Consumer collaboration can be a very challenging and frustrating objective because of the time and patience required to develop the relationship along with the challenge to draw the consumer into the relationship.  The retailer must first determine how to draw the customer into the collaborative relationship which is in itself a series of trial and error experiments and then the retailer must continuously communicate and provide reasons for the consumer to return.  Consumer collaboration is very much a method of retaining the consumer on the site and encourage the consumer to return over and over again.  In order to really be successful with consumer collaboration the retailer must encourage and develop a consumer community that encourages both participation and maintenance of the community by the consumers.


The retailer should view the consumer collaboration community as a method of social shopping.  The retailer in this case is creating the environment for consumers to share their experience and usage of the retailers products which in turn will encourage the consumer to return and purchase.  This is important because the retailer cannot hope to be successful in a price competitive shopping environment.  This consumer collaboration community will provide the environment that encourages consumers to return over and over. 


One of the greatest challenges for developing this collaboration community is enticing the consumer to enter and explore.  This requires a commitment from the retailer to not only provide the technology framework for the community but also the content that interests the consumer to first try and then to return.  This is difficult because the content must be continuously fresh and interesting, especially in the initial development stages of the community.  While the long term goal of the retailer for the community, from a content perspective, is that the community members produce the content, the initial startup will require a focused effort on producing the content by the retailer.  This is no small investment and a primary requirement to the long term viability and value of the community.


Another critical challenge for the community is encouraging the consumers to return and also explore the community.  A key ingredient to encourage the consumer to return is fresh content as discussed above.  Another practice to encourage the return of the consumer is what I refer to as engaging the consumer in a conversation and encouraging other consumers in the community to participate.  This, again, is a long term goal that requires an initial investment in time, similar to the community content requirement I discussed above.  I refer to the engagement as a conversation because it is important to encourage a two way interaction that not only responds to questions but also encourages suggestions and eventually the community members creating content for the community.  This type of engagement does not result from a single tools such as surveys but it results from a wide range of tools and communication methods that allow the consumer to participate as much or as little as they desire.


Successful collaboration between the consumer and the retailer is difficult and requires patience to overcome the initial startup hurdles of growing the consumer participant base at first.  Then when the community is established it requires patience and support to ensure the community is fresh and interesting while at the same time safe from predators that will prowl the community.  This is not an easy task and will require the long term commitment from the retailer to establish and maintain.  On the other hand, though, the benefits can be great and provide a key factor to the continued success of the retailer.  This community and participation of the consumer in the community provides continuing opportunities and encouragement for the consumer to purchase and this can become the key factor for customer retention, rather than the fleeting search for the lowest cost.


And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

ECommerce will have wide ranging impacts on both the retail and manufacturing sectors.  How can you focus these abilities to improve the consumer's experience?  Improving the consumer’s experience will require a re-evaluation of the sales channels, the manufacturing channels and practices and the supply chain channels and practices from the raw materials to the consumers’ homes.  In order to ensure and maintain success in this new reality you must harness the tools and capabilities in many new areas.  How can you support these continuously changing requirements?