EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 261 - April 18, 2010 - ISSN 1528-6703     3 of 6

TurnTo Helps Friends Share Online-Shopping Advice

By Lissa McGrath

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A few years ago, the "new thing" was for physical stores and auction sellers to launch their own website. These days, social media has become the new "cool tool" for retail websites.

The concept of "social shopping" may be new, but according to one advocate, it is already helping online retailers convert a higher percentage of "browsers" to "buyers." George Eberstadt founded TurnTo three years ago to enable ecommerce sites to show visitors which of their friends purchased from the site, thereby increasing shopper confidence.

Online seller Dovi Kutoff has been using TurnTo since October 2009 on his site, He said TurnTo was a good fit due to the lack of brand awareness had with the general public. "By using trusted references, it eases the worries of a potential customer, and turns them into not only a customer, but into an advocate for OrangeOnions." Kutoff said approximately 26 percent of converting visitors in the last 6 months have clicked on the TurnTo Widget to find out more information, and a number of them signed up to understand more about OrangeOnions prior to making a purchase.

I recently sat down with TurnTo's CEO to learn more about the application, its fees, and to hear his thoughts on how the application can help retailers take advantage of the new social shopping trend.

How does TurnTo help a customer decide on a purchase?

George Eberstadt: When you are shopping on a site that uses TurnTo, you'll see a button that says something like "Need ideas? Advice? See what your friends are buying here!" You click, and the system walks you through connecting to FaceBook (or whatever other list of friends you want to check for). That's just a few clicks. (If you've done it before, the system remembers, so it skips that step.) Then a panel opens that shows you which of your friends shop at that store and what they bought. (It also shows purchases by friends-of-friends and neighbors, using zip-code matching.)

Sometimes it might be enough for you just to see these purchases - it might give you the idea you needed, or even just give you comfort that this store is a good place to shop. Other times, you might choose to reach out to get a question answered - that tends to happen more for high-consideration, bigger-ticket purchases. Either way, the effect is to move the shopper closer to a purchase, and towards buying a bit more than they might have otherwise.

How does TurnTo connect previous buyers with potential buyers?

George Eberstadt: TurnTo checks the friends list of the shopper against the customer list of the store to find matches. To preserve customers' privacy, the system always checks to see if a match has opted-in to being shown as reference. If yes, the shopper sees the friend's name. If no, the friend is identified only as "a friend." Then, the system offers to broker a connection between the shopper and that unnamed friend, allowing the customer to remain anonymous if they choose.

What does it cost to use TurnTo? Is it limited to larger companies, or is there a pricing structure that works for smaller online retailers?

George Eberstadt: TurnTo charges a monthly license fee based on volume, so it scales to ensure TurnTo is affordable for merchants of all sizes. We also provide an extended trial period, so merchants can see the size of the conversion lift TurnTo produces before making any commitment.

Where can TurnTo import your "friends" list from?

George Eberstadt: TurnTo can check for a shopper's friends from top social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Plaxo; from the address book in most major web-based email systems like Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo mail, AOL mail, Mac mail, and others; and from a user's Outlook address book.

Does the shopper have to sign up for TurnTo for each site they shop at?

George Eberstadt: TurnTo is actually a network of participating sites, so once a shopper has used it on one participating store, they can check the same set of friends for "trusted references" on any other participating store without having to reconnect.

How many ecommerce sites are currently using TurnTo, and how many individual users are there?

George Eberstadt: TurnTo is currently live on over 30 online stores. Thousands of shoppers interact with the system every day.

Obviously, each site is different, but what sort of results are companies using TurnTo getting?

George Eberstadt: Across our network of sites, shoppers who interact with TurnTo convert at a rate 100-700% higher than baseline.

How do you see TurnTo developing in the future?

George Eberstadt: We now have full interoperability with the Yahoo! Store Small Merchant Platform, which we will be officially announcing later this month. This will give thousands of retailers seamless integration of TurnTo with their online stores.

In the long run, I envision TurnTo will be a core element of how consumers shop, along with customer reviews and comparison shopping sites.

About the author:

Lissa McGrath is the author of three eBay books, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to eBay" 2nd Edition (Alpha, 2010); "The Pocket Idiot's Guide to eBay Motors" (Alpha, 2008); and "20 Questions To Ask Before Selling On eBay" (Career Press, 2006). She is also the editor of eight other eBay books.

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