled the attached article from my favorite SEO/SEM site. It gets into “semantic search” which is the big new thing at Google as evidenced by Knowledge Graph, which is a meager step 1 down a path to answering complex questions for searchers.

Since Google wants to be the place that dishes up answers to questions, the clear SEO implication for ecommerce sites (well, any site for that matter) is to dish up more and more quality answers to relevant questions.

This frankly makes TurnTo an even more strategic solution provider. Using customers to ask and answer questions in their own words for SEO is actually a main reason we adopted it at Vitamin Shoppe.

Of particular interest given Google’s increasing focus on complex questions is the product’s support for category-level questions, which are more likely to be asked on Google than the very detailed product questions.  Again, it’s user generated content so there isn’t a burden on the retailer’s overworked staff.

While TurnTo’s mission is to lower customer support costs and humanize the user experience, the content getting generated is right in the bullseye of what Google wants to see.

Traditional SEO practices will remain essential, but the future is already here.

Promoting the idea of Q&A on eCommerce sites at the category (or “topic”) level the last couple of years has felt a lot like pushing a rock uphill.  On the whole, our customers have been focused on the traffic and conversion benefits to the product detail page.  So at first I thought it was coincidence that we’ve recently had a number of our customers come to us to begin implementation of category-level Q&A.  But what’s really happening has become clear:  businesses are figuring out that more general topic discussion and Q&A content is increasingly important to their organic traffic strategy.  And they are realizing that hosting this sort of discussion on their category pages is a great way to generate it.


Social Commerce Webinar: CoffeeForLess.com Solves Customer Engagement Challenge

By Cathie O'Callaghan

Zachary Ciperski, Vice President at CoffeeForLess.com joined TurnTo for a webinar to discuss the success CoffeeForLess.com has had using Social Q&A to solve their online engagement challenge.

Watch the webinar now:


Your personalization engine needs to include human-power

By George Eberstadt

Automated personalization and recommendation tools are great at helping shoppers and increasing sales, up to a point.  These tools can make it easy for shoppers to find alternative items that may fit their needs a bit better.  They can propose complementary products that help raise average order value.  They can adjust the selection of items from a catalog that are presented to each shopper to highlight those most likely to be of interest.

But often, shoppers have needs or preferences that can’t be inferred from their browsing history or the profile data you can collect on them.  There’s no way a personalization engine can know that, this time, I’m shopping for a present for my mom, not for me.  And if I was shopping for a present for mom last time I was here, the engine may easily think I’m an 85 year old grandmother rather than a 47 year old guy.  But even if I’m just shopping for me, how is a personalization engine going to guess that our coffee machine is dying and it’s time for a new one?  Or that I’ve just become interested in sous vide cooking?  Or that I had a bad experience with customer service from a particular brand a while back and I’d rather not give them my business?  How do you personalize the shopping experience for these visitors?

That’s where humans come in.  There’s still no substitute for the dialog that happens between a shopper and a great sales associate.  The shopper articulates her needs, and the associate suggests a targeted, creative selection of products to solve them.   That’s personalization!  Sure, it’s old-school, but it’s still the gold standard.

However, this sort of human-powered personalization is expensive to provide – online as well as in stores.  Further, not every sales associate has deep product knowledge or the gift of making that knowledge really useful to shoppers.  The things you can do to improve the performance of associates – higher pay to reduce turn-over and training to increase knowledge – make the cost problem worse.  Provide fewer associates and the customer experience declines – whether it’s live chat or in a store, shoppers don’t like to wait.  And then there are the challenges of addressing spikes in demand, like the holidays.

The solution lies in a hybrid approach to recommendations that combines the ability of humans to come up with creative suggestions with the ability of technology to re-use that expertise and deliver it economically:

  • First let your shoppers express their needs by submitting questions on your site.  “I’m looking for a birthday gift for my 85 year old mom.  Here’s some info about her.  What would you suggest?”  “We need a new coffee machine.  Here are some things we want from it, and here are some things we want to avoid.  Which ones should we consider?”  “I’ve narrowed down to 3 sous vide cookers.  Which is going to work best for me?”  (This means your system needs to support multi-item comparison questions!)
  • Then get those questions answered from the most appropriate sources for the question -  past customers with relevant experience, your in-house experts, manufacturer reps, and independent experts.  Provide the broadest possible range of answers and opinions, and make it clear what the perspective and background is of each person answering.  And be sure you deliver those answers fast – that keeps the person who asked happy, and it also makes other visitors a lot more likely to ask their own questions.
  • Finally – and here’s the key ingredient – put that Q&A dialog in a knowledge base and connect that knowledge base to your question submission form so that the next time a shopper has a similar question, they will immediately see if their question has already been asked and answered.  Those future shoppers will receive INSTANT answers to their questions, and that is accomplished with zero additional work for your staff.

With this approach, you can quickly build up a knowledge base that incorporates the combined wisdom of your customer community and your own product experts, delivering the benefits of true human-powered recommendations with the scalability and cost-effectiveness of automated systems.  You’ll also find that you have  created a valuable resource for your internal customer support team.  And you’ll have the foundation for providing automated, self-service customer support on mobile devices and kiosks.

So don’t limit your personalization and recommendations strategy to automated systems, and don’t give up on human-powered recommendations just because it’s expensive.  Take a hybrid, Q&A-based approach to deliver the best of both worlds.


Social Commerce Webinar: Clarins Enhances Online Shopping with Social Q&A

By Valerie Umans

Han Wen, VP, Digital & E-Commerce Americas at Clarins, joined TurnTo for a webinar (below) to discuss how they use Social Q&A to enhance their online shopping experience.   She also discussed how Clarins uses Social Q&A to gain valuable product insights and touched on what initiatives they have in store for the near future.

Watch the webinar now:


TurnTo Interview at Internet Retailer 2013

By Valerie Umans

While at IRCE 2013, George Eberstadt, CEO and Founder of TurnTo, was interviewed by Website Magazine for their Video Spotlight about our social question-and-answer utility for online retailers (Social Q&A). George also shared his thoughts on what e-commerce changes we can expect in the future. Watch the interview below:


The Facebook challenge for merchants

By George Eberstadt

I was talking recently to a customer frustrated by his inability to drive meaningful revenue out of Facebook, despite substantial efforts.  The conversation got me to revisit this by now well-discussed topic.

The conventional wisdom is that selling on Facebook doesn’t work because it’s like trying to sell to people drinking at a bar.  (Ref 1Ref 2.)  Certainly context matters, but I think this metaphor is misleading.  The same logic could be used to argue that advertising in a newspaper shouldn’t work because it’s like selling to people reading at a library.  Or that advertising on TV shouldn’t work because it’s like selling to people watching a movie.  Or that shops at airports shouldn’t work because they’re like selling to people, um, in the middle of a painful surgical procedure (an experiment on the effects of stress on rats, maybe?).

I’d propose that a lot of the frustration about the difficulty stores have in monetizing Facebook comes from misunderstanding where Facebook fits into the purchase intent cycle.

Purchase intent comes from many sources.  A lot of intent comes from non-commercial sources.  If someone has a baby, they’re going to need a crib.  Trying to create purchase intent for a crib absent a baby is pretty tough.  For discretionary purchases, intent is often sparked by direct experience.  You see something that looks good on someone walking by and you decided you want one, too.  And, of course, purchase intent is sparked by friends.  (One among a gadzillion studies showing this.)  To the degree that purchase intent can be engineered, that’s generally the job of brands, rather than stores.  If a brand can get a consumer to want the thing they – and only they – make, then they are going to make a sale, regardless of the channel in which the consumer chooses to purchase.  Stores generally don’t invest much in intent-generation because of the risk that the money they spend on intent generation comes to nothing when the customer goes elsewhere to buy.  It’s much safer for stores to invest at the intent fulfillment stage.  Thus the success of search engine marketing, which is all about ensuring shoppers who already have purchase intent chose your store for the purchase.  This is also why Sunday circular inserts from merchants generally contain offers on such a large number of products.  The store isn’t trying to convince the reader to want something they don’t already want; they are fishing for intent that already exists – hoping that one of those many special offers will match up with an existing customer need.

So back to Facebook.  I’d argue that Facebook is a pretty good environment for intent generation, and a pretty bad one for intent fulfillment.  This applies both to the organic side of Facebook (friend sharing) as well as the paid side.  This means that Facebook is going to more easily deliver value to brands than stores, and that that value is going to be best measured through traditional advertising metrics like awareness rates and control population studies rather than through online metrics like click-throughs.  It’s possible that with Facebook’s continually improving tools for micro-targeting, they will get to the point of being an economical vehicle for intent-harvesters , but this capability will arrive for some product categories long before others, so sellers should be careful to evaluate the relevance to their particular category before plunging in.

Because Facebook is primarily an intent generation environment, higher-level brand messaging will succeed better than the sort of late-funnel, fulfillment-oriented messaging that works for intent harvesting.  For example, one pet supplies store is having success by sharing cute animal photos that get widely distributed.  The click-throughs are low, but they view this campaign as awareness-building and see the results in site visitor counts and conversion rates over the long run.  Pinboards filled with positive-sentiment checkout comments are also appropriate on Facebook as a tool for intent generation.  Here’s a nice example.  On the other hand, some types of content that are very important for conversion late in the purchase funnel – like customer reviews – are totally out of place in Facebook’s early-funnel, intent generation environment; a product review is just spam to someone who has no interest in the product.

Viewing Facebook through this intent-cycle lens doesn’t produce any magical solutions for merchants to monetize Facebook.  But it does suggest what sort of investments are likely to pay off, and what sort of expectations are realistic. Facebook is going to continue to be a tough environment for merchants because of their focus on intent harvesting rather than intent generation.  And strategies aimed at clicks leading directly to purchases are likely to disappoint.  Stores which take that approach will indeed find themselves in the position of selling in a bar.  But those who find value in developing their store brand and are able to look at brand advertising metrics rather than direct web conversion metrics may yet find water in the Facebook well.


Social Commerce Webinar – North Shore Commercial Door Talks Success…

By Valerie Umans

Matt O’Donnell, the President of North Shore Commercial Door, recently joined TurnTo for a webinar (below) to discuss the results he sees with Social Q&A on his site.  They’ve had much success, including increasing their user engagement and gaining valuable insight about their products, since implementing the Social Q&A in 2012.

Watch the webinar now:


Social Commerce Webinar – Vitamin Shoppe and Blinds.com Talk E-Commerce Tools

By Valerie Umans

We recently hosted a webinar with Liveclicker, a provider of video commerce solutions, where we had the privilege to interview Karen Hansen, the Digital Product Manager for The Vitamin Shoppe and Robert Reed, the Video Producer for Blinds.com, regarding two leading e-commerce tools they recently adopted – social Q&A and video commerce.

In the webinar below, Karen and Robert discuss why they chose these tools and what results they’ve delivered.  Check it out!


Interview with Tim Parry of Multichannel Merchant at eTail East 2013

By Valerie Umans

While at eTail West 2013, TurnTo’s CEO and Founder, George Eberstadt, was interviewed by Tim Parry of Multichannel Merchant.  They discuss trends in social tools and different ways to leverage them.  Watch the full interview below: