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Unanswered questions keep shoppers from buying. Over half (56%) of consumers will leave a retail site if they have questions about a product and the merchant doesn’t provide assistance. Smart retailers now offer consumer Q&A, letting shoppers ask questions on product pages. Shoppers who read it show 94% higher conversion – and 161% higher conversion when they read Q&A in combination with reviews.

But how do you know from whom shoppers want an answer – consumers or brand reps? And how can brands and retailers deliver the desired answers – both online and off?

Seeking questions vs. discussion questions

The type of answer a shopper wants has everything to do with the type of question they asked – and is often tied to the product category.

Seeking questions ask for product-specific use cases, and look for facts rather than opinions. “Does this hotel offer free wifi?” “Does the rear-view camera in this SUV come standard?” Seeking questions are most common in expensive and complex product categories. Our study found that most questions asked in automotive (81%), travel (79%), and consumer electronics (79%) were seeking questions.

Discussion questions, on the other hand, ask other consumers to weigh in with subjective opinions, often at the category level. “What brand of diapers do you recommend for newborns?” “I have sensitive skin, does this sweater’s fabric get itchy?” These questions are often found in commodity categories, allowing more room for personal opinions. Our study found that most questions in CPG (64%), retail (58%), and general manufacturing (53%) were discussion questions.

For online seekers: Bring brand reps into the retail site

For objective, use-case-type questions, brand reps have more knowledge than anyone, says Sten Hallock, Senior Manager, Online Marketing for Samsung:

“We know our products better than anybody else. We know how they work. We know how they work together. We know what the limitations are… When [shoppers] want to know how a current TV interacts with a Blu-ray player from two years ago, or which apps work on this version of the smart television – that’s not something that [retailers] are going to know… That really gives us a chance to focus on what we do best. And gives us a chance to bring some value into that process. And really helps us to connect with that consumer, both as a brand and as a partner.”

Samsung reps answer shopper questions on retailer sites under the moniker “Mr. Samsung,” and find that questions reveal large gaps in product information: 91% of the content they provide in answers is not already on the site. They’ve also found that products with answers from official brand reps get 100% more questions than others – suggesting that, upon seeing that the brand is engaged, shoppers are more likely to ask questions (when they may’ve otherwise left the site to look elsewhere).

For online discussers: Foster active C2C Q&A communities

Brand answers to some discussion questions will have value; for example, “Which shade of eye shadow looks best with blue eyes?” Providing expert opinions to these queries fosters a helpful and knowledgeable brand image. But often, consumers ask “Which brand is best?” type questions, making answers from brands less trusted.

To influence these shoppers, brands and retailers should focus heavily on fostering peer-to-peer discussion communities amongst their customers – especially in categories prone to discussion questions. Follow up purchases with an email, inviting customers back to the site to share their trusted, first-hand product knowledge with shoppers. After a consumer answers a question or submits a review, never leave them at a dead end; once someone contributes, they’re more likely to contribute again. Take them to a thank you page that includes a few more related, unanswered questions.

For in-store seekers: Arm retail staff with consumer Q&A

Brand answers to shopper questions are as much about helping future shoppers as the current one, says Sten:

“For every question you’re getting, there are ten people asking that question but just aren’t going to go through the hassle of writing it down, or assume it’s going to take a long time [to get an answer], or are going to go somewhere else.”

Or, are shopping in a store, and can’t get the answer they need from a store associate. It’s impossible for brands to train every retail associate to be experts in every one of their products. But via mobile, brands can easily bring their own reps into the store to help. Retailers, arm your staff with smartphones or tablets to let them look up Q&A, reviews, product videos, etc. Brands, train store staff to look to your Q&A community via mobile when shoppers have questions they can’t answer. Samsung is even toying with the idea of an associate-specific Q&A forum, where retail staff could get answers in near-real-time as they discuss a Samsung product with a shopper in the aisle.

For in-store discussers: Connect them with consumer opinions via mobile and store signage

In-store shoppers with subjective, opinion-based questions might be less likely to ask a store associate for help. And even those with seeking questions may prefer finding answers themselves – 73% of shoppers prefer to handle “simple tasks” on their smartphones in stores rather than speaking to an employee.

Recognizing this desire among shoppers to answer their own questions via mobile rather than ask for human help, Samsung brings richer product information into stores through QR codes, says Sten:

“We’ve used learnings [from Q&A] to build out richer assets that address the things that we’re finding out that people need to know. So we use that feedback loop to create better content on our end and then bring it in more effectively. We’ve played around with QR codes on displays… Digital is much more efficient way of adding to that story.”

Use QR and barcodes on signage in aisles and on product packaging to encourage shoppers to read Q&A via mobile in stores, and learn from questions asked to improve packaging, store signage, web copy, and more.

Answering a shopper question can give them that last bit of information they need in order to make a confident purchase. Brands that fill information gaps everywhere – online and in stores, via brand reps or consumers – will win more sales.

  • http://twitter.com/txTDM Tara DeMarco

    Hi zornwil, thanks for your perspective. I think in some categories, like highly technical camera equipment or design software, users will find opinions from more experienced users more helpful. In those categories, helpfulness voting becomes especially valuable — shoppers can sort by most helpful reviews to find the most informative or expert opinions.

    In less technical categories like apparel, CPG, pet care, etc., average consumer opinions still have tremendous value. If I’m looking for a shampoo good for calming frizzy hair, I’ll value the opinion of a shopper who identifies herself as having hair like mine just as much as I would a stylist’s.

    Thanks for reading!

  • zornwil

    I would urge retailers to consider that while C2C is a great vehicle, the quality of the “C” being “2d” is critical. As a consumer, I am annoyed by casual opinions by other consumers with nothing more to relate than a single personal experience. I look for people who have extensive experience and knowledge in the field. Communities and rating systems which encourage and highlight such users to contribute are far more useful than reading some random amateur’s ignorant comments.