September 20, 2012

An Overview of the Annual Summit

September 10th marked the start of this year’s Annual Summit in Denver, CO.

The Summit always seems to be the ideal place for online retailers and brands to close the conference season. In addition to the myriad of social activities, the Summit brings industry leaders and innovative players together and allows attendees to gather that one last nugget or exchange that one last idea with fellow retailers before they head for holiday lockdown.

Following is a summary provided by the blog on five sessions:

Are you making one of these 4 online marketing mistakes?

With everything that goes on in retail/e-commerce, mistakes are bound to be made.  Luckily, some of the most common ones are easy to fix.  Read about the top 4 mistakes online marketers make, and how they can be remedied here.

Cost-effective tactics to optimize SEO performance

SEO may be one of the most valuable online strategies, right after email, but are you utilizing all the available resources to optimize?  Learn more about it here.

How to be a web analytics hero

Getting the most from your website requires more than just reporting.  You must analyze!  Landing pages, search functions and product details should all be examined.  Learn more here.

Why site speed matters for big time retailers

In life, most people don’t like waiting and the same goes for online shoppers.  Read an interview with Ted Middleton, Vice President of EdgeCast Network, for insights on why your page load times matter and how to keep yours fast here.

H&M: Lessons learned from David Beckham’s Super Bowl ad

I think the title is self-explanatory on this one!  Read about the tactics and strategy H&M used when planning to launch their Super Bowl ad surrounding David Beckham’s underwear line here.

For those of you not familiar with this event or have not attended in the past, this year’s Summit had one of the biggest turnouts recorded and with the promise that ‘attendees will acquire valuable strategies and tactics to improve online and multichannel retail business’, you may want to check it out next year. This Summit is confirmed for September 30-October, 2013 in Chicago, IL. We hope to see you there!

August 27, 2012

How trustworthy are customer reviews?

David Streitfeld of the New York Times has been looking hard at the issue of fake customer reviews.  A year ago, he called out freelancers offering to write positive reviews for a few bucks.  In January, he wrote up a service called VIP Deals that offered rebates in return for positive reviews.  And a couple days ago he published a piece on Todd Rutherford, the founder of, who sold 4,531 book reviews in 2010 and 2011 at $20-99 each, before backlash from Google and Amazon forced him to shut down the service.

No doubt, there is fakery out there.  The question is: how widespread is it?  4,531 seems like a lot of reviews, but it’s a small part of the billions of customer reviews available on the web.  The most recent NY Times piece says Bing Liu, a computer scientist at the University of Illinois, Chicago specializing in automated text analysis, “estimates that about one-third of all consumer reviews on the Internet are fake.”


One of the reasons there is so much suspicion of reviews is that so many of them are positive.  Liu has estimated that 60% of the reviews on Amazon are 5 stars and another 20% are 4 stars, but, he says, “almost no one wants to write five-star reviews, so many of them have to be created.”

Here’s an alternative explanation: there’s a lot more customer satisfaction out there than you might guess.  That’s a conclusion you might come to from reading customer answers to shopper questions gathered through TurnTo.  With the TurnTo system, there is almost no possibility for fakery.  When a shopper asks a question, the system chooses a group of people who actually bought the item (based on the transaction records of the store) and emails the question to them.  While the system allows in-line answers on the product detail page, >90% of the answers come in reply to this question email.  So unless there’s a big population of people buying products they don’t need for the purpose of providing artificially positive answers to shopper questions they may never even receive, these answers are legit.

And one of the most striking aspects of the answers provided by these real product owners is how effusively positive they often are.  For example, here are some customer answers to a shopper question about the height of the drip spout on an espresso machine at  The question doesn’t ask for any sort of overall evaluation of the machine – it’s just looking for a measurement.  Yet many of the respondents (including me) spontaneously volunteered our enthusiasm for the product.  (You can find this page here.)

Now I don’t want to be Pollyanna about the problem of fake reviews.  I suspect they are much more common on destination review sites like Yelp and Trip Advisor where anyone can submit than on ecommerce sites where the ability to verify purchase is an easy and effective way to police.  It’s also harder to believe the uniformly high ratings sometimes found on products which are judged on subjective personal taste, like books and food; personal tastes differ too much.  As Streifeld points out, even The Great Gatsby (which, first published in 1925, is presumably not attracting many fake reviews) has plenty of neutral and negative reviews (>300 reviews are 1, 2, or 3 stars out of 1,400 total at Amazon).

But while the battle goes on between the fakers and those trying to root them out, it’s possible that in many cases when the reviews are positive, customers might just be happy.

August 22, 2012

Multi-Channel Marketing at eTail East

The TurnTo team recently took a trip to eTail East in Boston, MA where the hot topic was multi-channel marketing, or omni-channel marketing depending on who you asked.   From mobile to tablet (will talk more about these two later) to online, social, print and media, consumers have multiple ways to access your online store and experience your brand.   With this variety, businesses are wondering, What do I do for each channel?  Should I go social? and much more.

The CMO of Express, Lisa Gavales shared with the audience a 90 second video of their upcoming fall collection as delivered through multiple channels.  She prefaced it by saying it is boring.  Boring?  Yes, boring.  Why?  Because Express stays consistent with it’s messaging within every season, so when you take a 3 month season and condense it to 90 seconds it gets a bit repetitive with the same images and clothing being shown to you over and over again!  The point of this was clear though: stay consistent no matter what channel of marketing you are using.  A consumer should be able to access your site through their phone, tablet or computer and see basically the same thing.  A core principle of branding, but one that is easy to stray from.

With all the different types of devices currently on the market, how does one decide which to treat the same and which to put in their own category?  For the most part, this is quite simple, but what about mobile phones and tablets?  Do you consider a tablet a mobile device? Or do you classify them each into a category of their own? The speakers at eTail East all had their own opinions, and there is no one approach that is correct.  However, they all could agree that it is important to keep in mind the differences between a mobile phone and tablet device.  For one, the screen size is different.  Secondly, the Internet connection used on the two is usually different, WiFi for tablets and 3G for phones (4G if you’re lucky).  These two factors combined affects how these devices are used.   For example, 74% of people use a smartphone to find local services compared to 55% on tablets1. This type of information could be valuable when deciding what marketing activities you are going to execute for these devices, as well as what approach you are going to take with your messaging.  Slight changes are obviously necessary between a phone and tablet, but again, brand consistency is key.

Latest infographics2 divulge that there are 845 million monthly active Facebook users and over 465 million Twitter accounts.   That’s 1.31 billion people that use Facebook and Twitter alone, not to mention other social sites.  So, should you go social? How do you measure social?  Some speakers at eTail use Facebook, others don’t.  Some use Twitter, some don’t.  So what’s the deal?  Use what works for you.  Test, test, test.  Start small, see what works, and go from there.  Remember though, that social is a 2-way thing… using it as a platform for dialogue with and between your customers can provide huge insights and help strengthen brand loyalty.

Kelly Cook, the SVP of Marketing at DSW Designer Shoe Warehouse, engaged the audience by talking excitedly about “shoe love” and by giving away free shoes to the audience… much like they do through their enormous presence on both Twitter and Facebook. Whether it’s by commenting on their shopper’s photos or by giving away free shoes to celebrate a new store opening, they are active and engaging with their shoppers on a daily basis.   What benefits have they seen from their social presence?  At the very least, they see a very strong loyalty amongst their shoppers.  In fact, 90% of their sales come through their loyalty program.  And, their Facebook fans even went so far as to defend their page against unwanted hackers!  So, although it is extremely difficult to track the ROI on social media, it is much easier and according to some, just as valuable, to track the engagement level by clicks, comments, likes, etc. and see your fan-base grow.  I think it is safe to assume that the more active your social pages are, the more loyal your followers, and the more successful your social campaigns are.

All in all, the eTail East message I received was clear: stay consistent in your brand messaging, utilize the channels that work best for you (staying mindful of their differences) and take advantage of the fact that social media is a two-way street and cannot be measured strictly by ROI.



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July 30, 2012 Merchandising Workshop Recap

Retailers and brands at this year’s Merchandising Workshop, which took place in San Diego a couple of weeks ago, left with pages of notes on how to improve conversion, site design, customer engagement and much more.

If you were unable to attend, here are a few of our favorite sessions from the two days:
(These overviews are compliments of’s blog posts)

Doug Mack, CEO of One Kings Lane shared his take on ‘5 current trends within the e-commerce space.’  Read the overview of his session.

Sarah Veit Wallis, VP of Global Ecommerce for Bare Escentuals, and Michael Burgess, President of Saks Direct, shared a few of their lessons learned with launching mobile sites and apps.  Read more.

Kate Spade’s Johanna Murphy, VP of e-commerce, and Kristina DiMatteo, Digital Marketing Manager, showed how content and commerce are the same to this New York based brand. Read about their recent campaign here.

In addition, while I was unable to attend Tim Ash’s presentation on ‘Are you committing one of the 5 deadly sins of landing page design?’ I did hear that his ‘sins’ unfortunately resonated with some of the attendees.  Read about it here.

For those not familiar with this event, does a great job – not only is it always in a beautiful setting, but they bring together interesting speakers with relevant topics in an environment where one can hear and learn what fellow retailers are doing, learning and experiencing. My calendar is already marked for next year’s Merchandising Workshop, which will be held July 15-17 in Huntington Beach, CA.  Hope to see you there, if not before!

Posted in Blog

July 17, 2012

Finding the ROI in Social Q&A – Webinar

Last Wednesday, George had the pleasure of sharing the stage with Tara Hunt, the Chief Executive and Co-Founder of Buyosphere, for inSparq’s webinar “Finding the ROI in Social Q&A.”  The webinar was part of inSparq’s 10-week Social Commerce Accelerator program to help merchants define and execute social commerce strategies that drive sales.

During the webinar, George shared his experience making customer Q&A work as a conversion and SEO tool on eCommerce store-fronts while Tara showed how social Q&A delivers value as a product discovery tool on a destination site.  It was a great pairing, if we do say so ourselves.

Hear what they had to say:

June 26, 2012

Personalization is great, as long as it doesn’t undermine control

There was an interesting  piece in the New York Times over the weekend about the experience Urban Outfitters has had with personalization.  In brief: they tried altering the merchandise displayed on the site based on the gender of the visitor – it seemed like an obvious win to show women more women’s clothes and men more men’s clothes.  But it backfired.  Dmitri Siegel, then at Urban Outfitters and now at Patagonia, noted that shoppers “took offense at being subjected to gender-based marketing.”

And yet some aspects of personalization – in particular, recommendations – seem to perform well, and even better when aided by automation.  Last week I was speaking with an IR50 retailer who said that in a recent test their automated personalization engine outperformed their human personalizers by 3X!  (Recommendations proposed by the automated engine received 3X as many clicks as recommendations manually composed by the merchandising team…)

This contrast – between personalization that works and personalization that doesn’t – reminded me of the windshield wipers on our car.  OK, OK, bear with me here.  Up until the car we own now, the intermittent wiper always worked the obvious way: you turn it up, the delay between wipes gets shorter.  But on our current car, it’s different; the wiper setting determines the amount of rain that a sensor needs to detect before triggering a wipe.  That is, you are not setting the wipe frequency directly, you are setting it relative to the amount of rain that’s falling.  The idea is this: if you like a dry windshield, turn up the knob, and the system will keep your windshield dry for you by increasing the frequency of wipes as the rain gets heavier.  And if you prefer to minimize the distraction caused by wiping, turn down the knob, and the wiper will only trigger when it senses a very wet windshield.  In fact, you never even need to turn off the intermittent wiper, because on a sunny day it never triggers, even on the highest setting.

Like personalization, I suspect that reactions to this feature vary, and some folks probably like it.  But I’m not one of them.  I prefer to have direct control over the frequency of my wiper.  While the sensor is pretty good, it’s not perfect, and when I want a different frequency than what the sensor has chosen for me, it’s hard to get it right.  Further, changing the speed manually is not hard, so the intelligence built in to the system isn’t really saving me from some difficult burden.

You can see where this is going.  In an effort to “personalize”, the wiper system forces me to give up some control.  But the cost to me of the loss of control is greater than the value to me of the personalization.

I suspect that my experience with the wipers is similar to the experience of shoppers at Urban Outfitters.  By personalizing based on gender, the site removed a degree of control from the shopper.  After all, women shop for men’s clothes and (ahem) men shop for women’s.  So there’s a cost to the shopper when the personalization is off.  On the other hand, there’s very little burden for the shopper in controlling the system manually – ie clicking the tab that says Women’s when shopping for women’s clothes.

This doesn’t mean personalization is always a mistake.  There are some times when direct control is too hard and having a system help is very valuable.  One example: in modern fighter jets, direct control of the airfoils through wires and hydraulics – the way pilots used to control planes – is no longer possible.  So instead, the pilot tells a computer what she wants the plane to do, and the computer tells the control surfaces how to move to accomplish that.  Similarly, on an ecommerce site with many SKUs, smart, personalized recommendations can help me discover items that I would miss with less-smart recommendations.

The trick in getting the user experience right is to figure out when allowing direct user control is preferable and when automated personalization is the better choice.

June 25, 2012

The Win/Win Challenge


Our partner, 500friends, has announced The Win/Win Challenge

Q: Who is 500friends?
A: A social loyalty platform

Q: What is The Win/Win Challenge?
A: The chance for you to win $25,000 or 1,000,000 airline miles

Q: How do I win?
A: Design the most creative implementation of 500friends LoyaltyPlus and be live by August 15, 2012

Are you up for the challenge? If so, follow the steps below:

  1. Learn more about 500friends and their loyalty and rewards offering
  2. Review the official rules page for The Win/Win Challenge
  3. Sign up and get started today, August 15 is right around the corner!

**Receive extra points for your integration if you add TurnTo’s Social Q&A Platform by August 15, 2012, as well.

The challenge is on……good luck!


June 1, 2012

Webinar: Beyond Customer Reviews – Meet Social Q&A

Yesterday George Eberstadt, our CEO and Founder, hosted our webinar “Beyond Customer Reviews – Meet Social Q&A.” George covered topics ranging from “what is Social Q&A?” through to the positive effects Social Q&A can have on a website’s SEO. Below are the slides from the webinar:

April 17, 2012

Trust does not equal influence – be careful how you interpret the data

The new Nielsen trust report is out.  (Write up at Social Commerce Today.)  Duck – here come the inflated claims from social commerce companies about how this proves the effectiveness of what they do.  The problem is, it’s not that simple.  First, here’s the data:

The temptation is to conclude that because “recommendations from people I know” are most-trusted, a sure-fire strategy is to get your customers to recommend your stuff to their friends.  The problem is that the whole reason friends are trusted is because they WON’T recommend your stuff to their friends – not unless they sincerely and spontaneously feel it’s in the interest of their friends to do so.  And as soon as you throw in an incentive for your customers to tell their friends about you, you are going against the whole trust equation – no one wants to feel like a shill, and no one wants to be shilled to.

Also important: social trust affects the purchase cycle in different ways at different stages.  “Consumer opinions posted online” are effective at the evaluation stage, but not at the awareness stage.  No one reads customer reviews unless they already have purchase intent.  On the other hand, recommendations from friends tend to matter more at the awareness stage than at the evaluation stage, and this varies a lot by product category.  For example, I just got a new Dyson hand vac because I saw it at my friends’ house this weekend and they told me it was awesome, but I would never have called them to ask what brand of vac I should get at the moment I was about to buy one.   Of the last 40 items I bought at, 6 of them had some sort of social influence at the discovery stage, but only 1 had any social influence at the evaluation stage.  That was a ping pong table, and I didn’t seek out the advice about which to get; I just mentioned to a friend that I was thinking of getting one, and she said to get a Stiga because it’s a Swedish brand and she’s Swedish.  Similarly, for vacation plans, I sometimes call friends for advice during the evaluation phase, but since it can be hard to know which friends have relevant experience, my process tends to be haphazard.  Fashion is a tricky category – people ask friends for advice, but assessment of a friend’s expertise is often based on their taste rather than their direct product experience.  (You don’t have to own a particular brand to answer “does this look good on me?”)  How do you, as a brand/store, affect that conversation?!?

So, the next time someone makes a blanket statement to you about how you need to be doing social commerce because people “trust” their friends and fellow shoppers so much, say “whoa there!”  Trust is not the same as influence, and leveraging the trust that’s inherent in social relationships to promote your business is not that simple.

March 27, 2012

Is Q&A the new forum?

Dell just relaunched their community for IT professionals, rebranding it from AppDeploy to ITNinja, and changing the interaction model from forum to Q&A.  This follows the Q&A models used in other IT communities like Spiceworks and StackOverflow.  It’s a subtle but important change.  A lot of forum discussion takes the form of Q&A anyway, but adding the formal structure of Q&A has advantages.

The core difference is this: a person asking a question is generally seeking answers, while a person making a comment is often seeking an audience.  The person seeking an audience tends to have a more “selfish” set of motivations, like establishing a reputation or promoting an agenda.  Those goals are often better served through vehicles like blogs where the commenter has more control over how their contributions are presented, and where their posts can be easily seen in aggregate.  Hybrid community/blogs where a newsfeed spans across posters but individuals’ profiles are still prominent (like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr) satisfy the goals of commenters particularly well (thus the success of these platforms – there are a lot of commenters out there!).  On the other hand, commenters who participate in forums tend to be motivated more by the desire to be helpful than by the goal of self promotion, and if your goal is to be helpful, answering questions is a great way to do it!  So, community forums tend to attract answer-seekers and answer-providers, making Q&A the natural framework.

Of course, the distinction isn’t black-and-white, but Dell’s decision to switch from a forum model to a Q&A model is further evidence that Q&A is gradually taking over from forums as the interaction model for communities.

January 16, 2012

InkJetSuperStore wins award for Social Media Marketing

Congratulations to InkJetSuperStore for winning the Social Media Marketing category of Retail TouchPoints’ Customer Engagement Awards 2012!

You can read Retail TouchPoint’s article here and download the complete Customer Awards Report from there, but in a nutshell it was through a nomination process, the winners were selected based on, but not limited to, four specific criteria:

  1. Unique shopping/promotional offerings
  2. Customer engagement strategies
  3. Customer analysis
  4. Technology innovation

Using the TurnTo technology, InkJetSuperStore has increased conversion, AOV, and loyalty.  Here are some of the results from the past couple of months.

  • Shoppers who asked questions or read Q&A from others converted at a rate 80% higher than those who didn’t – an especially significant lift since Inkjet Superstore is a replenishment business with a high repeat customer rate and a very high conversion rate.
  • The average order value of shoppers who interacted with TurnTo was 14% higher than the AOV of those who don’t.
  • 16% of all purchasers answered the question “Why did you choose this item?” following check-out (through the TurnTo Purchase Sharing function).

You can see from the complete list of winners below, InkJetSuperStore is sitting in good company:

  • 8ta
  • Casual Male Retail Group (CMRG)
  • David’s Bridal
  • Foot Locker
  • Hot Topic
  • Inkjet Superstore
  • Moosejaw
  • Rutter’s Farm Stores
  • Tasti D-Lite
  • Urban Outfitters

And if winning the award was not exciting enough for InkJetSuperStore and TurnTo, George and I were at the Retail TouchPoints booth @ NRF on Monday as he accepted the award on behalf of ILan Douek, President of InkJetSuperStore, as Ilan was unable to attend.

Here is a pic of me with the award


Over here we like to say “When you connect your shoppers to your customers, good things happen!” and apparently that not only means conversion, loyalty and SEO for our customers, but now includes industry recognition…again, congratulations to InkJetSuperStore!

To learn how TurnTo can improve the metrics that mean the most to you and your business, give us a shout @ 908.752.9658 or email (yes, a shameless plug from me).

November 17, 2011

The OL effect – an easy way to improve sales that you’re probably not doing

This is such an important validation of the effectiveness of social merchandising that, if we’d thought of it, we would have commissioned a market research firm to write this study for us.  But, even better, it’s actually a peer-reviewed article produced by a team of university marketing professors and published in the journal of the American Marketing Association, the Journal of Marketing Research.  It’s titled: Online Social Interactions: A Natural Experiment on Word of Mouth Versus Observational Learning.  (There’s also a nice write-up and interview with the lead author on Red Orbit.)

The findings are straight-forward: Online, as in the physical world, people are more likely to buy things that they see other people bought.  There’s no word of mouth here.  This isn’t about customer ratings and reviews.  This is just about seeing the purchases of other people.  The merchandising lessons are simple:

  1. You can improve conversion rates by showing shoppers that other people have really bought a product (on the product detail page)
  2. You can encourage consideration by showing the purchases other shoppers made (in your product discovery/recommendation/cross-sell merchandising)

The study looked at a period when Amazon put up and took down the “what other people bought” section on their digital camera products to see what effect having/not having this information had on sales.  Using these data,

The authors observe a herd behavior among consumers when the OL or sales information is positive, but surprisingly, they observe no herd behavior when consumers face negative OL or sales information.  [OL stands for "Observational Learning", which in this case means "seeing what other people bought".]

In other words: when shoppers saw that other people were buying a particular item, they became more likely to buy it.  But if an item didn’t have peer-purchase information, that absence didn’t hurt sales.  So you don’t need sales coverage for your whole catalog – show purchase information where you’ve got it, and don’t worry about it where you don’t.

Here are a couple examples of stores using tools that deliver the OL effect.  For lesson #1 (on the product detail page, showing shoppers that other customers are also buying the item), have a look at the 98 check-out comments on these shoes at GoJane (scroll past the Q&A).  For lesson #2 (showing products that other customers are buying to encourage consideration and cross-sell), have a look at the “See what your friends bought” tab on the right edge of the window here at emitations.  What effect do these tools have on you?  Does this sort of merchandising make you feel like buying?

If you want to take advantage of the OL effect to improve your sales, give us call.


October 27, 2011

Are you teaching a class when you should be hosting a party?

Most brands’ and stores’ greatest single asset is the goodwill of their customers. And most do little to leverage this goodwill for marketing gain.  There’s a fallacy in marketing land that just because you have a presence on social networks, you are doing “social” marketing.  But when you look a bit closer, you see that most social initiatives by brands look a lot like traditional marketing and merchandising, just in a new place.

The essential idea of “social commerce” is: connect your shoppers and customers directly to each other. Not only does this help turn your shoppers into customers, but it strengthens your relationship with your customer base. Sounds obvious, but for most brands it’s a deep paradigm shift. Most brands still think in terms of a hub-and-spoke model of communication; the brand is at the center managing a dialog (or monologue) with customers. Sure, customers talk to each other about the brand here and there, but the brand really wants to dominate the conversation.  The metaphor is brand-as-teacher; customers are the class. But there’s another approach in which brands actively facilitate dialog between their community members without dominating it.  These connections don’t just help bring new people into the brand fold, they also deepen the affinity existing customers have with the brand.  The metaphor is brand-as-party-host; shoppers and customers are the guests. Maybe the guests get a little interaction with the host during the party, maybe none, but either way, they are primarily interacting with each other.  The brand doesn’t get the same opportunity as in the classroom model to drive home its officially-approved message, but instead the brand earns a more powerful, social type of influence – by having the guest list stocked with loyal supporters.

Though more subtle, the influence of the party-host approach can be both deeper and farther-reaching.  Mikołaj Jan Piskorski has just published an article in the Harvard Business Review titled “Social Strategies that work” taking a rigorous look at the online social efforts of 60 businesses in a broad range of verticals.  He concludes:

What the poorly performing companies shared was that they merely imported their digital strategies into social environments by broadcasting commercial messages or seeking customer feedback. Customers reject such overtures because their main goal on the platforms is to connect with other people, not with companies. That behavior isn’t hard to understand. Imagine sitting at a dinner table with friends when a stranger pulls up a chair and says, “Hey! Can I sell you something?” You’d probably say no, preferring your friends’ conversation over corporate advances. Many companies have learned that lesson the hard way.

In contrast, the companies that found significant returns devised social strategies that help people create or enhance relationships. These work because they’re consistent with users’ expectations and behavior on social platforms. To return to our dinner analogy, a company with a social strategy sits at the table and asks, “May I introduce you to someone or help you develop better friendships?” That approach gets a lot more takers.

To make this concrete, take a look at the Facebook presence of a handful of your favorite brands.  See what page they have set for you to land on.  Is it a crafted brand message, or does it have customers and fans talking to each other?  Go to the brand’s wall. Are customers posting, or is it dominated by posts from the brands, with customers generally addressing their replies back to the brand?  I just went to the FB page for the Gap.  I landed on a high production values spread called the 1969 Denim Studio.  No customer voice there.  Then I went to their wall.  There are 18 posts showing.  All 18 of them are from the store.  Here’s the dialog responding to the first one:

It’s not that this sort of brand marketing is bad.  It’s just that it’s not SOCIAL.  It’s missing the opportunity of providing a forum for shoppers and customers to engage with each other.  In contrast, on Sephora’s Facebook wall, two minutes ago, 26 out of 26 posts  were from members of the Sephora community.  It’s not as tidy as the Gap’s – not all the posts are positive or interesting – but the approach does produce exchanges like this:

and this:

Another another place where you can see the difference in approaches in action is the social question-and-answer applications on ecommerce sites.  If the Q&A dialog is primarily between the shopper and the store staff, that’s not social, that’s customer support.  Hey, we love good customer support as much as the next person, and if that’s the goal of Q&A, fine.  But most stores find that channels like live chat and phone/email are optimal for support, while Q&A is uniquely positioned to enable dialog between shoppers and customers.  So if the store dominates the Q&A dialog (or if the Q&A system is not built to effectively produce shopper-customer exchanges), then the store is missing all the value that a social approach can generate: the credibility (and generally positive sentiment) of truly social answers, deeper shopper engagement, and stronger bonds with past customers.

Check out the difference between the Q&A dialog here on the product page for a camera at, where most of the dialog is with staff, and on the page for a camera at, where most of the dialog is social.


So as you sit down with your team to map out the next phase in your social commerce strategy, ask yourselves this: are you teaching a class when you should be hosting a party?

October 24, 2011

3 “Holiday” Social Marketing Tips for Yahoo! Store Merchants

(This post was written by our partners at, one of the leading providers for the Yahoo! Store platform. They have a deep knowledge of ecommerce store building, organic search optimization, email marketing, paid search inclusion, and social commerce integration.)


Ecommerce merchants began preparations for the holidays over a month ago; some even started mid-summer. To prepare for the big holiday rush that most e-tailers experience, ramping up design, development, staffing, inventory, etc. is all part of the normal prep. list. But what about social media marketing?  Do the upcoming holidays mean e-tail merchants should multiply their messaging 800%, and wrap it neatly in a holiday promotional hum-along? Try that approach, and watch customers avoid you like the winter flu. But, you can’t be blasé about it either.  Tis’ the season to ring-in the sales, and no matter what kind of sleigh you’re driving, it takes social media mouthpieces to announce the Ho-Ho-Hos.

Here are three social media marketing tips to keep in mind as you build your holiday marketing campaign:

1)     Social media marketing isn’t just about the holidays. It takes time to build a following on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, or wherever your target market is. If you don’t have anything in place by now, go ahead and start, but don’t do it just for this year’s holidays— Social marketing should happen throughout the year.

2)     Customize your messages for different channels, and avoid being repetitive with posts. While you may have spent hours writing a holiday sales blog, and want to post dozens of links to it to fans and follows, remember to at least change the text around the link each time you put it out there. Make sure to stir in a little seasonal cinnamon too. Some programs, like Tweet Deck, won’t allow duplicate Tweets anyway. Keeping it new won’t just get you new followers and more traffic, but it will keep your existing network from yawning—which is a prelude to ‘unfollowing’ or ‘defriending’ you. Also remember not to be a loner out there—and chat it up with others as you push your own messages.

3)     Ideally you want social fans to come back to your site to interact. Along with using on-site social engagement tools, like TurnTo’s best-in-breed Social Q&A product, take the time to develop custom on-site contests to encourage your fans to be ecommerce shoppers (not just social media lurkers). Check out the one-of-a-kind social media contest FastPivot recently built for

While there are literally dozens of strategies to keep your social media marketing healthy and cranking for the holidays, it’s important to start with the basics. For many Yahoo! Store merchants, launching social means creating accounts on the top platforms (Twitter, Facebook, etc.), and adding corresponding social media buttons to your site. This part is easy and convenient– It’s keeping it up and forever optimizing that becomes the challenge. It’s also important to distinguish between the social buttons that link to your account, and those that allow your customers to click the “like” button associated with products and pages so all their social network friends can check them out too.


Visit to learn more about how to best position and manage your brand on social:

October 18, 2011

A nice shout-out for LightingShowroom’s use of TurnTo

It’s always nice to get positive feedback from someone, and it’s even nicer when you don’t know them yet. The team at recently had some nice things to say about one of our clients,, and the on-site features that they use to improve the shopping experience. In their post, they mentioned two of the products in TurnTo’s Social Commerce Suite. First, they referenced our best-in-class Social Q&A product Ask Owners:

“In addition, [] has integrated social hooks that fascinated me. Their “ASK others” button allows a person to direct questions to past customers about the product or to pose any kind of question to the staff or to Facebook contacts.”

Then, they brought up our Social Merchandising application which allows customers to “see what your friends bought here”:

“If this isn’t enough, they incorporated a slider on the right that displays things other clients bought and includes social hooks where you can engage in a dialog about the product purchased. It can also select from zip codes if you would like to ask local buyers what they thought…”

We love to be reminded that our work at TurnTo is having benefits for both our customers, and especially for their shoppers. Thank you to everyone at for the shout-out!

What’s the best online shout-out that you’ve ever given or received? Tell us in the comments below.

October 11, 2011

Nice list of the benefits of ecommerce Q&A

We don’t usually link to our competitors’ blogs (they don’t usually link to ours…).  But PowerReviews put up a nice summary of the benefits of ecommerce Q&A that’s well worth a read.  We just want to add one important thing: imagine how much greater these benefits would be if your Q&A system actually generated a large number of fast social answers, instead of – how to put this – bupkis?

September 27, 2011

What to do if your “social” Q&A doesn’t actually get social answers?

[For a downloadable version of this study, click here.]

To date, Q&A on ecommerce sites has been primarily a tag-along application to customer reviews (provided by vendors that specialize in customer reviews). This approach results in a Q&A model that’s more like customer reviews than a true social experience between shoppers and customers, missing the benefits that a truly social approach to ecommerce Q&A provides.

The key to Social Q&A is that shopper questions should reliably and quickly get answered by real customers, and participants should have the ability to go back-and-forth beyond the initial question, if they choose to. If shopper questions receive customer answers only rarely or after an extended period, the shopper is disappointed and the store has missed the chance to provide a fast reminder to the shopper about the purchase she was considering. Further, getting past customers to share their experience with real shoppers is a great way for stores to keep their relationships with the customer base fresh. The rise of social networks has conditioned people to expect a high level of interactivity from social applications – so if a Q&A tool isn’t providing that, it’s not really Social.

On many online stores’ Q&A systems, we’ve observed that most answers come from store staff.  That can be an OK supplement to social answers (especially if the staff are really experts), but the store may be better off directing those questions to a live chat or phone line so the staff can interact with the shopper in real time.  And if a shopper wants to know something subjective – like how the product held up after 3 months, or how it felt, or just if it’s really as fabulous as they hope it is(!) – they may only want an answer from someone like them who really bought the item.  A Q&A system that relies heavily on staff answers also isn’t really Social.

That’s why TurnTo created an approach to Q&A for ecommerce that reliably provides a true Social experience – multiple, fast answers from real purchasers with continuing back-and-forth dialog. To measure the difference between the TurnTo approach and that provided by the leading customer reviews vendors, Bazaarvoice and PowerReviews, we conducted a simple test. We asked 16 shopper questions on a range of sites with Q&A powered by TurnTo and these other vendors, and we tracked how long it took for the answers to arrive.  Here are the aggregated results:


Methodology:  In our test design, we tried to keep the playing field level. We asked general questions that could easily be answered by anyone with experience with the product. We tried to ask the identical question about identical products wherever possible. Where not possible we tried to pick featured items on the Bazaarvoice and PowerReviews sites likely to have high traffic and have been purchased many times (no new arrivals items were used). We tried to pick sites where the Bazaarvoice and PowerReviews Q&A tools were implemented in a highly visible way on the page. That meant that the PowerReviews and Bazaarvoice sites were not always the largest in each vertical (in particular, in the photo gear category), but more often than not, the Bazaarvoice and PowerReviews sites had far more traffic than the TurnTo sites, and they did so in aggregate. We checked the item page where each question was asked at exactly the specified intervals and counted posted answers. We also provided our email address with each question asked and counted answers received by email.  (The Bazaarvoice and PowerReviews stores often emailed answers well before those answers appeared on the sites, in some cases even before the questions appeared on the sites.)  None of the sites were alerted in any way about this test. All questions were submitted on Wednesday, August 10, 2011 between 9am and 11am eastern time.  Here were the test sites that we used:

On each site, we asked 4 questions.  So in total, we asked 16 questions per vendor.  Here are the details of the answers received, by individual site.  (All numbers are for social answers – answers from customers – except those in parentheses, which are answers from store staff.)

Staff answers:  We also tracked answers from store staff.  These are shown in parentheses in the table above.  At the end of the two week test period, the questions on PowerReviews sites received a total of 10 staff answers vs 7 social answers.  The questions on Bazaarvoice sites received a total of 5 staff answers vs 9 social answers.  No staff answers were received on the TurnTo sites – note that 15 out of 16 questions on TurnTo sites received at least 1 social answer within 24 hours.

We encourage you to try this test for yourself.

The raw data:  Here are the urls for all the item pages for all questions in the test.  The asker is “Andrew P”, “Andrew RP” or “Anonymous” – also look for a submit date of August 10th where that is shown.  Note that on the Bazaarvoice and PowerReviews sites, we counted answers received by email, even though some of those answers – in some cases, even the questions – were not posted on the site by the end of the test period.

SunnySports (TurnTo)

GoJane (TurnTo)

KitchenwareDirect (TurnTo)

Adorama (TurnTo)

Sierra Trading Post (PowerReviews)

Johnston & Murphy (PowerReviews)

Hayneedle (PowerReviews)

Abes of Maine (PowerReviews)

Bass Pro Shop (Bazaarvoice)!-Solitaire-Tent/product/58274/90919

Bluefly (Bazaarvoice)

Walmart (Bazaarvoice)

Cameras Direct (Bazaarvoice)


Bazaarvoice is a registered trademark of Bazaarvoice, Inc.PowerReviews is a registered trademark of PowerReviews, Inc.

September 26, 2011

As the relationship between content and commerce evolves, community will become key

It used to be simpler.  Advertising was the main bridge between content and commerce.  If you had the sort of business that generated an audience (a content business), you’d monetize that by selling ad space to the sort of businesses that sold “stuff” (a commerce business).

Then, along came the internet, and the amount that content businesses could get paid per eyeball fell drastically relative to the old print world.  The content businesses that worked online were those that either developed a radically lower cost of content creation (esp social) or those that were able to generate vastly more eyeballs.  But many content businesses still have the relatively high cost of professional content production and haven’t expanded their readership online enough to compensate for lower ad rates.  These businesses, in particular, are (finally) starting to get more creative about alternatives to advertising to monetize their audiences.

Today, the New York Times reports on an interesting example.  The title says it pretty clearly: Magazines Begin to Sell the Fashion They Review.  This struck us because we’ve been working with another business that has been pursuing that strategy for a few years.  FW Media is a print publisher for enthusiasts of writing, painting, collecting, and similar subjects.  When they brought their publications online and saw the fall in ad revenue, they  tackled the changed environment head on.  Instead of selling their audience for pennies per visitor to advertisers, they decided to capture 100% of the commerce value of their visitors by opening their own online stores offering products that the readers of their content properties would want.  It’s a great case of taking lemons and making lemonade: the internet diminished their advertising revenue, but at the same time it made it possible for them to skip the advertising step entirely and directly fulfill the commerce demand they were creating. And now, in the NYTimes, we read:

“What magazines have always done is to create desire in consumers,” said Mr. Granger of Esquire. “The next logical step is to fulfill that desire by selling the product. If we don’t do it, somebody else is going to.”

While this strategy of directly joining content and commerce under one roof appears to be working for FW and may also work for Vogue, GQ and Esquire, we think there is a third path to bridge content and commerce that will prove at least as powerful: community.  In addition to changing the way content is delivered and stuff is bought, the internet has also made the way people participate in both for more active.  Got an opinion about something you just read?  Comment on it.  Got an opinion about something you just bought? Review it.  Got a question about something you are thinking of buying?  Ask about it.  Bought something?  Answer those questions.  Community no longer means “the people who read your content” or “the people who buy your stuff”.  Now community means “the people who interact with each other around your content and your stuff”.

Today, content site communities and commerce site communities are separate because that’s how the technology works – one community per property.  But technology limitations fall when they don’t match the way people really interact.  Communities, in the real world, are defined by shared interests, not URLs.  So in the future we see, whether the commerce and content businesses are managed separately or share a roof, their communities will be joined.  Fashionistas will read Vogue, buy from Saks, and interact with each other seamlessly on both.  Watercolorists will learn technique at  The Artists Network, shop at NorthLightShop, and interact with each other seamlessly on both.  Photographers will read Popular Photography, shop at Adorama, and interact with each other seamlessly on both.  And that seamless interaction will provide a new and powerful way for content businesses to monetize.

So if you manage a content business and are trying to find more value in your audience, think about building ecommerce capabilities, and also think about ways to build stronger bridges to your ecommerce partners by leveraging your shared communities.

August 25, 2011

What To Do When Shoppers Don’t Trust Your Customer Reviews

The New York Times recently published a piece about the industry of paid customer reviews.  This story surfaces periodically.  Even if it’s only a small percent of reviews that are paid for, the perception that positive reviews are bought (or that negative reviews are suppressed) undermines the value of all reviews, even the legitimate ones.  Here’s a typical comment responding to the NY Times article:

“When I search Amazon, I only trust the negative reviews. Too many of the 5-star comments sound phony.”

So if you have customer reviews on your storefront, what can you do to address review-skepticism?

One option is to augment your customer reviews with a Social Q&A system that enables shoppers to get their product questions answered by people who actually bought the item or service they are considering.  Done right, a Social Q&A system delivers answers to a shopper question within hours from multiple buyers of the item, and it enables the shopper to continue a back-and-forth exchange with those purchasers for follow-up questions.  In other words, it provides the sort of social experience that would be very hard to fake.  So shoppers can be confident that the answerer’s sentiment is trustworthy.

Further, a store’s willingness to put shoppers directly in touch with real customers says a lot about the confidence the store has in its products, service and customer satisfaction.  This confidence produces a “halo effect” that adds to the credibility of the store’s customer reviews, too.  Shoppers might figure “why would this store fake their reviews when they are giving me direct access to their customers?”

While customer reviews will continue to be an important part of the online shopping experience, complementing them with Social Q&A is a powerful way to improve review credibility and address the concerns of the review skeptics.

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Have you ever spotted a customer review online that you just knew was not legitimate?  Tell us about it below.