April 10, 2014 by George Eberstadt
We are beaming! No, Jeff Bezos didn’t mention us by name. But this is just as good. In his annual letter to shareholders, Bezos devotes an entire section to the success Amazon has had with their Community Q&A feature:
One recent success is our new feature called “Ask an owner”. It was many years ago that we pioneered the idea of online customer reviews – customers sharing their opinion on a product to help other customers make an informed purchase decision. “Ask” is in that same tradition. From a product page, customers can ask any question related to the product. Is the product compatible with my TV/Stereo/PC? Is it easy to assemble? How long does the battery last? We then route these questions to owners of the product. As is the case with reviews, customers are happy to share their knowledge to directly help other customers. Millions of questions have already been asked and answered.
As the pioneers of the Active Outreach(TM) mechanism for getting fast answers to shopper questions from real product owners, we were flattered a year ago when Amazon first rolled out this feature to see them following our model so closely. Now, we’ve received the only bigger compliment we could have wished for: this approach has been the same smashing success for Amazon that it has been for the >100 stores that use TurnTo for Community Q&A.
Of course, we haven’t been sitting around waiting for Amazon to catch up. Our newest version introduces great capabilities Amazon hasn’t got to yet: instant answers, FAQs, category and topic Q&A, a magnificent new user experience, mobile capabilities designed for the omni-channel world, and lots more. So, Amazon shoppers, keep your eyes open; we’ve got a pretty good idea what you’ll be seeing next, and it’s fabulous!
And if you sell online and are tired of eating Amazon dust, give us a shout. We’ll show you what the future looks like, too.
February 26, 2013 by George Eberstadt
This post was first published as a guest article on Multichannel Merchant.
Where Amazon leads others follow. No one else has the resources or data that Amazon has to figure out what really works. So it’s a good idea to take notes when they introduce a major new element to the shopping experience.
Rolled out over the last few weeks, Amazon now offers true Social Q&A on most of their product pages. And it’s great. (Disclosure: I’m biased. It works just like the Social Q&A system that my company, TurnTo, provides. Hmm…) Amazon is not the first to introduce this, like they were with customer reviews. But they have leapfrogged the competition that uses customer-service-oriented Q&A with a beautiful execution of the Social Q&A concept. It is designed top-to-bottom for shopper-customer dialog about products; they say that they remove questions that are about shipping, availability, orders, and customer service. And they have built a powerful engine for ensuring that questions reliably get answered by past buyers, providing a great experience for shoppers without creating a massive support burden for Amazon.
The key to making Social Q&A work for eCommerce is speed, and Amazon has done all the right things to make their model fast:
- The questions are accepted and appear immediately on the page when submitted. In the age of Facebook, this is what people expect from a social experience. Not a message that says “We’ll alert you if we decide to accept your question. It may take hours or days…”
- The question is immediately emailed to a large selection of people who actually bought the product, not just people who reviewed it. I just used the system to ask questions about 2 items, one of which had only one review, the other had no reviews. And yet within 2 hours I received 4 answers to one and 5 to the other! There’s no way to do that if you don’t email the question to past customers, or limit the recipient list to reviewers.
- The answers get sent immediately back to the asker. That provides fast reminders about the purchase the shopper was considering – while the shopper is still in the buying moment – and a smooth path back to the product detail page complete it. Plus, the answers appear immediately on the site for future shoppers to use and for the asker to review.
- Askers can easily submit follow-up questions back to the answerers, or even just send thanks. That, too, is email enabled, so that it’s easy to have rapid, back-and-forth dialog about products that one person knows about the other needs to learn about.
- To make the whole question-sending-answer-delivering cycle work as fast as this while still protecting their reputation and their customers, Amazon must be automating the moderation. “Optimistic moderation”, where content is moderated after posting, works fine for reviews, but not for Q&A where posts are emailed to real customers. And manual moderation doesn’t even come close to the speed needed, not to mention that it is too much work at any sort of scale.
The result of all these pieces working together is a system that finally realizes the promise of “social commerce”. In the lingo, it’s leveraging the “interest graph” rather than the “social graph”. Which means that the system enables total strangers to actually talk to each other about products in which they share an interest or experience. Customer reviews are great, of course. But they are not interactive. The 2-way dialog that Social Q&A enables – when it’s done right like this – delivers a level of user engagement far deeper than what reviews can provide.
Online shoppers are going to find this system incredibly useful. For example, those questions I asked this afternoon weren’t tests. I was buying a whiteboard and I needed to know whether the model I was considering erased cleanly or left a ghost image. I wasn’t going to trust the manufacturer’s claims, and the information I needed wasn’t in the reviews. Here’s one of the pages – check it out. The information I got back is far more informative for my question than what’s in the manufacturer’s description or what a customer service rep (who would not have had personal experience with the product) could have provided. And since I now know that answers come back fast, the next time I’ve got a question standing between me and a purchase, I won’t hesitate to ask.
The business significance of this utility is huge. It’s not just that shoppers are more likely to buy when they get the information they need. With a tool this powerful, Amazon has now given shoppers yet another reason to go straight to Amazon next time they are considering a purchase.
If you run an online store, you need this functionality. It provides significant conversion lift, produces a mountain of user-generated content (which search engines love), and off-loads work from your customer service team. Plus, it builds loyalty! (Here’s some data we’ve collected on all these points.) You don’t need to let Amazon run away with yet one more reason for shoppers to buy there rather than at your store.
The best way to understand how Amazon’s Social Q&A works is to go there and try it out. But, for a shortcut, here are screenshots of the main elements.
A teaser link near the top of the page:
The main Q&A area embedded in the page:
The question email:
And the answer email:
August 27, 2012 by George Eberstadt
David Streitfeld of the New York Times has been looking hard at the issue of fake customer reviews. A year ago, he called out freelancers offering to write positive reviews for a few bucks. In January, he wrote up a service called VIP Deals that offered rebates in return for positive reviews. And a couple days ago he published a piece on Todd Rutherford, the founder of gettingbookreviews.com, who sold 4,531 book reviews in 2010 and 2011 at $20-99 each, before backlash from Google and Amazon forced him to shut down the service.
No doubt, there is fakery out there. The question is: how widespread is it? 4,531 seems like a lot of reviews, but it’s a small part of the billions of customer reviews available on the web. The most recent NY Times piece says Bing Liu, a computer scientist at the University of Illinois, Chicago specializing in automated text analysis, “estimates that about one-third of all consumer reviews on the Internet are fake.”
One of the reasons there is so much suspicion of reviews is that so many of them are positive. Liu has estimated that 60% of the reviews on Amazon are 5 stars and another 20% are 4 stars, but, he says, “almost no one wants to write five-star reviews, so many of them have to be created.”
Here’s an alternative explanation: there’s a lot more customer satisfaction out there than you might guess. That’s a conclusion you might come to from reading customer answers to shopper questions gathered through TurnTo. With the TurnTo system, there is almost no possibility for fakery. When a shopper asks a question, the system chooses a group of people who actually bought the item (based on the transaction records of the store) and emails the question to them. While the system allows in-line answers on the product detail page, >90% of the answers come in reply to this question email. So unless there’s a big population of people buying products they don’t need for the purpose of providing artificially positive answers to shopper questions they may never even receive, these answers are legit.
And one of the most striking aspects of the answers provided by these real product owners is how effusively positive they often are. For example, here are some customer answers to a shopper question about the height of the drip spout on an espresso machine at SeattleCoffeeGear.com. The question doesn’t ask for any sort of overall evaluation of the machine – it’s just looking for a measurement. Yet many of the respondents (including me) spontaneously volunteered our enthusiasm for the product. (You can find this page here.)
Now I don’t want to be Pollyanna about the problem of fake reviews. I suspect they are much more common on destination review sites like Yelp and Trip Advisor where anyone can submit than on ecommerce sites where the ability to verify purchase is an easy and effective way to police. It’s also harder to believe the uniformly high ratings sometimes found on products which are judged on subjective personal taste, like books and food; personal tastes differ too much. As Streifeld points out, even The Great Gatsby (which, first published in 1925, is presumably not attracting many fake reviews) has plenty of neutral and negative reviews (>300 reviews are 1, 2, or 3 stars out of 1,400 total at Amazon).
But while the battle goes on between the fakers and those trying to root them out, it’s possible that in many cases when the reviews are positive, customers might just be happy.
July 28, 2010 by George Eberstadt
Amazon has just hooked up with Facebook to add social shopping features powered by the shopper’s Facebook friends list. (NY Times article. WSJ article.) My guess is that this will prove to be the watershed moment for social commerce. Where Amazon leads, others follow. Amazon pioneered customer ratings and reviews, which are now found on commerce sites across the web. Amazon pioneered community cross-sell tools (“customers who looked at this also looked at that”, “customers who bought this also bought that”), which are now provided to online merchants by at least half a dozen vendors. And while Amazon may not have pioneered the integration of 3rd-party social graphs into online stores (we’ve been at this for a few years), the ecommerce world is likely to take its cues from Amazon in this area, too.
Here’s what it looks like on my Amazon profile page:
And this is just their initial feature set; lots more must be just around the corner. Merchants interested in the potential of “on-site social commerce” should check out what Amazon has done here and keep an eye on where they go next.
(For those interested in archeology: before Facebook built the one-social-graph-to-rule-them-all, Amazon had social-graph-building aspirations of their own. They called it “Amazon Friends and Interesting People.” Dig here to learn more.)