May 28, 2015 by John Swords
[Updated October 11, 2015 to reflect changes Internet Retailer made to their 2015 Top 500 database since the date this was first published.]
According to the newest data from the leading trade publication, Internet Retailer, TurnTo Networks Inc. is the fastest-growing user-generated content (UGC) solution provider to the “IR500” – the top 500 online retailers in North America.
Of the top 3 solution providers in Internet Retailer’s “Customer Reviews and Forums” category – TurnTo, Bazaarvoice, and PowerReviews – only TurnTo showed significant growth from the 2014 tally to 2015. The number of top 500 retailers using TurnTo grew by 53% during the period, while the number using Bazaarvoice declined 3% and the number using PowerReviews declined 12%.
Measured by the annual web sales of the retailers served, the results were even more dramatic. TurnTo grew 198% during the period, while Bazaarvoice grew 2% and PowerReviews declined 1%. Additionally, the Internet Retailer 2015 research shows that 50% of the annual web sales of the PowerReviews customer base is represented by a single customer. Excepting this, the total annual web sales of TurnTo’s IR500 customers would be ahead of PowerReviews and second only to Bazaarvoice overall.
I had a quick chat with our CEO, George Eberstadt, to get his thoughts on the reasons for this growth.
Me: George, the first thing people are going to ask on seeing these numbers is what’s driving them. So, what’s driving them?
George: First let me say – and I don’t want to be too saccharine about this – it’s humbling and gratifying to get this kind of trust from these businesses. The alternatives have been around a while, so we recognize that the retailers adopting us are making a bold move rather than the safe choice.
And I think that’s the short answer to your question. The customer-generated content space hasn’t seen much bold innovation for a while, and retailers that are tired of the same-old haven’t had alternatives – especially at the enterprise level. We bring the fresh perspective, smart innovation, and fanatical commitment that a lot of retailers are looking for.
Me: Can you put your finger on any particular TurnTo innovations that the market has been responding to?
George: I think it’s a mix – some big, some subtle. For example, we were the first to introduce the “active outreach” mechanism for getting fast community answers to shopper questions. That was really the breakthrough that makes community answering work. Then, we expanded our vision of Q&A to include answering an ever broader range of shopper questions even faster, so we added instant answers and knowledge base features. Q&A is still a new frontier with lots more opportunities for major innovations, and we’re pursuing those.
Checkout Chatter is another example. It’s simple and highly effective. And it’s a TurnTo exclusive.
Ratings & Reviews, on the other had, is a more mature area, so our innovations have been less revolutionary, though they still have a big impact on ROI. For example, our ready-to-wear UI is exceptionally clean, elegant, and mobile-friendly while still providing easy customizability either through CSS or our comprehensive API. Our review-solicitation email answer flow automatically authenticates the user, leading to more reviews from verified buyers – especially on mobile devices. Our transaction history integration enables the system to ask for reviews on previously purchased items immediately after a user writes a review or answers a question, which increases total review volume by 20-30%.
Me: Are there any other reasons you think retailers are switching?
George: I think our customer success process and the great team behind it is another reason. By focusing on the business as well as the technical aspects of integrating our tools, we ensure customers get the most value from them. And we don’t just move on to the next customer as soon as the last one is set up; no one is fully optimized on the day they go live, and we are pretty relentless in follow-through over time. That’s a hard thing for retailers to get a sense of during an evaluation, but it comes into play in our high customer retention and referral rates, which is a big part of our growth.
Data from the IR500 survey by Internet Retailer are available at www.top500guide.com.
November 26, 2012 by George Eberstadt
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:
- 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.
- 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
June 8, 2010 by George Eberstadt
It’s a big day at TurnTo: we’re introducing our Social Commerce Suite. (Yes, we know that it’s ambitious to call it a “Suite” with just 2 products – please humor us. Also, there’s more in the pipeline…) Official press release here.
So what’s new? 1. We’ve done a nearly complete overhaul of our current product, now branded “Social Merchandising” and 2. We’re introducing a new product called “Social Purchase Sharing”.
Social Merchandising. We’ve made improvements top to bottom.
- Shoppers who open the widget but don’t personalize it by checking for friends will now see a range of other customers and their purchases designed to give the site that buzzing busy-store feeling and to encourage consideration and purchase of more items. (The goal is to address one of the big limitations of the shopping online: lots of stuff in the stores, but no people.) We’ve built a ranking engine that selects which customers and which items to show, ensuring the greatest relevance given limited data.
- We’ve made the value and process of personalizing the widget a lot more transparent to the user, so many more of those who open the widget will go the next step and personalize it to see their own friends in place of those the system picks. Underlying this is a simplification of the sharing rules to a vanilla Twitter-style “follow” model. (See our last post about the importance of simplicity when it comes to privacy and sharing.) We’ve also switched to delegated login for most of the friend list sources we support, including the newest Facebook protocols. (The short explanation: it’s better.)
- The widget now shows big, attractive product images throughout, so not only are shoppers seeing which of their friends also shop at that store, the purchases those friends made look particularly inviting. Good for cross-sell and order size improvement.
- The comment mechanism has been redone to both capture more input from buyers and to show it more visibly to shoppers.
- We’ve made significant enhancements to the guts of the system to provide greater speed and reliability. These include use of a Content Delivery Network as well as a range of server-side caching and summarizing strategies. The design point was to be able to support the largest ecommerce sites out there.
- We’ve added new tools for optimizing the button that calls up the widget. It doesn’t do stores any good to have a fabulous social merchandising tool if only a few shoppers use it. We now provide a range of more interactive button designs as well as tools for doing rotation tests (randomized A/B/C tests) of alternatives. In its initial use, we’ve already seen large engagement rate improvements.
In a nutshell: you have to see it. So here’s the first screen shot we’ve released:
Social Purchase Sharing. Our partner merchants have been telling us how valuable it is when a customer posts to their social network (most often Facebook and Twitter) about their purchase. So we’ve added a simple tool to significantly increase the amount of purchase sharing online stores can generate. It’s an overlay that appears on the order confirmation page right after a purchase and makes a clear, persuasive appeal to share. The permission obtained from the buyer is also used to power the Social Merchandising widget, so the “sharing” appears both on the social networks and on the store site itself. Here’s an example of the overlay – just picture it on top of your order confirmation page. (See also our blog post on “Like” vs. “Bought”.
The TurnTo Social Commerce Suite will be generally available to online retailers at the beginning of Q3, 2010. If you are in Chicago this week for the Internet Retailer show (IRCE), please come by booth #431 and we’ll give you a full demo. If you’d like more information on the thinking that went into these products, please have a look at the white paper we just released: Onsite Social for Online Commerce.
December 22, 2009 by George Eberstadt
A new Forrester report predicts that 2010 will be the break-out year for social marketing. Online retailers, presumably, will be affected by this more than anyone. Internet Retailer has a nice write-up of the report. Forrester subscribers can get the full version. Here’s the summary:
In 2009, the majority of interactive marketers tested Social Computing tactics, ranging from Facebook pages to blogs and communities. In 2010, marketers will move out of test phase and treat Social Computing as a mature channel, setting budgets and establishing formal listening and measurement plans. This maturation will push the value of Social Computing and its insights deep into company departments beyond marketing, setting up organizations to fully embrace Social Computing and becoming more transparent and interactive with consumers. As Social Computing matures, both marketers and vendors will feel pressure to not only prove its profitability but also ensure consumer privacy.
September 19, 2009 by George Eberstadt
From The Internet Retailer survey of IRNewsLink e-newsletter readers conducted in August 2009 with e-mail marketing and survey firm Vovici Corp:
Social marketing was a top priority for 49.5% of survey respondents this year, compared with 35.7% for video, 34.1% for blogs or customer ratings and reviews, and 22.5% for live chat or product personalization.