Tips for engaging e-consumers the Web 2.0 way
Even though online retailers generally out-performed their High Street counterparts over the 2008 holiday shopping period, engaging customers using Web 2.0 technologies is still likely to play a key role in retaining a strong share of consumer wallets during 2009, according to Guy Westlake of web experience consultancy Vignette.
Although recent figures from IMRG showed that December 2008's online retail sales in the UK totalled some £4.67 billion (an increase of 14.2% over December 2007), overall spending continues to fall and consumers are starting to reduce their spending.
As a result, Westlake argues, internet retailers will need to look at tools such as Web 2.0 technologies to create a more engaging and interactive customer experience to both retain consumer interest and foster loyalty.
Vignette's five tips for engaging customers using Web 2.0 technologies are:
- Personalisation Customers want to have the freedom to choose how they interact with a brand. Everyone has a preferred browsing experience: for example, some people are more receptive to blogs, others prefer e-mails, while yet more engage most happily with videos and forums. And in an increasingly mobile world, many consumers expect to be able to access information anywhere and anytime, making multi-channel communication an absolute necessity.
Marketers should therefore explore which Web 2.0 tools are most appropriate to different communication channels to give customers more control over how and when they engage with the brand. If a customer feels that they are getting a personalised experience when they visit a web site, they are much more likely to become attached to the brand and stay loyal to it.
- Forums Consumers are often the most knowledgeable experts on the products and services that they consume, and they increasingly like to share that knowledge with others. One only has to look to the vast forums about the Apple iPod to see how successful such forums can be. For consumers, they offer a cheap and convenient way of getting help and suggestions on how to use products or fix problems. And they represent a free resource for businesses too, delivering strong commercial benefit when harnessed correctly.
If you provide a platform that allows customers to offer support and guidance to each other as part of your web site, they can effectively decrease your costs in terms of call centres and customer support. Marketers can also use Web 2.0 tools such as forums for market research, to ask customers what they think of the latest product, or what they'd like to see in the next version.
- Community ratings and reviews Consumers want reliable advice when making purchase decisions - particularly for high-price items - and they often want this guidance to come from a third party they trust, rather than the supplier itself. They therefore look to their peers for ratings and reviews of products and services. Vignette suggests providing an area on the company web site to allow customers them to do exactly that, encouraging them to use the site as a source of information and a communication medium.
This also means that marketers can capture and examine comments and feedback more easily. Customers will inevitably give their views on products and services somewhere, so it is better to allow them to channel their feedback through the company's own web site rather than a third party site or forum to which the company may not have such easy access.
- Recommendations One mark of a good retailer is understanding customers well enough to be able to enrich their shopping experience with ideas and suggestions that they haven't even thought of yet. It is important to ensure that the web site provides customers with recommendations that are relevant to them, according to what they are searching for or what they have previously viewed and bought (like Amazon's recommender technology, for example).
Providing customers with relevant information at the right time helps to ensure that they feel more valued and better understood, and it helps to increase conversion rates from browsing to purchasing while also encouraging up-selling and cross-selling. This is a win-win situation in which the customer enjoys greater value from the web site (through better-targeted information) and the company gains additional business.
- Video Engage customers with multi-sensory video content. So called 'content snacking' and the explosion of user-generated content mean that video segments are increasingly being tagged and shared throughout web-based communities, leading to video often being viewed by a very wide audience - it's almost viral in its marketing potential. This provides an excellent ROI because the marketing team has only to provide the content, while the consumers tag, share and comment on it, creating a widespread 'buzz' at very little cost.