Practical Ecommerce

Google Helpouts Can Share your Brand’s Expertise

Most every ecommerce business can claim expertise in something. You wouldn’t be in business if you weren’t at least knowledgeable — and likely passionate — about the products or services you’re selling. Google Helpouts offers a new way to share that expertise in a way that differentiates your business from the competition.

What Is Google Helpouts?

If you use Google Hangouts (Google’s video chat product bundled with Google+), Google Helpouts will feel familiar. Helpouts offers anyone, anywhere the ability to offer advice via video chat. You can learn more and request an invitation to give Helpouts here.

Helpouts Welcome

Helpouts’ welcome page.

With Helpouts, Google has elevated video chat from something you do in your pajamas with your family and friends to a structured service incorporating appointments and payment via Google Wallet. People seeking advice search for a topic, sign up for a Helpouts appointment, and pay the requested fee. After the Helpout ends, the customer can rate and review the provider. Naturally, higher ratings will help attract more future customers.

Helpouts can be free or paid, with the provider setting the price he feels the market will bear. Google charges a 20 percent transaction fee for any paid Helpout.

Weight Watchers and beauty retailer Sephora are among the pilot partners for Google Helpouts, as are Sears Appliances, Home Depot, Banfield Pet Hospital, and many others — from big brands to the little guy in the next town over.

Applying Google Helpouts to Ecommerce Sites

Here’s an example to help visualize the possibilities. Say you just spent $449.99 on a new Vitamix 5200 mixer and you want to get your money’s worth. Sign up for a 15-minute Helpout with a chef from in-home culinary service Kitchit.com to learn about “Using a Vitamix like a master mixer.” The lesson will set you back $14.99, but that’s minor compared to the $449.99 you just spent on a blender.

Helpouts Kitchit

Kitchit’s Vitamix Helpout brings in additional revenue, demonstrates expertise, and promotes its services.

Put yourself in Kitchit’s shoes. Kitchit didn’t sell you that blender, but Kitchit knows that if you bought a fancy mixer you (a) may be intimidated by it and (b) probably have the money to spend on advice. That’s a service Kitchit can offer through its cadre of professional chefs, for a modest fee. At the same time, you’re being introduced to the brand and its higher-priced core offering of in-home gourmet meal preparation.

Now pretend that you’re Vitamix, Williams Sonoma, Bed Bath & Beyond, The Vitamin Shoppe, Amazon, Zappos, or any of the other ecommerce sites that rank on page one in Google for “Vitamix mixer” searches. These sites have the ability to sell you the product and then follow up with an invitation to a Helpout to teach you to use the product. Or they could feature Helpouts on the product or category pages to demonstrate the product in real time and help seal the purchase decision.

Can Helpouts Work for Smaller Sites?

The ecommerce sites mentioned above are run by big brands with budgets and marketing teams to match. But there’s no reason that smaller sites couldn’t do this as well. If the products you sell have a sufficiently high price and margin, or if the customers you target are loyal or likely to become loyal, Helpouts can work for any size business. Helpouts could also work nicely in situations where ongoing service is part of the cost of doing business.

Thinking creatively, every ecommerce site can find some way to use Helpouts. Demonstrate product usage both before and after the sale. Use it as a new way to engage customers. Charge for expert advice or offer it freely.

An electronics site could offer Helpouts to advise on equipment that’s compatible with your older systems, or how best to connect everything together, or recommend some new piece of equipment you didn’t even know existed – all while looking at the customer’s existing system in real time over video chat.

A site that sells men’s clothing could offer instruction on dressing for success from the board room to the golf course to the bedroom, complete with advice for that customer’s unique shape and coloring. Maybe the Helpout happens in the customer’s closet so the provider can see what he has to work with already. Perhaps the provider of the Helpout offers a special one-time discount code to help the customer put his new knowledge to use right away.

Keep in mind that Helpouts are both free to offer (assuming you don’t require payment for your Helpouts) and schedule. That means that they don’t need to cost you anything beyond the price of a device on which to hold the video chat and the price of employee time.

It also means that Helpouts won’t create an unsupportable staffing issue. If you only have a couple of time slots a day to offer Helpouts, that’s all you offer on the schedule. As appointments are booked, you’ll have a way to measure the increased demand and decide how or whether to increase resources to suit. Depending on the product or service you offer and the price customers are willing to pay for advice, Helpouts could bring in enough revenue to pay for the hours it takes to staff them.


Jill Kocher
Jill Kocher
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Comments ( 6 )

  1. Brad Bauer November 15, 2013 Reply

    What about the SEO value of having a helpout, out there? Can you comment on that aspect?

    It feels to me like google is building an index of human expertise, in addition to its index of books, web ‘stuff’, etc, etc

  2. Adella @ Wishpond November 15, 2013 Reply

    Hi Jill. Interesting topic to discuss! Google Helpouts’s popular misconception is that some sessions are expensive. But good news is a lot of brands are providing them for free like Home Depot (as you slightly outlined in this article). They already published their Helpouts video, “Handyman Help with Home Depot Apron Assistance,” which has already obtained tons of positive reviews from their audience. I really love how their employees (Home Depot experts) are actually educating them about all sorts of household issues. Let’s see how it works for brands :)

  3. Legs November 17, 2013 Reply

    How could helpouts benefit a local service site, like an insurance agency? Will helpouts drive more traffic?

    Using Vitamix as an example, could it work on a small authority site like blendersmoothies.com?

  4. Jill Kocher November 21, 2013 Reply

    Brad: The direct SEO value is low so far because Helpouts aren’t really linked to anything else. Even the provider’s Google+ profile doesn’t link to upcoming Helpouts, which I find very odd. The provider’s Helpouts profile page does link to the Google+ profile page, but not vice versa … yet. But it Helpouts gains traction and becomes an accepted way of doing business, I could see Helpouts ranking very well in search results in much the same way that YouTube ranks well for certain informational search phrases and some ecommerce searches as well.

    On the indexing of human expertise, you’re right, Google is absolutely looking for the best way to do this. Personal authority is harder to game than link-based authority because it is the aggregate of the content an individual generates or is generated about him/her online. The authorship program was a very visible step in this direction, and Helpouts may well be another.

  5. Jill Kocher November 21, 2013 Reply

    Legs: Helpouts will drive more traffic IF Helpouts becomes a goto source for people who want advice. Today? No, it’s too new. But so was YouTube when it launched in 2005. At this point, for it to catch on, more brands and individuals need to drive traffic TO Helpouts as a way to establish their (the brands’/individuals’) expertise. In the future, I can definitely see Helpouts as a traffic driver. But first it has to prove itself.

    As to whether it could work for a lesser known site with little authority, certainly. But the above still applies. BlenderSmoothies would not be getting much traffic or SEO benefit from Helpouts at this point. Helpouts are too new to have a large audience and they don’t yet drive link authority because they don’t link to your primary site. At this point it’s a potentially useful sales and customer service tool rather than a traffic driver. But getting in the door early could mean being a larger player in Helpouts when (if) it becomes the next YouTube.

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