November 26, 2012

Why Social Q&A Is Such an Effective Customer Service Tool


Your shoppers have questions that stand between them and a purchase. Doubt this?  In an article in Internet Retailer just a couple days ago, Stephen Gillett, President of Digital at Best Buy cites 3 top reasons why customers who come to their site don’t purchase, and the first of these was “needing more product information”.  (To put in context how important this is, the other two were “product wasn’t available” and “the price was too high”!)

So how do you ensure shopper questions get answered?  One remarkably simple strategy: let them ask!  Well, maybe it’s not so simple, because if you are going to invite your shoppers to submit questions, you have to be sure someone replies.

That’s where Social Q&A comes in.  By enabling your past customers to answer questions from your current shoppers, you can provide faster, more credible answers at lower cost than by relying on your customer service team.  To many organizations, this isn’t obvious; customer service teams are viewed as more expert than customers, faster to respond, and more likely to provide the positive sentiment that will close a sale.  But if Social Q&A is done right, the reality is often just the opposite.

To see why this is so, it’s helpful to group the sort of questions your shoppers have on a spectrum from most social to least social, where “social” means suitable for answering by your customers rather than your staff.  Here’s an illustration of this sociability spectrum:


On one end of the spectrum are questions related to peer opinions, tastes, or real-world experience with the product.  These questions really need a social answer; the asker expects an answer from a peer, and staff answers are viewed as useless at best and can even be seen as inappropriate. Without a system to reliably generate social answers, this entire category of shopper question will go unanswered.  In response, many stores just provide no way for shoppers to ask this sort of question.  But that doesn’t make the questions go away, it just means they go unasked instead of unanswered.

In the middle of the spectrum are fact-based questions about the product – specs, compatibility, intended usage.  These questions can be answered by either store (or brand) staff or by past customers.  Stores that lack a system to deliver social answers will, of course, go the staff answer route for this type of question. However, we have seen that when these questions are sent to past customers, the answers are often better than what the staff provides in 2 important ways:

  1. They arrive much faster.  While, in theory, store and brand staff could be standing by to answer the moment a question is submitted, in practice, most have their staff answer in batches on a schedule – typically once or twice a day.  As a result, staff response times rarely average under 2 hours, and for most stores the avg staff response time is significantly longer.  In contrast, with social Q&A, shopper questions are emailed simultaneously to a group of past customers who have bought the product.  Some of these people happen to be doing their email at just that moment.  The results: on average, across all the stores in the TurnTo network, the first social answer arrives in under 1 hour.  You can see examples in this study or this one or this one.
  2. They are often far more informative and contain far more positive sentiment.  Stores may be afraid that customer answers will be inaccurate or negative, but these fears are unfounded.  For one thing, most questions receive multiple answers from past customers, so shoppers can easily see if one stands out.  But more than that, we’ve found that while staff generally provide factual answers to  just the exact question asked with neutral sentiment, fellow customers tend to answer the question asked, provide additional information that they feel will help the shopper, and wrap it all in positive sentiment.  Here’s an example of a fact question about the brim on a fedora from a great hat shop called Hats in the Belfry.  The simple answer is “yes”, but these customers have added color to their answers that goes beyond what a staff member typically would (or could without sounding “salesy”).

And when customers can be counted on to answer shopper questions, the staff doesn’t have to, which reduces load on the call center.  That applies not only for the shopper who asked the question but for all future shoppers with the same question who can review the Q&A dialog posted on the product detail page.

Finally, there’s the 3rd category on the spectrum.  These are questions that past customers can’t answer.  They typically relate to policies and terms like shipping, availability, pricing, or returns, or, infrequently, support needs for individual orders.  Some stores in the TurnTo network allow shoppers to submit these questions and route them to their staff.  Others prefer to direct shoppers to their traditional support channels (live chat, phone, or email) or to online resources like FAQ or policy pages for these questions.

Now that we’ve divided up shopper questions into these 3 types, we can answer another important question: what % of shopper questions can be handled socially?

  • For stores that handle most fact-questions (the middle group) socially and deflect non-social questions (the 3rd group), our data show that over 80% of all the shopper questions asked can be handled by past customers!
  • For stores that handle most fact-questions socially and accept any type of question, including the non-social ones, over 60% of all questions asked can be handled by past customers.

So, in short, this is why Social Q&A is such an effective  customer support tool:

  • It enables shoppers to get credible answers to the whole category of peer-oriented questions where staff answers just won’t do
  • It delivers faster, more persuasive answers to product fact questions than staff can
  • And it handles most of the questions that shoppers ask automatically, which reduces call center load

November 6, 2012

TurnTo Social Q&A Delivers >3X More Answers Far Faster Than PowerReviews Q&A


We don’t usually link to our competitors’ marketing collateral; they don’t usually link to ours.  But when we saw PowerReviews’ latest case study of their “Social Answers” product running on, we thought it would be interesting to check out just how “Social” it really is.  We figured: if this is the site they are featuring in their newest case study, it has got to be their newest product and a best-practice implementation.

So we did a simple test.  We asked a normal shopper question on each of 8 products on through the PowerReviews tool and we asked the identical question about the identical product on, which also sells Skechers shoes and uses TurnTo for Social Q&A.  Like usual, we kept track of when answers were posted, and if the answers were emailed before they were posted we counted the earlier email time.  Half the questions were asked on both sites at around 9:00am eastern, and half were asked at around 1:00pm.

The bottom line: TurnTo generated >3X more answers total, >90% were truly “Social” (from actual past customers), most arrived in 1/3 the time, with 1/4 the staff workload vs PowerReviews.

  • Just one hour after the questions were submitted, the 8 questions asked through the TurnTo system had generated 7 social answers.  There were no answers to the questions asked through the PowerReviews system.
  • At 8 hours, the TurnTo system had delivered 16 social answers and 2 staff answers.  Still none through PowerReviews.
  • At 24 hours, TurnTo was up to 20 social and 2 staff answers.  PowerReviews delivered 8 staff answers – one to each question – but no social answers.  In fact, even after 2 weeks, PowerReviews never produced a social answer.
  • At 24 hours, 7 of the 8 questions asked through TurnTo had received at least 2 answers total, including at least one social answer.  One of the TurnTo questions was unanswered.  The 8 questions asked through PowerReviews received one staff answer each.


Skechers says they’ve seen a 30% increase in sales when Q&A is installed on their product pages.  We believe it, and we congratulate them!  Social Q&A is a powerful way to increase conversion and to create the sort of user-generated content that search engines increasingly favor.

But we also wonder: imagine how much better their results would have been if their Social Q&A system delivered 3X more answers with most answers coming from actual past customers in under 8 hours (many in under 1 hour), the way TurnTo’s does?

Appendix: here are the specific questions asked on each shoe type.

Product Question
Skechers Men Energy – Downforce Can these shoes be worn in the rain?
Skechers Women’s Keepsakes Postage Can I wear these outside?
Skechers Work Women’s Softie Med/Wide Are these shoes good for running?
Skechers Women’s Dream Come True I have a pretty wide foot. Will these shoes work for me?
Skechers Men’s Sparta I need a good pair of shoes for street running and hiking. Do you think these shoes will work for both?
Skechers Women’s Keepsakes Boiling Pt I have a wide calves and am worried these boots won’t fit. How wide is the calf area of the boot?
Skechers Women’s Dlite Clog I have a pretty narrow foot. Do you think these shoes will fit me well? Are they good for lots of walking?
Skechers Work Men’s Galley I’m on my feet at work all day… are these shoes very comfortable?

October 11, 2012

Webinar, Grows Sales with Social Q&A


We recently had the pleasure of hosting a webinar with guest speaker Jack Kiefer, CEO of  Jack spoke to us about how and why they use Social Q&A on their e-commerce site to create an engaging experience for their shoppers that is increasing conversion.

Watch a recording of the webinar below to get a quick tour of how Social Q&A works on and listen to Jack talk about the following:
- How Social Q&A engages their shoppers
- The benefits of using Social Q&A
- How Social Q&A fits into their social commerce strategy

October 2, 2012

In head-to-head test on, TurnTo Social Q&A delivers the most customer answers


For the last few months, has been evaluating TurnTo Social Q&A vs. a competing Q&A tool by running them side-by-side on their product detail pages. We took the opportunity to run a comparison of the social answer rates the two systems deliver.

We asked typical shopper questions through both the TurnTo and competing systems about 6 different products; for each product, we asked the identical question through both systems. And we kept track of exactly when the answers came in. As with past tests we’ve run, we monitored both the time when we received an answer email and the time the answer appeared on the website, and we credited the earlier time if there was any difference. Since the TurnTo system had just been installed, had not yet begun providing staff answers for the TurnTo questions, but we kept track of the staff answers from the competing system anyway. You can see all the questions we asked at the bottom of this post.

Overall, the TurnTo system generated 27 social answers in the first 24 hours. The competing system generated no social answers in that period and only 4 social answers total after 4 weeks. In total, the TurnTo system generated over 7x the amount of social answers as the competing system.

The next charts show the answers received question-by-question at both the 24 hour mark and at 4 weeks.  After just 24 hours, 100% of the questions asked through the TurnTo system received at least 1 social answer.   On the other hand, 2 of the questions asked through the competing system never received any social answers, even after 4 weeks.

TurnTo Social Q&A once again generated dramatically more and faster interaction between shoppers and past customers.  If you are interested in upgrading to results like these, give us a call.

These are the questions we asked about each product:

Product Question
New Balance Men’s M609 Does this shoe provide much arch support?
Kenneth Cole Reaction Men’s T-Flex Are these shoes suitable to wear in the rain, or will my socks get wet?
Calvin Klein Women’s Dolly Do these shoes run large? I’m between a size 8 and 8.5 and am not sure what size to order.
Lauren Ralph Lauren Women’s Cecilia Do you think these shoes would work for a beach party?
Converse Men’s All Star Core Ox Do these shoes stain easily?
Naturalizer Women’s Bates Are these boots very heavy?

September 24, 2012

For Social Q&A, the payday comes from shopper engagement


If you know customer reviews, you know that half of the value – maybe more – is in the insights you can extract.  So you might think the same is true for Social Q&A, since these are the two main sources of user-generated content on product detail pages.  But you’d be mistaken.  For Social Q&A, engagement is the key, which means that if your Social Q&A system isn’t delivering massive customer interaction, it’s falling short.

In a recent talk I gave to a gathering of e-commerce execs from major brands and retailers, I asked the audience for a show of hands on this: if they were forced to turn off part of their customer review system, which part would they chose?  The options were:

  • Turn off the back end.  Visitors to their sites and storefronts could see all the reviews, as could search engines, but all the analytics would be gone.
  • Turn off the front end.  All the analytics would be available, but none of the content would be visible to shoppers or search engines.

The room split exactly in half.

At the Summit last week in Denver, the CMO of a fashion brand told me he had just run a rigorous A/B test on their customer reviews.  He was new to the brand, and even though they’d had reviews for a while, he didn’t want to just assume it was working.  He tested the overall, site-wide effect on conversion (not just whether items with reviews did better than items without, or whether high-scoring items sold better than low scoring items).  His discovery: negative lift!  Overall, sales dropped a bit when reviews were turned on.  So I asked if he was going to turn reviews off.  He said that hadn’t been decided; the insight value they got from reviews was important enough that they would probably keep them after all.  (There’s neat recent story on how stores are using the insights from customer reviews to steer their businesses in the Wall Street Journal.) n.b. Fashion brands seem to have a stormier relationship with customer reviews than many other retail segments.  Your mileage may differ…

If you have had this sort of experience with customer reviews, you might  think that the value equation is about the same for Social Q&A.  But it’s not.  While Social Q&A can also deliver valuable insights, it is first-and-foremost an engagement tool.  You are not going to make up for poor Q&A engagement with analytics.

To put it simply: an unanswered question is a real downer, whereas no one ever knows about the review that was never written.  Unanswered questions on your product detail page scream “nobody home”.  First, there are the disappointed shoppers who asked questions and never heard back.  Then there are the shoppers who come later and see all the unanswered questions stacked up.  Sure, you can hide unanswered questions, but that makes it even less likely they get answered, and it doesn’t help the person who asked.  You can have your staff answer all the questions, but then you’re probably better off with a live chat approach, and you’re missing out on all the benefits of getting your real customers to interact with your shoppers.  In short, if your Social Q&A system doesn’t quickly and reliably get lots of customer answers to shopper questions, you’re probably better off not inviting shoppers to ask.  It’s better not to create expectations if you’re not going to be able to fulfill them.

On the other hand, if you get Social Q&A right, the massive customer engagement it generates effectively drives top-line growth.  One fashion merchant that uses TurnTo for Social Q&A sees 1100% conversion lift from those who ask questions or read dialog from others.  And it’s not an isolated effect – about 25% of their orders come from shoppers who interact with Q&A before purchasing.

Further, there are the SEO benefits;  Social Q&A done right produces 2-4 times as much user-generated content (UGC) as customer reviews, which is great for driving organic search traffic.  If your Social Q&A system is not delivering enough customer engagement to produce UGC at scale, it’s under-performing.

So the next time someone tells you that engagement isn’t important for Social Q&A – that it’s the analytics that matter, just like for customer reviews – start by asking what sort of customer engagement their Q&A system produces.

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?

1 Comment

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.



2 and

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?

1 Comment

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?

Posted in Blog

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: