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80% of E-Commerce Sites Are Missing the Boat

  |  November 1, 2011   |  Comments

Q&A is consumers' No. 2 social commerce tool.

The 2011 Social Shopping study from my company's e-tailing group found that consumers rely on social commerce tools to make purchase decisions. When consumers were asked the impact of the following social tools on their buying behavior, 59 percent said customer reviews and 42 percent said Q&A had a significant impact. Facebook activity registered at 13 percent.

Even though the data is compelling that Q&A is consumers' No. 2 social commerce tool, fewer than 20 percent of e-commerce sites have Q&A capabilities. More e-commerce sites have the Facebook "like" button and other Facebook features than have Q&A.


                                                        Click on image to enlarge

Why are 80 percent of e-commerce sites missing the boat?

First, the volume of consumer questions can outpace the ability of the organization to answer them. However, innovations in intelligent routing to experts across and outside of the organization increase the number, speed, and accuracy of answers.

Second, the cost of staffing to answer questions can seem prohibitive. However, innovations in using the social Q&A content in virtual FAQs and other techniques to aggregate content for the same question decreases the staffing required to answer questions.

Third, the performance of Q&A is not well understood. The following are four compelling performance factors that demonstrate that the business case for Q&A has very positive returns.

  1. Q&A increases SEO. Q&A is user-generated content (UGC). And Google favors UGC (text format, not yet video format) in its search results. Many retailers and brands see a 2:1 ratio of questions to reviews and for some merchants this ratio can be much higher. Since Q&A acts as a living FAQ doc on your product page, it naturally generates an abundance of keywords. Make sure your content is visible to Google; indexed directly on your pages. If your content is in an iFrame, Google cannot index it on your page. We see SEO to pages increase 25 to 49 percent when UGC is indexed directly on the product page vs. being in iFrames.
  2. Q&A drives conversion. The Q&A content is evergreen on one's site, giving visitors key information to drive conversion. In addition, when a consumer receives an email after the question she asks has been answered, conversion rates between 10 to 40 percent from that answer notification email are typical. Sierra Trading Post reported a 50 percent increase in conversion and a staggering 300 percent increase in click-through for this email over traditional email marketing campaigns.

  3. Q&A lowers call center volume. After going live with Q&A, Skechers noticed a 30 percent reduction in call center volume. Tim Lakin, aka Tim the Shoe Guy and e-commerce merchandising manager at Skechers answers just about every question submitted on the Skechers site and says providing customers with quality answers is invaluable. "One of our newest and most technical shoes, the Pro Resistance SRR, was receiving a high volume of call center questions. By submitting very detailed answers we were able to drop calls for that product down to 0% as well as increase conversions by 25%," said Lakin.

  4. Q&A increases product description effectiveness. It is often difficult to know whether your product descriptions are effective, but with Q&A, retailers get instant feedback simply by looking at the number of unique questions associated with a product as well as the number of times a synonymous question is asked. Nautilus noticed it was missing out on valuable content on its product pages and quickly took action. "We were able to improve our product pages by analyzing Q&A data and incorporating our customers' questions back into our product pages," said Ricardo Cheriel, senior content administrator at Nautilus.


Retailers need to prioritize evaluating Q&A for their business. Innovations in Q&A, and the demonstrated performance of the consumers' No. 2 social tool in the buying process are reasons to do so.

Thank you to my colleague Mark Baker, client success manager, for his contributions to this column.


Cathy Halligan

Cathy has over 20 years of experience in both multichannel and online retail and a deep understanding of consumer needs and goals. Cathy's proven track record spans a range of industries and companies, from start-up ventures to multibillion dollar operations. Cathy is currently a Board Member at Ulta Beauty (ULTA), the largest beauty retailer that provides one-stop shopping for prestige, mass, and salon products and salon services in the United States. She has served as SVP, marketing & sales at PowerReviews, the world's most widely deployed social commerce platform, where she was responsible for overseeing the company's rapid customer and revenue growth. Prior to PowerReviews, Cathy held executive-level positions at Walmart: chief marketing officer Walmart.com, vice president of market development, global e-commerce, and vice president of product management and multichannel integration. Ms. Halligan has also held executive positions with leading retailers Williams-Sonoma, Gymboree, and Blue Nile, and was an associate partner at Prophet, a leading management consulting firm. She started her career as a marketing coordinator at Lands' End.

For real-time social commerce news and updates, follow Cathy on Twitter at @CathyHalligan.

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