Tried it, with a visible button link from every individual product page. The response was underwhelming. In fact, I gave up waiting for a response.
Mine was in the form of a contest that customers could enter to win items they liked. Still trying to find the angle though, as I see the potential...
My guess for the main reasons would be:
1) Resources to implement it- every shop I know has dozens of tasks/projects that need doing
2) Time to monitor/administer- deleting SPAM messages, answering questions, etc.
3) Less than critical mass of community members- no one wants to belong to a community that doesn't have anyone in it
4) Too busy focusing on the core business issues- trying to do too much dillutes your efforts and results
I've no plans for a forum, but do plan to add customer reviews this year.
Maybe even add a loyalty/rewards system (points with orders for money off) that we could then use as an incentive. 'Review your purchase & even bonus points!'
Back when I had a "job" I did some SEO for a company that sold widgets and they also had a forum. Activity was sparse at 2-5 days between postings for the first 6 months. I checked now and after 2 years they have 303 registered users and 1200 posts. Obviously most registered users only have 1 post.
After 2 years that's a lot of $$$ they've paid (if broken down salary wise to an hourly rate) for having someone monitoring the forum and replying to questions.
I would think this wouldn't work for many communites (like candles) but could work for some (computer hardware). I think a place like NewEgg could have extremely successful forums.
Another thing maybe is that people just don't see a store as a community they would feel part of. I mean people like to browse around, add to cart then buy or not but hanging around for a chat just isn't what they're into when they have their shopping hat on.
If you were to offer support on the products then the community could develop from that but otherwise I see it as a bit of a non-starter for most projects.
If you don't have a critical mass an empty forum reflects badly on the rest of the site.
Most supplier forums are dominated by complaints, usually from the congenitally dumb who blame everybody except themselves for their own mistakes. While giving some useful feedback again it refelcts badly.
The one single "community" feature I personally find valuable on a consistent basis are the consumer product reviews on a certain large discount chain store's website. They do seem above board and unbiased on the whole, because there are valid points made about the negative features of some products, which then become an important criteria for selection among available products.
That doesn't mean I still won't continue to do price and shipping cost comparisons at different sites, but from the viewpoint of someone who's had affiliate links on sites linking to that merchant, I can honestly say that it doesn't hurt one bit for more_than_decent conversion percentages, even when the reviews are less than perfect.
We have had a company forum for years. It is primarily concerned with technical issues. It is not really intended for ecommerce, but we do get some sales from it.
And we actually spend very little time on it since we got it set up to avoid all the usual spam, and found a couple of volunteers to moderate it.
Not sure how much business we actually get from it, but a host with a forum can be as cheap as $100 a year, so even one sale will pay for it.
As mentioned before, I think the biggest problem with forums is critical mass. Every customer we've ever had would need to be on the forum for it to work properly. I don't think that is going to happen.
A number of companies have tried them, as have we some years ago, and all have been pulled through lack of interest. People don't have much time for stuff like that anymore.
We took our forum down after six months, because we didn't achieve a critical mass. The few posts we got each week were typically of the, "where's my stuff" variety, or to report dissatisfaction with a widget.
Without active "marketing" to get people involved, it's difficult to motivate customers to add the kind of good content we were looking for. People are quick to complain, and not motivated to share a positive story, or to reply to other customers posts.
Personally, I believe that having a Community Forum, as well as a Blog, are invaluable tools toward additional promotion and marketing for an eCommerce business - especially if one is responsive to member questions/concerns in a timely and professional/courteous manner.
Word-of-mouth marketing is, perhaps, one fo the most powerful marketing tools you cna utilize and benefit from. A properly administered Community Forum and Blog are, perhaps, two of the best modes for word-of-mouth marketing (not to mention MySpace).
community forums are great - we regularly go on competitors forums and advise their dissatisfied customers they can get what they want from our sites - and thats another good reason we don't have forums ourselves
We also setup a forum for customers to post comments and ask questions. The only real action it saw was spammers. We have since removed it. What is funny is we get a ton of links from other forums on the web.
|The only real action it saw was spammers. We have since removed it. What is funny is we get a ton of links from other forums on the web. |
That is pretty easy to get around with any decent forum software package, even most of the free ones.
The new versions of Vbulletin use Captcha, and we have been totall spam free on that.