A forum about what? Why would someone visit your forum at all?
I have chosen to do business with a few companies primarilly because they have publically available forums. I remember one in particular (a web host) with meaningful complains -- not many, but maybe two. I saw almost immediate responses, and even a few "You dummy, that's your fault," from other customers. I read many compliments from happy customers. I got to know the guys a bit and liked what I saw. I was so impressed, I signed up.
If your product is good, and if your customer service is good, it should be a plus, not a minus. If there is a habit of ignoring complaints, or of shoddy merchandise, then it will hurt businiess. But in that case, the business would deserve to be hurt, so it would work out fine.
I would say that everything on an ecommerce site should be for one purpose - to make the sale. Is the forum going to help you mak the sale?
I have been thinking about putting forums on my ecommerce site too. I got the idea from seeing another site that has very extensive forums where customers get together to compare their impressions of particular products. They write reviews and even trade products with other customers. There are a few negative reviews, but the forums are overwhelmingly positive, and it gives customers the opportunity to be not just consumers but part of a community. I think the community feeling is an important aspect that is missing from online shopping vs. brick-and-mortar shopping. The forums also function as a source of new products, since the customers constantly request this or that product be created. So the forums don't produce sales directly but they sure create good feelings amongst the customers, and that has got to produce sales.
The site sells a product that IMO is not especially good and is very over-priced, but they really know how to sell the product's sizzle. They are doing extremely well and have a huge amount of repeat customers in spite of the fact that they are very disorganized and understaffed and regularly do not ship an order for at least 4 weeks after payment. This delay, which would be the source of endless chargebacks for some other company, has become a part of the culture of a purchase from this company because of the forums, where people happily commiserate about the delay.
I go to this site regularly for inspiration even though I don't sell this particular type of widget. I've learned a lot from it and just started up a newsletter in hopes of beginning to take advantage of this same feeling of community and customer feedback, kind of dip my toe in the water. The only negative thing about forums I can see is the time and aggravation of running them.
Several people (including myself) I know have found forums/discussion groups a disaster. Unless they are moderated you will find that you get a bucketfull of improper ads for other (dubious) products, pranksters and so forth. I say forget the idea. It will do nothing to generate sales, and may even put people off.
Forget the forum - you want to sell stuff or play moderator all day?
If you moderate the negatives they'll just blast you elsewhere that you have no control, like epinions.
I'd say an emphatic NO!
I've recently added a wiki subdomain to our ecommerce site. Besides the wiki part there's also a forum and a blog. None of this is directly related to our business - that's to say that none of this is intended to benefit sales - but it is directly related to events in which we participate. So the focus is to those events, and the people involved with them. I expect that some of our regular customers will manage to find the link on our home page and stroll over. In fact I know it's already happening. But those people will really find little of interest besides a look into some of the things we do when we aren't making widgets.
I also anticipate getting a few good editors from the target group, which will eventually reduce my admin workload.
We have had a forum for years. Never had any problems with it. Judging from our tracking, about 3% of our sales come directly from it.
And as far as spending all your time moderating, we have not found that to be true. There are things you can do.
Well, We sell instructional hair braiding DVD's and in the forums women can talk about hair care, conditioning, braids, maintenance, etc. I will also have an off topic and on topic for general chit chat. I think it will be big AND be a place for just like a womens hang out to talk about issues, hair, etc.
Forums on an E-commerce site need full time moderation for your own protection.
What safe guards will you adopt to prevent your competitors using it as a playground and leaving unsavoury messages about your service?
....just for starters
I would consider it if I could justify one by increased sales. However, I would be worried about time taken to clean up spam and moderate the forum.
I have to be honest, right now, it's just me which is good enough for now but I'm going to eventually need to have somebody who is able to jump on a couple of times a day just as a backup
I see increased sales if there's lots of good testimonials ...but you don't need a forum for 'em.
I don't think you'll sell more product by having somewhere for your visitors to hang about unless you use data capture.
I have been running a forum, and am planning to deploy one now as a commercial business.
The forum is the product I am selling (not the software, but content).
As many have mentioned it there are two things you have to be very careful of.
a. it is a double edged sword. If you sell products and the forum is a customer voiceing board, you better respond to complaints, and problems, otherwise you are in deep trouble. Do not delete complaints, but make sure your response is timely, proper, and to the benefit of the customer. You would be surprised how much a negative post with a good outcome brings in new customers!
b. Forums are a full time job. Either you, or moderators working for you. Depending on your volume, you will need at least one per discussion group (collection of threads), often two or three. On a decent sides board, like WebMasterworld count the number if unique moderators. I think there is about 30 or so mods here! So now you have to shepperd 30 people to keep on top of your discussion groups daily.
Benefits are ample of forums. You will get repeat customers, and they are your best advertisement.
You will find out about your competition, from disgruntled customers.
You will have to opportunity to publicly resolve customer issues and gain more trust and brownie points from other customers or lurkers (or fail miserably, and alienate everyone).
Good luck, and forget sleeping the first year or so...
I really think it depends on what type of product/service you sell.
rb, I think a forum would probably work out well for your customers. Most women do like to talk about hair styles, products, etc. I think one of the main thing for forum owners that want to drum up business is that they need to BE there. Show you're interested, give advice, point them to other products (not just ones you sell) that they might be interested in, ask what else they'd like you to carry. I've seen forums create almost fanatical customers for many businesses, and you can't duplicate their word-of-mouth advertising for any amount of money.
It is horses for courses.
A 'girly' site may well lend itself to a forum (which really would become a chat room).
I dread to think how much attention a site and its business is deprived of whilst the owner is busy moderating.
I would try to get some sort of user interaction in the site. Either it's forums, comments, ratings or all of it. The more interaction you get the more the visitors get the sense of a community.
Sure there always be people complaining about something, but being open and interact with the visitors is worth it. Visitors might think that the interaction is too limited so they go to a competitor.
Amazon.com can be studied, they have some bad mouthing and really lousy reviews by users. However there are some really good and professional user reviews as well.
|I would say that everything on an ecommerce site should be for one purpose - to make the sale. Is the forum going to help you mak the sale? |
Directly, no. By giving people a reason to not just shop, but hang out at my site instead of 100 others selling from the same dropshipper, most of these being good, clean e-commerce sites that indeed have nothing to do but buy, yes yes YES! I intend to use their sterility to my advantage (rubs hands together greedily). I know that the company's forums for their wholesale jobber customers have really given my loyalty a boost, and I have learned about and started buying new product lines discussed there by others.
This works in a market for widget parts, where people want to chat about which part might be bad, tips for installing them, how to care for and maintain their widget or customize it etc. A site selling simple buy-and-done commodities would have no use for a forum.
As far as spending too much time moderating, remember the philosophy of working ON your business instead of IN it. Learning to delegate (and assembling the team that carries out your will with only a reasonable input of your effort) is a steep learning curve! Wish me luck... I'm such a forum junkie as it is, having my own forum might be hazardous!
Directly, no. :)
|A site selling simple buy-and-done commodities would have no use for a forum. |
I would respectfully disagree. I've just come over from my own little forum, wiki, blob spot and left 20 visitors lurking about. It's 1:00 am, and they all aren't shopping on my buy-and-done part of the site. Beats me what they're up to, but I don't mind the extra traffic one bit. You made a good point about delegation. I have managed to draw in a few trusted people to assist with the management of that part of the site. It's still way too soon to say if this will be a success or a huge wasted effort. I'm optimistic.
I would like to include in this discussion five major benefits from a Forum, as they;
oAllow you to get educational information on your website.
oAllow you to increase traffic through repeat visitors.
oAllow you to capture email address and details of posters.
oAllow you to gain more creditability.
oAllow you to build relationship with visitors.
.......The main disadvantage with forums is the amount of time and effort required to get them started and maintain them. But then seeing the benefits, its worth having...i think.
On one of the ecommerce sites I manage we have a very popular forum which relates not only to the products we sell but the 'lifestyle' our store deals with. We employ a student at a local college to act as the main moderator.
We find that users and competitors sometimes attempt to link to competitor's sites however we found a simple mod that removed our key competitor's URLs.
We find that having lively forums keeps our customers interested in our site.
|On one of the ecommerce sites I manage we have a very popular forum which relates not only to the products we sell but the 'lifestyle' our store deals with. |
I think that is the key. If you set up a general forum that is off topic from your business, it might well be counterproductive.
Rather than a forum why not make it a product review system. This is essentially the same as a forum only more targeted to what you are selling. There are a number of ecommerce sites I use that make use of a review system, reading the reviews helps me as a consumer choose one product over another.
However this can be a double edged sword and it won't do away with the need for moderation etc. But it could help sales. At the end of the day, I think that the general concensus is that if it isn't adding value don't do it.