George Eberstadt has spent the last 20 years leading companies who build social technologies. As the founder and CEO of TurnTo Networks, George has been exploring the intersection of community and online commerce.
In our latest partner spotlight, we asked him a few questions about disruptors and trends in the retail & eCommerce industries.
Wunderkind: What industry trend do you think will most impact your clients over the next few years?
George Eberstadt: There’s lots of shiny new tech on the horizon that promises disruption—voice interfaces, AI, AR and VR. But if the question is real impact, the most important trend has been going on for a while and has a lot longer to run. And that’s the shift of power from merchants to brands, and the corresponding concentration of volume in fewer, bigger merchants.
When I was a consultant in my 20s doing work in retail—that was more than 25 years ago—the toughest topic was “channel conflict.” Merchants had a lot of power as they controlled the customer relationship, and brands had to choose between direct-to-consumer strategies, often via catalogs, or wholesale distribution strategies. It was almost impossible to pursue both simultaneously.
When was the last time you heard the phrase channel conflict? Vast infrastructure has emerged to enable brands—both legacy and “digitally native”—to economically set up direct-to-consumer models with significantly higher margins than wholesale. In turn, mid-tier merchants have struggled.
Meanwhile, the largest, which still have strong value propositions to the consumer—Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Costco, and of course, Amazon—have thrived. We’re only part way through this realignment of the entire industry, with lots more change to come.
Wunderkind: What is the best online or in-store shopping experience you’ve had recently, and why?
Eberstadt: Can I give you a few? I start most days at the Gregory’s at 30th and 7th. I always get a cappuccino made the same way. This morning, my drink was ready before I had even ordered it. The barista saw me walk in the door and started pulling the shot before I got to the register. Now that’s personalization! (Thanks, Jolisa!)
The way Nike is using early access to new products to create a tiered customer experience, analogous to airline loyalty programs, is genius.
I’m skeptical of voice as an interface for discovery-oriented shopping. But my family uses it successfully for replenishment in the kitchen. “Alexa, order more chocolate sprinkles!”
Wunderkind: What are the biggest challenges that your company helps clients solve?
Eberstadt: The real value of TurnTo’s solutions ties directly to the trend I described in your first question. Customer-generated content is an essential part of any go-to-market strategy today. For direct-to-consumer brands, it’s a powerful and cost-efficient part of the marketing mix, especially for building trust and for reinforcing brand values.
For mid-tier retailers with focused product selections, it enables them to fight back against the biggest merchants by creating unique shopper experiences and demonstrating category expertise.
And for the biggest merchants, it supports their role as destinations for comparison shopping. Customer reviews that help shoppers make smart product selections within a huge catalog have always been one of the pillars of Amazon’s success.
Of course, how we do this matters, too. TurnTo’s effectiveness comes from our ability to collect more content of more varied types with easier customization to support the unique strategies of each of our customers.
TurnTo offers a suite of four customer-generated content (CGC) solutions that works best in tandem to help increase collection rates and drive conversions for their clients: Ratings & Reviews, Community Q&A, Visual Reviews™, and Checkout Comments™. To learn more about TurnTo, check them out on the Wunderkind partner page.