Friday, June 15, 2007

Social Commerce Revolution

Seven steps to social commerce revolution

How can the growing popularity of user-generated content be best applied online?

Word of mouth has always been the leading form of marketing. But now, with the growth of web accessibility, web commerce, and tools to share opinions, word of mouth is critical for customers and marketers alike.

If a brand surveys customers after an online purchase and asks how they found the site or why they chose a product, it’s likely the majority will reference something like ‘advice from a friend’.

On the web, word of mouth takes the form of user-generated content. Shoppers desperate to find authentic, credible and relevant sources of product advice follow these dances to make their purchase.

Analyst firm Forrester found that 77% of online shoppers in the US seek out ratings and reviews before making a purchase. 97% of consumers said they trusted recommendations from peers. In addition, a study by Edelman Public Relations (US-based) found that ‘trust in someone like me’ has tripled in three years, from 20% to 68%. Why are people turning to the advice of strangers?

Early Learning Centre, a multi-channel store for children’s products, will soon launch ratings and reviews using the Bazaarvoice platform.

“Due to the increase in social networking and the focus on user generated content, it’s become increasingly important to effectively engage with our customers and give them a way of contributing towards the site. Adding a ratings and review function is an ideal way of enabling this,” said Matthew Legge, e-Commerce Manager at Early Learning Centre.

“Peer reviews are so much more effective than the brand reviewing its own products – Mums value and trust what other Mums think.”

The steps to a‘social commerce revolution’, and the resulting benefits, look something like this:

1) Get to know your influencers: According to the book The Influentials, approximately 10 to 15 percent of a brand’s customers are ‘influencers’; meaning they have a psychographic profile to share their opinion with others. The profile of an online reviewer spans across multiple demographic segments, but in the main they are the most loyal and frequent purchasers. According to a study by management consulting firm McKinsey, users who post reviews revisit the site nine times more than users who don’t participate, and are twice as loyal. With a ratings and reviews system integrated with a site’s “My Account” login, brands can invite and identify their most valuable customers to share their voice; further cementing the relationship between brand and consumer. From there, companies can launch new relationship campaigns such as discounts or early bird notifications.

2) Accelerate customer purchase decisions: Once authentic reviews from a brand’s most influential customers are visible online, shoppers then have the credible and relevant content they need to make a purchase. With ratings and reviews next to a product, customers get what they need to accelerate a purchase decision. Bazaarvoice clients have seen anywhere from 16% to double conversion rate on products and categories that have reviews. With ‘top rated’ product merchandising, navigation and sorting, brands can create a new purchase path delivering up to 60% higher conversion than other purchase paths.

3) Attract user-content-seeking customers: One of the key benefits of product reviews is that they attract new customers through natural search optimisation. Search engines, and the shoppers who use them, feed on this authentic content, and an increasing percentage of shoppers are searching for phrases and keywords that match review text. Bazaarvoice has analysed web analytics for several clients and found that more detailed searches, such as “Puma shoe reviews”, are growing faster than generic searches such as “football shoes”. Brands can also use ‘top rated products’ merchandising in emails, RSS feeds, and other online marketing to improve the impact of these vehicles. Golfsmith, a US Bazaarvoice client, saw 46% higher revenue per email featuring top rated products.

4) Market and advertise with customer voice: Now that you have the voice of your customer as a digital marketing asset, it’s time to take it offline. Brands can also feature top rated products and quotes from customers in catalogues and advertising to boost their impact.

5) Improve products and assortment: I once attended an online retailer industry conference where the Director of eCommerce for Gap suggested he saw their job to be a ‘trusted editor of fashion’. The best retailers are the trusted editors of products for their customers. What they choose to put in catalogues, online and in stores is a key part of their brand and shopping experience. Product ratings and reviews help retailers choose the right products to buy, promote and merchandise. Moreover, brands can help suppliers improve products they carry.

6) Power your partnerships: Many online marketers short change the impact and opportunity for reviews, limiting their usefulness to the product page. However, they can use the rich data from product ratings to improve their site search and web site navigation (top rated products), integrate with a web analytics platform, improve personalisation and cross-sell algorithms and integrate into email for automated campaigns. One Bazaarvoice client saw a 49% higher conversion and 60% higher average order value when featuring the “Top Rated Products” navigation filter to each category, through an integration with their search partner.

7) Develop a customer-centric culture: The final step of evolution in a user-generated marketing strategy is a change of the culture. Ultimately, brands need to integrate the voice of their customer into their day to day activities, so that employees pay closer attention to what customers are saying about products. As the results from user generated marketing become clear, they will start to look at the reports and leverage the data in many of the ways described above. Once that happens, a higher level of customer-centricity will be achieved than could ever be reached with research reports and focus groups.

Over the past few years, several factors have conspired against marketers to remove them from the driver’s seat. Customers have more control, more choices, more information and more access to opinions of others. At Bazaarvoice we have a Latin motto for the new marketing strategy of today and tomorrow: Aquiro, Sermo, Dilato. Translation: Acquire the conversation and amplify it. With the right tools and strategy, brands can enable their ‘scout bee’ customers to do their waggle dance on their web sites, for the rest of their shoppers.

By Sam Decker

Sam Decker is VP of Marketing and Products for Bazaarvoice (, a hosted and managed solution for ratings and reviews and social commerce.

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