Editor’s Note: Each month contributor Louis Camassa — a seasoned ecommerce developer, and the author of our “Tips for Newcomers, Mostly” blog — will identify a feature from an existing ecommerce site that is well executed, and applicable to other merchants. For the first installment, below, Camassa analyzes Apple.com’s “Questions & Answers” feature on its online store.
Low prices, fast shipping and good customer service are expected by most consumers. What can you do to differentiate your company and create a vibrant community of customer advocates?
Consider a “questions and answers” system. It solves the needs of (a) prospective customers not knowing enough about a product to buy it, and (b) existing customers who purchased a product but are unsure on how to use it.
A questions-and-answers section allows a visitor to view, post, and reply to questions and answers on specific products. It’s a union of a reviews system with a forum — a terrific way to build customer-generated content, search-engine-optimization rankings, credibility, and conversion, all while reducing your support and sales overhead. An effective questions-and-answers system empowers advocates to monitor the posts, making replies, flagging inappropriate responses, and interacting with site visitors and potential buyers.
Apple.com’s ‘Questions & Answers’
Apple.com’s online store uses a questions-and-answers feature very effectively. It is located on nearly every product page in its store — typically in a prominent position. Clicking on the “Questions & Answers” link takes you to that specific product’s questions and answers, all of which are generated by consumers. Helpful tools on that page are:
- Search (also allows you to submit a question);
- Similar questions;
- Best answer (determined by the number of people that rate the answer as useful);
- Flag as inappropriate (self-contained policing system).
These tools allow your prospective customers to quickly find questions and answers that will help them overcome doubts about purchasing a product. Conversely, it may influence a consumer away from a purchase. However, this valuable, consumer-generated information can’t be found in a brick-and-mortar store or even articulated by the best sales associate. Simply put, it’s the accumulation of feedback from people using the product.
‘Questions & Answers’ Page Format
The actual posting of a question requires the visitor to type into the search feature, which isn’t readily apparent and probably reduces the amount of questions.
The format of the overall page is designed to address:
- The question;
- Who is asking, and the date;
- Ability to flag as inappropriate;
- Best answers;
- Who is answering, and the date;
- Answer now;
- How many answers;
- Similar questions.
Armed with this information, a consumer can click the question to go into a more detailed view.
Formatting for Specific Questions
The pages at Apple.com for specific questions offer an expanded view of the features presented on the summary pages. Visitors are allowed to rate each answer as useful or not. The answer with the most useful ratings is marked as the best answer. This self-policing system helps build quality answers, and conveniently removes non-helpful or spammy answers.
Related questions are positioned below all the answers, and feature the product related to the question. This creates a terrific cross-referencing schema helpful to usability and search engine optimization.
Posting a Question or Answer
To ask or answer a question, a quick signup process is required. This reduces spam, gets the visitors one step closer to purchasing, and allows for the emailing of answers.
Going Beyond Apple’s System
To encourage participation, merchants can consider going beyond Apple’s system and offer the following enhanced functions.
- Customer points. Answer providers are rewarded for each “useful” rank they receive, which can be applied toward future purchases.
- Photos and videos. Allow customers to post photos or videos with their questions and answers, providing more clarity and content.
- Verified buyer badge. If the customer purchased the product from your website, post a badge that identifies them as such.
- Associated reviews and articles. Allow customers to link to other onsite reviews and articles that may answer the question.
- Overall Q&A page. Develop an overall questions-and-answers page that will house all the questions and answers from all products. Also allow for general, non-product specific questions.
- Social sharing. Add buttons for customers to share the questions and answers to Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and other sites — for greater marketability.
- Contest. Create contests where customers with the most answers or best answers win gift certificates.
A questions-and-answers system is a helpful feature that is especially suited for complex products. Apple.com’s system is well designed, and likely helps increase sales and reduce customer-support queries. If you receive repeated emails from prospective customers who are unclear on the specifics relating to your products, a questions-and-answers system may be ideal for your business.