I just returned from my second trip to Toronto in the last two months and was again impressed with the Web-savviness of the Canadian audience. Did you know, for example, that Canadians are the world’s most active users of Facebook? Or that Canadians spend, on average, two more hours per week viewing online video than their counterparts south of the border?
And don’t give me that “Of course! It’s cold up there!” cliché. Canadian homes are wired and its businesses are doing some very innovative things to reach those web-savvy customers.
Take Future Shop. Canada’s largest consumer electronics retailer is using online community not only to learn more about its customers, but to help sell products and support customers. It has built an online advisory and customer support service that is like nothing I’ve ever seen.
“Ask an Expert” is formulated on a high-touch model in which sales associates are taught to be valued customer advisers. The company has come up with a strategy to duplicate that real-world experience online. The screen shot shows “Aaron,” one of the video avatars who guides customers.
“We’re trying to blur the lines between the offline and online experience,” says Robert Pearson, Future Shop’s director of e-commerce. “Our goal is to become the largest technology community in Canada.”
Future Shop is well on its way to that objective. In less than a year, the site has signed up 50,000 members, which would be equivalent to about 450,000 members in the much larger U.S. market. But the community isn’t just a discussion forum. Future Shop co-developed a ranking system with Lithium that lets customers provide feedback on each other and on the quality of information offered up by sales associates. Customer contributors can earn discounts and status in the community. The most helpful sales associates can earn cash.
Next up: Facebook-like functionality that gives contributors their own personal spaces and ties sales associate profiles to store locations. Success is measured by a survey of customer affinity with the brand. It’s still too early to draw measurable conclusions, but all the trends are pointing in the right direction. “We’re getting about 250,000 visitors a day out of a population of 33 million,” Pearson says. “That’s many more than come into a store. We actually see people walking in with printouts and asking for specific experts they’ve met online.”
Future Shop isn’t using video to be cool. It’s using video to reinforce an in-store experience that is essential to its business strategy. It has also bound its customers to the company in a way that is rewarding for both parties. The company is now owned by Best Buy, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar capability showing up on a retail website near you.