Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Social Commerce Interview with Sam Decker, CMO of Bazaarvoice

As part of our series on social commerce and consumer advocacy, I was fortunate to catch up with Sam Decker, Chief Marketing Officer at Bazaarvoice. Bazaarvoice is a leader in social commerce and they are once again proving themselves this holiday season. On Cyber Monday they served up 71 million reviews at a peak of 1,400 reviews per second, and in the last 30 days, their systems have seen 7.4 billion hits delivering 40 terabytes of traffic.

So lets pick Sam’s brain on the latest trends in social commerce.

There is a lot of activity in the social commerce and consumer driven content space. What is Bazaarvoice's philosophy on consumer driven content and what makes you different?

We defined our mission as “Social Commerce”, as opposed to “Social Shopping”, “Social Networking”, or “Social Media”…or simply user generated content. “Social Commerce” underscores our philosophy that customer-to-customer interactions are relevant to businesses only if they drive measurable sales impact. There are three principles core to making social commerce work:

First, social participation – and the resulting user generated content – is created by a minority of customers. This participation should be designed to create content and assets that help your future customers. So for any functionality that creates user generated content, it must produce content that directly enhances shopping activities and the commerce experience.

Second, these interactions, and access to the content should be in line with the purchase path on a site. That is true for Ratings and Reviews and our Ask & Answer solution.

And third, customer created content is a digital marketing asset that can accelerate sales beyond your web site. We develop best practices, partner integrations, data flexibility to enable customer-centric mutli-channel marketing.

That makes a lot of sense. Are there other social commerce capabilities that retailers will want to consider as well?

The key to embracing social commerce is to be open. Open data, open culture, open technology. We’ve developed APIs and feeds that enable retailers to leverage the data in multiple ways. Some of this we power for them. For example, we syndicate reviews from retailers to top 25 shopping comparison engines to drive branding, links and natural search impact. We launched a “ShareThis” functionality, enabling customers to post reviews and products to social networks. From here we are exploring ways to use the customer voice to enable relevant advertising, integration with forums, and profile enhancements. We’re on a learning journey!

That's an interesting perspective, I had never thought of syndicating consumer content beyond the retailer's website. How will this change the online retailing industry?

For retailers to expand the ROI driven from the many forms of social interaction and content, we will see a trend of opening up content to be absorbed by new channels. The online travel industry and Amazon have a head start in this trend. We’ve started to do that with our clients, syndicating to portals.

The purchase process of the future will become a more complex ecosystem of touch points and interactions, mostly occurring outside a retailer’s web site. The retailer’s opportunity to influence within this ecosystem is dependent on its interoperability of product and social content with external applications. The whole point behind RSS, APIs, XML feeds, and other data sharing technologies is that they allow consumers to customize and personalize their online experience. I expect that aggregator interfaces (iGoogle, MyYahoo, web browsers, social networks) will enable commerce from within a customizable interface that represents a mosaic of the consumer’s favorite brands and products. As more consumers purchase through these interfaces, more marketers will win the case to open up and de-centralize their data. In turn, the sharing of this data will drive more external innovation and value consumers and retailers.

How does this decentralization of data impact other retailing functions or touchpoints?

Retailers who are evolving their social commerce strategy are leveraging customer created content to power multiple marketing vehicles. We see it improve the marketing effectiveness in RSS feeds, catalogs, email, kiosks, advertising, and other marketing tactics. According to Jupiter and Forrester, more than 70% of online shoppers seek out reviews online. So it stands to reason that the usefulness and persuasiveness of customer-created content makes other marketing more relevant, credible and authentic.

In addition, we see increasing use of our workbench reports, analytics and key alerts. What this means is that multiple functions in retailers are using the data from the customer voice to impact day to day decision. Retailers thought reviews were a great conversion tactic, and it is in spades…but it has evolved into a customer-centric culture changer! That has far reaching implications and impact.

Finally, the industry is watching Google. What are your thoughts about Google's OpenSocial initiative and how will Bazaarvoice respond?

OpenSocial will fuel this learning journey we are all on. It gives developers more reason to innovate – which some would call destructive innovation, because the majority of innovations will not meet a viable business model.

Our part in this is to provide the flexibility, expertise and capabilities to fuel this innovation. We welcome developers to invent new functionality that leverages user generated content. We will provide the hooks, APIs and feeds on behalf of our clients to enable them to find solutions achieve the promise of “Commerce” in “Social Commerce”.


Jeremy said...

This is an interesting concept. Its complexities almost require a graphical model to be fully appreciated. In terms of consumer touch points, aggregating needs, perceived needs and wants into a social aspect brings an entirely different set of business/technology requirements for the individual retailer wishing to implement this type of marketing model.

There are definite challenges to content driven commerce models such as the ever important touch points that seem to elude customer-created content like price-point and related interest. Without having a full profile on the prospective customer wouldn't it seem more like a shot in the dark?...hoping to strike a chord with the customer? It would be enlightening to see Amazon's demographic profiles that they base their recommendations.

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