Q&A: Cathy Halligan, SVP of sales and marketing, PowerReviews

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Cathy Halligan
Cathy Halligan

Cathy Halligan joined PowerReviews, an e-commerce vendor, this July after nearly five years with the world's largest retailer Walmart where she filled various roles, including CMO of Walmart.com. Her resume also includes marketing roles at a number of other multichannel retailers including Land's End, Williams-Sonoma and Gymboree. She tells Direct Marketing News what she expects this holiday season and how retailers can nurture the customer relationship.

Direct Marketing News (DMN): Many retailers are hopeful that this holiday season will be better than recent years. What are you hearing?

Cathy Halligan (PowerReviews): I remember October last year and it was just bloody. This season it's mixed. There's no dominant theme. The fundamentals still apply — having the right assortment in stock and making it easy to check out. Getting those fundamentals right is important.

One change is the rapid consumer adoption of new tools like shop-compare. Last holiday you didn't have that; you didn't have a lot of geolocation tools. No. 2 is consumer adoption of smartphones has picked up. I think that's significant because when you're standing in a store and you're able to pull up reviews, or prices, that's fundamentally different than coming into a store with your notes. Also, Facebook is the consumers' choice for community – hands down. I think you're seeing social tools, mobile and Facebook as the big changes. The fundamentals still apply, but the influence patterns are different this year.

DMN: Incorporating online reviews into an e-commerce website certainly seems to be more and more commonplace among the larger retailers. Yet when I arrive on their homepage, reviews often aren't the first thing I see. What are some of the best practices about giving reviews visibility?

Halligan: The consumer review is primarily used in the purchase decision, so that's where it belongs, on the product page. There is utility throughout the browse and search path and in marketing communications. The best practice has the review link above the fold at the top. It's about easy access.

DMN: You have a long history in retail marketing. How did you got to where you are now?

Halligan: A marketer is focused on solving consumer problems that matter in ways that are relevant to commerce. The No. 1 tool that consumers use in their purchase process are reviews, and that's a stat. Clearly that content is important. There has been so much innovation to drive commerce in a scalable way.

The Facebook “Like” – that didn't exist three quarters ago. PowerReviews is fully integrated with the social graph. [PowerReviews integrated with the Facebook “Like” symbol for retailers in June, and in September. it added new Facebook capabilities.] It's about the tools that influencing commerce. We're at an inflection point. The fundamentals still matter, but the tools are changing.

DMN: A handful of retailers are experimenting with selling through Facebook portals. What is unique about selling in a social setting?

Halligan: It's early days. There's not a data-driven point of view on the utility of selling on Facebook. If you don't know, though, why not try to figure it out? There's no downside to testing. Consumers have chosen Facebook so you have to test it; you have to try to understand it.

DMN: There are customers having conversations about your brand every day online, so how can retailers best leverage this conversation?

Halligan: There are customer conversations in service of brand objectives like reputation and then there are conversations around your marketing objectives, and then there are conversations about what's on sale, etc. You need to be mindful of which conversation you're talking about is important. At Wal-Mart, I could leverage the sentiment analysis, monitor the conversations that related to my brand.

Brands could push out a sales flier to their Facebook wall and see how people react.

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