August 28, 2019 by Rahul Chadha
Q&A with Curalate CEO and Co-Founder Apu Gupta
Apu Gupta is the CEO and co-founder of Curalate, a marketing technology company that provides online brands with the tools they need to help consumers discover their next purchase. Curalate’s Fanreel product, for example, enables online stores to pull images and videos from their customers’ social media feeds for display on eCommerce sites.
Gupta is already a wily veteran of the startup space, having previously founded internet security company TaoSecure. He also served as the COO and CMO of MedPlus Health Services, a company he helped grow to become the second-largest pharmacy chain in India.
We spoke with Gupta to mine him for advice on making eCommerce sites more browsable and getting your influencer strategy up and running. We also managed to get his take on the golden era of hip-hop. Read on!
TurnTo Networks: One weakness of many eCommerce sites is making browsability easier for consumers. How can online stores improve the ability of shoppers to discover new items?
Apu Gupta: With great content.
To date, marketers have tried to help customers find new products online with tools. Reviews help you determine if a product you’re actively considering is right for you. Recommendations attempt to surface products that you might enjoy, but they often do so in such a restrictive way that you’re often presented with more of the same.
Great content, though, can help people browse in the same way they experience social. We thumb through a feed of images and videos created by brands, influencers and our friends, occasionally stopping on something that catches our eye.
And, so, when we talk with brands about how to improve discovery online, we often frame the opportunity as a question. What if this thumb-stopping content existed in eCommerce environments?
We’ve seen from our customers, like Tuckernuck and Monsoon, that customers respond positively to these types of experiences, spending more time on site, converting at higher rates, and finding more products than they otherwise would.
TurnTo: It seems like Instagram is adding marketplace-like features on a near daily basis. What should brands and retailers be thinking about in terms of their Instagram strategy?
Gupta: One of the great misses by brands and retailers today is that Instagram is viewed as a traffic source. Given Instagram’s size, this makes sense. But for the 1,100-plus brands we work with, Instagram—paid and organic—accounts for less than 10 percent of eCommerce traffic.
So what, then, is Instagram’s value? The content.
The shift that brands need to be making when it comes to their Instagram strategy is moving from a focus on driving more engagement and more traffic from social to a focus that includes taking those highly engaging videos and images from social and reusing them to inspire consumers across any touchpoint.
TurnTo: Most, if not all, retailers are still trying to figure out what their influencer game plan is. What’s your advice?
Gupta: With the brands I talk to, there’s a realization that influencers are as valuable for their content as they are for their reach. With that in mind, I’d recommend you start to formulate your influencer game plan by first speaking with the frontline members of your social team.
I remember talking earlier this year with Liz White, the Chief Customer Officer of Fullbeauty Brands, about how her social team was a significant player in changing how their brands chose models. Those team members, she said, understood more than anyone else how Fullbeauty’s brands were being perceived—and received—by its customers.
Your social team will have the types of insights you need to determine which type of influencers you should be working with, why their aesthetics fit your customer base, and how that content can be reused across other touchpoints.
TurnTo: Your Twitter feed is littered with references to Drake, Love & Hip Hop, and Meek Mill. In your opinion, when was the golden era of hip-hop? (It was the 90s, right?)
Gupta: First, let me just say I’m not partial to a particular decade of hip hop. I love the evolution of it, from when I first got into it in the mid 80s to what we got now. I could talk about this in more length than I’ve got. But I will say, I feel most nostalgic about the days of scratching. I grew up around scratch DJs—turntabilists. What people did with vinyl and a needle was, and still is, mind-blowing.
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March 9, 2016 by John Swords
The Risks of Image Harvesting
Recently the online retailing industry took some heat over the practice of harvesting images from social media. The New York Times highlighted some especially egregious cases in which retail brands re-published Instagram photos of children against the expectations of their parents.
A variety of experts chimed in with conflicting advice. Does using a brand’s hashtag in a photo caption count as giving consent for the brand to post the picture? The article portrays an industry still figuring out where the lines are, with best practices still unsettled.
What’s clear is that “image harvesting” is developing a risky reputation. When retailers pull pictures off social media and place them in a merchandising context, such as a product page or a gallery on a brand’s website, customers sometimes feel blindsided. Doing it right means getting each customer’s permission individually, and making sure customers understand what they’re consenting to.
That all adds up to a high-effort process. Retailers win when customers share pictures of products they love, but shouldn’t there be a better way to get them?
Enter Visual Reviews
TurnTo is leading the way in a new product that offers a clear-cut path to collect customer images that’s beneficial to both the customer and the retailer. Rather than pulling images from customers’ personal social media feeds, Visual Reviews gives the customers a way to submit product photos and videos directly to the store where they bought the item or to the brand that manufactured it.
TurnTo Visual Reviews adds a rich layer of visual information to fashion, beauty, and home brands, where a picture can say more than a written review ever could. It also works well for hobby and craft retailers, where buyers are eager to share things they’ve made with the products they’ve bought. Whatever the category, it provides a worry-free source of great content for TurnTo clients.
July 17, 2015 by John Swords
Collecting great customer-generated content (CGC) is only half the game. Figuring out how to use it for maximum impact is the other half. Here’s an example of a brand using a particular type of CGC – what we call “Checkout Chatter” – to power a great email campaign. Tip-of-the-hat to Sur La Table for their creativity. We think you’ll find this inspiring.
Here, Sur La Table is building the email around a selection of the checkout comments from their “Cart Talk” pinboard. They are not only introducing the Cart Talk function of the site, they are making a range of their products look super attractive by augmenting the product images with this particular type of CGC, providing endorsement and social validation. While customer reviews can be difficult to work into outbound messaging without undermining their authenticity, checkout comments have a different feeling – an immediacy – that makes them well-suited for promotional uses.
Sur La Table’s “Cart Talk” captures customer sentiments at the time of purchase with the simple question, “Why did you choose this?” and turns it into a social share on the site for those still browsing. Because it is captured at the point of purchase, the sentiment is consistently positive and it is a great asset to build enthusiasm around products – not to mention SEO.
It’s just one piece of the ongoing strategy Kevin Ertell, SVP of Digital at Sur La Table has for building community with customers leveraging product insights contributed by the customers themselves. You can read and hear more about that in our previous blog entry.
Our clients using Checkout Chatter capture these checkout comments from shoppers on up to 15% of all orders. What brand wouldn’t benefit from massive amounts of positive-sentiment user-generated comments about their products that could be easily sprinkled throughout their site? Empowering customers with the ability to share their thoughts or experience with purchased products helps reassure their fellow shoppers that they will be making a wise decision. And that leads to increased conversion rates.
May 22, 2013 by John Swords
Matt O’Donnell, the President of North Shore Commercial Door, recently joined TurnTo for a webinar (below) to discuss the results he sees with Social Q&A on his site. They’ve had much success, including increasing their user engagement and gaining valuable insight about their products, since implementing the Social Q&A in 2012.
Watch the webinar now:
April 26, 2013 by John Swords
We recently hosted a webinar with Liveclicker, a provider of video commerce solutions, where we had the privilege to interview Karen Hansen, the Digital Product Manager for The Vitamin Shoppe and Robert Reed, the Video Producer for Blinds.com, regarding two leading e-commerce tools they recently adopted – social Q&A and video commerce.
In the webinar below, Karen and Robert discuss why they chose these tools and what results they’ve delivered. Check it out!
February 26, 2013 by George Eberstadt
This post was first published as a guest article on Multichannel Merchant.
Where Amazon leads others follow. No one else has the resources or data that Amazon has to figure out what really works. So it’s a good idea to take notes when they introduce a major new element to the shopping experience.
Rolled out over the last few weeks, Amazon now offers true Social Q&A on most of their product pages. And it’s great. (Disclosure: I’m biased. It works just like the Social Q&A system that my company, TurnTo, provides. Hmm…) Amazon is not the first to introduce this, like they were with customer reviews. But they have leapfrogged the competition that uses customer-service-oriented Q&A with a beautiful execution of the Social Q&A concept. It is designed top-to-bottom for shopper-customer dialog about products; they say that they remove questions that are about shipping, availability, orders, and customer service. And they have built a powerful engine for ensuring that questions reliably get answered by past buyers, providing a great experience for shoppers without creating a massive support burden for Amazon.
The key to making Social Q&A work for eCommerce is speed, and Amazon has done all the right things to make their model fast:
- The questions are accepted and appear immediately on the page when submitted. In the age of Facebook, this is what people expect from a social experience. Not a message that says “We’ll alert you if we decide to accept your question. It may take hours or days…”
- The question is immediately emailed to a large selection of people who actually bought the product, not just people who reviewed it. I just used the system to ask questions about 2 items, one of which had only one review, the other had no reviews. And yet within 2 hours I received 4 answers to one and 5 to the other! There’s no way to do that if you don’t email the question to past customers, or limit the recipient list to reviewers.
- The answers get sent immediately back to the asker. That provides fast reminders about the purchase the shopper was considering – while the shopper is still in the buying moment – and a smooth path back to the product detail page complete it. Plus, the answers appear immediately on the site for future shoppers to use and for the asker to review.
- Askers can easily submit follow-up questions back to the answerers, or even just send thanks. That, too, is email enabled, so that it’s easy to have rapid, back-and-forth dialog about products that one person knows about the other needs to learn about.
- To make the whole question-sending-answer-delivering cycle work as fast as this while still protecting their reputation and their customers, Amazon must be automating the moderation. “Optimistic moderation”, where content is moderated after posting, works fine for reviews, but not for Q&A where posts are emailed to real customers. And manual moderation doesn’t even come close to the speed needed, not to mention that it is too much work at any sort of scale.
The result of all these pieces working together is a system that finally realizes the promise of “social commerce”. In the lingo, it’s leveraging the “interest graph” rather than the “social graph”. Which means that the system enables total strangers to actually talk to each other about products in which they share an interest or experience. Customer reviews are great, of course. But they are not interactive. The 2-way dialog that Social Q&A enables – when it’s done right like this – delivers a level of user engagement far deeper than what reviews can provide.
Online shoppers are going to find this system incredibly useful. For example, those questions I asked this afternoon weren’t tests. I was buying a whiteboard and I needed to know whether the model I was considering erased cleanly or left a ghost image. I wasn’t going to trust the manufacturer’s claims, and the information I needed wasn’t in the reviews. Here’s one of the pages – check it out. The information I got back is far more informative for my question than what’s in the manufacturer’s description or what a customer service rep (who would not have had personal experience with the product) could have provided. And since I now know that answers come back fast, the next time I’ve got a question standing between me and a purchase, I won’t hesitate to ask.
The business significance of this utility is huge. It’s not just that shoppers are more likely to buy when they get the information they need. With a tool this powerful, Amazon has now given shoppers yet another reason to go straight to Amazon next time they are considering a purchase.
If you run an online store, you need this functionality. It provides significant conversion lift, produces a mountain of user-generated content (which search engines love), and off-loads work from your customer service team. Plus, it builds loyalty! (Here’s some data we’ve collected on all these points.) You don’t need to let Amazon run away with yet one more reason for shoppers to buy there rather than at your store.
The best way to understand how Amazon’s Social Q&A works is to go there and try it out. But, for a shortcut, here are screenshots of the main elements.
A teaser link near the top of the page:
The main Q&A area embedded in the page:
The question email:
And the answer email:
January 29, 2013 by George Eberstadt
The essence of social media is that the content comes from users. A social graph is important for some types of social sites, like Facebook, where posts tend to be of interest only to people who have a connection to the poster. But it’s not essential. I can lose myself quite happily in Pinterest without following or being followed by anyone. It’s the UGC (user-generated content) that’s the key.
So by that definition, should eCommerce sites be considered social media? Emphatically YES. On many eCommerce sites, most of the content is user-generated. On this page on Backcountry.com (I don’t know if it’s representative – it’s the first one I clicked on), the word count for reviews and Q&A is 1,125, while the combined Description and Technical Specs word count is 179. On this page on Adorama.com, the word count for Social Q&A is 6,116. The word count for customer reviews is 1,302. And the combined word count for Overview, Features, and Tech Specs is 478.
And yet eCommerce sites rarely think of themselves as social media sites. Most of the larger brands and stores we work with have separate teams for “site experience” and “social media marketing”. That makes sense. You want to organize your teams around the 80% of things they focus on uniquely, not the 20% of things where responsibilities overlap. But a consequence of this way of organizing is that the social aspects of the site experience often get too little attention. The site experience team needs to focus on page design and navigation and check-out and cross-sell/recommendation and branding and loads more; social interaction is just a small part of their mandate. The social media team, on the other hand, has become the center for expertise on how the store interacts with its customers, and how to encourage customers to interact with each other and spread the good word. But the social media team’s domain is everywhere on the web except the store site; that belongs to the site experience team.
With the social mojo focused off the brand/store website, and the store site team spread thin, it’s not surprising that the user experience on most store sites is not very social. But just ’cause that’s how it is doesn’t mean that’s how it should be. In fact, by ceding the social arena to the social media sites, most stores are missing huge opportunities to create value. A different approach, which recognizes that eCommerce IS social media and makes social a high-priority responsibility of the site experience team, can address many of the toughest challenges that online stores face.
Challenge #1: Differentiation.
If other stores also sell the same products you sell, then your product detail pages probably look a lot like theirs. Likely, you both get the same product descriptions from the manufacturer and use the same images. Not only does this leave you competing solely on price (yuck), it means you have little chance of generating search engine traffic organically. Whatever margin you have left is going out the SEM window.
But social content is unique. Build social engagement on your storefront and you can generate content no other site has, increasing the value you bring to your shoppers as well as your performance with search engines. (Jack Kiefer, CEO of BabyAge.com, has a great discussion of this point in this recent webinar.)
Challenge #2: Customer Support.
Pre- and post- sales, customers have questions. Sometimes these questions get posted on social media sites. But more often, those customers come to your site, and one way or another (email, phone, livechat) they end up in your call center. That costs you $, and it doesn’t always make your customer happy. While many inquiries need your staff (e.g. “where’s my order?”), many others can be handled at least as well socially. Past customers are often more accurate, faster, and more persuasive than your own team. Really. Here’s some hard data.
And here’s a little illustration: I stumbled on a customer question recently at Overstock.com about a chair I had bought from them. This person couldn’t figure out how to make it recline. Since I sit in it all day long, I had a pretty good idea what the problem was. AFTER I sent in my answer, customer service posted a vague “We want to help you…” non-answer. Then, to my gratification, the asker wrote back that my post indeed solved the issue. (See it here.) Social (1), Customer Support (0).
Challenge #3: Loyalty
Shoppers who engage deeply with your site are more likely to direct-navigate back to your site the next time they need to buy something, rather than just typing the thing into Google and going where ever that leads. So what opportunities for deep engagement do you provide? Social interaction is the most powerful tool you’ve got in the engagement tool kit. In fact, in a recent study, we found that first-time buyers who interact with Social Q&A while shopping are 15-40% more likely to make a repeat purchase within a year than first-time buyers who don’t. (Blog post on that coming up.)
Further, social gives you an opportunity to reach out to your past customers and invite them back to your site that is completely different from the usual promotional material you send. For example, past customers click through on shopper question emails and return to the store site to answer at a 10% rate. And the unsubscribe rate on these emails is typically ~ 0.2%. Most stores using the TurnTo Social Q&A system tell us that, by these measures, this question email is one of the best performing marketing emails they send. Period. Not to mention that the purchase conversion rate for these past customers who come back to answer is 2-4X higher than that of normal shoppers.
With benefits like these, it’s time for site experience teams to recognize that eCommerce IS social media and start prioritizing projects that socialize the on-site experience. Leaving social to the social media team is leaving money on the table.
January 24, 2013 by John Swords
Yesterday John Swords (our VP of Product) joined Jamie Braxton, the Marketing Manager for US-Mattress and FurnitureCrate, for our webinar “US-Mattress Talks Social Q&A.” During the webinar, Jamie and John discussed the social commerce goals and challenges Jamie faced on their sites, why Social Q&A was a solution and how it is working for them now.
Watch the full webinar here:
December 28, 2012 by John Swords
Guest post by: Tim Kilroy
|Tim Kilroy is a consultant who focuses on helping companies achieve dramatic growth through marketing and business development efforts. He has worked with high-growth companies like Wayfair, Karmaloop, The North Face and many, many more. You can learn more at www.timkilroy.com|
I spend a lot of time thinking about growth. I help companies generate more traffic, generate more leads. I spend my days thinking about scale, share of voice, acceleration. I have worked in search, in display, in mobile, brand advertising, direct response advertising. I’ve been around the block a couple of dozen times. Someone that I was working with looked at the plans that we were putting together, and he said, “OK, so what do we do with all the traffic we are going to get?”
Nobody ever asks that question.
For many companies, how to treat your visitors is an entirely separate exercise from getting visitors. There are “Acquisition Managers” and “Site Experience Engineers” and “Director of Low Intent Consumer Engagement” (that is a real title, by the way). Each of these chops up the consumer experience into silos. But customers don’t perceive your efforts that way. Acquisition and engagement are part of a continuum for consumers.
So, as my client and I started to talk about ways to engage the new visitors that we were starting to drive. He immediately jumped to reviews as a method of engagement (and I can also share that they have a measurable impact on search engine visibility). And I think when I was an SEO guy, I would have stopped the conversation right there and dialed up PowerReviews. But my experience as a CMO of a $200mm fashion retailer tells me a different story. We had product level reviews on many of our 20,000 products. The SEO boost from those reviews was 1-2%. But we were redesigning our pages and were trying for simpler. So we started doing some multi-variate testing of the new page design. Amongst other things, on the new page, there were no reviews. At the end of the testing, we saw a meaningful difference in conversion on the cleaner page. And when we did all the math, removing the reviews resulted in about a 9% increase in conversion.
I, to put it mildly, was shocked. How could this be? Reviews are supposed to add the texture and nuance that drives consumer trust and conversion. In our case, it was the exact opposite. Why?
Our brand already had a high degree of trust with our consumers. We were the authority in our space. This is where math fails a little bit, because we couldn’t do a sophisticated sentiment analysis, but it was our opinion that reviews are too subjective. Products got bad reviews because they didn’t fit, or the color was not as expected, or the shipping was too expensive. Reviews tended to be experientially-based rather than product-based regardless of how they are written. And reviews are written by two kinds of folks – those with an axe to grind or those who are cheerleaders. And to be honest, neither is unbiased.
So, I started to reflect on my other experiences in online retail over the last two decades, and at the largest online furniture retailer, we tried to improve the customer experience by adding all of the product specific Q&A from our customer service department to the product page. We had questions like “How heavy is this item?”, “Will it fit through my door?”, “What is the seat depth?”. These aren’t sexy questions. But we saw real conversion lift with this tactic. But my client doesn’t have 200 call center employees with reams of data at their fingertips. What he does have is 7 years of customers who have experience with his product. They know the facts about his products. And by shaping the information that is asked for from those consumers by making them specific questions about the product (“Will it fit in a space X by Y?”, “Does it work in Europe?”, “How long is it from shoulder to cuff?”) it removes the subjective nature of experience into objective fact distillation.
It is the answers to questions that make you want to buy. It is the product as solution that justifies the purchase (honestly, shopping online isn’t all that much fun, so if you end up on a product page, the impulse to buy is probably pretty high). UGC does make me want to buy the product. It is the information that removes the reservation. But why doesn’t that work in the review space? Frankly, the review justifies what you want to hear. If you have enough reservations, inevitably, you will gravitate towards those reviews that make it easy to walk away. If you want to make the purchase, you will, of course, focus on the positive reviews. Product reviews can be self-reinforcing events. The cheerleaders hang out with the cheerleaders, and the axe-grinders hang out with the axe-grinders. Reviews are a self-reflexive lens.
I’ll share a personal holiday shopping anecdote – I bought a Chromebook for my kids for Christmas (shhhh…don’t tell them). I read a million reviews and they were all positive…but too high-level. I don’t actually care about processor power or inane memory specs, those things that professional reviewers care about. And the product reviews definitely fell into the “GOOGLE ROCKS – The Chromebook is the end of Apple!” or the “It isn’t as good as Windows because you can’t install a faster graphics chip, who would buy this….” And, truthfully, those reviews were just noise. I had one simple question – is there something like Skype for the Chromebook? That is what I needed to know. That was my point of reservation. I travel a lot, and I love to video chat with my kids while I am away. It is meaningful to me and them. So I asked that question on a product forum (NOT on the product page, mind you, but rather a forum that I had to search for…). As it turns out, it doesn’t do Skype, but someone was nice enough to tell me that you can do a private Google Hangout, and someone else told me that Skype was actively working on a browser only plug-in, so there would no need to download a client. These were objective answers to my objective question. And that single bit of information that was relevant to me, when answered, made the purchase decision simple.
Consumers are looking for information, not opinion. Decision purchases are made on rationalized facts, not influence. Passion and emotion run high on the engagement end of things (Do I like the site? Is this a good price? Is my credit card safe? Will my friends laugh at me for buying this?) All of that happens before the decision to buy. What drives the “Add to Cart” button click is information that helps me make the decision.
And just like Detective Joe Friday, we all really just want the facts, ma’am.
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
September 20, 2012 by John Swords
September 10th marked the start of this year’s Shop.org 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 Shop.org blog on five sessions:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Shop.org 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!
July 17, 2012 by John Swords
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 12, 2012 by George Eberstadt
I spent last week at IRCE 2012 in Chicago, and the #1 question I got asked was “what do you think of the acquisition of PowerReviews by Bazaarvoice?” Now that I have a quiet moment, I thought I’d set down an answer.
For the merging companies: this is a smart move for Bazaarvoice, and while it’s the end of the road for the PowerReviews team and their products as we know them, it’s the best possible outcome for the PowerReviews shareholders. The $152 million purchase amount, about 13 times PowerReviews 2011 revenues of $11.5m, is a steep price to pay for a unprofitable business that’s a distant second in their segment. So why did Bazaarvoice pay up? Because even though Bazaarvoice won most of the larger accounts in the market, PowerReviews was in every deal competing on price. The downward pressure this put on Bazaarvoice pricing didn’t just kick in on new deals; every time a Bazaarvoice contract came up for renewal, the customer always had the credible threat of switching to PowerReviews to keep a lid on Bazaarvoice prices. What’s the value to Bazaarvoice of eliminating price competition from PowerReviews? Here’s a sample calculation. Bazaarvoice is currently at a $120m revenue run rate. If they are able to increase their price realization by 20%, that’s another $24m in revenue, with no associated cost – ie it’s all profit. The present value of an incremental $24m a year in profit, at a nominal 10% discount rate, is $240m, making $155m a tolerable price to pay. If the PowerReviews business turns out to be worth something, after their team has been shrunk and their prices raised, then that’s all gravy to Bazaarvoice. So that’s what you call a win-win, right?
Well, not if you are a customer. If you are already a Bazaarvoice customer, the effects will be straightforward enough: when your contract comes up for renewal, expect to pay what you’re quoted. Your alternatives just got a lot narrower.
If you are a PowerReviews customer, it’s a bit more complicated. Yes, you should expect to pay more when you renew. But you should also be thinking about what this means to the support your product is going to be getting over time. Here’s my bet on what’s going to happen. Bazaarvoice will keep the PowerReviews Express product. It won’t get a lot of new investment, but it wasn’t before either, since PowerReviews has been focused on their enterprise offering the last few years. It costs little to sell and service this offering, so there’s no need for Bazaarvoice to cut back to maintain the business. On the other hand, Bazaarvoice is likely to cut back heavily on investment in the PowerReviews Enterprise product. This is the offering that’s driving the PowerReviews sales, marketing, and R&D costs, and it competes directly with the Bazaarvoice product line. It’s hard to see Bazaarvoice carrying the R&D cost of two overlapping products or training their soon-to-be-integrated sales team to sell both. On the other hand, they won’t want to alienate their newly acquired customers by forcing a rapid change-over. So I expect they’ll keep the PowerReviews Enterprise product around with minimal investment, and they’ll convert the stores using it over to the Bazaarvoice platform little by little as the PowerReviews platform falls further and further behind. For those who use the core PowerReviews reviews product, no immediate action will be needed, since that’s already a mature, full-featured platform. But for those using or considering the new tools in PowerReviews’ recently-announced “Essential Social Suite” – analytics, loyalty, social sharing, Q&A – the picture is different. All of these new tools are raw, and some are explicitly still in Beta. Without the significant R&D investment needed to bring these products quickly from their current state to even a modest level of maturity, adopting them may cause real pain.
June 1, 2012 by John Swords
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 by George Eberstadt
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 Amazon.com, 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.
January 16, 2012 by John Swords
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:
- Unique shopping/promotional offerings
- Customer engagement strategies
- Customer analysis
- 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:
- Casual Male Retail Group (CMRG)
- David’s Bridal
- Foot Locker
- Hot Topic
- Inkjet Superstore
- 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org (yes, a shameless plug from me).
November 17, 2011 by George Eberstadt
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:
- You can improve conversion rates by showing shoppers that other people have really bought a product (on the product detail page)
- 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.
September 27, 2011 by George Eberstadt
[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.
Sierra Trading Post (PowerReviews)
Johnston & Murphy (PowerReviews)
Abes of Maine (PowerReviews)
Bass Pro Shop (Bazaarvoice)
Cameras Direct (Bazaarvoice)
Bazaarvoice is a registered trademark of Bazaarvoice, Inc.PowerReviews is a registered trademark of PowerReviews, Inc.
September 26, 2011 by George Eberstadt
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.
July 5, 2011 by George Eberstadt
It is interesting to see that the same message-based approach that is finally making social Q&A work for ecommerce is also making social Q&A work for education. Today’s New York Times profiles a new site called Piazza, which enables students to get help from classmates through a Q&A model. As the Times describes it:
Although there are rival services, like Blackboard, an education software company, Piazza’s platform is specifically designed to speed response times. The site is supported by a system of notification alerts, and the average question on Piazza will receive an answer in 14 minutes.
That’s exactly what we see from our shopping Q&A system, Ask Owners. By sending shopping questions directly to people who are likely to know the answer (because they bought the product!) Ask Owners outperforms bulletin board-style Q&A systems in 3 ways: many more answers, much faster answers, and higher quality answers. It makes a lot of sense this model would be powerful for class-based communities, too.
Kudos to Piazza founder Pooja Nath. We’re excited to see your success!