January 9, 2018 by George Eberstadt
Last Wednesday, Gene Austin, CEO of Bazaarvoice, published a discussion of the coming end of the Justice Department-mandated syndication relationship between Bazaarvoice and PowerReviews, on July 2, 2018. As he stated, “Unless something changes, as of July 3rd, Bazaarvoice will no longer be required to accept content from PowerReviews brands for syndication to retailers in the Bazaarvoice Network.”
What does this mean for brands? Review syndication is about to get a lot more expensive.
Bazaarvoice charges brands to syndicate their product reviews to merchant sites in the Bazaarvoice network, whether the brand uses the Bazaarvoice platform for review collection or a third-party platform. For the last 2.5 years, PowerReviews brand customers have been able to get around these fees because of the Justice Department decree which gave them very low cost access to the Bazaarvoice syndication network. Now, PowerReviews brand customers are going to have to start paying the network access fees that Bazaarvoice demands, at best, or will lose access to the Bazaarvoice network entirely, at worst. And since brands using the Bazaarvoice platform will no longer be able to threaten a switch to PowerReviews to avoid the network access fees, they are likely to see their syndication fees rise, too.
Anticipating this, TurnTo built a partnership with Bazaarvoice based on a realistic view of their business model. This partnership enables brands to choose the reviews platform that best meets their needs and know they can still access the Bazaarvoice syndication network even if their platform choice is TurnTo. Our brand customers make their own deal with Bazaarvoice regarding the network access fee, and we work directly with Bazaarvoice to ensure the data transfers run smoothly. It’s a truism that partnerships only work when everyone wins, and we recognized a year ago that meant letting Bazaarvoice control access to their merchant network. As a result, as of today, TurnTo is the only 3rd party product reviews platform that can assure brands ongoing access to the Bazaarvoice syndication network.
For merchants, the implications are different. The consequences are going to be about reach rather than cost.
As the cost to brands to syndicate their reviews goes up, or if cross-platform access between Bazaarvoice and PowerReviews is cut off entirely, the number of brands whose reviews are available for syndication on either platform will go down. Even if cross-platform syndication remains available, rising network access fees will be bad for the relationships between merchants and their vendors. After all, why should brands have to pay a “network access fee” to a merchant’s reviews platform at all? The real estate on the merchant’s product pages belongs to the merchant! If brands pay anything for syndication, it should be a co-op fee to the merchant, not an access fee to the reviews platform.
With this philosophy in mind, TurnTo has developed a radically different syndication offering for merchants. It enables merchants to syndicate in product reviews from any brand, regardless of their technology platform. That includes brands that use reviews platforms other than Bazaarvoice and PowerReviews. And there are no charges (!) for this service to either the merchant or the brands. By removing both the cost and the technology limitations to syndication, TurnTo enables merchants to access the largest possible network of brand sources. In one case, a merchant’s syndication network more than doubled after they switched from the Bazaarvoice/PowerReviews network to TurnTo. TurnTo’s approach also eliminates any risk to merchants that their syndication network will be compromised in the future by spats between the technology platforms.
Like Gene, I am thrilled with the strength of our syndication offerings as we enter 2018. For brands, we are the only alternative to the Bazaarvoice platform that can offer access to the full Bazaarvoice syndication network without a cloud of uncertainty. And for merchants, we offer unrivaled syndication reach and an unrivaled value. I thank Bazaarvoice for their partnership and look forward to working with them in 2018 as the market returns to a more normal competitive environment. And I invite brands and merchants that would like to learn more about the syndication alternatives available to them to contact us.
November 13, 2017 by George Eberstadt
A version of this article was originally published by Total Retail on October 5, 2017.
The Association for Psychological Science recently published an interesting study on consumer shopping behavior, showing that when two comparable products have similar average ratings, shoppers are significantly more likely to choose the product with the larger number of ratings.
This finding won’t surprise e-commerce retailers, but in the psychology world, it’s an illustration of herd mentality leading to irrational decisions. When two comparable items have low ratings, it would be more logical for shoppers to pick the one with FEWER total reviews, as it’s possible that the poor average rating is a fluke — an unrepresentative sample of grumpy reviewers. An item which has a large number of low ratings, on the other hand, is very likely to actually be a dud. Yet even in these cases, where both choices are poorly rated, shoppers prefer the one with the larger number of reviews, because a high review count signals popularity, and people tend to buy what’s perceived as popular.
The e-commerce implications of this study are clear — retailers need to signal to shoppers that the items they sell are popular. Travel sites do this well by showing an indication of the recency and volume of bookings. Take Hotels.com for example:
And here’s another example from Orbitz:
On retail sites, product review volume is among the most powerful ways to signal popularity. While influencing review volume may feel difficult because it seems there are only so many people that want to write product reviews, there are actually many strategies to increase review collection.
For starters, it’s a mistake to think that the number of product reviews that can be collected has a hard limit based on the willingness of customers to write them. It’s more like drilling for oil — some comes out in a gusher, but there’s a lot more in the ground that you can get out by using clever techniques. To illustrate, we recently had a customer begin sending follow-up “please review your purchase” emails a few days after their first request. The retailer expected that the follow-up would get a much lower response rate than the initial email, believing that most customers motivated to write a review would respond to the first request. Surprisingly, the response rate to the follow-up email was 80 percent of that of the initial email — nearly the same. This showed that many of those customers that didn’t respond to the first email had no aversion to writing a review, they just happened to get the request at the wrong moment.
Since many customers ignore a request to write a review for reasons of convenience rather than intent, retailers can increase review collection simply by taking the friction out of the collection process. Strategies aimed at motivating review writing (e.g., incentives) can help, too, but they can also have side effects (e.g., reduced trust). Reducing friction is the low-hanging fruit. Technology that enables customers to write and submit reviews from inside an email rather than requiring a clickthrough to a web form can more than double submission rates. A simple change from a button that says “Click to write a review” to a display of five stars with the message, “Start by rating it” can add 50 percent to the response rate. Allowing users to write reviews before requiring authentication, rather than leading with a log-in demand, can double collection rates.
On mobile devices, allowing photos to be submitted without first requiring the user to author a review can multiply visual content collection up to four times. Asking a user who has just submitted a review to review other items they’ve purchased is five times more likely to produce an additional review than the initial email. It’s common for this “Do More” technique to increase total review volume by 50 percent to 100 percent.
The lessons are clear: Increasing review volume can have a major impact on sales by tapping into the popularity effect, and review volume can reliably be increased with the proper tools and techniques.
July 6, 2017 by John Swords
I’m going to start this blog post with an assumption – you know that user-generated content helps you to build engaging shopping experiences and connects your shoppers and customers. You are, after all, reading a blog post on the site of a UGC provider.
While I may feel it’s safe to assume that you know the value of UGC, I wasn’t so sure what consumers thought. I wanted to know how UGC impacted purchase decisions and the shopping experience overall.
So, we went directly to consumers in the US and asked them how UGC shapes their buying habits and shopping experiences. We asked how the value proposition of UGC compares to incentives such as discounts and free shipping offers.
The results of this survey have been collected, analyzed and published in “Hearing the Voice of the Consumer: UGC and the Commerce Experience.”
Here are some highlights from the report:
- Most shoppers (81%) will pay more and wait longer to receive products that are paired with UGC.
- Shoppers under 30 report a greater influence of UGC in purchasing decisions versus older respondents.
- Of those aged 18-29, 97% report UGC has an extreme influence.
- Nearly two-thirds of shoppers (63%) believe UGC creates a more authentic shopping experience.
- Nearly three-quarters (73%) say UGC increases their purchasing confidence. Nearly two-thirds (61%) report UGC encourages them to engage with brands.
Download the full, data-packed 49-page report today!
March 23, 2017 by John Swords
I have never been a fan of the Netflix rating system. I’ve found it to be one of the most frustrating elements of my daily Netflix experience. The plan to completely change the rating system for the platform is thrilling, overdue and very much welcomed by this movie fan and consumer content geek.
While much of the news about the change has focused on the switch from a star rating to a thumbs up/down rating, the details are much more interesting.
The star rating system at Netflix has always been confusing and misleading. For example, I may see the BBC docu-series “Planet Earth” in my Netflix menu with a 5-star rating. My sister, who is not a fan of such shows, could see the same title with a 1-star rating.
I may give a movie a 4-star rating but I’m never really told what benefit that has to me. Will the rating shape future recommendations? The answer is yes. Will it impact the movie’s rating? Kinda, but not really (Keep reading!).
Netflix was showing you a star rating of how much they thought you would enjoy a show rather than the more common aggregating and averaging of ratings by fellow viewers. This could often lead to the assumption that I wouldn’t like something based on previous viewing habits when a show, in fact, could be highly-rated by the majority of viewers. The VP of product at Netflix summed this up by saying, “What you do versus what you say you like are different things.”
This tail-chasing dynamic of what marketers think is best vs, what consumers want stunts so many commerce marketing strategies. Is it segmentation and personalization or is it social proof?
To add another layer to the Netflix ratings wreck, there are longer format written reviews on the Netflix website that are not available in most apps and connected TV platforms. That star rating may not match as you move between site, app or device.
Specific to UGC, marketers should focus on providing a platform for customers and shoppers to have a dialog about products, service and brand interactions that can help them to discover new products, answer questions and buy with confidence. The experience should be consistent across devices and channels.
Marketers can help to shape these interactions, but making assumptions, forcing the conversation and/or trying to control the dynamics of consumer interaction can lead to failure and distrust by shoppers and customers.
So, yes, Netflix’s switch from a star rating to a thumbs up/down system is significant, but I look forward to how this move to a binary choice will impact the larger algorithms and how Netflix will feature ratings across their platform.
Hopefully the experience will be more consistent and representative of the ratings given by fellow Netflix viewers while still being peppered with the ever-evolving algorithms that power the Netflix experience.
February 23, 2017 by John Swords
Organized. Structured. Logical. Predictable. None of these words describe your customer’s path to purchase. There is no grid system. No wide-lane expressway will guide your shopper from initial awareness to the ultimate destination of submitting an order.
Marketers struggle to steer shoppers down the purchase path when there are so many cost-cutting, channel-crossing competitors distracting the shopper along the way.
Rather than trying to dictate each move on the customer journey, marketers can shift strategies to support the consumer as they shop.
Your site and stores may be the roads that customers use, but tools such as user-generated content and email can help to keep them focused, engaged and on course to complete a purchase.
TurnTo’s white paper series, “Driving the Customer Journey: User-Generated Content and the Purchase Path,” examines how this ecommerce evolution has impacted consumer behaviors, marketing strategies and the role of user-generated content in the customer journey.
Part one of the series, “The Journey Begins – Pre-Purchase,” details how thoughtfully featuring UGC throughout the purchase path can engage shoppers from initial product searches to product pages.
While the customer’s journey is an unpredictable, winding road, there are ways you can keep the shopper focused and moving toward a purchase. Download “Driving the Customer Journey: The Journey Begins” to learn more.
January 20, 2017 by John Swords
I recently attended Listrak’s Partner Expo at the company’s 2017 Winter Summit. TurnTo’s chief product officer, John Swords, traveled with me to Lancaster, PA, where Listrak brought all of its team members together for a week of training and team building.
I’ve always been a fan of working with Email Service Providers (ESPs).
Like SIs, ESPs, such as Listrak, work very closely with industry-leading retailers and brands and become deeply integrated with their marketing teams. All of that time working together leads to innovative insights, and those insights lead to ground-breaking marketing strategies and products.
I’ve always known Listrak has industry-leading professional services, but the team’s product presentation stole the show at the 2017 Winter Summit. The data they are collecting with cross-device identification makes their content personalization and programmatic marketing products that much more effective. I was very impressed.
It was highly valuable for Swords and I to have an entire day of conversations with members of literally every team at Listrak. We immensely enjoyed drawing attention to what TurnTo is able to do for our mutual clients, hearing what they find interesting and discussing strategies to deliver more value through our partnership.
If you’re intrigued or would like to know more, check out the links above, or feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
December 20, 2016 by John Swords
Whether you are exploring your first user-generated content strategies or looking for ways to expand your current UGC offerings, it can be a challenge to figure out which tools and methodologies are going to connect with your shoppers.
Many marketers may simply add ratings and reviews to product pages and think they have launched enough of a UGC program that will boost sales and engagement. Rarely will that “just flip a switch” strategy be enough to truly impact the customer experience or your bottom line.
Imagine throwing a dinner party where you invite friends, family and co-workers. When the first guests arrive, you run upstairs and hide hoping everyone will get along, converse, find the food and have an enjoyable evening. A few guests will make the most of the situation, but most will probably feel a bit confused and may just leave.
The evening would be much more enjoyable if you are a good host. You must consider how the various groups will interact and foster an environment that will bring everyone together. Guide the conversation. Serve the main course. Delight with a dessert.
Make these same considerations when you are planning your UGC implementations. Your shoppers and customers are showing up to your site, what are you doing to bring them together? Analyze your customer segments to identify behaviors that could encourage content submissions, spark conversations and educate first-time shoppers.
Check out these 3 common customer behaviors and how they can be translated into a powerful UGC strategy.
You know your shoppers are using mobile devices to research products and to check the status of their orders. You have probably invested in mobile-friendly product pages and checkout processes. Augment these efforts by including a mobile-optimized UGC submission flow. Give customers the power to take and submit photos on their mobile phones when they are reviewing a product. Ensure that this UGC is easily found on your mobile site and viewable on a variety of devices by shoppers considering their next purchase.
Pride and Projects
Brand advocates are rarely bashful. From unboxings to shopping hauls, completing a project or completely taking a product apart, your most active customers have a lot to say and a lot to show off. Help your most enthusiastic customers to share their stories by prominently featuring customer-created video reviews of your products. Build awareness that videos can be included on your site and then actively share their hard work to spread their message as well as your own!
An informed shopper can become a valuable customer. They may just need to have a few questions answered before they can confidently make their first purchase. Think about conversations your customer service reps and store employees have with customers. Identify the topics that happen organically in your product reviews and Q&A sections. Certain products or product categories could benefit from having these themes prominently featured on product pages or in search results. For tough to answer questions or overly complex products, consider developing videos or written guides that can be an additional resource for shoppers. UGC comments and Q&A can supplement and complement these efforts and motivate shoppers to move further along the customer journey toward completing a purchase.
Using existing consumer behaviors to build a UGC strategy can help you to develop meaningful site interactions, motivate shoppers to buy and give customers a reason to come back and share thoughts on purchases. As you plan to add UGC features to your site, think about how you can help to expand on these successes rather than just adding features to your product pages and hoping for the best.
Learn how TurnTo customer Sur La Table identified a UGC collection opportunity on their order confirmation page. Download the “The Power of the Customer Voice” white paper.
December 6, 2016 by John Swords
The end is near. Not exactly the holly, jolly message you want to hear during the holidays. Whether you’re ready or not, you only have a few days to grab that gift that every marketer wants – record-breaking Q4 revenue!
As your festive promotions approach their final days, you may find your marketing messages getting staler than your Aunt Bertha’s fruitcake. How many times can you effectively promote percent off sales, dollar discounts and free shipping offers?
It may be time to change the conversation you are having with your customers. After all, you don’t want to be that person at the holiday party who keeps repeating the same story.
User-generated content can be an effective tool to re-energize your exhausted shoppers. Inboxes have been overstuffed with emails and sites have been slammed with special seasonal sales. It can all take its toll on consumers.
Shifting the conversation away from what you want to say to what other consumers say about your products can be a refreshing way to fight shopper fatigue. User-generated content can help you to pivot the promotional perspective of your holiday marketing without having to significantly overhaul your existing plans.
TurnTo’s 2016 UGC Holiday Lookbook showcases various ways top retailers featured user-generated content during the peak shopping days of Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday. These UGC strategies can be a source of inspiration as the holidays wrap up.
Here are a few ways to use your existing user-generated content to mix up your final few merry messages.
Get into the Gifting Groove
Your remaining holiday messages will likely feature lifestyle shots of your products being worn or used. Pair these promotional photos with quotes and comments that your customers left as reviews on your product pages. UGC that evokes the senses can be especially impactful during this season of gifting. Remember, many shoppers will be buying for others. Help shoppers who are unfamiliar with your products to buy with confidence by quoting reviews that explain why customers love the product.
This email sent by Garnet Hill contains a quote from a review of a customer who bought the product as a gift. This kind of quote may be more effective than one that focuses on product details that could motivate someone buying for their own use.
Feature the Quality and Quantity of Ratings
Curated collections are perfect for last-minute shoppers looking for those final few gifts. Many retailers will feature shop by price, gifts by recipient (him/her, mom/dad), top sellers, staff picks, etc…
These gift guides will help the shopper to self-select their shopping path and help you to direct them to related products. Boost the power of these promotions by coupling the collections with the ratings for related products.
A simple star rating may be an effective addition to a variety of hand-picked products, though you should consider additional UGC data points that could entice the shopper to click and cart the items.
The numerical value of the star rating, the quantity of reviews and even the number of questions answered or customer photos can offer a more compelling reason for the shopper to explore a collection.
Athleta added the star rating, numerical rating and the number of reviews to the products featured in their Black Friday email.
Boost Your Brand
Shipping deadlines are quickly approaching. Last-minute shoppers will be searching for expedited shipping offers, in-store pick-up and digital gifts that can help them to check off the final few folks on their list.
Calm these procrastinating purchasers by assuring them that your brand can make things merry before Christmas Day arrives. Feature customer service ratings and quotes that highlight happy customers and showcase your company’s commitment to their satisfaction.
This strategy can be effective for retailers who do not have a rich supply of UGC to use, sell bespoke products or have limited inventory items.
In addition to featuring how their products were showcased on Ellen, Balsam Hill used quotes from happy customers to give shoppers even more reasons to buy.
The holiday season is a crazy, chaotic stress fest for marketers. Months of planning will go into ensuring that year-end revenue goals are met. As you approach these final days of the final quarter of 2016, take a moment to see if there are any tweaks you can make to your marketing plan that will build on the successes seen so far this season. UGC can be a valuable resource for boosting holiday sales and finishing the season strong.
Download the 2016 UGC Holiday Lookbook to see how top retailers featured user-generated content in their Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday marketing.
April 14, 2016 by George Eberstadt
A version of this post originally ran on Multichannel Merchant.
A study we just completed shows that a new type of customer-generated content captured online at the point of purchase can solve the problem of low customer review volume.
“Be the first to write a review” is one of most negative messages retailers can show on their product pages. Research shows that much of the power of customer reviews is in the count, not just the rating. High counts indicate an item is popular, and popular items sell. Low or zero counts suggest an item is unpopular, which hurts sales. Ironically, many truly popular items have no reviews just when they are being most heavily promoted – when they are newly on sale – because of the lag before reviews start to arrive.
The pain is not confined to the product page. Most stores show ratings on discovery, list, and search pages. Items shown with no ratings are much less likely to attract shoppers, resulting in lost sales opportunities. A catalog with many “zero reviews” items may be worse than one that doesn’t use reviews at all.
One way around this conundrum is for retailers to capture a sort of micro-review at the moment of purchase (on the order confirmation page), rather than waiting weeks to ask for a traditional review by email. On the order confirmation page, a shopper can’t yet speak to her experience with the item, but she can answer a different question: “Why did you choose this?”
The answers to this question directly address purchase motivation, something that’s not usually covered in reviews and is particularly effective at helping shoppers make the decision to buy. For example, seeing that many people chose to give an item as a Mother’s Day gift will help others feel comfortable doing the same. Multiple comments that people bought an item for some particular attribute – smell, weight, comfort, style, performance… – call attention to the key features that drive purchase. And there’s no substitute for the customer’s own voice; like the comment on a set of woodworking clamps: “They are the extra hands we could all use.”
We recently ran a study looking at the rate at which these “Checkout Comments” build up. We found that overall, when that question is posed in a modal window on the order confirmation page, shoppers provide an answer on 10-15% of all orders. For most stores, that’s a rate 3-5 times higher than the rate at which they collect customer reviews. And for new items, the first comments start to arrive, on average, 10 days earlier than with traditional reviews.
Displaying this content on product pages, especially with a count near the top where the reviews count usually appears, provides powerful social validation that drives conversion. Showing these counts on navigation pages helps get shoppers to click through to more product pages, which also drives sales. And since the comments are collected at the moment of purchase, they tend to contain highly positive sentiment, which further increases conversion rates.
From our study, we’ve called out 4 examples to illustrate the differences in the rate of content build-up between Checkout Comments and customer reviews when items first go on sale and over time. We selected these items because they were among those that received the most, fastest reviews. These examples show that even compared to the most successful review collection efforts, Checkout Comments start coming in much sooner – usually on the first day a new item is available – and build up much faster.
March 9, 2016 by John Swords
The Risks of Image Harvesting
Recently the online retailing industry took some heat over the practice of harvesting images from social media. The New York Times highlighted some especially egregious cases in which retail brands re-published Instagram photos of children against the expectations of their parents.
A variety of experts chimed in with conflicting advice. Does using a brand’s hashtag in a photo caption count as giving consent for the brand to post the picture? The article portrays an industry still figuring out where the lines are, with best practices still unsettled.
What’s clear is that “image harvesting” is developing a risky reputation. When retailers pull pictures off social media and place them in a merchandising context, such as a product page or a gallery on a brand’s website, customers sometimes feel blindsided. Doing it right means getting each customer’s permission individually, and making sure customers understand what they’re consenting to.
That all adds up to a high-effort process. Retailers win when customers share pictures of products they love, but shouldn’t there be a better way to get them?
Enter Visual Reviews
TurnTo is leading the way in a new product that offers a clear-cut path to collect customer images that’s beneficial to both the customer and the retailer. Rather than pulling images from customers’ personal social media feeds, Visual Reviews gives the customers a way to submit product photos and videos directly to the store where they bought the item or to the brand that manufactured it.
TurnTo Visual Reviews adds a rich layer of visual information to fashion, beauty, and home brands, where a picture can say more than a written review ever could. It also works well for hobby and craft retailers, where buyers are eager to share things they’ve made with the products they’ve bought. Whatever the category, it provides a worry-free source of great content for TurnTo clients.
February 5, 2016 by John Swords
I thought I would take a minute and share a few words on TurnTo’s new branding that launched last month. For those of you that read our blog through our content feed, I encourage you to stop by the new website to see it in action.
While Visual Reviews was in development last year, we began work on a new brand system that would not just convey our vision for TurnTo, but also integrate and showcase our growing number of products and services.
For the logo, we aimed to communicate our community building vision, technical innovation, and fanatical attention to results, which are all core to our mission. The new mark breaks with some traditional conventions in logo design which gives us the flexibility to use it in more sizes and treatments.
The supporting modular systems of color and content structure provide clarity and consistency across all of our media touch points.
Design consultant Erica Heinz worked closely with our product and marketing teams to develop the new program.
“The new look is bright, clear, and responsive, reflecting the company’s spirit of innovation and service. The brand system gives each product a distinct identity and adds a unique, modern mark to represent interconnectedness.”
It was very important that the entire system be designed mobile-first to ensure great experience across devices and continents. We were fortunate to have former MoMA and New Yorker web developer/artist Dan Phiffer lend his talents to bring the new brand to the web.
Our team is excited about the new look and we hope you fall in love with it too.
January 19, 2016 by John Swords
Keeping up with social commerce is like keeping a bunch of plates spinning in the air. Should you have a separate retail destination on Facebook? Will “buy” buttons on Pinterest and Twitter have any impact on your sales? Are your ratings and reviews helping you stand out, or a missed opportunity?
Helpfully, a new research report from Gartner offers advice on the fluid world of social retail. TurnTo, with its suite of customer engagement services, is one of the solutions profiled in the report.
One piece of advice that always hold true is customer experience makes a big competitive difference. Gartner reports that “customers trust and value the opinions of other customers, and recommends that digital commerce sites incorporate elements of social commerce.” The report also advises, “Go beyond standard rating-and-review functionality for digital commerce sites by also incorporating textual analytics, review syndication and review moderation. Some vendors offer these advanced features, some don’t.”
The Gartner report also highlights product/brand advocacy as a proven approach to social commerce.
TurnTo is profiled as a solution for both Rating and Review and Product/Brand Advocacy. TurnTo is a great way to stay ahead of the curve and make sure your ratings and reviews are ready to deliver the great experience your shoppers want. The new TurnTo Suite offers four proven tools you can use to maximize customer engagement and deliver a great social ecommerce experience.
Gartner clients can access the December 2015 report, “Market Guide for Social Commerce Applications.”
December 16, 2015 by George Eberstadt
Each year at this time, CIO Review Magazine picks 20 technology solutions for the retail business that stood out during the previous year. TurnTo was selected as one of them in their just-published 2015 list. Here’s a link to their official citation. Their explanation did a very nice job summarizing the changes that are taking place in shopper behavior and the resulting challenges and opportunities for online sellers. Reprinting it here:
Product ratings and reviews have been a staple of eCommerce since Amazon introduced them in the mid-90s. But the basic model hasn’t evolved much, while the online environment has changed dramatically. Phones have passed computers as the primary means through which many people access the internet. Visual content has become far more important in the online product discovery and selection process. Social media has trained people to value 2-way interactivity over passive content consumption. Messaging has taught people to prefer their text shorter and shorter.
Set against this backdrop is New York-based TurnTo Networks, the fastest-growing provider of so-called “customer- generated content” (CGC) tools for top eCommerce businesses and brands. TurnTo’s mission has been to update the basic ideas of traditional ratings and reviews to address the changes in the ways people shop online and how they create and use CGC in the process. To accomplish this, TurnTo has developed an innovative suite of customer-content applications for eCommerce built around this new environment: mobile-first, highly visual, 2-way interactive, and short-form text.
TurnTo’s line-up includes an up-to-date take on traditional Ratings and Reviews, a Community Q&A product that enables shoppers to get their product questions answered by peers who already own the items, a “micro-review” gathered at the point of purchase called a Checkout Comment, and a Visual Reviews product built around the reality that many people would rather use their phones to take pictures and video than to fill in forms and type. Together, these products fulfill the basic promise of customer ratings and reviews while taking the value delivered by customer content to a new level
Not only do these new and updated tools better meet the needs of today’s shopper, they also help online sellers address important challenges that traditional ratings and reviews don’t solve well. For example, stores with “fast-turn” catalogs, such as fashion, often have trouble building up customer reviews before items go out of stock or out of season. But TurnTo’s Checkout Comments start generating content from the first moment an item is available for sale. Or consider highly complex products like cameras and electronics. It’s impossible for reviews or standard product information to anticipate all the questions a shopper might have before purchasing. For that, Community Q&A is an effective way to quickly get prospective buyers the information they need. Or how about the whole category of do-it-yourself–from home improvement to cooking to crafts? Stores often want to call attention to the results of the products they sell–the projects made with their tools and supplies. Text reviews of product features can never highlight these outcomes the way proud photos taken by real customers can.
“Traditional ratings and reviews remain very important, and it’s crucial for stores and brands to use a platform that collects the greatest volume while ensuring authenticity,” says George Eberstadt, CEO, TurnTo Networks. “But it’s no longer enough to stop there. Customer behavior has moved on, which has created great opportunities for sellers to use these new types of customer-content to create better experiences for shoppers while addressing some of their most important merchandising challenges.”
November 18, 2015 by George Eberstadt
A new study from L2 of the CPG personal care market looks at the relationship between review volume and search engine results and finds:
…products with more reviews enjoy superior search visibility.
SEO is a major reason to maximize the number of reviews you collect, but there are others:
- A high review count displayed alongside the average star rating signals that a product is popular and also increases trust in the average rating by showing it is based on a meaningful sample. In fact, a higher review count can more than make up for a lower average rating. In this recent study, 61% of respondents preferred a product with a 4.5 star average based on 57 reviews over the same item with a 5 star average based on only 4 reviews.
- Larger numbers of reviews drive higher average ratings by tapping into the “happy middle” of the customer base to dilute the over-influence of the often unhappy extreme that otherwise dominates. Jockey.com (underwear) recently found that sending an email to request reviews not only increased review volume by 7X, it also increased the average rating across the site by a half a star – a HUGE effect.
While it’s no surprise that more-reviews-is-better, in practice, we find many brands and stores are so focused on the average star rating for their products that they undervalue the raw volume count and miss opportunities to increase collection.
The L2 study points to review syndication from brand sites to retail sites as an effective strategy for increasing review volume at the point of purchase. We would add that merchants should consider an open strategy for in-bound syndication, as closed networks can have significant limitations in reach, complexity, and cost.
We would also recommend that stores and brands evaluate their mechanisms for collecting reviews, as platform limitations can crush the volume of reviews collected. For example, the furniture store Raymour & Flanigan doubled the volume of verified-buyer reviews they collect by switching to an approach that automatically authenticates known reviewers rather than requiring a separate authentication step. And for unrecognized users, a flow that enables review creation before requiring authentication is essential. (Do you make your visitors register before they shop?!?)
October 16, 2015 by George Eberstadt
You probably know that sending an email post-purchase to request a product review is critical to getting a healthy volume of reviews. But you may not know that it’s also essential for ensuring that the sentiment of the reviews you collect fairly represents the sentiment of your customer base, overall.
Here’s an example from Jockey.com. After switching to TurnTo for ratings & reviews, there was a period of 6 weeks when they were not sending out review solicitation emails (RSEs); the only reviews they collected were from shoppers who returned to their site, on their own, to submit one. Then Jockey turned on the RSEs. Not surprisingly, the volume of reviews they collected increased by 7X.
But here was the surprise: the average rating also improved – by over half a star, from under 3.8 to over 4.3! That’s a huge improvement, with the critical benefit of accurately signaling to shoppers the high quality of Jockey products.
Why the improvement in average star ratings? It turns out that the people who go through the effort to come back to your site to write a review, without being prompted to do so, are disproportionately the unhappy ones – the ones with a complaint to vent. So if you are only capturing reviews from this group, you are over-representing the negative sentiment in your customer base and under-representing your happy customers. When you reduce the barrier to writing reviews by sending customers an email requesting one, you get a review-writing population that is much more representative of the overall sentiment of your customer base. In the case of Jockey, the before-and-after gain of over a half-star across their full catalog is the kind of improvement you might otherwise have to do a product-line refresh to achieve.
So in case the benefits of a much greater volume of reviews aren’t enough to convince you to send out a review solicitation email, keep in mind that you’ll be more accurately showing the positive sentiment of your customer base, too!
October 13, 2015 by John Swords
Community Q&A got the late night talk show treatment last week. Stephen Colbert had Late Show guest Cate Blanchett perform a live reading of answers from owners of a Hamilton Beach travel blender.
Here’s the video:
September 8, 2015 by John Swords
… And we mean LOOK different.
- 90% of reviews come in response to emails
- >60% of emails are opened on phones
- Phones are bad for long text (like reviews)
- Phones are great for photos!
The implications are clear:
- Your strategy for collecting customer reviews needs to work on phones
- On phones, the strategy should be “visual first.”
So what is a visual review? It’s a photo (or video) submitted by a customer in response to a request for a review – the proverbial picture that is worth a thousand words. Instead of text stating, “With my new cookware, I was finally able to perfectly brown the crust of my famous chicken-pot-pie,” it is a photo of that perfect chicken-pot-pie.
Instead of text stating, “The shirt fit perfectly, with no extra blousing around my waist,” it is a selfie of the customer looking great in her new shirt.
Instead of text stating, “The fabric on the sofa was gorgeous, but the cushions were way too saggy,” it is a photo of the sofa with its gorgeous fabric and saggy cushions.
Far from being yet another “gotta-keep-up-with-changing-platforms chore,” the shift to visual content that the rise of smart phones demands creates a huge opportunity. Simply put, visual content converts better. Few shoppers have the patience to read the full body of customer reviews, and those that read any rarely go past the first couple of entries. So while having lots of reviews is valuable for signaling that an item is popular, most of the text you are collecting has little impact on conversion. On the other hand, shoppers can scan an image gallery in a blink and come away with a powerful, visceral sense of the appeal of a product.
This is not to say that you should abandon collecting text reviews; there is plenty of information in text reviews that images can’t convey. If a customer is on a desktop when they get your request to write a review, you should lead with the request for a standard text review (with an option to attach an image). But when the customer is on a mobile device, don’t try to force a round peg into a square hole by asking for text. Instead, ask the customer to do what comes more naturally on these devices and submit an image.
The applications are broad and go way beyond selfies. Image subjects can vary such as:
- Things made with the product (cooking, crafts, do-it-yourself projects)
- The product in use (home furnishings, hobby items)
- Unboxing and explainers (electronics, fashion)
- Travel (Hotel rooms, attractions)
- And yes, selfies (fashion, beauty, sporting goods)
Visual reviews are a great complement to imagery you can gather from social media sites, if you’ve taken that approach. But visual reviews also have some important advantages over social media harvesting and may be all the visual content collection you need:
- Images are automatically connected to the relevant SKU (saving a lot of work)
- Usage rights are automatically acquired
- You can collect a lot more images, since there is a big portion of your customer base that is happy to write a review but isn’t going to post your product to their Instagram page.
- The image collection is continuous; there’s no need for special hashtag campaigns
So as we said, the next generation of product reviews is going to look very different.
August 17, 2015 by John Swords
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.
Here are just a few results Silver Star Brands have realized thus far (a link to the full case study is below):
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.
July 17, 2015 by John Swords
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.
Here, 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 by John Swords
[Updated October 11, 2015 to reflect changes Internet Retailer made to their 2015 Top 500 database since the date this was first published.]
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 53% during the period, while the number using Bazaarvoice declined 3% and the number using PowerReviews declined 12%.
Measured by the annual web sales of the retailers served, the results were even more dramatic. TurnTo grew 198% during the period, while Bazaarvoice grew 2% and PowerReviews declined 1%. Additionally, the Internet Retailer 2015 research shows that 50% 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 ahead 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 20-30%.
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.