The customer experience is just as important to online ecommerce vendors as it is in-store, and increasingly more so. It’s no longer acceptable to think of one channel as being able to offer a complete and satisfying customer experience. Leaving online shoppers to navigate product information and read customer reviews means leaving sales on the table.

“Consumers are saying they want help in deciding what they should buy, they need help buying it and they want to get problems resolved, often with the help of a person,” said former eBay CEO John Donahoe. “Doing this is becoming essential if you want to be one of the winners. The more personalized you can make the experience, the more they buy.” Social media, mobile devices and digital services are changing how we shop at a rapid rate. Price comparisons are only a small part of the buying process, and often the final step. Information is king and getting shoppers information they can trust during this research process is critical for retailers.

Today’s path to purchase begins online. More than 80 percent of shoppers say they conduct online research before buying, according to a study by PwC. And while online reviews and recommendations from friends and family are popular and common sources of information, shoppers are increasingly turning to a new kind of expert to help make purchase decisions: the brand advocate.

It’s a phenomenon sprung from blogs and social media. Strangers have won shoppers’ trust. Shoppers are fed up with in-store service and are seeking out expert advice. Even friends and family are falling out of favor. According to a survey by Cisco systems, the top three influencers are anonymous, online sources. Online professional reviews are gaining in popularity even as recommendations from friends and family lose importance.

The opinions of Pinterest pinners, Instagram stars and bloggers increasingly carry weight as expert sources for shoppers. Savvy retailers such as Target, Nordstrom and Williams Sonoma are enlisting these folks to curate product collections, host online chats and contests, and act as product reviewers in new and compelling ways.

Competing largely on price was a never a good strategy and it’s an even worse one today, thanks to the smartphone. But while shoppers use mobile devices to compare prices both online and in stores, they are more likely to use them to search for product information and recommendations. Just 8 percent of shoppers in an IBM survey said they used their phones to showroom prices, but 32 percent abandoned a purchase while in-store after unsuccessful attempts to research a product on the smartphone, according to Tradedoubler research.

For retailers, it’s both a challenge and opportunity to provide smart information and assistance, digitally, when and where shoppers want it.

Needle links online shoppers with brand advocates in real-time using online chat. In the past, getting expert advice took a lot of online review reading and Google searches. With Needle, ecommerce websites can provide expert advice to customers directly from third-party advocates who can guide them through the shopping process and gain the trust of the customer.

Get ready to try and feel the Needle difference

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