R. Scott Evans 

Social commerce engines (sCEs) offer new sources of insight driven by their vast behavioural and product-experience data. They also offer opportunities to enhance sample provisioning and survey execution to bring researchers closer to consumer experiences in the burgeoning digital world of consumer behaviour. The foundations for a new approach to market research are being laid by the rise of sCEs, which run the millions of product pages on which consumers find individual product reviews and answers to potential questions. Here, we outline how this development gives market researchers an unprecedented opportunity for new market insights.

A contributing factor to the rise of sCEs is ZMOT (zero moment of truth) behaviour, a term coined by Google’s Jim Lecinski. It refers to the way consumers are continuously researching their choices online and using a wide variety of digital sources to explore options, activity that is occurring even when individuals are making in-store purchases. The combination of ZMOT and sCEs means future market research must tap into this new environment in order to have insights that truly reflect consumer experience.

Mining this new behavioural phenomenon requires market researchers to understand how to take advantage of the data assets and customer touchpoints offered by social commerce engines. Entering into the world of sCEs means entering a dynamic big data environment, which challenges the way the market research industry currently sources sample, implements surveys, prioritises unstructured data and integrates behavioural metrics.

Consumer reviews
Enabling consumers in the ZMOT world is the fundamental business of sCEs. Unbeknownst to most consumers, these engines are running most of the product pages found on retailers’ and manufacturers’ web sites. In an ever-widening network, these same engines syndicate user-generated content to Facebook, Twitter and a host of related social networks and information feeds. This service involves collecting and authenticating reviews from consumers who have purchased a product, handling content moderation prior to publication, and creating seamlessly integrated web pages and data processes that enable consumers to see reviews on a product page without seeming to leave a retailer’s or manufacturer’s web site.

In the case of the largest sCEs, the consumer reach of their multisite networks is enormous. For example, Bazaarvoice alone covers 70 million products across thousands of clients, serves over 4.5 billion page views monthly and handles an average of 340 million unique visitors per month. The content feeding this activity is generated by over 65 million authenticated reviewers.

The role of research
Market researchers have a unique opportunity to access the behavioural and product-experience data held by sCEs, which historically have been focused on social commerce and have only recently become interested in the market-intelligence opportunity their unique position provides. This partnership is beginning to unfold along two lines:

  1. Increasing market research value through integration and enhancement of conventional research
  2. Creating holistic and dynamic insights using big data approaches, which combine highly contextualised unstructured data with exhaustive behavioural data across networks of sites and product categories.

First, the market research industry has the opportunity to enhance its value to its clients by collaborating with sCEs on sample-provisioning and enhanced multi-use surveying. What this means is that researchers can begin using sCE reach to generate high-quality targeted sample. In recent tests with a market research partner, Bazaarvoice found that 90% of reviewers in a single product category chose to participate in an additional survey fielded by a partner market research company. Of those that participated in the survey, 20% went on to join the partner’s online panel.

In the spirit of collaboration, market researchers can contribute to social commerce value by enabling its ongoing surveys to generate more appropriate review content for the sCEs. The market research industry can piggyback on the documented ROI of sCEs by demonstrating the ability to contribute additional digital content that has an impact on product purchases. For market research clients, the value of integrating sCEs and market research vendors is that both can contribute to social commerce and market insights.

Finally, the sCEs’ big data gives researchers access to detailed cross-channel behavioural and product-experience data. This data documents the consumer journey at the individual level across millions of products. The web analytics from a sCE’s network track how consumers engage with product narratives across multiple products and product categories. Combining this detailed behavioural data with product-level narratives provides an unparalleled access to the consumer experience.

Leveraging the unique consumer touchpoints of sCEs enables researchers to re-instrument sample provisioning and survey execution in both conventional and intercept designs. As researchers begin to build expertise in text analytics and big data analysis, they will be well qualified to translate sCE data assets into actionable insights for research clients. The current market research industry will experience enhanced relevance in a rapidly changing world.

R. Scott Evans is Senior Product Strategist, Bazaarvoice, USA.