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Deep Dive into Amazon ‘Ask an Owner’ with TurnTo Founder

Amazon introduced a twist on product reviews called “Ask an Owner” that helps connect shoppers with owners to ask specific product-related questions. Amazon launched the feature in late 2012, but another company beat Amazon to the punch. TurnTo launched its “social Q&A” feature 4 years ago and works with the like of Saks, Crutchfield and True Religion to help them launch social shopping features.

EcommerceBytes talked to TurnTo founder and CEO George Eberstadt to learn more about the concept of “ask owner” features and what he thought of Amazon’s offering. Eberstadt has spent the last 17 years leading companies building social technologies and has been at the leading edge of social commerce from its beginning.

EcommerceBytes: I saw your blog post about Amazon’s Ask an Owner feature. Why is such a feature beneficial to online sellers?

George Eberstadt: Community Q&A provides ROI in 4 separate ways:

1) Conversion lift. Shoppers who get their questions answered are more likely to buy. They buy sooner, and they don’t go elsewhere looking for information. Our data shows that shoppers who interact with Q&A are 5-10X more likely to purchase than those who don’t, and further analysis shows that about 25% of this conversion lift is attributable to Q&A.

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2) SEO. Community Q&A typically generates 2-3X as much User Generated Content as customer reviews! With TurnTo, all that content is indexable right on the Product Detail Page.

And it’s SEO-friendly; people ask questions with the same language they use when they search on Google. Fashion retailer GoJane, for example, found a 20% increase in organic traffic for their 10 top-priority keywords from TurnTo.

3) Reduced call center load. Community Q&A delivers answers to shopper questions right on the Product Detail Page. That’s a better experience for the shopper and less work for the customer service team. Used as a front-end for live chat, it automatically handles repetitive questions and those requiring peer input, while escalating those that benefit from live interaction to an operator.

4) Insights. Q&A illuminates the questions that stand between a shopper and a purchase. One computer manufacturer credits TurnTo with millions of dollars in incremental sales by enabling them to optimize the copy on the page for a new product within hours of its release.

EcommerceBytes: Are you familiar with how the Amazon model works? Is Amazon executing well?

George Eberstadt: We know as much about the Amazon system as a detailed investigation of the user experience can show. Their “Ask an Owner” feature appears to be extraordinarily similar to TurnTo’s “Ask Owners.” I feel they’ve done a great job of it. Here’s my (highly complimentary) evaluation from a year ago.

EcommerceBytes: How is Amazon’s feature different from TurnTo’s Active Outreach?

George Eberstadt: Active Outreach(TM) is our term for the mechanism of getting fast answers from real product owners by emailing them the shoppers’ question. Without that, community answering doesn’t work. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

For example, to make it fast, you need to automate the first line moderation. That means sophisticated language filtering. And you need to be careful not to email any one customer too often. And there are dozens more nuances that we’ve discovered and addressed over the course of more than 4 years working on this system.

Amazon’s social answering model appears to be very similar to our Active Outreach. However, we have added a lot of other capabilities that are important for stores that are not Amazon. For example, at smaller scales where there are not as many past customer available to provide community answers, it’s essential to have solid mechanisms to route questions to relevant experts internally, or to representative of the manufacturer. TurnTo provides that, as well as tools to deliver answers from a stores library of FAQs, where needed.

EcommerceBytes: When did you launch Active Outreach, and who are your clients?

George Eberstadt: About 4 years ago. It grew out of our first product – which we spoke about so long ago – “See what your friends bought here.” Some of our marquee customers include Saks, Newegg, Lenovo, Vitamin Shoppe, Shoes.com, Kiehl’s, Claris, Jockey, Crutchfield, Adorama and True Religion. A longer list is found on this page.

EcommerceBytes: For sellers who have a small websites, is this an affordable option? What kind of pricing should they expect?

George Eberstadt: Our pricing is tiered, so it’s affordable to stores and brands of all sizes. For small merchants, TurnTo is available for under $1000/month.

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com.