July 26, 2011, 1:51 PM

Adorama.com uses a Q&A tool to spark conversations about products

The tool enables customers to guide other shoppers seeking to buy photo gear.

Lead Photo

There are a slew of options—both online and offline—for consumers looking to buy photography gear. But there are far fewer options when consumers seek expert advice, says Glen Holman, chief information officer for multichannel photography equipment retailer Adorama Camera Inc.

Because consumers often have questions when they look to purchase photography equipment, the retailer decided it should add a question-and-answer tool. “We want to ensure that people get the right product,” he says. The only problem was Adorama didn’t think it could keep up with the volume of questions it was likely to receive.

Rather than try to tackle that task on its own, the retailer turned to its consumer base. The retailer plans to officially launch today the TurnTo Networks “Ask Owners” question-and-answer application that aims to build connections between shoppers by e-mailing a shopper’s question to a selection of consumers who have previously bought the item the shopper is considering.

Because the answers come mainly from other consumers who have bought the product, the quality of the responses is high, says George Eberstadt, TurnTo CEO and founder. “They’re often the expert because they own the product.”

A consumer can access the tool to pose a question on any of the site’s product pages by clicking on a Discuss button. When a consumer clicks the button a window appears that features a box where he can type a question. The window also features question ideas to get the consumer started, such as “I’m trying to decide what to get. Why did you pick this one?” and “How well did it work? Were you happy with it?”

In testing, Adorama’s Ask Owners e-mails had a 9% response rate, with consumers receiving an average of 4.3 answers per question—the majority of which appear within 24 hours, says Eberstadt.

The product also has an added benefit—it brings consumers who have already bought the product back to the Adorama.com, says Holman.

“We’re trying to increase engagement on the site,” he says. “Our belief is that any time we can provide meaningful content, whether that is provided from us or our customers, that content is valuable to consumers.”

TurnTo says 50 online stores use its software, with about 30 using the “Ask Owners” tool, says Eberstadt. Other TurnTo tools include Purchase Sharing, which asks consumers who have just completed their purchase why they selected the particular product, and Social Merchandising, which tells shoppers which of their friends also shopped at the store.

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