Needle Adds New Features To Its Customer Advocate Service For Shopping Sites
Salt Lake City-based company expands beyond live chat with advocates to customer-created answers, demos and other new capabilities.
Needle operates on the principle that the best marketers for a product are happy owners of the product.
Today, the Salt Lake City-based company is expanding on that principle, with the launch of its Advocate Marketing Cloud for shopping sites.
Founded in 2010, Needle previously offered a real-time chat with advocates, selected customers who are fans of the product line. Needle recruits top customers online — it currently manages between 350 and 500 advocates — then screens and certifies them, provides them with information and rewards them with points that can be exchanged for products and with cash.
President and COO Scott Pulsipher told me that the chat was designed to assist customers at the bottom end of the sales funnel, when they were close to making a purchase decision. Over last Black Friday weekend, Needle says it generated more than 56,000 chats that contributed to $3.6 million in sales.
The new Cloud, he said, adds mid-funnel attention, as it provides info, advice and assistance for visitors sorting through possible choices.
The new Instant Answers offer advocate-created on-demand answers with text, photos and video about specific questions, such as the difference between two similar-sounding products. A user can ask the question on the product page and soon receive a pre-written response from an enthusiast. There are also new tools for advocates to generate photo- or video-based demos.
Also new is List Builder, a tool for capturing email addresses and Facebook names provided by site visitors in conversation with advocates. That information, Needle said, is sometimes released by visitors in exchange for product discounts.
Within several months, the company expects to add what it calls Advocate SEO, where previous conversations with advocates are searchable for specific answers, like the best camera for shooting active sports.
In a typical use case, Pulsipher said, a customer on the site of a retailer might browse for a high-end HDTV. Needle’s software notices that the visitor is comparing products, and then it sends an invite to talk to an expert, who is an advocate. Pulsipher said about two or three percent of visitors accept the invitation.
Needle’s advocate management is focused on “considered purchases” that require some research and consideration, including footwear, home and garden, computers, sporting goods and automotive products. It says it currently supports about five dozen shopping sites.
The company claims its new Cloud yields five to 10 times more sales conversions than normal and generates an increase in average order value ranging from ten to 35 percent. Golf retailer TaylorMade and electronics retailer New Egg were among the companies that have utilized the Advocate Cloud during its beta phase.
Pulsipher acknowledged that influencer marketing can generate some of the same enthusiasm by non-sales people, support communities like Lithium’s offer peer-to-peer advice, and plenty of sites provide related user-generated content or live chat with support personnel.
But, he added, his company’s new product suite to harness advocate enthusiasm has no “natural competitor in shopping.”