As mobile and online shopping become increasing popular, all retailers are looking for ways to break down silos and provide a seamless digital experience. But, there are barriers beyond bridging in-store, online, and mobile experiences together that many retailers struggle with – specifically, how best to engage consumers in online communities to drive a sale.
We believe this sentiment is reiterated in a recent Forrester Study, commissioned by SAP, that unveiled 54% of companies surveyed stated the greatest frequency of customer drop out occurs during the explore and buy phases.
An online community can serve as a valuable asset to help brands increase the number of digital touchpoints with consumers. A digital community enables consumers, brand ambassadors, and marketers to connect, creating a more coherent link between all of user-generated content and the product itself. A community often contains user reviews, discussions, product information, Q&A, etc. – essentially any information about the offering a consumer needs to make an informed purchasing decision.
For brands, a community allows marketers to quickly access a wealth of customer data that can advise in future product direction and help better understand consumer needs. However, when it comes to facilitating a transaction on the community itself in the moment, traditional communities fall short. Typically, consumers will explore product-related content that retailers offer, but they rarely take the final steps to make the purchase on that retailer’s website. Broken links and incorrect product numbers can also contribute to an unsuccessful sale. The Forrester Study also found that only 28% of companies believe they are fully harnessing the sales potential of branded social/community sites.
To-date, many brands are not effectively integrating the buying journey into online communities, meaning that a consumer can go on a brand’s online community and receive all of the necessary information and then complete a purchase. However, customers typically get lost when they look to actually purchase the offering on the community. Amazon is the closest company with an ecommerce program that successfully integrates commerce and communities, as the user reviews are easily accessible alongside the opportunity to buy. However, users can’t post blogs or follow topics, which are other important avenues to engage with customers.
For brands to enhance their online communities and better integrate into their commerce websites, they need to follow these best practices:
- Provide customers with multiple channels to talk directly with the brand
- Combine valuable product information with user generated content
- Create a more direct link between the online community and a place to buy the product
- Track analytics to identify top customer advocates, content, etc. to receive customer insights
- Brands can then leverage this data to create personalized experiences for customers, building a long term relationship with them
- Develop brand-specific loyalty programs that encourage customers to continually revisit the community
With these best practices in mind, brands should begin building and maintaining communities as they are the window into the future digital experience that customers will eventually expect. While digital communities may seem like another channel for brands to manage, they are a vehicle that can gather more customer data to inform product strategy, build loyalty, and when used effectively they can boost sales and change the standard of the online shopping experience.
Carolyn Beal is Senior Director of Product Marketing for SAP