The next generation of product reviews will “look” very different

September 8, 2015 by John Swords

… And we mean LOOK different.


  • 90% of reviews come in response to emails
  • >60% of emails are opened on phones
  • Phones are bad for long text (like reviews)
  • Phones are great for photos!

The implications are clear:

  • Your strategy for collecting customer reviews needs to work on phones
  • On phones, the strategy should be “visual first.”

Individual-Chicken-Pot-Pie-02-300x200So what is a visual review?  It’s a photo (or video) submitted by a customer in response to a request for a review – the proverbial picture that is worth a thousand words.  Instead of text stating, “With my new cookware, I was finally able to perfectly brown the crust of my famous chicken-pot-pie,” it is a photo of that perfect chicken-pot-pie.

Instead of text stating, “The shirt fit perfectly, with no extra blousing around my waist,” it is a selfie of the customer looking great in her new shirt.

Instead of text stating, “The fabric on the sofa was gorgeous, but the cushions were way too saggy,” it is a photo of the sofa with its gorgeous fabric and saggy cushions.

Far from being yet another “gotta-keep-up-with-changing-platforms chore,” the shift to visual content that the rise of smart phones demands creates a huge opportunity.  Simply put, visual content converts better.  Few shoppers have the patience to read the full body of customer reviews, and those that read any rarely go past the first couple of entries.  So while having lots of reviews is valuable for signaling that an item is popular, most of the text you are collecting has little impact on conversion.  On the other hand, shoppers can scan an image gallery in a blink and come away with a powerful, visceral sense of the appeal of a product.

This is not to say that you should abandon collecting text reviews; there is plenty of information in text reviews that images can’t convey.  If a customer is on a desktop when they get your request to write a review, you should lead with the request for a standard text review (with an option to attach an image).  But when the customer is on a mobile device, don’t try to force a round peg into a square hole by asking for text.  Instead, ask the customer to do what comes more naturally on these devices and submit an image.

The applications are broad and go way beyond selfies. Image subjects can vary such as:

  • Things made with the product (cooking, crafts, do-it-yourself projects)
  • The product in use (home furnishings, hobby items)
  • Unboxing and explainers (electronics, fashion)
  • Travel (Hotel rooms, attractions)
  • And yes, selfies (fashion, beauty, sporting goods)

Visual reviews are a great complement to imagery you can gather from social media sites, if you’ve taken that approach.  But visual reviews also have some important advantages over social media harvesting and may be all the visual content collection you need:

  • Images are automatically connected to the relevant SKU (saving a lot of work)
  • Usage rights are automatically acquired
  • You can collect a lot more images, since there is a big portion of your customer base that is happy to write a review but isn’t going to post your product to their Instagram page.
  • The image collection is continuous; there’s no need for special hashtag campaigns

So as we said, the next generation of product reviews is going to look very different.

An Overview of the Annual Summit

September 20, 2012 by John Swords

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!

How to Leverage Social When Visitors Are Shopping Onsite?

February 27, 2011 by John Swords

This is a reprint of a guest post I wrote for ZippyCart, originally published there on February 22.

Beyond marketing and customer service, Social has the power to help convert visitors on retail sites. A large majority of online retailers today are using at least one of the most popular social media platforms: Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. These platforms have been used for brand marketing and customer service. Retailers are beginning to explore their utilities as sales tools. When it comes to selling, these platforms are in essence today’s equivalent of shoppers signing up to direct mailing lists. Shoppers give retailers permission to reach out to them and share information. Shoppers allow retailers to reach out to them directly, by following retailer tweets and Facebook wall postings, and indirectly through their friends in the form of retweets, friends’ postings, and friends’ likes.

Reaching out to shoppers through Facebook and Twitter, much like direct mail to shoppers, works at the wide end of the sales funnel. If successful, it draws the shopper into the store, with a buying intention. It drives traffic. Most online retailers stop there. When they do so, they leave a lot of value on the table, the value of utilizing the power of social beyond traffic, as the shopper is moving along the sales cycle- browsing products, seeking further information and insight about products, and adding products to the shopping cart.

When a shopper is going through your online store, you should let the collective social wisdom and experience of your entire customer base help them complete the sale. This can be done in a number of ways, according to where the shopper is along their decision making progress.

A new visitor might be hesitant about buying from your site. They read copy on your site that is at its core a set of claims and promises, and they need to decide how much they can trust your editorial voice. A likely question going through their mind at this time is “do other people trust this site?” “do other people shop here?” “do I know anybody personally who has already bought at this site?” You, the retailer, can help by letting the visitor see other real people who shopped on your site before. You can earn extra trust points by providing visibility into people in the shopper’s zip code, or in the shopper’s circle of social contacts, without, of course, ever going beyond the level of visibility such people had authorized.

With a comfort level in the store that’s high enough, shoppers are ready to start considering your products. As in physical stores, some shoppers come in to browse, while others walk in with more specific product buying intentions. Browsers tend to be socially curious about what products people are buying around them. Some online retailers help these browsers with a display of the best selling items. Another way to support the browsers’ product discovery phase is by letting them see what other individuals recently bought. This can be done digitally in a socially convincing way, without breaching any shopper’s privacy – you can show initials of shoppers, profile pictures of those who joined your “customer wall”, and full identities of social contacts of the shoppers that have opted in to be there for their friends. Emitations, a leading retailer of silver jewelry, displays a “see what your friends bought” button on its home page, its category pages, and all of its product pages. Visitors to Emitations who interact with the button convert at a rate that’s more than 5 times higher than those who do not.

Next, and only one step removed from the shopping cart, your shopper might have product specific questions. Retailers provide an array of resources here, from details product information, product images, through how-to videos, to live chat that chimes in when it’s clear the shopper needs advice. All this might not be sufficient in such cases where the shopper is not looking for hard factual data, but for a color commentary from others who have used the product. Ratings and reviews have been added in recent years as the first layer of social input by the individual item. Recently some retailers have gone one step further, and empowered their shoppers to reach out to the broad social circle of product owners, and ask product specific questions. Answers to these questions provide buyers with social insights that cannot be gleaned from product information, ratings and reviews alone. One such retailer is Club Furniture that added an “Ask people who bought this” button on their product description tab. Club Furniture’s tool allows shoppers to reach out to the retailer’s entire customer pool, with questions that are best answered socially such as how comfortable a piece of furniture is, and how it wears. 13% of ClubFurniture’s customers who receive a shopper’s question answer it. (This means that a question which is sent to 40 customers will receive, on average, 5 responses.)

Embedding such social tools within an online store lets you harness the power of social beyond driving traffic, and throughout all key decision points along the on-site buying process.

Introducing the TurnTo Social Commerce Suite

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.

New whitepaper out: Onsite Social for Online Retail

May 27, 2010 by George Eberstadt

After over a year in the market helping a few dozen innovative online retailers add social shopping features to their stores, we thought it was time to synthesize and share the big lessons we’ve learned.  So here [drumroll] is our new whitepaper: Onsite Social for Online Commerce.  In it, we get specific about things like:

  • How to leverage social networks for Social Merchandising within your store
  • How to most effectively encourage shoppers to share news of their purchases with their social network friends
  • Why adding Social to ecommerce sites requires different strategies than for content sites
  • What sort of results are realistic to expect

We’re just putting it out there – no registration required to get it.  If you find it thought-provoking, we hope you’ll get in touch with us and pass it on to others.  Enjoy!

Forrester: Social marketing will move from test to mainstream in 2010

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.

Do promotions help retailers’ bottom line more than investments in social tools et al?

December 16, 2009 by George Eberstadt

Data from comScore as reported in the Wall Street Journal shows holiday sales up 4% over last year.  Not bad considering the economy. But the growth appears to be driven largely by a huge increase in promotions:

“Data from show that online retailer promotion activity is continuing at a high rate with the number of offers in the last week up 21% versus a year ago,” said comScore Chairman Gian Fulgoni.

The strong sales numbers won’t mean much if the January headlines are all about the carnage from over-discounting.  (Remember the joke about making up for negative margin on volume?…)

I’d like to see an analysis that compares the cost of all that discounting to the cost of tools that could drive equal sales volume without compromising price.  For example, for a small percent of the cost of their holiday promotions, most retailers could dramatically expand initiatives like social shopping.  And in the end, their bottom lines might look a lot better.  Please comment if you know any work that looks at this.