August 17, 2015

Silver Star Brands sees 300% conversion lift from Community Q&A

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That’s exactly what Ian MacDonald, Director of eCommerce for Silver Star Brands has experienced leveraging TurnTo’s Community Q&A. Ian was looking to improve SEO performance, increase website traffic and lift conversion rates. He thought he’d find an answer using customer-generated content, but he already had ratings and reviews. He needed more.

Ian implemented our Community Q&A and proprietary “Checkout Chatter” products which immediately began creating Customer-Generated Content.

Silver Star Brands’ customers can get quick answers to their questions right on the product detail page from fellow customers, staff experts, and the store’s FAQ content from the help center. To maximize the usefulness of this utility, Ian strategically used an “input teaser” on the product page, enabling shoppers to submit their questions without having to scroll.

Additionally, at the time of purchase, Silver Star Brands’ customers are asked the simple question “Why did you choose this?” TurnTo’s Checkout Chatter enables the company to collect short, positive sentiments from customers, equating to more Customer-Generated Content for their sites that is indexable for search engines.

RESULTS
Here are just a few results Silver Star Brands have realized thus far (a link to the full case study is below):

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As a “bonus” – this incredible volume of Customer-Generated Content from both Q&A and Checkout Chatter is indexed by search engines, which has greatly improved Silver Star Brands’ SEO.

If you’re looking to lift your conversion rates and increase CGC, click here to schedule a demo today. You can read more about Silver Stars Brands’ success in this case study.

July 17, 2015

Sur La Table promotes “Cart Talk” to its customers through a creative email campaign

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Collecting great customer-generated content (CGC) is only half the game.  Figuring out how to use it for maximum impact is the other half.  Here’s an example of a brand using a particular type of CGC – what we call “Checkout Chatter” – to power a great email campaign.  Tip-of-the-hat to Sur La Table for their creativity.  We think you’ll find this inspiring.

sur-la-table-emailHere, Sur La Table is building the email around a selection of the checkout comments from their “Cart Talk” pinboard.  They are not only introducing the Cart Talk function of the site, they are making a range of their products look super attractive by augmenting the product images with this particular type of CGC, providing endorsement and social validation.  While customer reviews can be difficult to work into outbound messaging without undermining their authenticity, checkout comments have a different feeling – an immediacy – that makes them well-suited for promotional uses.

Sur La Table’s “Cart Talk” captures customer sentiments at the time of purchase with the simple question, “Why did you choose this?” and turns it into a social share on the site for those still browsing.  Because it is captured at the point of purchase, the sentiment is consistently positive and it is a great asset to build enthusiasm around products – not to mention SEO.

It’s just one piece of the ongoing strategy Kevin Ertell, SVP of Digital at Sur La Table has for building community with customers leveraging product insights contributed by the customers themselves. You can read and hear more about that in our previous blog entry.

Our clients using Checkout Chatter capture these checkout comments from shoppers on up to 15% of all orders. What brand wouldn’t benefit from massive amounts of positive-sentiment user-generated comments about their products that could be easily sprinkled throughout their site?  Empowering customers with the ability to share their thoughts or experience with purchased products helps reassure their fellow shoppers that they will be making a wise decision. And that leads to increased conversion rates.

May 28, 2015

TurnTo is the Fastest-Growing UGC Solution Provider to the IR500

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According to the newest data from the leading trade publication, Internet Retailer, TurnTo Networks Inc. is the fastest-growing user-generated content (UGC) solution provider to the “IR500” – the top 500 online retailers in North America.

Of the top 3 solution providers in Internet Retailer’s “Customer Reviews and Forums” category – TurnTo, Bazaarvoice, and PowerReviews – only TurnTo showed significant growth from the 2014 tally to 2015. The number of top 500 retailers using TurnTo grew by 60% during the period, while the number using Ba   zaarvoice declined 3% and the number using PowerReviews declined 56%.

Measured by the annual web sales of the retailers served, the results were even more dramatic. TurnTo grew 199% during the period, while Bazaarvoice grew 2% and PowerReviews declined 22%. Additionally, the Internet Retailer 2015 research shows that 63% of the annual web sales of the PowerReviews customer base is represented by a single customer. Excepting this, the total annual web sales of TurnTo’s IR500 customers would be over double that of PowerReviews and second only to Bazaarvoice overall.

 

I had a quick chat with our CEO, George Eberstadt, to get his thoughts on the reasons for this growth.

Me:  George, the first thing people are going to ask on seeing these numbers is what’s driving them.  So, what’s driving them?

George:  First let me say – and I don’t want to be too saccharine about this – it’s  humbling and gratifying to get this kind of trust from these businesses.  The alternatives have been around a while, so we recognize that the retailers adopting us are making a bold move rather than the safe choice.

And I think that’s the short answer to your question.  The customer-generated content space hasn’t seen much bold innovation for a while, and retailers that are tired of the same-old haven’t had alternatives – especially at the enterprise level. We bring the fresh perspective, smart innovation, and fanatical commitment that a lot of retailers are looking for.

Me:  Can you put your finger on any particular TurnTo innovations that the market has been responding to?

George:  I think it’s a mix – some big, some subtle.  For example, we were the first to introduce the “active outreach” mechanism for getting fast community answers to shopper questions.  That was really the breakthrough that makes community answering work.  Then, we expanded our vision of Q&A to include answering an ever broader range of shopper questions even faster, so we added instant answers and knowledge base features.  Q&A is still a new frontier with lots more opportunities for major innovations, and we’re pursuing those.

Checkout Chatter is another example.  It’s simple and highly effective.  And it’s a TurnTo exclusive.

Ratings & Reviews, on the other had, is a more mature area, so our innovations have been less revolutionary, though they still have a big impact on ROI.  For example, our ready-to-wear UI is exceptionally clean, elegant, and mobile-friendly while still providing easy customizability either through CSS or our comprehensive API.  Our review-solicitation email answer flow automatically authenticates the user, leading to more reviews from verified buyers – especially on mobile devices.  Our transaction history integration enables the system to ask for reviews on previously purchased items immediately after a user writes a review or answers a question, which increases total review volume by 10-20%.

Me: Are there any other reasons you think retailers are switching?

George:  I think our customer success process and the great team behind it is another reason.  By focusing on the business as well as the technical aspects of integrating our tools, we ensure customers get the most value from them.  And we don’t just move on to the next customer as soon as the last one is set up; no one is fully optimized on the day they go live, and we are pretty relentless in follow-through over time.  That’s a hard thing for retailers to get a sense of during an evaluation, but it comes into play in our high customer retention and referral rates, which is a big part of our growth.

Data from the IR500 survey by Internet Retailer are available at www.top500guide.com.

May 27, 2015

Kevin Ertell on building community with TurnTo

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Learn how Kevin Ertell, SVP of Digital at Sur La Table, was able to seamlessly build community with customers by leveraging product insights contributed by the customers themselves.

He spoke recently at a key industry trade show and shared Sur La Table’s secrets for using Community Q&A to answer shopper questions quickly with detailed responses — and elevating engagement between customers beyond what Ratings & Reviews alone could ever provide.

February 27, 2015

Three things that hotel brands should know about in 2015

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minimalistic illustration of booking a hotel room on a mobile de

1. Social is increasingly part of the decision process for travelers.

Many and leisure travelers now leverage e-commerce tools, such as social Q&A and ratings & review tools, when booking rooms online. In fact, 53% of travelers won’t commit to booking a room until they’ve read reviews of the property* and 21% needed to check with other travelers before booking**.

2. Guest feedback broadens SEO reach and reduces call center inquiries.

Fresh and engaging content is essential for any successful SEO strategy. And user-generated content (UGC), such as feedback that is developed by your site visitors, provides unique content for your website — which ultimately feeds Google and other search engines.

As pointed out in a recent Harvard Business Review case study, “most customers these days demonstrate a huge — and increasing — appetite for self-service”. E-commerce tools that front-end your hotel inquiries help increase customer satisfaction (by answering many questions instantly) and decrease support costs.

3. Mobile booking will continue to grow in 2015.

According to the Skift “Megatrends Defining Travel in 2015″ Special Report, mobile booking is poised to grow exponentially over the next five years, with 60 percent estimated growth from 2014 and 40 percent in 2015. Having enhanced e-commerce tools, such as a community Q&A tool and ratings & reviews platforms, for mobile browsers have been known to effectively increase conversion rates.

*Custom Survey Research Engagement. Independent PhoCusWright Dec 2013 study of 12,225 respondents
**2014 SalesCycle Travel Survey of 1,000 travel consumers

 

December 3, 2014

TurnTo Launches A State-Of-The-Art Product Ratings & Reviews System

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We’re thrilled to announce the general availability of our state-of-the-art product Ratings & Reviews system.  You can read the press release here or download the product fact sheet here.

To provide some more context, I sat down with our CEO to discuss how this new product came about.

Heather:  TurnTo is well known for providing the top-performing community-powered Q&A solution for eCommerce.  Why branch out to Ratings & Reviews?

George:  Well, we resisted for a long time!  One reason we’ve been able to build up such a lead on the Q&A side is focus.  But 4 things changed our minds. I’ll go through them:

  • First, some businesses wanted to adopt our Q&A without increasing their vendor count.  Our Q&A has always been targeted at businesses that take a best-of-breed approach to vendors; but with integrated Ratings & Reviews we can meet the needs of those who prefer suite providers, too.
  • Second, we identified some very exciting ways to integrate the two products to deliver more value than either can alone.
  • Third, we realized that all of the enterprise-grade infrastructure we built for Q&A could be leveraged by our Ratings & Reviews product, enabling us to rapidly build out the application and launch with a full enterprise-ready feature set.
  • And finally, our customer research revealed some pretty wide-spread dissatisfaction with the existing choices and a strong demand for a better option.

Heather: What was the overall philosophy behind the design of TurnTo’s Ratings & Reviews product?

George:  We spent a lot of time talking with both current customers and prospects to understand what they wanted in a Ratings & Reviews product, and the feedback was very consistent: all the important functions that have been proven to work, beautifully executed, on an enterprise-grade platform, at an affordable price.  We also heard consistent requests to stay away from bells and whistles that don’t add value and clutter up the user experience or make the system management difficult just to appear different.  The architect Mies van der Rohe was famous for saying “God is in the details”, by which he meant creativity doesn’t necessarily require wild gestures – there’s plenty of opportunity for innovation in just honing an idea until it’s really right.  I’d say that was the philosophy guiding us here.

Heather: OK, so there’s nothing radically different about TurnTo’s Ratings & Reviews product, but are there still some innovations you’d like to point out?

George:  At the application level, one nice touch is that the “purchaser credential” (like the Verified Buyer badge) provides an approximate date of purchase.  That increases the credibility of the review and also enables the shopper to see how much experience the reviewer has had with the product.  We also offer state-of-the-art mobile capabilities – responsive design right out of the box and phone-optimized UX for review collection.  Plus, as I mentioned, we’ve found some very valuable new ways to integrate Ratings & Reviews with Q&A.  For example, when a shopper enters a question, our Instant Answers feature now searches the Ratings & Reviews for relevant information (as well as the existing Q&A dialog and the store’s knowledge base).  Also, the please-review-your-purchase email can now include an offer for customers to get help with their recent purchase from others who already own the item.  That turns Q&A into a post-purchase support tool; and by coupling it to the  review solicitation, stores can head off potential negative reviews and turn them into positive ones.

Heather: How has the market received TurnTo’s Ratings & Reviews so far?

George:  The reception has been great.  Many of our existing Q&A customers have already or are in the process of switching their reviews over to us, too.  Many of our new customers are signing up for both reviews and Q&A together.  And we’ve even got a some new customers who are starting with our Ratings & Reviews and planning to add Q&A later.  And that’s all before we’ve really started to market this new product.

Heather:  Does this mean TurnTo is no longer a “Q&A first” company?

George:  No, we’re still Q&A-first.  We expect that online business who are satisfied with the current reviews providers will still come to us for best-of-breed community-powered Q&A.  It’s already the industry leader, and we have many big enhancements coming in 2015.  But when you look the whole package of our Ratings & Reviews offering – the product itself, TurnTo’s outstanding support, affordability, integration with our industry-leading Q&A, and our extraordinary roadmap – it compares very favorably to the existing alternatives.

October 17, 2014

Q&A: TurnTo CEO George Eberstadt Talks Assisted Shopping

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This interview was originally posted by StellaService’s Happy Customer Blog on October 8th, 2014 located here!

Happy Customer is always on the lookout for innovative approaches to customer service. We recently visited with TurnTo Networks CEO George Eberstadt about his company’s approach to “Assisted Shopping.” Retailers using TurnTo’s technology include Saks Fifth Avenue, Newegg and Sur La Table.

What is “Assisted Shopping” and how is it different from live chat?

The difference is in the approach. Both share the vision of taking the customer experience that a shopper gets with a primo in-store associate and bringing it to the web: the shopper can ask questions in her own words and get the information she needs back quickly. Live chat takes a very literal approach: make the associate available to the web shopper by putting her on the other end of a chat line. “Assisted Shopping”, on the other hand, says: use ALL the resources that the web makes available to get shoppers the fastest possible answers from the best sources, whatever the question. That includes tapping into the wisdom of fellow customers, going beyond the associate to the merchandise category manager (who probably wrote the training materials for the associate!), reaching out to the manufacturer, tapping into all the content in the store’s FAQs or help center.  And, yes, even involving the store associate – not just the one in the call center, but the one who covers that category at the nearest store. Also, Assisted Shopping can be faster than live chat much of the time by enabling instant answers from a continuously-learning knowledge base. Studies show shoppers often prefer self-help. And when a live chat is needed, Assisted Shopping provides a seamless escalation path.

What sort of results can online merchants expect from this type of solution?

There are many value-levers for stores using this technology: Conversion lift, SEO, reducing call center load, reducing returns, increasing loyalty, and gaining merchandising insights.

  • Conversion lift: Shoppers who interact with tools like these convert at 3-7X the rate of those who don’t.  Further control group testing shows that about 25% of this lift is causal (ie not just cherry-picking shoppers who were going to buy anyway).  That’s a big effect.
  • SEO: The community aspect of Assisted Shopping – enabling shoppers to get questions answered by fellow customers who already own the products they are considering — produces 2-4 times more user-generated content (UGC) than customer reviews do.  UGC is one of the most effective strategies for SEO, so more is better.  Stores have reported increases in organic traffic of 20% from this tool.
  • Reducing call center load:  Shopper questions that get answered by the community or from the knowledge base never end up in the call center.  That’s faster, better answers for the shopper, and less work for the store staff – depending on the category, up to 30% less.
  • Reducing returns: fashion and apparel businesses, in particular, can reduce returns by enabling shoppers to get authentic feedback from past customers who have experience with the products.  Assisted Shopping systems work with sizing charts and fitting tools to help online shoppers get it right the first time.
  • Increasing loyalty:  Fast, authentic answers from the best source for the question are part of a great online shopping experience and have been measured to increase repeat purchase rates 15-40%.
  • Merchandising insights:  Assisted Shopping tools make it easy to see what causes shoppers to hesitate before buying, what information they need but aren’t getting, or unexpected ways they plan to use their purchases.  That’s great insight for optimizing merchandising, and it starts to build up from the very first day an item goes on sale.

Is this just a pre-sales tool, or is there a post-sales support application?

Although we call it Assisted Shopping, there’s no reason the assistance needs to stop at the sale. All the same resources work post-purchase, making content from the help center or community forums, as well as the experience of customers who own the product, easily accessible for trouble-shooting. One exciting application is the post-purchase question solicitation email, which works particularly well when combined with the review solicitation email. In effect, it says: “Ready to review your recent purchase, click here. Need help getting the most from it, click here instead.”  Not only does this improve customer satisfaction, but it can turn what would have been negative reviews into positive ones.

Can Assisted Shopping work in physical stores, too?

The vision of bringing the deep content available on the web into the store aisle has been around for a while.  But there have been two major obstacles.  One is easily identifying the items on the shelf, the other is easily retrieving the relevant information. QR codes and scanners were supposed to solve the first challenge but turned out to have limited scope. A new generation of solutions that combine native mobile apps with scanners, or perhaps beacons, now appear likely to solve this challenge at scale.  There’s still a second problem: too much information to be easily retrieved on a small screen by a shopper standing in a store aisle. That’s where Assisted Shopping comes in. By making asking a question as easy as writing a text, these systems make nearly limitless resources instantly and easily available to the in-store shopper.

Is this a tool for brand manufacturers as well as for retailers?

There are multiple ways manufacturers can benefit from Assisted Shopping tools (in addition to deploying them on their own online storefronts). An easy one is to participate in answering shopper questions from the merchants that stock their products. With features like “instant answers”, this can be efficient as well as effective, as each answer becomes a resource for future shoppers with the same question, too. And the insights that come from seeing what questions shoppers have at the point of purchase can be highly valuable for manufacturers. Even more powerful is the ability for manufacturers to use these tools to extend all the rich content they provide about their products on their own site out to their channels. Now detailed product info and rich media that a merchant might not make available on their product pages can be accessed by any shopper in response to a question. By breaking the trade-off between extensive information and clutter, Assisted Shopping tools enable manufacturers to deliver all the information that will help close a sale while enabling merchants to maintain a streamlined shopping experience and consistent templates.

October 3, 2014

How Saks Fifth Avenue is Using TurnTo Q&A

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Saks Fifth Avenue’s Senior Director of Product Management Jordan Lustig sat down with our CEO George recently to discuss how Saks is using TurnTo Q&A.

Saks is always looking for ways to improve their customer experience. They have a fact-based, customer first culture. Content plays an integral part in crafting a great shopping environment, and Saks recognizes that the customer has a voice and wants to use it.

Jordan began the conversation with TurnTo as a way to:

  • Increase the amount of user generated content on the Saks website
  • Create more relevant content
  • Fill in the gaps of product categories that were low in product reviews

jordan screenshot

It was important to Saks for customers to get their questions answered while in the purchase funnel. TurnTo Q&A is able to get shoppers those answers immediately without any staff involvement (through Community Q&A).

In this video, Jordan talks about how impressed he is by the speed of the answers and ability to post those responses in real time.  TurnTo is crowd sourced and reactive, so there is no burden on the Saks staff. And customers love it because they get a quick, informed response to their question that is much more relevant than reviews that can be overly general and time consuming to read.

Saks has seen tremendous success with the program; in fact TurnTo emails drive one of the highest conversion rates across all marketing initiatives. And that lift has not only been from people asking questions, but also those shoppers who are answering and browsing the Q&A content.

An additional benefit to Saks has been the merchandising insights delivered by TurnTo, which Saks credits with bridging product content gaps and uncovering user experience issues.

 

 

August 19, 2014

QVC post-purchase videos are part of a broader trend in support

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Mobile Commerce Daily has a nice article summing up the comments from Todd Sprinkle, VP, Content & Platform Innovation at QVC, at eTail East about how QVC is using video for post-purchase support.  They explain,

QVC initially tested a post-purchase email to customers with follow-up on content on how to use or assemble certain items, especially particularly complicated ones. When returns decreased, the company broadened its thinking on the post-purchase experience to include video on how to use, how to wear and how to love something.

QVC’s strategy makes sense on many levels: decreasing support costs, deepening brand engagement, increasing customer satisfaction, and encouraging repeat purchase.  It’s also interesting that while QVC started with a focus on complex items, they’ve broadened out to apparel as well (most of which you won’t normally put in the “complex” category).

Another powerful way to achieve the same benefits – without all the work of video production – is to leverage community Q&A.  Shortly after an order is delivered, send an email offering the purchaser the opportunity to ask questions of customers who previously bought the same item.  Customers will reliably help each other resolve their issues, and the direct shopper-to-shopper engagement you’ve provided will do more to strengthen their relationship with your brand than interaction with your staff would have.  (Of course, your staff will also monitor these questions and provide additional resources where needed.)  QVC could combine the offer to ask a question with their video email to double the effect.  Another great place to extend the offer to ask a question is in the email where you solicit a review, since it enables customers who are having difficulties to get them resolved before they write a critical review.  It’s also powerful to put a tear sheet in the box with the order pointing the buyer towards the Q&A utility, if they have any questions, or to printing that info on the receipt or the return instructions; those are great ways to head off returns and improve your c-sat scores.

QVC’s innovations are pointing the way toward a larger post-purchase support trend where we expect to see a lot of investment and creativity over the next few years.  Tip-of-the-hat to them.

July 8, 2014

Can I Help You?

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Our friends at Internet Retailer just released a thought-provoking article about best practices in online customer support. “Can I Help You?” discusses trends in pre-and post-purchase support, including chat, proactive engagement, self-service and visitor monitoring.

TurnTo’s CEO and Founder, George Eberstadt shares his thoughts:

Yes, there’s a lot of room to improve the customer support experience for online shopping, both pre and post purchase.  But “better chat” isn’t the answer.  Real shoppers want input from peers who actually own the products.  Real shoppers want to hear from merchandise managers and category experts, not from CSRs looking up answers in a database.  And if the answer is already in a database, they want it delivered instantly, not just “live” chat fast.

That’s why Community Q&A is the essential backbone of a first-class Assisted Shopping experience.  Community Q&A is also highly effective post-purchase.  Just include a link in your review-request email, saying “We want to make sure you get the most out of your recent purchase.  Need help or have a question?  Click here to get fast answers from fellow customers who bought this, our own product experts, and our complete knowledge base”…Community Q&A is a fast, easy way to improve conversion rates, drive up customer satisfaction, drive down returns, and learn a lot about what your shoppers really care about.

April 10, 2014

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

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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!

And 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.

October 25, 2013

Google has Created an Important New SEO Opportunity for Online Stores

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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.

September 25, 2013

Your personalization engine needs to include human-power

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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.

July 30, 2013

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

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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:

May 30, 2013

The Facebook challenge for merchants

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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.

May 22, 2013

Social Commerce Webinar – North Shore Commercial Door Talks Success…

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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: