Focused on optimizing the online experience around its brands, Sears Holdings has taken a big step to engage customers in a meaningful dialogue and capitalize on the social sphere’s growing impact on Web shopping.
Ultimately, the Sears and K-Mart retail brands wanted to expand on the powerful tool of customer reviews by offering an extended user-based forum to serve as an online community. In May 2009, the retailer brands tapped Viewpoints Network, a Chicago-based social technology and media company, to power its online communities, MySears.com and MyKmart.com.
“We’ve been doing a lot of research in terms of CRM, but none of it seemed to peel back the onion and unveil the essence of our customers, what’s on their minds and what their needs are,” said Rob Harles, Vice President of Community at Sears. “More importantly, we wanted to create a dialogue with them to meet those needs, so the idea was to create a community where we could have that form of instantaneous communications and feedback.”
The Viewpoints Technology Platform is designed to enable MySears and MyKmart members to identify and connect with other likeminded customers to make smarter purchase decisions. Through the platform, MySears and MyKmart members can create a social profile, upload photos, create user tags, connect with friends, write blog posts, track their readership stats and exchange private messages with other community members.
The Viewpoints Technology Platform also gives MyKmart and MySears community members the ability to write highly personalized reviews, post comments on others’ reviews, participate in discussion boards and post ideas that the community can vote on. The platform then organizes these contributions to ensure that content helps convert browsers into buyers and is optimized to be easily found through organic search.
The Viewpoints Technology Platform is a unique combination of a very social profile, which encourages community and leads to multiple types of contributions, and a structured and optimized platform, which helps drive conversion and traffic.
“Marketers and their partners need to think long and hard about how to better engage with their customers,” said Matt Moog, CEO, Viewpoints Network. “Simply asking for someone to write a review and calling it a day is not enough…Every interaction with a customer is a golden opportunity to begin a mutually beneficial relationship.”
The Viewpoints Technology Platform is highly integrated within Sears.com and Kmart.com to offer consumers a richer shopping experience. MySears and MyKmart members are also able to read product reviews and display their own reviews, browse MySears and MyKmart by Sears.com or Kmart.com categories and click through to the ecommerce sites to buy products, all from their respective community site.
Customers can inform Sears about discrepancies in their shopping experiences. Harles recalled an overseas customer who was based in the Military and wanted to order from Sears but couldn’t because UPS did not deliver to his location. Harles said this enabled Sears to react in order to serve customers in the military five times faster by shipping USPS.
“A lot of the feedback that we’ve gotten from our customers has pointed us in directions that maybe we wouldn’t have naturally gotten there, or gotten there as fast in the past because we didn’t have this information,” Harles said.
Sears was able to meet demand for the holiday shopping season by polling community members on their favorite DVDs. Those answers were reflected in the in-store assortment selections. The retailer also reacted quickly to offer special outreach to those members that indicated an interest in particular titles.
“We believe that social and community needs to be part of our brick and mortar experience as well, so we’ve been moving more of [the community] into [the store] experience and trying to connect the dots,” Harles said.
Sears measures the value of content, conversion and SEO, basket size, average order values, and matches that information back to see if there’s a correlation between it and customer shopping history and behavior.
The program has also proven successful in terms of pure traffic metrics. After less than a year from launch, Sears has reported more 1.9 million users nearly of the social communities.