TECHNOLOGY

Q&A: Lamps Plus exec sheds light on user-generated content

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Lamps Plus is putting a new spin on customer-generated content to give shoppers more transparency into its merchandise.

The specialty lamps retailer is always looking for new ways to step up the digital content that supports the 65,000 products it sells online. The efforts run the gamut from improving product descriptions to featuring more robust graphics and user interfaces. Its newest initiatives center on user-generated content (UGC).

Like many companies, Lamps Plus is no stranger to posting customer reviews. More recently, however the retailer has been engaging shoppers with questions and answers (Q&A), visual reviews, and a “checkout chatter” section to drive purchases.

Lamps Plus’ senior VP of Internet business and marketing, Angela Hsu, shared her thoughts about the initiative with Chain Store Age.

CSA: Why has UGC become so important for online customer engagement?
AH: Customers want authentic insight into merchandise. By using crowdsourced answers from existing customers, we can answer questions quickly, and provide a different perspective that we may not have considered. We also noticed that when a question is answered within 24 hours, customers are more likely to buy.

These factors pushed us to provide an easier method for customers to contribute content, but didn’t want to make UGC entries too complex or time-consuming.

We regularly run experiments on copy, graphics and user interfaces on our desktop and mobile sites. This process, in addition to refining our solicitation communications, has helped our UGC to dramatically grow.

CSA: What consumer-created content do you feature now?
AH: We have encouraged customer reviews for years, but these are just one small piece of a growing UGC library. During 2017, we focused more on expanding UGC to other areas of our site.

One new tool is our Q&A content. Every single product page on our site has a Q&A section where customers can submit questions about products or view previously asked questions. Incoming queries are answered by our customer support team or previous customers.

But the tool helps us in two ways. First, customers are more likely to purchase within 24 hours when their submitted questions are answered quickly, or when they review similar questions that other customers have previously asked.

Meanwhile, the high volume of questions reveal different patterns across categories. We use these patterns to enhance our product descriptions and create additional product images and videos.

Each month, our Q&A produces an average of 3,500 questions and 5,300 answers. Overall, we average a return of 1.5 answers per question.

CSA: You also added visual reviews. Tell us about them.
AH: We wanted more than just text reviews. Lighting creates a mood in a room and photos can capture that. Visual reviews enable customers to provide pictures of our products in their rooms and spaces within their reviews, a method that helps users better understand the fit and feel of our lighting and home furnishings.

CSA; What are checkout comments?
AH: When a customer purchases a product, we invite them to briefly share with us why they purchased the product on the order confirmation page. Then we position these comments for other customers to view.

They differ from reviews because customers are sharing their reasons for making a purchase before actually receiving the product. Customers also reveal different use cases they are considering for the products in their home. This often helps other customers feel more comfortable about the merchandise, and how it will look or work in a specific room.

CSA: What kind of results have the new UGC delivered?
AH: Our content volume has grown substantially. We feature an average of 1,500 reviews per month, all with an average of 4.5 out of 5 product ratings.

Customers now have a lot more information to better understand products they are researching, and as a result, we’re seeing conversion increases. As we continue using user feedback to enhance our product copy and images, the number of questions submitted per month is decreasing. Ultimately, with more information provided for product copy and customer reviews, customers can make more informed decisions, and hopefully there will be a reduction in the number of returns.

CSA: What is the next step in your UGC strategy?
AH: We plan to make it easier for customers to contribute UGC, in particular, when sharing merchandise images and videos. We also plan to promote #myLampsPlus online and in-store to encourage users to submit more visual content on our social media channels.

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TECHNOLOGY

Report: Amazon invests in smart thermostat company

BY CSA Staff

A new investment proves that Amazon isn’t worried about losing the chance to sell Nest merchandise.

The online giant is investing in Ecobee, a smart thermometer manufacturer. The company raised around $62 million in a series C round of funding from investors, including the Amazon Alexa Fund, according to CNBC.

Ecobee’s smart thermostats work in conjunction with software and systems from Amazon, as well as those from Apple, IFTTT, Google and Samsung. While the devices are sold on Amazon, merchandise is also available in stores across Apple, Best Buy, Home Depot and Lowe’s, CNBC reported.

The deal coincides with Amazon’s growing interest in smart home technology. Last week, Amazon acquired video doorbell supplier Ring in a deal worth $1 billion. This followed the online retailer’s December acquisition of Blink, a startup that makes smart home security cameras and security systems.

The Ecobee deal also comes on the heels of Amazon’s announcement this week that it will stop selling smart home products made by Google-owned Nest.

To read more, click here.

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TECHNOLOGY

Taming ‘retail chaos’

BY CSA Staff

Emerging technology disruptors continue to cause “retail chaos,” making it harder for retailers to achieve true unified commerce, according to Kevin Connor, director of product strategy for Retail Pro International. Chain Store Age recently spoke with Connor, who discussed how brands must define their business needs — and the solutions that will help them achieve their goals — if they want to succeed in an ever-changing marketplace.

What are retailers’ priorities when it comes to unified commerce?

Consumer experience is the top priority in today’s unification of commerce. Building a durable, multifaceted relationship with the consumer, one that goes beyond a transaction, is paramount.

The incredible pace of unified commerce is changing the retail landscape. Knowing your customers should always be a priority — it serves as the pillar with which you can build the rest of your operation.

What role do technology disruptors play in unified commerce?

Disruptors play a huge role in two ways. First, they create just enough chaos to shake up the retail world and generate new demands where technology can be leveraged. Meanwhile, the same pool of disruptors create solutions for these new demands, and bridge together all commerce channels. It’s the yin-and-yang of unified commerce.

What do you mean by the power of ‘chaos’ in the marketplace?

What we call “retail chaos” is caused by trends that current solutions do not support. It is very easy to be overwhelmed by the barrage of companies that claim they can solve “the” problems you face. Unfortunately, this claim causes even more chaos and uncertainty for retailers. They find themselves in a constant change management cycle, spending valuable resources in time, money and staff to invoke the latest in vogue solutions — just to find that they need to regroup, rethink and restart addressing “the” problem.

Focusing on what matters is the solution. Albeit a simple one, it is not so simple to adhere to with retail chaos flying around at the speed of change. Slowing down and keeping an eye to what is truly needed to move to the next level will be the retailer’s key to success.

Where do retailers struggle most?

Identifying the path forward is definitely one of the biggest challenges for retailers. There is no one unified commerce journey, and the path varies from retailer to retailer. Identifying what matters —and what doesn’t — and ultimately implementing solutions that will keep the retailer relevant in the consumer’s eyes is the key to navigating their journey.

How are customizations playing a role in dealing with retail chaos?

Customizations are an interesting solution for today’s retail challenges. On one hand, they allow a retailer to be nimble without having to ‘rip and replace’ the entire technology stack. Yet, customizations also have the potential to keep a retailer from adopting new technology from the very same disruptors they are talking with to help them adapt. Choosing the right areas in their business to customize will make retailers most successful.

How can Retail Pro help retailers on their journey?

One of Retail Pro’s biggest strengths is the role it plays in being a hub for consumer and retail data. Being a primary connection point between the consumer and the retailer’s channels gives retailers a platform they can depend upon. They know exactly what returning consumers have been done, while still leveraging that knowledge and experiences of new consumers in their stores.

How can retailers transition from chaos into the ‘retail reality?’

Know what you are aiming to do, and know why you want to do it. This will help anyone build — and stick — to a strategy. At the end of the day, technology will continue to change. If we are continually trying to keep up with the chaos that is created by the shifts in trends and technology — without keeping some level of clarity and focus on why we started in retail to begin with — we will constantly lose our way.

Those suffering from retail chaos need to start with the basics. Identify what is needed and wanted in our space, and be honest about this one. It may not always be overtly apparent. Once we have that, move on to identifying what are the viable options out there to address those needs and wants. Analysis of what will work in our space may take some time. Realize this and don’t panic if the solution is not manifested before the next round of chaos comes knocking. If we do this, what we want for our retail reality will happen, and it will happen with the least number of headaches.

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