February 1, 2001, 12:00 AM

Talking it up

(Page 3 of 3)

With the help of Participate.com, OurHouse.com built its community of home enthusiasts from the ground up. To lure consumers to the community, OurHouse offered live chat opportunities with home improvement experts and launched a series of discussion boards. It interweaves sales opportunities into community features with a deft touch that gives buying opportunities a consistent presence on community pages, but at the user’s option. How?

For example, a text link will offer a community member writing a question about a hammer the chance to click on that word and go directly to the site’s retail page on hammers-but only if they choose to do so. “We do the reverse as well,” offers Burke. “If shoppers are looking at the lawn and garden product area of our site, for instance, there’s a button inviting them to the lawn and garden discussion board. We give our shoppers a way to get to the community to ask their questions, and we give our community members information on ways to shop with cross linking.” The result? Active community members at OurHouse on average buy 30% more than customers who are not members of the community.

The e-retailers leading the way in integrating community features have found them an important part of their sales strategy. Now that the heavyweights have figured out how to make community pay, community features are starting to make the cut at other e-retailers as well. No doubt, emerging data linking community tools with sales increases have helped accelerate their interest, but online community planners say that effectively managed, community can provide more over the long haul than simply a shortened path to profits. “There are two reasons to build communities: relationships and insight,” Cothrel says. “The byproducts of good relationships with customers are transactions, retention; all the things retailers want. The insight is the ongoing learning you get from a community you can’t get any other way.”

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