Since our start eight years ago, we have seen the transition from days where companies moving from being fearful or skeptical about customer opinions to a current age where social commerce is being seen as a critical element of a successful multichannel commerce strategy. Yet, we feel that this domain is still evolving rapidly and will see rapid changes in the next few years.

Those changes yield certain threats and opportunities for businesses – the impact of each rests on how companies choose to approach each issue.

Don’t: Keep a walled garden
Do: Share cross-channel data for mutual gain

Both a threat for certain and an opportunity for most is the fact that the traditional purchase funnel has disappeared. With the multiplication of mobile devices and the increasing ease of buying goods and services from companies online in addition to the more traditional buying channels, the funnel is no more and gives way to a much more complex consumer decision journey. When it comes to social commerce, companies have focused on bringing the conversation to their website and product pages.

There is a real opportunity for brands and retailers to integrate these conversations at scale; not just across all channels (web, store, mobile, print) but also across all the touch points. Linked to this is an opportunity to have a broader understanding of the customer from the very first moment they reach your properties in order to be relevant.

To illustrate this, we could take the example of Alexia, who is planning a holiday. Alexia goes to on online booking site to book her plane tickets and a hotel. She then shops at a major retailer’s brick-and-mortar location and buys some sunscreen and a beach towel. And later, she buys a camera online directly from the manufacturer’s website. From her purchases, the reviews that she leaves, and interest and profile information from her social networks, it is possible to build an overall social and contextual profile for Alexia. See how brand conscious she is, in which budget category she typically falls, how quickly she purchases, what devices she uses for her purchases… But only if the data is shared across channels, retailers, and manufacturers for a holistic view of this individual shopper.

Closer to the departure, when she visits the website of a fashion retailer, what if this retailer could leverage this wealth of profile and behavioral information to talk to Alexia in a way that is relevant while non-intrusive, and place the right content in front of her? For instance, swimwear in the right category and price range for her profile type… This would elevate the conversation, the relationship with the customer from being silo’ed in a single channel to being cross-channel and cross-network.

To benefit from this opportunity, companies will need to be able to leverage information from a whole network of touch points – not just their own websites. Many benefits derive from brands and retailers collaborating together, sharing data, and ultimately creating an interconnected network to better understand their consumers, their decision journey, their interest profiles, and how to have a relevant conversation with them.

Don’t: Just listen to customers
Do: Create a dialogue

Another theme that can be a threat to the industry if the majority of companies fail to do it, and an opportunity for those who will embrace it, is joining the conversation with your customers and integrating their feedback wherever that conversation occurs.

A growing number of companies have realized that inviting customers to express their opinions is a winning strategy to increase conversion rates – across our top performing clients, for example, reviews drive an 82% conversion lift. However, retailers often do not join the conversation, but rather leave it as a display item that complements their website. It is important to note that as customers are getting more and more used to participating, they ultimately do it as they want to be heard, recognized, and talked to. Otherwise they will slowly see through companies that don’t actually listen to their opinion, and stop participating. Customers want brands to understand them and their needs, and provide relevant content, help, and answers to them.

Another reason why customers provide feedback is because they want brands and retailers to listen to this feedback and in turn take actions to provide better services or products. Companies must move from just displaying conversations to understanding and using them across their organization to provide increased satisfaction to their customers.

Currently, not all of the customers expect to get a response from a company when they give their opinion, but that’s quickly shifting, and will grow significantly over the next few years. As a matter of fact, the Millennials are a showcase of this trend. They want personalized content, and they are ready to let go of their data in exchange for better targeting. They are willing to give their opinions, if it means getting better service. They want to help companies make better products or services in order to get higher satisfaction.

Companies need to embrace their shift, join the conversation, and integrate social commerce throughout their organization to put the customer at the center of their business.

  • Aurelien Dubot

    Completely agree Amanda. I am myself quite annoyed when retargetted ads follow me across sites and in general I tend to like keeping things separate.
    I was mainly inspired here by a change that I can see in the behaviour of some of my close friends when I question them about the fact that their phone (and the manufacturer of the OS running on them) is tracking everything that they search, click-on, look at. The answer that I get more and more is “So what? You are paranoid AD! If that means getting better content and ads that are less annoying, it’s ok with me.”.
    But yes, there is a fine line.

  • Amanda

    While I whole wholeheartedly agree that companies need to embrace the concept of customer opinion and conversation, there are more under lining concerns. To be profiled through data and then presented with more attractive offerings in itself brings forth the question of privacy and confidentiality. IBM is said to have developed an algorithm that allows them to profile an individual via 200 tweets. There is a fine line between providing the customer with the right selection and old fashioned manipulation. Agreed, interesting times ahead.