Shop.org live – how Carhartt turns visitors into customers with user-generated content

SUMMARY:

No brand would object to generating more user-generated content – but it’s not that easy. At Shop.org 2017, Carhartt shared how they upped their UGC game, and why it matters.

anna-cole-carharrt
Anna Cole of Carhartt at Shop.org ’17

We could inflate more AI hype balloons, or tour a Virtual Reality shopping center. But one of the biggest themes of Shop.org 2017 was practical:

How do we increase conversion rates?
How do we turn online visitors into customers?

A use case from Carhartt brought a different angle: the conversion power of user-generated content (UGC).

Anna Cole of Carhartt showed a packed Tech Talk breakout audience how Carhartt’s user-generated content tripled their conversion rate. For those unfamiliar, Carhartt is a U.S. based clothing company founded in 1889 with a focus on work clothes (“We’re a premium work wear company,” as per Cole). Carhartt remains a family-owned company, with global operations across the U.S., Mexico, and Europe.

Improving “clunky” feedback processes

Carhartt has a passionate consumer base. Cole shared an example of a special return program that didn’t work because customers didn’t want to send their old jackets in for new ones:

Consumers don’t want to part with their Carhartts. It lasts forever, and it’s one of those things that is passed down from generation to generation.

Carhatt has been on a journey to externalize customer feedback for a while. But until their recent UGC work with TurnTo, a UGC platform, Carhartt’s UGC program was limited:

For years we’ve had phone calls, and emails, and conversations to talk [with customers] about what is working and what’s not working, but we were never able to harness that information and make it outward-facing. In 2008, we started out with just ratings and reviews that sat on our product detail page. You bought something, we asked you for a review, and that’s where it ended.

There was minimal interactivity, and the entire process was “clunky”:

You could seek out and find that product detail page and write a review, but it wasn’t overly interactive. For the time, it was informative, but it certainly wasn’t mobile first, and it certainly was a little bit clunky, right? You had to register; you had to answer 10 questions: the submit button was a little off. We made it really hard.

Enter TurnTo. Which raises the question: Why? Why make UGC a priority? TurnTo has some answers, via their recent study, UGC and the Commerce Experience (free with sign up). In a survey of 1070 U.S. consumers, TurnTo found that 90 percent of consumers cited user-generated content as the most influential factor in their purchasing decision. 24 percent said that UGC was “extremely influential” when deciding what to buy – more than email, social, or search:

UGC impacts purchasing – fresh data

ugc-data-turn-to

Image from TurnTo’s UGC and the Commerce Experience survey

Now, I am always taking a grain of salt when a vendor’s survey results play in their favor, but it was interesting to hear TurnTo’s finding that 81 percent of the time, the consumer said they would be willing to pay more – and wait longer for shipment – to get a product that has user-generated content with it. This makes sense to Cole. Consumers seek authenticity:

Who are you going to believe, the manufacturer that says this is the best coat ever and it’s never going to wear out, or are you going to believe the farmer down the road that’s talking about how he’s had the coat for ten years and it’s still going strong?

Then, a frank acknowledgment:

Not every product we make is a home run. Not every product you buy is a home run. We want to make sure that we’re educating that consumer in their decision.

Raising the UGC game with TurnTo

So Carhartt decided to raise their UGC game with TurnTo. How did they do it? By embedding consumer content in “every step of the customer journey.” They did that by using all four components of TurnTo’s “Customer Content Suite.” Cole’s take on each:

  • Ratings and Reviews – “Of course. reviews will help influence and let consumers know how the product is working out.”
  • Visual Reviews – “We have consumers that are incredibly passionate. You’re going to see they send us great photos. This allows us to showcase that.”
  • Community Q&A – “This was new to us, but it’s been wonderful, and it’s community-based. Not only is our customer service team answering, but it’s a way to re-engage those who’ve purchased that product, and get them engaged in the community.
  • Checkout Comments – “Any marketer sitting here should be excited about checkout comments, because it’s marketing gold. It’s the purest feedback on why you bought a product.

Embedding consumer content in more places isn’t the only job. How do you get customers to post UGC in the first place? TurnTo dug into that question:

turn-to-ugc

Image from TurnTo’s UGC and the Commerce Experience survey

Cole shared how her team tackled the two biggest impediments: incentives and time. For incentives, her team doesn’t push price discounts. They go for community recognition:

We do not incentivize in the form of, “I’m going to give you a coupon,” or, “I’m going to give you a discount.” We’re not big fans of discounts. What let consumers know that their feedback is helping other consumers. We have a community of users and buyers that are very community-oriented. They want to help out their neighbor. A lot of times, by just letting them know how they’re helping others make decisions, they are much more willing to be able to leave that review.

Cole showed how they have embedded chances for UGC into mobile processes. These tactics have worked the best:

  • Ask the consumer to post content – It’s beyond obvious, but many brands don’t. “There’s the low hanging fruit for everyone in the room. If you’re not asking for the information, there’s the simplest thing that you can do.”
  • Test your timing – “The last thing you want to do is send a request when they’re over the product. We found that our sweet spot is 14 days.”
  • Don’t force extra steps – “When we started out, we sent a beautiful email. It was very mobile-optimized, as I’m sure everyone is mobile-optimized in here. But when you clicked on it, it took you out of your inbox, and now you had a form that you needed to fill out. [Now you can] write that review right within your inbox.”

The simple act of keeping the consumer in their inbox resulted in a 75 percent increase in Carhartt’s review submissions. Cole wasn’t sure what to expect from inviting comments during checkout, but it’s brought in quotes that have been put to use.

We are continuously listening to our consumers. Whether it’s us going out to the marketplace, reviewing phone calls and emails; we’re always listening to the UGC that we’re getting as well, and understanding how we can incorporate it in.

That listening yields surprises. Turns out a bib Carhartt made for farm work in the snow is being used by a lot of snowboarders. Carhartt’s popular gear for pets surfaces frequently in UGC, and of course, pictures of pets are the Internet’s content gold. That UGC feedback informs search engine optimization and the work of Carhartt’s internal copywriters.

My take

Many companies still insist on over-orchestrated branding that doesn’t show how real people interact. Cole takes a different view:

You always needed to start at a place of authenticity. We’re very fortunate that we have very authentic stories. Whenever you see all of our marketing material, know that it’s all real people.

Cole said that Carhartt was “lucky” to have such passionate fans/consumers. I’m not sure it was luck, but UGC is a lot harder if you haven’t developed some level of brand passion. Our B2B readers may be struggling with this aspect, but there is usually a subset of “true believers” that can be better served and in turn, will offer up good content.

UGC can be scary because it’s hard to control. But for most companies – even B2B vendors – the impact is happening whether you have a UGC program or not. Several diginomica partners at the show – all of whom have an SME solution – now have a critical mass of user-generated reviews on sites like G-Crowd.

It’s futile to try to control that, but testing ways to drive that feedback is worthwhile. Review transparency can be a bitter pill at times, but that beats the heck out of review-free product pages. Those don’t pass the sniff test anymore.

Image credit - Photo of Anna Cole at Shop.org by Jon Reed. Graphics shown at Shop.org credited above.

Disclosure - NRF provided me with press access to Shop.org 2017. Diginomica is a Shop.org media partner.