As 2013 winds down, we’re looking back on the posts you found most helpful this year – and the lessons you’ll need to start 2014 off right.

#15. Fix these broken links in your participation chain
by Tara DeMarco

Any customer interaction with your brand – online or in-store – is a chance to start a relationship that brings that shopper back again and again. As I wrote this year:

“Once a customer interacts in any way, any action that leaves them at a dead end is a failure on the part of the retailer. A participation chain builds small consumer interactions in a logical progression, continuously increasing engagement and maximizing customer lifetime value.”

Read this post for ways to keep the ball rolling after some common interactions – places in the chain where many brands let communication with the customer fall off, like in-store shoppers who are “just browsing” and thank you pages for review submissions. Don’t let that warm relationship turn cold again.

#14. Whose answers do shoppers want – brands’ or consumers’ – online and in stores?
by Tara DeMarco

Shoppers who read product Q&A show 94% higher conversion rates – 161% higher when they read both Q&A and reviews. But not all questions seek the same sorts of answers. Does the shopper want a peer opinion, or an expert ruling from the manufacturer? “Is this sweater 100% cotton?” and “Is this sweater itchy?” are two questions looking for very different answers – one objective, one subjective. How can retailers work to answer both sorts of questions, whether the shopper is asking in the digital or physical aisle?

Read this post to learn how to deal with seeking questions versus discussion questions, when to give an expert answer, and when to back off and let other shoppers take the reins.

#13. 5 word of mouth benchmarks, and how to beat them
by Rachel Eng

We analyzed our entire network of retailers and brands to boil down a few key benchmarks in word of mouth. Before comparing their social efforts to others’, Rachel writes that brands should first:

1. Define your KPIs, and align them with existing business goals. If one of your business goals is online sales, look at metrics such as conversion, average order value (AOV), revenue per visit. For market share, look at sales growth, share of the market, Net Promoter Score, percent of loyal promoters…

2. Get data. Now, don’t back out of those awesome KPIs that you defined earlier if the data is a little harder to get. It shouldn’t be impossible, but some simple metric may not be able to tell the whole story of how your company is performing.

3. Compare! Are you performing above, at, or below the benchmark? What do you need to do to raise the bar on this?”

How does your brand stack up?

#12. Why product videos will soon be worth a thousand pictures, and how to scale
by Tara DeMarco

Video sells. Shoppers who watch product video are 23% more likely to convert. Over half (57%) say product videos make them less likely to return an item. But video production can be time-consuming and expensive. The answer, as I wrote, is to crowd-source:

“Having as many videos as possible on your site will benefit your brand — but with stretched marketing budgets, how can you scalably produce this valuable content? Easy: Have consumers create it for you. Written reviews from real product owners are already 12 times more trusted than content from brands. Might the same trust apply to video reviews?”

Read to learn how to encourage fan-created videos, and how one manufacturer increased customers’ video and image submissions by 600%.

#11. Millennials crave firstness, inspiration, and collaboration: 3 stats
by Tara DeMarco

We often cover the unique preferences of the Millennial shopper, and how their tastes are changing the way everyone buys. In this post, I discuss three of the most defining traits of the Millennial consumer – the desire to be in the know first, their hunger for inspiring activities and adventures, and their demand for a seat at the table with the brands they buy from. On “firstness”:

“Make your Millennial fans feel like insiders via your social channels. Invite them to or partner with experiences not everyone gets to do/have/know about – special events, focus groups, samples – and make them easily sharable. When they feel special, they’ll share.”

Read to learn how to feed each of these Millennial needs, and foster a deeper relationship with these younger shoppers.

Stay tuned for our top 10 posts of the year.