May 20, 2010, 4:15 PM

TurnTo says it turns customers into advocates

TurnTo says it offers a way for e-retailers to build trust online. It markets a widget shoppers can click while on a retail site to see who of their friends or neighbors have purchased products from the store. Some clients report higher conversions.

Brian Rogal

If online shoppers don’t trust a retailer, they won’t buy. And trust can be a tall order on the web where shoppers can’t speak to a salesperson, test the products, or see them in person. And for expensive items like furniture, jewelry or vacation packages, online trust is an even bigger hurdle. 

TurnTo Networks says it offers a way for e-retailers to build trust among potential shoppers.  It markets a social widget shoppers can click while on a retail site to see who of their friends or neighbors have purchased products from the store and read their comments. Some online retailers are reporting higher conversion rates.

Jeff King, co-owner of ClubFurniture.com, a high-end retailer with an average order value of $2,000, says his site’s conversion rate has hovered for the last 10 years around 0.1%. But after adding the TurnTo widget in February, that rate increased to about 0.15%. That may not seem like much, but if conversions keep trending that way, the widget will help increase sales by about $500,000 over the next year, King says.  He estimates that ClubFurniture.com has annual revenue of about $3 million to $5 million. 

“Most people are used to buying furniture only after going out and seeing it,” King says, and then discussing the purchase with family and friends. The TurnTo widget, he says, helps recreate the social aspect of shopping. “It helps them know we have some history, and it shows we’ve been around.”

George Eberstadt, TurnTo’s CEO, says he started the company over two years ago after designing software to help an environmental travel organization market its upcoming trips by informing prospective clients which of their friends had already traveled with the group. “It’s two weeks of your life and thousands of dollars from your wallet,” he says, adding that many people wanted to discuss the decision with someone they knew who had gone through the experience.

Eberstadt then realized that other consumers would also find such input helpful. “The big light bulb that went off was that travelers weren’t the only ones who could use this,” he says.

TurnTo now has about 35 clients, including web sites selling computers, jewelry, electronics and luxury vacation packages. To use the application, customers click the TurnTo button on an e-commerce site, open the widget, and then choose to submit the names of friends from their Facebook, Plaxo, LinkedIn, gmail.com, or other accounts. <p>
TurnTo then compares those lists to the store’s customer list, and shows users their contacts who have made a purchase and what they bought. They’ll also see the number of people who live in their ZIP code and have made a purchase, as well as what they bought. Anyone purchasing a product is asked if they are willing to tell others—including contacts and friends or other shoppers they don’t even know—that they have made a purchase with the merchant.

Eberstadt says TurnTo’s software-as-a service application is easy to set up, requiring a few lines of JavaScript added to a web site’s code. Each store pays a monthly fee based on its size. “We created a model so even small sites can afford it,” Eberstadt says. TurnTo also offers a free, three-month trial period. “We’re really confident in the type of numbers it creates,” he says.

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