Consumers are clamoring for user-generated content (UGC), but providing it can be difficult. George Eberstadt, CEO of TurnTo Networks, recently took time to discuss the benefits of UGC, how to use it effectively, and more in a Q&A with RetailITInsights.com.
Q: What consumer fears/apprehensions can user-generated content help diffuse?
Eberstadt: Popularity sells; call it social validation. When consumers see others have bought something they are considering, they feel safer making the purchase themselves. Conversely, lack of social validation provides a negative signal. Shoppers may think, “Maybe there’s a reason that no one else is buying this,” and head in a different direction. So to some extent, it doesn’t matter what the user-generated content says, as long as there is plenty of it. Beyond signaling, user-generated content can provide specific information shoppers need to feel confident in moving forward with a purchase, especially online where the goods can’t be touched and there are no live salespeople to help. And, of course, there’s the trust factor — every study shows consumers trust the opinions of peers more than marketing copy produced by sellers.
Q: What are different ways to display UGC and which of those is most effective?
Eberstadt: The most important lesson is one size does not fit all. Different types of UGC are useful to shoppers at different points in the path to purchase in varying ways, depending on the type of item. Visual content and micro-reviews (checkout comments) are particularly useful on landing and discovery pages to drive consideration. Reviews are useful on product detail pages to provide information as well as on navigation and comparison pages to support evaluation and selection. Micro-reviews are also useful on category and product pages for social validation. Question and answer is particularly powerful at the end of the purchase journey, when the shopper just needs one more piece of information before adding it to his/her cart, as well as post-purchase for support.
Further, each type of UGC can be tailored to maximize effectiveness. Sometimes, plain, vanilla reviews — a star rating and a comment — are most effective. Other times, it makes sense to capture more structured information about both the product and the reviewer. Similarly, the kind of photos retailers get from customers can be influenced by the ways in which they request them. Selfies? Unboxing? The product in use? Things made with the product? They all serve different purposes.
Q: What can be done to leverage UGC to drive social traffic?
Eberstadt: There are two main strategies for using UGC to drive social traffic. One is to encourage fans to post to their feeds. The other is for the retailer to post UGC to their feed. The advantage of the former is reach — a brand’s fans will help bring the brand to consumers that are not already fans themselves. But it’s hard to pull off. Some brands are more share-worthy, and coming up with shareable content is difficult. As a result, most stores and brands end up focusing on weaving UGC into their own social presence. That adds to the vitality of the retailer’s social presence, and UGC is often strong content for maintaining customer dialogue in a social media environment.
Q: What is the most efficient/effective way to get UGC?
Eberstadt: Ask for it! The big advantage that direct sellers have is they know who their customers are and have permission to interact with them. Whether it’s a product review, a photo, an answer to a peer question or a post to social media with a brand hashtag, the vast majority of all UGC is created in direct response to a request.
Q: Retailers think of ratings, reviews, Q&As, and product photos when considering UGC. How do they need to expand their thinking?
Eberstadt: Retailers should expand their thinking in a couple directions. There are other types of content such as micro-reviews gathered at the point of purchase (checkout comments) and video reviews. Each of these needs to be treated differently. For example, usable videos are much harder to get from customers than photos or reviews, but they can be much higher impact. As a result, the collection process needs to be treated differently to steer customers toward creating usable material. The display model also needs to be designed to feature video content more prominently when it is available without leaving a gap when there is none to show.
Further, retailers should keep in mind there is a lot of room for innovation within reviews, Q&As, and photos. Q&As can be focused on dialogue between shoppers and customers, it can support interactions with staff and brand experts, and it can tap into knowledge-based resources. Different functions are needed to support comparison questions (“Which of these three is best for my needs?”) versus customer experience questions (“Did it look as good in real life as on the web site?”), versus help center questions (“Do you ship to Canada?”). The opportunities with a well-thought-through UGC strategy are vast.
Q: What can a retailer considering UGC expect in terms of ROI and sales increases?
Eberstadt: There are many dimensions to the ROI of UGC. Conversion lift for the web shopper is typically the measure that gets the most attention. It can vary considerably, but valid site-wide A/B testing typically shows greater than 5 percent sales lift. But that’s just the starting point. UGC improves the shopper experience, which improves loyalty and repeat purchase. For brands and multi-channel sellers, the online influence of offline purchase can be a big factor.
And some multi-channel sellers bring their UGC directly to the store environment through self tags, kiosks, and “clienteling applications” which support the store associates. UGC is helpful for driving traffic by improving SEO strategy, contributing to the effectiveness of campaigns like PLAs and supporting social media presence. UGC can help reduce returns by steering customers toward better choices. And the insights UGC delivers to stores and brands are key to everything from product design to defect identification to merchandising.
Q: How do you think UGC is evolving and shaping the retail experience?
Eberstadt: We’ve touched on a lot of the next-generation themes already. In addition to those are new content types; creative ways to collect more content from more consumers and innovative ways to use UGC in the shopper journey. Even though the basic UGC concepts have been around for a while, we are still in the early days of leveraging customer dialogue to improve the experience for shoppers and the business results for brands and stores.