Today I am launching the "Word-of-Mouth Wisdom" Interview Series, a joint project with Shop.org.  The interviews will be published at Bazaarblog and Shop.org's new member's only blog simultaneously.  I will be interviewing many of the best minds in the word-of-mouth marketing industry today.  And I will learn from them while you do.  

Today I am interviewing Eric Lituchy, the Founder and CEO of Delightful Deliveries, a new Bazaarvoice client and fellow Shop.org member.  I first met Eric in February of 2005 at Shop.org's first Multichannel Executive Symposium.  We are kindred spirits in that we are both eCommerce entrepreneurs.  I began my online retail venture, a sports nutrition store, in the summer of 1998.  This was one year after Eric started Delightful Deliveries.  I would move on to found Coremetrics, while Eric would stick with it and today Delightful Deliveries does $6.5 million in sales and is #445 on Internet Retailer's Top 500 list.

Now Delightful Deliveries is one of the most well known online gift retailers offering the trendiest confectionary creations and mouthwatering gift baskets from brands such as Mrs. Fields Cookies, Ethel M Chocolates, and Shari's Berries. An expert in both the food and eCommerce industry, Eric has built a successful online business which markets the most delicious eatable arrangements from wine and cheese baskets to giant chocolate-covered fortune cookies.

Eric realized that sugar makes the world go-round and branded himself as the candy man at the wee age of 9 when he started a lucrative business which entailed stocking up at the local grocery for candy and gum to then up-sell to his 4th-grade buddies – turning over a handsome profit.

A graduate of the University of Arizona, Eric began his marketing career at Young & Rubicam in New York City. Utilizing his advertising & marketing expertise, Eric founded Ale in the Mail in 1994; a marketing company specializing in direct marketing via catalog and the internet for Microbrewed Beers. Three years later, Eric started Delightful Deliveries.

Eric currently resides in Port Washington, NY with his wife, Gina, three year old daughter, Janey, and twin "Delightful Deliveries" on the way. As Eric is a local New Yorker, he's easily accessible for discussion on any topic pertaining to the food, consumer / gift, and eCommerce industries.

So begins our interview …

Q1. Tell our readers about your business and how it started.

I started Delightful Deliveries in 1998, with my wife Gina.  We had just sold our 1st company, Ale In The Mail, and were looking for a new business that matched our interests and where we saw a real need in the market.  Delightful Deliveries was originally going to be a traditional direct marketer.  We signed a lease for a 2500 sf warehouse and we were going to manufacturer and sell gift baskets and other gourmet gifts.  We quickly changed direction, cancelled our lease and decided to do everything via drop-ship.  We were really one of the early pioneers, especially online, in this category.

Q2. As the first gifting business to provide customer-driven ratings and reviews of your products, did you have concerns about being a pioneer?

We had absolutely no concerns.  We saw ratings and reviews as a natural fit for our products.  The fact that no one in our category was doing it was actually a plus.  By providing customer feedback we would have a distinct advantage over the competition and we really wanted to capitalize on this fact.  Our philosophy has always been "Do what's best for the customer and we'll benefit from it".

Q3. Given that the majority of your products are gifted to recipients, how are you getting recipients to write reviews?

This is something that is unique to the gift-giving industry and we thought long and hard about this.   If we ask the gift-giver for feedback would this be an accurate and meaningful review?  Maybe, but probably not as detailed as we'd like.  So we thought that we should try to target the gift recipient.  We decided on a multi-level approach. (1) Direct to the Recipient by including a "We Want Your Opinion" card along with each gift we send out. (2) Permission from Gift Givers by asking the gift giver to provide the email of the recipient solely for the purpose of rating the product.

Q4. How are you using or planning to use ratings and reviews in your online campaigns?  Offline?

Online we have heavily promoted Ratings & Reviews and we hope to receive ratings & reviews on 75% of our products.  We are currently doing a promotion on our website and via email where you can win a $500 shopping spree at DelightfulDeliveries.com.  Every reviewer is entered to win and the initial results are very promising.  We, of course, include the rating & reviews on all product pages and will be adding "Top Rated" to our filters.  Within a few months we will also be adding sub-categories for all top rated products.  For example, Top Rated Baked Goods, Top Rated Gift Baskets, etc.

Q5. When you receive a negative review on one of your products, what do you do with that operationally?

Negative reviews are as valuable to us as the positive ones.  We look at each negative review and have a step-by-step process to see where we failed the customer.  Based on the issue we will call and apologize to the reviewer and offer compensation, contact the vendor for a product evaluation or pull the product if we receive even a nominal number of complaints.

Q6. As this is the start of your community initiative, what’s next?

I agree, this is just the tip of the iceberg.  We have just begun staff reviews and I think they are an excellent way for us to connect with the consumer.  I also like the idea of expert reviewers, where a small group of customer are asked to review products for us.  In the future I'd like to be able group reviewers by demographics, thus making the review relevant to each individual.  For example, we sell crunchy chocolate chip cookies that are extremely popular, but, there is one segment of the population, the elderly, that always complains about them because they can be hard to chew.  Wouldn't it be great if we segmented the reviewers so that customer could get the review that relates to them?  Video reviews are an interesting idea and I think they could provide a very powerful testimonial for the product.  It could, however, be a nightmare to have to watch 1000's of videos.  I'm certain the staff at Bazaarvoice is already thinking about this and how to best utilize video for rating & reviews.

Q7. Any projections on how user-generated content is going to impact businesses over the next five years?  What will UGC look like five years from now?

User-generated content, in my opinion, will be the new "mass media".  Instead of 500 channels on your cable box you'll have 100,000,000 users generating text and video that will be readily available via the internet.  While this sounds a bit insane, I do think this is where we are headed and user content will become a major advertising vehicle with the ability to target groups like never before.  Relating to Delightful Deliveries, we see customer content as a driving force for growth.  Merchandising will change from a push to a pull model.  Customer feedback will help to create new product lines and improve on products we already sell.  As I previously stated, video testimonials and consumer generated product demonstrations are going to be the norm in the near future.  I know we can talk about this for hours, as user content is really in its infancy.  How about we can continue this conversation over a cup of coffee sometime?

Eric, I'll see you at Shop.org FirstLook on January 31, and we'll continue our conversation over a cup of coffee!  For now, I would like to invite our readers to ask Eric any questions you want via our comments section.  I will make sure that he gets all of your questions so he can respond.

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