E-commerce: Roll Out the Red Carpet
The idea that word of mouth helps sell products and services isn’t new. Asking a neighbor, friend or colleague how they like their new car or new wireless service provider is standard party or office cooler conversation. But as the online environment enters a new phase of maturity in the consumer’s life (some call it Web 2.0 or even 3.0), marketers have learned that they can leverage this social connectivity to enhance their audience’s experience, glean consumer feedback and even boost sales.
Although customer reviews and comments have been appearing on some Web sites for as long as eight years, consumer-generated content still is not something every online merchant has incorporated into its Web strategy, says Ken Burke, CEO of MarketLive, an e-commerce software and consulting firm in Petaluma, Calif. One of the biggest reasons why merchants haven’t opened their sites to customer involvement is uncertainty about how to manage the flow of comments. James Belcher, senior analyst at eMarketer, a New York City market research and trend analysis firm that covers online marketing and e-commerce, characterizes this unease as wariness toward ceding control—or at least concern regarding how customer involvement might affect carefully honed marketing messages. Corporate apprehension may not be entirely misplaced, Belcher states, and he cautions merchants to “think it through before they throw the doors wide open.” The best results come from making customer interaction part of an overall marketing strategy. “Decide what you want to accomplish and what is possible and then start off on a test basis,” Belcher says.
Reviews and comments are the most common forms of customer involvement, but the gamut of methods includes polls, contests that invite participation, blogs, and even pictures and video. Garrick Schmitt, vice president of user experience at Seattle-based interactive marketing agency Avenue A|Razorfish, says the overall goal is to increase customer engagement and to foster a community that is passionate about your product or company. Methods that facilitate communication between companies and customers work better than one-way communication, he adds. One example of two-way communication is a company blog in which writers responds to reader comments.