Best Practices in Social Commerce

White Paper

How Top UK Brands Win with Social Commerce: There’s a lot of buzz about how customers talking to customers on product pages can help drive sales for online brands. But how well does it really work, and how difficult is it to gain great results? Ian Jindal, Editor-in-Chief of Internet Retailing Magazine, sat down with several top UK brands, including M&S and QVC to dig into what works best in a series of six video podcasts. We’ve crystallised their primary learnings in this paper.

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Don’t let fear or lack of information delay you from getting started.

Apprehension can surround any new major initiative. Here are some of the considerations – and solutions – retailers found when working to add product reviews to their sites.

Negative reviews can have a positive impact. In the beginning, Gina Deeble from QVC-UK worried about negative reviews. “We thought, ‘What if we have a best-selling item that gets a negative review?’”

There was a best-selling ice cream maker that sold tens of thousands of units that got many negative reviews. It turned out that customers were unhappy, but the item was so inexpensive that they didn’t bother to return it. Before reviews, buyers and the merchandising team would have never known there was a problem with this popular product.

Negative reviews helped QVC-UK address the product issues, and they continue to monitor reviews to ensure quality is high and customers remain satisfied. They also get a good idea of what customers think of their overall brand, to determine if they’re meeting their quality goals.

In fact, Bazaarvoice have found that 88% of all reviews written in the UK are positive, with an overall average rating of 4.3 stars out of a possible five.

Get the organisation ready for the customer voice. Don’t surprise your company with customer reviews; let them know when and how they will be deployed, and take time to illustrate how they will help each department. Customer reviews are like an ongoing customer focus group, giving unedited feedback as people use your products.

QVC-UK involved several teams from the beginning of its implementation. The e-commerce team is responsible for implementation and continuous improvement of its use on the site; merchandisers are responsible for making marketing decisions based on the data; and the customer service team reviews all rejected reviews and responds with a personal phone call to every writer of a rejected or negative review.

Marks & Spencer did a customer reviews pilot program before rolling it out across their entire site. This helped them make a solid business case internally, helping them alleviate fears and secure high-level buy-in. Matthew Henton from eSpares recommended that you “Clear your diary after you launch customer reviews – you will have so many learnings to take action on!”

“Eighty percent of your content is contributed by the top 20% of your customers,” said Brett Hurt from Bazaarvoice.

Acquiring content: Big bang or slow start?

Social commerce begins when consumers start to contribute, and it won’t happen on its own. Some companies use the “big bang” approach, where they make a big play to gather thousands of reviews at once, while others start slowly.

Be ready for a big bang. After Argos added customer reviews to their site, they sent emails to anyone who had made an online purchase for the past six months, asking them to share their opinions with other shoppers. They brought in 70,000 reviews in just one day! These reviews, collected over a year ago, are still benefiting Argos and Argos shoppers. DRL Ltd. ran a similar campaign and gathered 10,000 reviews in a short amount of time.

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Soft launches also breed success. Marks & Spencer, however, did a softer launch of customer reviews, without a lot of promotion. They used package inserts in all parcels to build awareness slowly over time. Gina shared that QVC-UK also did a soft launch. Testimonials have always been part of their brand, so customers automatically began contributing as soon as they could. Today, they only subtly promote reviews through box stuffers and in their programme guides, for example. They are considering launching a promotion or post-purchase emails to help continue to boost review volume.

Altruism boosts reviews. Research has shown that most people write reviews because they are altruistic – they want to help other people. For this reason, eSpares decided not to incentivise customers who share reviews, but they played up the altruistic angle. A few weeks after a customer makes a purchase, eSpares emails them with a message that reads, “You’ve already repaired your own products. Now be altruistic, and share your opinion.” They get a 3% response rate on these emails, on average, and this approach enables them to continuously add new content to their site.

How will people contribute in the future? Kimberly Correia from Marks & Spencer says that she believes more and more brands will use Facebook and Twitter to contribute reviews and other types of content. This targets consumers where they already interact, making it easier for them to participate.

Amplifying content: Marks & Spencer tests customer reviews in their stores

Once users contribute, their authentic content can have a positive marketing impact far beyond the website.

Test, compare, repeat. For example, eSpares uncovered some interesting data, almost by accident. They sent an email to customers that focused on lime scale removal, including a “buy now” button for related products. As an afterthought, they added a link to “read reviews.” When they looked at the final results, they saw that the “read reviews” button got more than four times the click-through rate than the “buy now” button did. While conversion from the “read reviews” button was lower, the actual sales from the “read reviews” button were more than twice as high. They also send one Tweet per day via their Twitter account that focuses on a customer review.

Marks & Spencer is testing reviews inside their stores, showing key reviews on key products. Since ratings may change over time, the in-store signage reads, for example, “4.5 out of 5 stars as of [date].” They plan to train in-store staff about what the reviews mean, and will change out reviews often to keep the content fresh.

Put reviews where shoppers shop. Brett pointed out that, in the U.S., several brands are making reviews available on mobile devices, so shoppers can find reviews wherever they are, whether they are in a store or looking at a catalogue. In the U.S., cosmetics retailer Sephora posts a sign that invites shoppers to go to to read reviews.

DRL Limited sees much of its traffic come from Google AdWords. They are using reviews in paid ads, getting nearly twice the amount of click-throughs they get from ads without reviews.

Share first-person experiences with retail staff. Retailers with physical stores often think their sales associates are the least informed about reviews, so many stores are working to share reviews with their in-store staff. QVC has given access to many of its staff, so they can read reviews in aggregate. Other retailers include customer reviews in their advertisements and direct mail.

Brett shared another trend: manufacturers are sponsoring content on retailers’ sites and getting involved in conversations with consumers. For example, a lawn care products manufacturer sponsored a community Q&A area on a DIY site in the U.S., bringing more brand awareness to the manufacturer where consumers are shopping.

Operationalising customer opinions: content impacts the entire organisation

Customer insights can have an impact on all areas of the business – far beyond just sales and marketing.

Involve all the teams that make sense in your business. Gina from QVC-UK recommends planning ahead on which teams should be involved in looking at customer opinions – don’t wait until you have launched. At QVC, the customer service team and buyers/merchandisers see all reviews. The customer service team is responsible for tracking the company’s Net Promoter Score, for example.

Teams receive automatic weekly and monthly reports which were set up before QVC launched reviews on the site, so the teams got information from day one. Gina reports that “everyone has embraced the content and rich data.”

Customer input is a major corporate asset. It’s also creating a new phenomenon, where consumers actually know more than many of the retailer’s own employees. eSpares wanted to make the most of all the user-generated content they collected from its customers, so they created the eSpares Advice Centre, which combines customer reviews, questions and answers into one knowledge centre.

“If we don’t [create a resource for advice], our competitors will,” said Matthew. “We want to use our customers’ own voices to really drive the direction of our business.”

Pay attention to ways user-generated content saves department resources. At eSpares, they added a new position – a dedicated person to speak with suppliers and answer customers’ questions. Their implementation of community Q&A has lessened the work of their customer service team, with the new employee and the greater community providing answers.

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eSpares pointed out that they have been able to reduce the overall amount of work for most teams. “In a lot of ways, reviews serve as an early-warning system for bad products,” said Matthew from eSpares. “We discover product faults very early.”

Relationships with suppliers become more efficient. For example, reviews help retailers predict which products are successful or faulty, so they can decide how much to restock very quickly. According to Brett, this feedback loop is down to about three days in some cases.

Ian pointed out that, in many ways, usergenerated content creates more work for retailers, in a good way. There are more chances for retailers to shoot videos, communicate with suppliers, and communicate with the community at large. As retailers discover exactly what consumers need – directly from the consumers themselves – they can better react and focus on what will help nourish those relationships.

“The world is becoming more social,” said Brett. “The conversation and power has shifted – customers now speak directly to retailers, and it’s the retailers’ responsibility to use this data as operational fuel.”

Analysis varies for each retailer, but it’s an important part of the mix

The impact on the most important business metrics is what’s most important. So how do retailers best measure results?

Measurements vary based on many factors. DRL first looks at engagement on the site, to determine if people are now spending more time on the site, if they are interacting with the content. To do this, they look at the interaction of people who click on “read all reviews” or click on the “reviews” tab from the product pages. Then they compare conversion rates of people who read reviews to conversion rates of those who do not read reviews. They have seen a 40-50% increase in conversion for this segment.

Brett recommended not just looking at conversion. “You must look at how this content is holistically affecting the business.” Look at product returns, search engine traffic, improvements in merchandising, and other activities.

Gina from QVC-UK pointed out that, because their products move so quickly, it is difficult to pinpoint specific ROI on conversion. Instead, they look at the impact customer-generated content has had on brand loyalty, product improvements, and their Net Promoter score. They also call on highly-engaged customers to write new content, to let them know how valuable this content is.

eSpares ran an A/B split test, which is the most accurate type of test to determine causality. They randomly selected three products that had a significant amount of reviews and similar ratings. Then, for five months, they randomly served site visitors either product information that contained review content or product information without review content. The test ran until there was a statistically accurate sample size for all products, and no promotions were run during testing period. For each product, eSpares measured the relative increase in conversion rates for the visitors who were served customer review content versus those who were not. They found that reviews drive a 14.2% conversion increase.

“All the extra stuff we’re doing easily justifies the investment,” said Matthew from eSpares. “People have always been making decisions, but they never had access to true customer opinions. This is what [user-generated content] has filled in for us. It has helped us answer the WHY.”

Reviews can help decrease product returns. Marks & Spencer is looking at thresholds of certain product lines and categories, and “we see conversion double” in some cases, according to Kimberly. They are also looking at the rate of engagement: the number of clicks on tabs and “read all reviews.” Kimberly says that Marks & Spencer customers often order multiple sizes of each product to find the right fit. “We’re hoping review content will help reduce these return rates.”

Marks & Spencer also looks at Net Order Value, taking product returns into account, and in the future, they plan to examine the number of products that have been improved or redesigned because of customer conversations.

“The value-add is not just on the product conversion, but the overall site improvement,” said Andrew from DRL.

Social commerce expansion: Brands talk about what’s next

eSpares plan to let customers write reviews on the Advice Centre, so they can provide their opinions on the stories and articles there. Eventually, consumers will be able to search for articles that are top-rated.

When consumers respond, retailers must be ready to react. “The customer is becoming more in control, but the way retailers respond is critical,” said Brett. “If customers want three more colours, you can offer those colours. If prices are cheaper elsewhere, you can respond by lowering the price. Analytics and data are very liberating. By taking advantage of the voice of the customer, you remove anxiety…you now know why customers do what they do.”

Brett also shared that more and more brands will integrate user-generated content with social networks. “You want [consumers] to share their reviews – Tweet it, share it with Facebook friends.”

More luxury brands will dive into social marketing and user-generated content; this is happening quickly in the United States. Mobile reviews will continue to gain momentum, and more users will contribute photos and videos to retailer sites.

All six steps are critical in building a successful social commerce strategy

While all of these brands have innovated with user-generated content, and seen great results, there is much more on the horizon. Retailers are learning that they must not only listen to the customer voice, but react and respond to it. Today’s customer has more power than ever, and those that contribute will continue to change the products we purchase and the way we shop.

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