customer experience; ecommerce, social media marketing

5 Things E-commerce can learn from Retail: part 6


Automation designIn this blog we will cover 5 topics on Ecommerce automation and discuss what improvements can be made when you implement strategies from Retail:

  1. Automated marketing and ads
  2. Automated personalized content
  3. Automated follow up
  4. Automated customer understanding
  5. Automated interaction and advising

This is part 6 of my series on “5 Things Ecommerce can learn from Retail”. Ecommerce has had it easy till now. It was sailing with the wind and almost all companies were successful. But competition is getting tougher. Ecommerce has become like a normal trade, where some have success and others fail. It has become increasingly important to learn and improve. My vision is that retail selling strategies have a lot to offer.

The first blog on this topic covered customer education . The second one was on building customer value. The third blog was on removing obstacles. The fourth blog was on persuasion. The 5th and last blog was on the importance of showing activity to customers.

I intended to write 5 articles about my vision that Ecommerce can learn a lot from retail. Now that that objective is accomplished, I still have ideas left. There is at least one that I want to share with you, so I decided to add that to the series. This blog is about automation, a key topic for Ecommerce. To heat up the discussion right away, let’s start with a statement:

Automate as much as possible, but not more.

I have to admit I more or less copied this quote from Albert Einstein. His quote is:  “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler”.

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1. Automated marketing and ads

What is easiest to automate is advertisement. People actually expect advertisement to be automated / programmed. Advertisement can be characterized as the confrontation with a certain product without having taken action to look for that product.

Automated advertisement however has its limits. We see more and more “ad avoiding” customers. A typical example is that “ad-haters” troubled the video service Hulu so much, it decided to offer an ad-free service as an additional option.

The modern version of advertisement is content management. It is more acceptable, because the company actually gives something to the reader. But as more and more companies started to use this strategy as an alternative for advertisement, the overflow of content offered is overwhelming. People start avoiding content as well.

What’s liked best is photo and video. When offered to a customer, video also looks like a photo. Instagram and You Tube are rising in popularity as marketing media. In my vision the main reason is that a picture is the best acceptable way to communicate an unrequested message. Because of the holistic experience photo is the best medium to be catchy, fun, unique in a split second.

I like to compare this to the ads in magazines. People love the flashy magazines for their beautiful ads. The value is in the photo itself, not in the advertised product. That’s why nobody ever complained about the huge portion of advertisement in these magazines.

2. Automated personalized content

Personalization is hot in Ecommerce. There are many tools to produce content that matches the profile of the customer. Examples are:

  • presenting similar products
  • presenting complimentary products
  • presenting “other people also looked at”
  • adjusted sorting based on customer journey
  • less frequently used: special deal offers related to the customer journey

These are Ecommerce improvements that help the customer navigate through the site. It’s like a shop assistant showing you a cardigan that goes really well with the trousers you are trying on. This is really a win-win approach. It safes time for the consumer and the shop increases its conversion.

What can still be improved is collecting the feedback of the customer to the proposed products. The tools collect the click, but it would be great if the customer could actually reply something like “I like that, but it’s too expensive”. The shop assistant goes through a very steep learning curve with each individual customer. It would be great if that would be possible on internet as well.

3. Automated follow up

One of the best conversion boosters in Ecommerce is automated mail marketing. It is also widely used in retail. There are many strategies for this and all have a great impact on sales. To mention some:

  • Advice on how to use the product
  • Products that go well with the product just bought
  • Renewal of the product, at the end of the normal use period
  • Hot deals your customer might not want to miss
  • News and innovation about product, the assortment or the company
  • Congratulation at customer’s birthday.

All of these strategies build on the well known fact that it is much easier to persuade an existing customer to buy a next product from you than to persuade a new customer to buy a product from you for the very first time. It is said to be a factor 6 easier. The reason for difference is TRUST. The existing customer has experienced your service and taking that your service and product were good, he will not have to cross the trust barrier again.

We see two types of behavior here. Many consumers like these messages. This leads to the high conversion that results from these mails. But we also see ad-avoiders, who have opened free mail accounts specifically to receive these mails and trash them. Most customers will do both. Their choice of strategy depends on the relation they feel towards the company. Here Ecommerce can learn something from retail.

Ecommerce is very quick with asking for mail addresses. But when the relation is not yet build on trust, you will get many fakes. Retails spends more personal quality time with the individual customer, building the trusted relationship.  Now the customer is more likely to give his real email address and marketing mails will be much more effective. The advice would be to accompany the request with more and more personal attention, not to reduce the request for email addresses.

A second form of automated follow up is the ad banner, Google Adsense, Facebook targeting etc that are triggered by tracking the customer continously during his internet presence. Much is known about the income these advertisement generate for companies like Google and Facebook. There is also quite some information about the income it generate for the banner/advertisement hosting sites. Much less is known about the conversion they deliver to the company that pays for the ad. Of course, every situation is different, so it isn’t easy to compare. The most objective available data we found showed an average Click Through Rate of around 0.1%. That still doesn’t say anything about conversion. We have other research from SeeWhy that shows that this kind of traffic is 15 times less effective than mail traffic. Might we be looking at the cloth of the Emperor? If anyone can help me to objectively measured conversion rates of these forms of advertisement, I would be most obliged.

Might we be looking at the cloth of the Emperor?

What I do read a lot about is about people avoiding or blocking Adsense and banners. Adblockers are very popular in the App stores. Up to 35% of all ads are blocked. Google reports that less than 45% of ads are actually viewable.

My hypotheses however is that, on top of the above, most people have a trained blind eye for these banners and ads and just ignore them all together. There has been a research on the effectivity of advertisement. They let people read a newspaper with ads in between. One mayor expensive ad was tweaked. The advertised product and the brand of the product clearly didn’t match. None of the participants noticed.

4. Automated customer understanding

Now we are getting to a more difficult topic: understanding the customer. There are many companies that try to innovate in this area. Conceptually there is one problem. One customer account mostly represents one person, but not always. Possibly the account is used by the whole family, leading to different behavior. Similarly one person has different roles in his life. Employee or employer, husband, father, tennis team member, care taker for his elders, etc. Each role will also lead to different behavior. Without interaction it is pretty much impossible to understand an individual. What is easier to understand is the trend in behavior by the mass of consumers. That is where the tools in Ecommerce focus on.

When you look at this from customer perspective, you will feel little appreciation for being treated as average. Every customer likes to be treated as a unique person. Mismatching are quickly causing irritation. In this area retail clearly still has an advantage.

Retail invests in focus on the individual. A shop assistant will ask what the customer wants and what he wants to achieve with it. In this way he can understand the customer as a total person. The weak point in retail is that it is much harder to get the statistics. In Ecommerce every movement is measured and chances of follow up actions can be calculated. In retail that hardly has an equivalent.

The difference between Ecommerce and Retail can be summarized as

Ecommerce works from statistics of actions to predict the needs of one customer


Retail works from their understanding of individual customer needs and tries to predict the general trends in behavior.

Ecommerce has the potential to combine both approaches, when it would be possible to interact in an open environment with the customer. This is different from the customer service chat. It should be experienced as an open interaction where the customer can act and interact without barriers.

5. Automated Interaction & advising

Ecommerce has many forms of automated interaction. You can distinguish two types, static and dynamic. Examples of the static type of interaction are the frequent asked questions (FAQ). By predicting the question, Ecommerce can give the answer on a static page. This works very well and save a lot of costs.

Reviews might be a form of personal interaction or also a form of static interaction. That all depends on the response times. When reviews are not answered or with large delay, they are a form of static interaction. The customer still gets a sense of past interaction, but he will not expect to have any interaction himself from the company. When the response follows quickly, they become a form of personal interaction.

Ecommerce also has the automated assistant. These tools allow the customer to formulate a question. The tool will then try to understand the question, may propose some alternative questions that might cover the original question and then supply an answer. Of course this is also a great cost saver. The success of these tools vary much with the complexity of the question. These tools are in a squeezed position. When the question is very simple, you could have solved it with a well organized FAQ. when the question is complex the chance of providing a satisfactory answer is very limited. Basically these tools are FAQ with a search index.

Ecommerce has since a number of years the customer service chat plug-ins. These brought a great improvement. This is a form on personal interaction that is oftentimes very effective. The customer is served personally by the service center. Mostly the name of the shop assistant is published, which gives a more personal image to the service center. What is automated is the push of the box. I personally find this highly irritating, but apparently other people have a hard time finding the plug-in.

In retail personal interaction has a much bigger impact. There are a number of elements that contribute to this effect:

  • the shop assistant is physically visible
  • eye contact between customer and shop assistant communicate the (absence of) need for assistance.
  • while communicating, the customer perceives the focus of the assistant on him.
  • Non verbal communication is added to the pallet of interaction
  • when returning more frequently, the shop assistant and customer will recognize each other. This creates engagement.
  • customers can oversee / overhear the interaction of the shop assistant with other customers and thus experience the service mentality of the company. This also creates livelihood.

If Ecommerce could implement some of these elements, the impact of interaction could further increase engagement and conversion. Going back to the statement at the start, we should automate everything possible, but not more than the possible. In my view customer interaction can not be automated adequately. At least not at this moment in history. There might be a time in the future when computers/robots will understand humans and can really interact, though I don’t like the idea of it.

What do you think?
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With courtesy to for the photos

customer experience; ecommerce, real-time marketing, social media marketing

5 Things E-commerce can learn from Retail: part 5


This is part 5 of my series on “things Ecommerce can learn from Retail”. The first one was on educating your customer. The second one was on building customer value. The third blog was on removing obstacles. The fourth blog was on persuasion.

The Library of Virginia 2899347424_7f9416a299_mIn this blog I want to talk about the importance of visible activity. What we mean with visible activity is the behavior your customers show to other customers.

Look at the photo of the restaurant at the top. What does it tell you about the restaurant? What emotion does it create for you as a potential customer?
Andrea Corò 14509525083_a021561731_m

Now ask yourself the same questions about the second photo. Let’s analyze the significance of the difference.

1. Easy & smart decision making

I went out for dinner lately in a town we didn’t know very well. Selecting a restaurant can be quite a challenge in such cases. What I always look for, like most people, is a busy restaurant. Why? To me, the number of customers in a restaurant is social proof that the service and food that that restaurant delivers are good. I know that a busy restaurant will most likely mean I’ll have to wait longer. But, unless I am really in a hurry and just need to grab some quick food, I will follow the advice of the crowd.

When I visit a website, I never get any impression of other customers. Some tell me how many orders they have handled or how many happy customers they have served. But that has a different impact. I just see a number, not the activity itself. It is abstract. Actually seeing customer activity happening ticks the social proof much harder.

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2. Belonging

The number of customers is just one dimension. It makes a lot of difference when I notice that other customers are frequent visitors. Frequent visitors will have more personal interactions with the personnel. They will express their preferences and the personnel will know these. This ticks the emotion of belonging. You clearly see a group and you can belong to that group as well.

Within Ecommerce you hardly get anything comparable. In Social Media some customers might give these types of feedback. Data shows however that customer interaction on Social Media is very rare. The main function of those platforms seems to be to push information from companies to customers. Because of the massive information overflow in Social Media, the customer messages will go unnoticed, unless they are extremely funny.

A second reason why Social Media and Ecommerce are not showing this type of “belonging triggers” is that most companies are afraid of personal communication. They prefer the safe professional approach. Customers however do not get attached to companies. They get attached to people. That’s why you need to empower your social media personnel to express their personal brand and the company brand in their own way. Ted Rubin is one of the people who has laid the foundation for this approach.

3. Trust

The third reason why I want to see other customers is to check the atmosphere. Does this restaurant or shop fit me? Seeing the personnel and customers tells me a lot more then the color of the site or the wall. I don’t say that design is not important and not able to communicate atmosphere. I just think that people communicate atmosphere stronger. Having a match with the atmosphere will help me to determine whether I trust this company.

4. Quality service

There is however one thing that is communicating atmosphere and trust even stronger. That is interaction. Seeing people interact gives an immediate and very strong emotion. In job interviews the first moment of interaction is crucial. The same holds for commerce. The way interaction is done, means a lot to people. In communication only 7% of the information communicated is verbal. The other 93% is non-verbal communication. For written communication that will be different, but still people will look for the non-verbal communication “between the lines”.

Within Ecommerce we have no platform to really interact publicly. Ecommerce has plug-ins to interact with customer service, which is a good facility. Unfortunately that communication is not visible to others, it is not open. Fact is that today’s customers have low trust in organizations and they are allergic to selling communication. Customers put much more trust in feedback from other customers, so you will need to work with customers on an open podium.

Social media does allow people for open communication. In practice that communication is hardly interactive. Much of the “between the lines” information is lost or misinterpreted. That might be the reason why asynchronous communication oftentimes leads to more problems instead of solving them.

This hits the second aspect of interaction. I lately read a research paper that showed that most customers using social media expect a response within an
hour, and a growing group expects a response within 10 minutes. The latter was seen as exceptional demanding.

The next story will shed a different light on that. Recently I was in our local supermarket, which facilitates self scanning of the products. I decided to buy a very expensive type of Italian pasta for a special dinner. When I tried to scan the pasta, it didn’t work. It always works, so this was exceptional. I went to the girl filling the rack to ask what to do now. She didn’t know and went to her floor manager. Without saying a word he walks off with my pack of pasta. Get the picture? How do you think I felt? And how do you think I felt after standing there for one minute?

I am certain that he didn’t stay away for more than 3 minutes, but by then I was feeling really lousy. The floor manager already anticipated that and gave me the pack for free. He knew that the waiting had pissed me off.

So let’s not fool ourselves in Ecommerce. The requirement customers have is real-time interaction. That doesn’t mean you can solve everything instantly. But they expect you to respond instantly and to get clear communication about the way forward.

A helping interaction with the customer, will grant you lifetime engagement. But when doing this publicly, this will have a huge impact on other customers as well. Seeing how your company interacts with other customers will create a lot of trust with all customers.

What do you think?

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With courtesy to Andrea Corò, The library of Virginia and for the photos

customer experience; ecommerce, social media marketing

5 Things E-commerce can learn from Retail: part 4


4893508228_9f130ce264_mThis is part 4 of me series on things Ecommerce can learn from Retail. The first one was on educating your customer. The second on about building customer value. The third blog was on removing obstacles.

Say that we have done all that, the next step is to close the transaction. The final decision is really a difficult step. Most customers are hesitant. Even when you have done everything right, your customer might still fear the moment of decision. Any distraction might make him slip away, so in retail the sales assistant works closely with the customer and puts the right pressure to help the customer to take his decision. Mind you, we only mean ethical methods. Quoting from Jay Abraham:

Presuming you’re convinced that your product solves the problem of your customer or fulfills his dream, you have the moral obligation to help him decide.

Robert Cialdini is one of the great researchers and publishers about persuasion. We selected 7 of the strategies he described in the book he wrote together with Noah Goldstein and Steve Martin: “Yes – 50 Secrets from the science of persuasion”. You will see that these are common practice in retail, but hardly used in Ecommerce.

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1.         Personal message

Research shows that a personal message will generate more response than the same message, but communicated anonymously. Cialdini’s research shows in increase in response from 34% to 69%, just by adding a personal message.

Most likely the message on your website is that you are a great vendor, offering great service and selling a awesome product. Still 98 % of visitors leave your site without a purchase. Looking at those people who put products in their shopping basket, still 70 % abandons your site. Is it a coincidence that this fraction seems to correspond with Cialdini’s 34% that acts on an anonymous request?

It is important to realize that the this game is not easily won. Research shows that real and intentional interaction will be effective. Cialdini presents research that shows that fake smiling might even deliver negative results.

Ted Rubin stresses in his marketing methodology that REAL creates TRUST. And because of that REAL wins over PERFECT. Stimulate your employees to invest their personal brand and effort in your company. Yes, that means that you will have to trust them.  In this social media era you will not be able to be successful without a trusted customer support team. Please watch this video to listen how Ted Rubin positions your employees as key assets. I want to thank Econsultancy for the production the video.

2.         Small gift

A small gift has a great effect on people’s willingness to act. Cialdini’s research shows how a small gift of two peppermints in a restaurant did increase tips by 14 %. Do the same thing in a more personal style and tips will increase even 23%.

The gift must is most effective when given unconditional. You’ll run the risk that a customer will take the gift (for free) without buying a product. But don’t worry. Research shows that an unconditional gift achieves 45% more response. Why worry about the small gifts when you can increase sales with 45%.

3.         Small Request

You want your customers to choose for you, and for your product. This is a big request. Research shows that people say yes to a large request more easily when you ask a small request first. Cialdini shows in an experiment that the number of people saying yes to a particular large request rises from 22% to 53% by asking people a small related request first.

This is in line with knowledge build up in the science of User Interaction Design. It is advised to get people to click on something in your site. Once they have clicked, they are more likely to buy. To make this effective, the click has to be an answer to a request from you, not a pure navigation click.

4.         Labeling

You are a intelligent and innovative marketer. You take up new developments fast, to stay the leader in your market. That is why you will start implementing this policy today. By attaching a label to a person, he is more likely to show behavior corresponding to the label. Use labels as ‘decisive’ and ‘fast’ when addressing customers in the shopping cart pages and you can expect them to be more likely to show decisive behavior.

5.         Active commitment

You want customers to return to your webshop. Returning customers are much more likely to buy than new customers. But how can you get people to return? Cialdini describes how people tend to act as they predicted to act. And that predicted behaviour is more likely to be social desirable. This leads to the proven conclusion that when you ask people to return to your shop they will be likely to say yes (the social desirable answer) and then act accordingly. In retail this is common practice. In Ecommerce we just say thank you, without asking for the confirmation.

6.         Relative pricing

When confronted with a price, a customer will first not really know what to think of it. He will use relative pricing to build up to a decision. Not surprisingly the Forrester research shows that uncertainty about the price is an important reason to abandon the shopping cart.

Cialdini shows that a price is more acceptable when a customer is first confronted with a more expensive product. He describes how Williams-Sonoma doubled the sales of a product by introducing a more expensive version of it. Suddenly the product became the sensible priced product. This is very helpful when the customer is hesitant. Buying the most expensive version is not easily done. Buying the second in line suddenly is a very good compromise between desire and sense.

7.         Avoid loss

People will react much stronger when faced with potential loss, than when faced with a potential gain. Whether the customer will perceive potential gain or loss is a matter of how you present the message. “Try our product at a discount” is proven to be a lot less effective than “Don’t let this bargain slip”. The unique offer and the short duration put some pressure on the customers to prevent the loss of the discount. It’ll be just the little stimulus that your customer needs.

What do you think?

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With courtesy to Seyyah Hatun and for the photo                   P1070688-3

customer experience; ecommerce, social media marketing

5 Things E-commerce can learn from Retail: part 3

Remove Obstacles

rockThis is the third in my series of 5 articles on things E-commerce can learn from Retail. The first blog was about the importance of educating your customers. The second blog talked about ensuring that the customer perceives value  instead of price. This third blog is about the next step. We are now in the situation that the customer has selected a product.

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Though the customer has added a product to his shopping cart, he is likely still not ready to buy. The shopping proces is not completed yet. Forrester research shows that 70 % of all shopping carts are abandoned. The number one reason (44%) I’ll share with you at the bottom of this blog. The second reason (41%) for shopping card abandonment is “not ready to buy”. Next, another 27% of customers want to compare more prices. Your customer experiences an obstacle, and that is not good for you, nore for the customer. Now what would a retail shop assistant do in such a situation? And what can an E-commerce site do?

Ultimate sales machine

The Ultimate Sales Machine strategy (Chet Holmes) for this step in the shopping process is to meticulously take the following steps:

  1. get the obstacle on the table,
  2. isolate it,
  3. resolve it.

The superstar sales person sees each objection as an opportunity, because it proves that the customer is nearly ready to buy. You should not let this customer slip. The customer has a mission, he wants to satisfy a need or fix a problem. When you are convinced your product is right for your customer, you have to help him to resolve the obstacle.

In Ecommerce obstacles were first approached in a completely different manner. Ecommerce was very busy with removing obstacles in the software and user experience. In retail terms you could compare this to making sure the paths are cleared from boxes and the products are displayed neatly. The focus was on optimizing the large stream. And many still do. Examin your own site and check what percentage of individual visitors are actively serviced?

Until about two years ago E-commerce thus ignored the individual case. The obstacles from customer perspective were left untouched. By ignoring the individual dilemma, we caused the customer to leave. That’s how we got to conversion figures as low as 1-3 % or even worse. But we have started realizing that each sale ís in individual situation, with one individual customer.

Two resolutions have been developed. The chat with customer service and (customer) reviews. We see a great impact from both tools. Expecially peer reviews are trusted by customers, though most people know that a part of these reviews are in fact faked. In my blog on Customer experience in the social media era I showed proof that “Word of Mouth” is measured to be a hundred times more powerful than a marketing campagne. People in this era put more trust in the information from peers than the information from the shop as an “institute” . The issue with customer reviews is however that they are static. The customer has to find a review that more or less answers his question. Again the customer will wander off to other sites to find the right review to answer his question. This is time consuming from customer perspective and a lost opportunity from sales perspective.

Knowing that customers need peer information to handle an obstacle in their purchase process we want to ask this question:

Can we leverage that cross customer influence much more and give it an active role in Ecommerce? P1070688-3

What do you think?
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With courtesy to Flickre and Angi English for the photo.
NB: Number one reason for shopping cart abandonment is shipping cost.

customer experience; ecommerce, social media marketing

What E-commerce can learn from Retail – part 2

Build customer value

Sale - Sale - SalePurchasing a product is a process. So should sales be. As a customer, you ‘re not ready to buy when you are early in the process.

Imagine yourself in a retail shop. You just started to orientate on a new photo camera. Now the shop-assistant approaches you and from the first moment (s)he keeps pushing you price deals. How long will you tolerate this?

What you need is information like the newest developments in technology, the product variants that are available and the strengths & the weaknesses of the different brands/models and information about what other customers like best. And most important: what does this mean for me? You are not interested in price deals for products you don’t even want. Do you find this hardly realistic? True, in retail, every shop-assistant knows how to differentiate between orientation phase, selection phase and closing phase.

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Now look at your own webshop. What do you see? Most likely you see price deals, more price deals and even more price deals. We are completely used to that model. We treat every customer as a target for the next transaction. We are not in the air to help the customer, we are there to score conversion. The fact that customers move from site to site in an attempt to get the information they need is considered normal.

Please help me with this puzzle: if the conversion ratio of an average shop in my branche is 2%, does this means from customer perspective that – on average – he pays 50 visits to a shop (mine or my competitors) before he makes a transaction? I think it does, but can ecommerce be so ineffective?

50 Visits to decide on one transaction doesn’t sound acceptable, left alone desirable? I know that visiting a website takes a lot less effort then visiting a retail shop. Still I am certain we can do better. Customers will feel really helped when they can limit the visits before they feel ready to make a transaction.

Research by The E-Tailing Group shows that most people start their orientation with an open mind about the product. In branches with information intensive products 84% of all ecommerce customers start with browsing the internet for ideas. Only 16% of the respondents start with an analysis of the options right away. When asked 40% of the respondents answered they would prefer a shopping experience based on their needs.

Can E-commerce build value for the customer by working from his perspective before offering a price deal?P1070688-3

What do you think?

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With courtesy to for the photo.

customer experience; ecommerce, social media marketing

5 Things Ecommerce can learn from Retail – part 1

 Educate your customer

4612732045_e1e6061b69_zCustomer education plays a central role in the ultimate sales strategy. With educating your customer you offer them help. You also express you care about them making a wise decision for their particular situation. That makes education a powerful instrument for getting customers to connect to you before their transaction.

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What’s more, it is also an essential strategy to maintain the relation with your customer after the purchase. This can greatly influence your success in turning a one-off-sale into a returning customer. Check out The Ultimate Sales Machine by Chet Holmes. Chet Holmes gives many creative examples how education of customers caused sales to boom.

E-commerce can learn from retail in this field. E-commerce is generally very good at providing specifications. Automated interfaces of product specifications provided by wholesale or manufacturer make this very easy. The challenge for E-commerce is to shift its focus to the meaning and impact of specification in order to fulfil the need of each individual customer. Is e-commerce capable to provide more then just the product? If not, harsh price competition will be the result.P1070688-3

What do you think?

Thanks to Ralph Daily and for the photo.

customer experience; ecommerce, social media marketing

How to create engagement with social media? 5 Things you need to know.

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Compare the two situations above. In what situation would you feel tempted to ask a question or make a comment?  These pictures tell you at one glance why it is difficult to create engagement with social media. Research by Forrester  shows that interaction with followers is indeed low and even declining, regardsless all investments.

Last year, Instagram posts from brands created interactions with 4.2% of a brand’s followers. This year, that fell to 2.2%. On Pinterest, interactions fell from 0.1% to 0.04%.

Facebook, however, experienced an increase in brand engagement – 0.07% up to 0.2%.

What the pictures tell instantly is that most of us need a human size to be able to act. Let’s dive deeper into this topic to understand why social media are ineffective to create the engagement. I am convinced that customers want to connect and engage with us. They just want it done differently. What needs to change in our social media approach?

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1. Social media is not social

The common denominator in the social media is that they are publication platforms. You push your message into the world. The intention is not to get an answer, the intention is to get your message forwarded. I once did a class in Stand Up Comedian acting. Twitter and the other media remind me of this: you hear something 3264262523_33d140c50f_mand you immediately pass it on. You have no purpose, no expectation about what the next person will do with your text. The game is that someone extends the string with a new comment. If no one does the string breaks and you start a new one. It’s good fun.

Facebook is at this moment still the most dominant Social Network. The mission that made Facebook big is that it facilitated you to share personal things with friends at college. Research reveals that nowadays sharing personal things is the biggest threat felt by Facebook users (35%).  Only 10% updates their personal status on Facebook regularly. Most Facebook users stick to liking and forwarding messages. The best liked feature of Facebook nowadays is “Seeing photo’s and videos”. Only 16% of the Facebook users actually likes Facebook for getting feedback.

Customers want more. Customers have a mission. They intent to buy a complex product or service and have questions that need an answer. To facilitate customers in this, communication should become a dialog. Question and answer. Like a circle instead of a line. And once a customer is participant in a dialog, he will want to remain included till he has made his purchase.

2. Social media is an art

Social media have become important in marketing because they can make a message go viral. Reach is of key importance for social media marketing. Without reach, your publication was useless. How do you achieve reach?

10951906866_d52d2f911d_mSensation and entertainment have to be key elements for a message to go viral. It’s a joy to see how some people really know how to bring a message. Social media created a new type of artists. We have seen numerous examples. Limiting myself  to mention one I would like to highlight Bethany Mota. Her video blog is a good example that shows how the right performance can trigger success. It is a good example how to move from sharing content to creating an experience.

Now position yourself as customer. What is the meaning of social media if you are a normal person? What if you are only modestly funny and sensational, and you have a question you want answered? For customers social media is not a specialization, but just a means. Due to the enormous stream of messages their message will be overlooked. The number of followers does not necessarily mean much. Each message has to compete with the overwhelming stream that everyone receives daily. What are social media for you, when your message drops dead fast?

From the customer perspective reach is not important. What counts is to get information on demand.  People don’t want to have to step onto a podium to try to reach hundreds or maybe millions of people. They rather are facilitated with a small comfortable group of relevant peers. In small groups one will be heard when asking a question. When someone responds a dialog starts. The question can be asked without much presentation skills, though it will always be to your advantage when one can bring a message well.

We have done some tests on this. Our test consumers reported that the optimal size of a group is 5 to 10 people. This is not a surprise. A social psychology research demonstrated long ago that when there are many people overseeing an assault, no one will act. People remain inactive because everyone thinks someone else is in a better position to act. When people know there are only a few others, people feel addressed and respond.

Social media should thus facilitate that customers are aware that they are part of a small group of relevant peers. This will make them feel free to communicate their question or comment. This will also ensure that they will feel addressed by a question of another customer.

3. Facebook marketing is like bowling

Many companies are active with social media marketing, because social media are used as an entry portal for web shops. Facebook alone drive 22% of all website visits, Pintrest drives 5%, Twitter less than 1 %. The 1% of Twitter is still more the other social media like YouTube, LinkedIn, Google+ etcetera together (source =  E-Consultancy). Social media are thus important in generating traffic to your shop. These figures are averages. Question is of course how these percentages are for your line of business. Especially simple and more emotion driven products will be successful on Facebook.
19331649063_e965086156_mThe impact of Facebook will stop the moment people get to your site, due to the platform switch. It’s like bowling. Once the ball is thrown, you can only watch it go. What you want is a social platform inside your shop. You want to be in control of the ball during the whole process.

We like to provoke you a little. Your Social Media Investments are totally inefficient. Based on the above data, 70% of traffic comes from other sources and is thus not impacted by your Social Media activity. But there is more. The data provided by the extensive analysis of SeeWhy of behavior of 600.000 customers, shows that only 4.3 % of shopping card traffic comes from Social Media sources. Social traffic is less inclined to buy something. But it’s gets even worse. They measured that social media traffic only counted for 2.11% of the total sales. So Social media is important in generating traffic (30%), but the share in sales is marginal.

What ecommerce needs is a platform that facilitates  shops to communicate with their customers during the orientation phase, the selection phase and during the closing.

4. Listening is gold

2706701983_dc3d66fb8a_mEngaging customers requires that they have the feeling they can contribute and that you will listen to them. Ecommerce is – in general – afraid for open customer feedback. “You never know what someone is going to say.” This attitude is not very productive nowadays. When they don’t tell you, they will most likely put the message on Twitter or another social medium.

Vocificate your site, meaning get the Voice of the Customer inside your shop. It’s a new term I invented to make clear that if you want engagement from your customers, your site needs to be theirs a little as well. You need to allow impact. You can consider that a threat or an opportunity. Knowing what your customer wants, gives you the opportunity to offer them exactly the right deal or service. The new ecommerce will need to dare to be open to customer feedback.

Getting engagement from your customer requires more. You need to be unique. You need to become an identity, otherwise there is nothing for them to engage with. When you have the social medium integrated in your site, this means it is centred around your shop. Such a social medium I like to call a Social Media At your Service (SMAS). Such a platform ensures that it is available in your shop only, so it creates an unique relation with your customers. What you give them, they can’t get anywhere else.

Add to this the strategy that you allow your employees to communicate freely and personally. Your site becomes human. This will strengthen the connection customers will feel towards your ecommerce shop. In this respect, ecommerce can learn a lot from retail.

5. Relevance

6090651389_71e6829503_mSocial media easily turn into a overwhelming stream of data. Information overload has become a general problem. When there is too much to read, you randomly pick some eye-catching messages. Facebook centres data around you and your ‘friends’. Twitter has the followers concept, next to the # for topics. Both platforms push ads. Any of these streams is too much to follow on its own, and most people participate in several platforms. They will miss a great deal of the messages. We have accepted that as normal. .

What is relevant to your customer? I think it is safe to assume the customer finds information related to his current activity very relevant. He wants information about mobile phones when he is looking for a mobile phone. Not when he is reading news or looking for a new fishing angle. Data clearly demonstrates this. For some time people have developed a blind eye for advertisement. Nowaday people even take action to avoid ads. This clearly is the consequence of the information overload that social media have brought us.

Next question is who are relevant to your customer? The current customer distrusts authority. Customers want to be in contact with other customers. Naturally that should be people who are investigating the same type of product or who have recently bought one. The information these people have and their opinion is relevant. The information you as shop share is relevant as long as it is considered open information. When you communicate on an open platform, your message becomes trustworthy.

Their is a second argument that makes communication in an open platform valuable for a shop. A message that is relevant to one customer, will most likely be relevant to the others in this group. This relates to Jay Baer’s Youtility concept. Your message needs to be truly helpful to get attention. Customers inside your shop are in need of information about your products and you probably have the information they need available. If you organise this will, you can have great impact for your customers.

You can help your customer to achieve a well based decision faster.


We started this blog with the statement “we need to change our social media approach”.  In this blog we have highlighted 5 important reasons why social media fail to create engagement with customers. To summarize this:

What is needed is a MICRO social medium.

You could argue that such a micro social medium misses the functionality to attract customers, because it is only available to customers who have already found your shop. That is however not true. The unique content will boost your SEO value as Google attributes high values to unique content that answers a customer question. We will address this topic in another blog article.

I am not arguing Facebook presence. It is important to attract traffic. Our position is that with a additional in-shop medium you can get much more result from it. Let’s position social media marketing in perspective though. Traffic of people that already know you (direct traffic and email traffic) are 90 % of the conversion. Social Media traffic is good for only 2 % of conversion. Where do you want to invest your next budget?

Facebook and Twitter happened to you. A micro social medium in your shop puts you in the driving seat. It’s your shop and you will turn it into a living community.

What do you think?

When you like the blog, you can do me a great favor by sharing it.

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With thanks to for all photo’s.

customer experience; ecommerce, real-time marketing, responsive marketing, social media marketing

The Marketing Vulcano erupts. Move, move move !


A marketing vulcano? You probably ask yourself: “what on earth would that be”? Sounds threatening. On the otherhand, we also know that vulcano’s leave fertile lava soil behind. The eruption thus creates a new future.

The growth of vulcano’s is something that facinates me. I can’t get my head around the earth being filled with magma and big tectonic plates shifting slowly, a couple of centimetres per year. When they move from each other, they leave a hole where the magma slowly erupts. When they move towards each other pressure builds up, leading to an explosion of magma. These are the vulcano’s we know and fear.

Let me tell you why I called this blog post the Marketing Vulcano. I use the parallel of a vulcano to express my vision that there are three trends in marketing that are colliding.  Everyone is doing the same thing. It’s probably also what occupies you daily:how can I approach the mass of consumers to gain a little bit more awareness“. When everyone is doing the same thing, it becomes harder and harder to win.

This one directional pressure will cause an explosive move into a new dimension. The winners will be the companies that move towards the new dimension, being “how can I turn my customers into ambassadors“.

We will first discuss the three trends with you. You will have to take a step back. Stop worrying about the operational details. Focus on why you are doing what you do.

We then highlight some elements of the new trend. We conclude with a vision of how ecommerce could look in the near future.

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Trend 1: Mixing models

While ecommerce started out with simple products, consumers have started using ecommerce for more and more complex products.

  • Technical complex products like computers.
  • Complex services like subscriptions, insurance and mortgage.
  • Even personal complex products and services, like healthcare.

Retail has lost much territory, but this trend will slow down. There is a reverse trend going on. We see companies that started as 100% ecommerce now open retail stores. There are brand stores like Philips in Amsterdam, focused on getting interactive customer feedback. We see consumers orient on internet and then buy in a retail shop and visa versa. We see stores that are truly multi channel, with a consistent presence in retail and ecommerce. Retail has some characteristics that are favored by customers. Being able to touch the product is very important in this. Personal interaction is a second mayor differentiator. In retail the shop assistant can work from the customer’s needs and build up value. That is key, because customers need a product, but they pay for the value they perceive. Reversely, when you fail to build value for your customer, you can only compete on price.

In short, we are moving to a more mixed model of the purchasing process.

Trend 2: Standardization

In the early days of ecommerce you had good and bad websites. You could stand out by having a site that worked well and was intuitive. Nowadays the CMS standard systems are so good, even a small shop can be at high standards. Plus you can choose from hundreds of website builders. There certainly still are quality differences, but almost all of these website builders will build a decent website for you.

Also in the area of Marketing much knowledge is standardized in plug-ins and services. Tracing customers, building up CMS databases, email marketing, customer service, and feedback. Customer reviews are also automated and available as service from content companies. All is available and it’s hard to find an ecommerce site that doesn’t have this organized.

When there is little difference between different suppliers, economic law tells us you will end up in fierce price competition, and that is exactly what has happened. The rise of price comparison sites only aggravated this trend. Investments in ecommerce are still big, but the pig trade cycle predicts that at a certain moment in time there will just be too much capacity built up and the shake out will start.

On the cost side, Ecommerce is spending huge amounts of money on Search Engine Marketing, Social Media Marketing and other forms of internet marketing. The lack of differentiation leads to hugh marketing budgets to win the customer. Google, Facebook and other media are exploiting their unique position in digital advertising. Based on the pressumption they can’t be omitted, the prices for their services are rising continuously.

Conclusion: strategies based on technique only are bound to loose importance. As technical innovations are slowing down, it is the effective usage that will create a winning strategy. The rising cost of the digital advertisement platforms will cause companies to look for a different approach.

Trend 3:  Social Media

Consumers adopted social media much earlier than companies. Due to the fact that consumers were on social media, companies had to be present as well. First mainly to prevent damage, as customer service. Nowadays most also publish campaign material, more or less like they would do on television. The best companies also ask for feedback.

Social Media has fundamentally changed the relation between customers and companies. In the mass media era, companies were in control of the public opinion. With the rise of social media every customer is a reporter too. The consequences are various:

  • One customer can break the reputation of a company.
  • Customers are used to being in contact with large groups of digital relations. The concept of “near relationship” has completely changed. The world has become a village.
  • People get an overload of information. All sources compete on an equal level for attention. It has become very hard to make a message stand out.
  • As a reaction to the power of the big companies in the mass media era, the current generation puts more trust in messages by peers on internet. Research shows that word of mouth is currently a hundred times more influential than an expensive marketing campaign. This creates a challenge for marketing.

Conclusion: companies will have to find a way to fulfil the expectations of customers in this social media era.

Focus on the mass

The three trends have build up pressure in one particular direction: making the large mass of people aware of your company in order to sell to a small percentage of them.

This concept originated in the mass media era. Mass media made it possible for companies to reach large groups of people with their advertisement. Ecommerce increased the focus on the mass of consumers. Websites are cheap to operate compared to retail and allow for presentation to groups much larger than any shop can fit. The commercial strategy of Ecommerce focusses on SEO optimization and Google adwords to maximize page views..

The rise of social media as commercial platform in the last couple of years has aggrevated this concept to hugh dimensions. An advertisement that goes viral can reach millions of potential customers in a day. Much more than search optimization can ever deliver.

It has been proven that in any large group of people 3 percent of the people are ready to buy, regardless the product under investigation. Based on this knowledge, the strategy to be visible to a large community makes sense. But the strategy is too simple, is becoming less effective and more expensive.

customer ambassadors

Research (see for instance SeeWhy) shows that Social Media Marketing has only limited impact on conversion. In their research social media accounted for 30% of the visitors. Unfortunately this resulted in only 2% of the sales.

What sells is relation, trust and service. The lava of marketing vulcano is focus on the individual customer. We see several movements towards this customer focus.

  • Email marketingto build a relation with current customers.
  • Personalization of site contentbased on behavior inside or outside the webshop.
  • The rise of trusted brandsin Ecommerce, like Amazon. Trusted brands can ask higher prices, regardless their bad listing on comparison sites.
  • Brand web storesare often times preferred above webshops that sell the same product at a lower price.
  • The popularity of consultants, like Mark Schaefer, Jay Baer, Nisandeh Neta, who teach companies to build marketing upon a trusted relationship with satisfied existing customers.

Email marketing and personalization sound like a personal approach, but these concepts make only a first step. They give a twist to the “reaching the mass” concept in the right direction. The mailing list is intended to be as big as possible. Customers are classified in a number of groups. Each group gets a specific message. The great thing about them is that they base an offer on previous purchases of this customer. Personalization basically does the same thing, but it does it real-time while the customer is browsing the site.

Why is this just the first step? What’s lacking is that the customer does not perceive this as a personal approach. It is a smart automated approach. Today’s customer however expects a personal connection with the vendor and transparent direct communication. Please check my blog about this: 5 elements of Customer Expectation . Email marketing and personalization of websites don’t fulfill these elements. For the customer to feel connected to your shop or brand, you will need to do more.


Our vision is that the Multi-channel concept will start to mean more than just selling and advertising via multiple channels. The methods of retail and ecommerce will mix into one new approach, picking the best of both worlds. The individual customer approach of retail and the digital information of ecommerce will be blended into a new type of interactive ecommerce. Ecommerce will become as entertaining and personal as retail.

Social media is now used to reach millions of people at an inconvenient moment. The future of social media is to interact digitally with a limited number of people at the moment you are relevant to your customer. We will start interacting with customers as a community in the web shop. Consumers are tired of being overloaded with irrelevant information. Being relevant becomes the most important differentiator. We will move from high reach with low impact to low reach with high impact.

We will have to learn to use social media that way. Topics that companies will have to handle are delegation of control and interactive public feedback. These skills are common in retail, so companies with a strong background in retail will have an advantage.

Additionally social media platforms will develop functionality to improve this interactive shopping. Facebook and Twitter are not fit for interactive shopping. Their strength is reaching the mass public. The new social media will need to be part of the customer’s action. That requires that it is really interactive and that relevance to the consumer’s current action is guaranteed.

In our previous post we already concluded that the winning companies will be the ones that manage to scale up personal interaction with their customers. Success will be built upon relationship and trust. Technology will only temporarily be a differentiator. Advertisement will not disappear, but it will no longer be sufficient.

What will make the difference is the people behind the brand, their strategy and their capability to listen to customers and turn customer feedback into a relevant offering.P1070688-3

What do you think?

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PS: This song Dancing on the Vulcano  used to one of my favorite songs.

customer experience; ecommerce

The 5 key elements of today’s customer expectation

Ecommerce customer

To change or Not to change

Let’s start with this fun contradiction:

  • Marketing consultants are generally keen to make us think that customers have changed. That in this social media era everything is different from what it used to be before. To be successful in commerce, one should quickly adopt new policies, create communities, etc.
  • Change Management consultants on the other hand generally advocate the opposite. In change management it is a common perception that the majority of people are not keen to change. People have a need to see the new thing as a continuation of the past.

What does this contradiction mean for the expectations of today’s customer? Does a person really change his expectations because social media supply him new tools? Or does he have the same expectations, dressed in a new costume?

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Mass media era

The customer experience we saw as normal till 2006, is actually quite young. It was only created about a hundred years ago, due to the up rise of mass media: newspapers, magazines, radio and above all TV. That brought mass advertising and broadcasting. These mass media created a divide between us and the customer. The communication was one directional. Our companies became big anonymous institutes that were hard to approach. It was getting normal, but never accepted, to let the customer wait for 15 minutes or more to communicate his issue via the telephone.

Social Media Era

Then, in 2006, Twitter was launched and Facebook opened up to people outside the college world. People started using social media to complain about bad service and some of these messages really went viral. The video song of Dave Carroll in 2009 – who sang and showed how his guitar got destroyed by the United Airlines personnel – is the famous example. The video had 150.000 views in a day, and 5 million in a month. The reputation of a multi billion company was badly damaged by just one incident. Stock prices fell instantly by 10%, costing stock owners $ 180 million. This caused an explosion in top management, and not just at United Airlines. People had not anticipated that this could happen.

What’s new?

Mark Schaefer shows us that the impact of this incident was in fact nothing new. For decades it was normal that one terrible incident would ruin your business, but we just forgot about it. You should really watch his presentation  The Ultimate Customer Experience was Created 1,000 Years Ago. Using the medieval market as a parallel, he paints the picture very strongly. In those small encapsulated societies blaming and shaming was killing. But also more recently, it was normal that customers’ bad word of mouth would immediately impact a vendor. A company had to take care of his customers.

Customer expectations

Now social media have turned the world again into a tight community. The expectations of the social media customer are very much alike the expectations of medieval customers. These are:

  1. personal interaction,  because people want to buy from people they  know. They want to know you and your personnel.
  2. complete transparency,  because customers want you to deliver to what you promised. They want to be able to trust you. This get’s even stronger as the millennium generation is the least trusting generation. They don’t trust authority, they don’t trust big companies, but they do trust the communication on the web.
  3. immediacy,  because people want a company to give direct follow up on issues. You promised quality, so you do everything possible to deliver quality. And please deliver it now.
  4. word of mouth reputation is the most powerful marketing instrument. People are going to be watching what you do, more than your advertising. Research of Ed Keller shows that at this moment word of mouth is 5 times more influential than advertisement. For more complex products this even rises to being 100 times more influential.
  5. primal need for connection, because shopping always has been an interaction activity. People love talking about themselves and their purchases. They create emotional connections to companies and brands. That’s why customers feel badly treated when they are led down.

The expectations are the same. What changed is that social media gave consumers the tools to express their expectations with great impact. The challenge is ours. Can we use social media to satisfy these customer expectations? Can we use social media to demonstrate that we really care for our customers?P1070688-3

What do you think?
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