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ExpertVoice vehemently disagrees with some of Hill’s allegations. And although CEO Tom Stockham has declined to be interviewed at this time, ExpertVoice has provided OBJ with the following statement: “We were disappointed to see an opinion Q&A filled with misrepresentations and errors appearing in the publication. We encourage those interested in the facts to visit our original response letter.”
The response letter, plus a subsequent 2-page document delivered to OBJ, provides point by point rebuttals to the Grassroots allegations. Here is a synopsis of the key points and counterpoints, along with some follow up questions from OBJ and ExpertVoice’s response to those.
- Grassroots’ contention: ExpertVoice consumer-conversion sales model erodes the ability of a brand to sell at full price in other channels, including direct-to-consumer, big box specialty, and independent specialty outdoor.
- ExpertVoice counterpoint: ExpertVoice has conducted academic research led out of the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School, that shows sales associates that engage with ExpertVoice sell 82 percent more than their peers that do not. Other research conducted out of the Wharton School in conjunction with Keller Fay Group shows pros who engage with brands on ExpertVoice have 22.2 times as many weekly buying conversations that include product recommendations than an average consumer. And in third party optimization studies, product reviews written by ExpertVoice experts and displayed on brand product display pages have been shown to improve e-commerce sales by 15-30 percent.
- OBJ follow up question: Did ExpertVoice compensate in any way anyone involved with the Wharton School study?
- ExpertVoice response: To gain more industry insights, we commissioned this editorially independent study. It is available to all in the Harvard Business Review under the title: “Retailers are Squandering their Most Potent Weapons.”
- Grassroots’ contention: ExpertVoice is expanding their ‘pro’ database through the addition of national consumer membership organizations…general associate databases (examples: medical professionals, healthcare workers, firefighters , police, active military) as well as through the the addition of national consumer membership organizations (paid membership organizations with minimal or no ‘pro’ qualification requirements such as The Mountaineers, The American Alpine Club, Ducks Unlimited, Teton Gravity Research, etc.)
- ExpertVoice counterpoint: These organizations are experts in some of ExpertVoice’s largest categories outside of outdoor. For example, in the nutritional supplements category, media professionals and healthcare workers are experts on recommending their products. Brands have the choice of whether or not to target people in these groups. Not all brands target these groups. Brands can target different groups for different purposes … No brand targets all 1 million experts because that isn’t how our platform works. Our largest 100 brand partners each engaged an average of 25,000 experts over the last 12 months. Our next 100 brand partners each engaged approximately 7,000 experts. Additionally, a given brand can target different groups of experts for different campaigns. Brands have visibility into and ultimate control over what experts they target.
- OBJ follow up question: Could a brand, theoretically, choose to target all 1 million customers?
- ExpertVoice response: No, that’s not the way the ExpertVoice system works.
- Grassroots’ contention: In 2020, ExpertVoice reported that their channel grew to more than 1 million consumers, with the addition of 217,177 consumers in the last year including 9,000 healthcare workers.
- ExpertVoice counterpoint: End users of the ExpertVoice platform are verified and credentialed. Every month ExpertVoice verifies 20-25k applications manually, and another 15-20k through automated methods (direct ties to partners’ databases, team codes, manager approvals, email address domain verification or brand rep referral). Additionally, ExpertVoice works in categories outside of Outdoor including Hunt, Fish, Consumer Electronics, Pet, and Nutrition … In categories like nutrition and health, healthcare professionals have relevant expertise, so brands will target them. Other brands used the ability to target healthcare professionals to thank them for their service during the pandemic by providing discounts.
- Grassroots’ contention: ExpertVoice employee counts indicate conversion from consumer to pro is permanent.
- ExpertVoice counterpoint: We expire credentials when they no longer apply. Some types of credential auto-expire at a certain age. Others are kept fresh by an automatic feed that we maintain with retailers’ employee databases. In cases where we aren’t confident about credential expiration, we use other measures, like “ship to store” restrictions to protect the brand. Every month we expire the credentials of approximately 40k members.
- OBJ follow up question: Can you elaborate on how you come to know if credentials no longer apply? What types of credentials auto-expire? Can you give us a few examples of the ages at which those types of credentials expire? If a member/user has multiple credentials, and all of them no longer apply, do you disable that member/user’s access to the platform?
- ExpertVoice response: Different credentials expire in different ways. Some types of credentials auto-expire at a certain age. For example, industry professional credentials expire 1 year after verification. Others are kept fresh by a feed that ExpertVoice maintains with retailers’ employee databases. [*This answer has been edited to reflect an updated response from ExpertVoice.]
- Grassroots’ contention: Based on ExpertVoice membership statistics listed on their website, the ExpertVoice database includes a significant number of “phantom” employees— Grassroots’ term for consumers who have gained permanent brand discount status through an ExpertVoice approved company or organization, yet do not exist on that group’s actual member list.
- ExpertVoice counterpoint: The counts obtained on the ExpertVoice website represented all retail sales associates who have ever signed up for ExpertVoice at said retailer. These numbers do not represent associates who are currently active on the platform.
- Grassroots’ contention: Dick’s Sporting Goods openly reports 50,100 employees, yet has 130,449 members registered on ExpertVoice. MEC has 2,450 employees, and 6,788 members listed on ExpertVoice. Sportsman’s Warehouse has 5,100 employees, and 6,580 members listed on ExpertVoice.
- ExpertVoice counterpoint: There have been 130k associates from Dick’s Sporting Goods that have ever registered with ExpertVoice, but in the last twelve months 22k were active (out of 50k employees) and only 7k have made a purchase through ExpertVoice. There have been almost 7k MEC associates registered on ExpertVoice, but in the last twelve months 1.3k were active (out of 2.5k employees) and only 350 have made a purchase through ExpertVoice. And, there have been 11.7k associates from Sportsman’s Warehouse registered for ExpertVoice, but in the last twelve months 4.5k were active (out of 7k employees) and only 695 have made a purchase through ExpertVoice.
- OBJ follow up question: Above, you note how many Dick’s, MEC, and Sportsman warehouse company associates “were active” in the last year and how many “made a purchase through ExpertVoice” in the last year. Taking Dick’s, for example, where there have been 130k associates, but only 50k employees in the past year, are the remaining 80k associates unable to make purchases through the platform? Are the 28k employees who were not “active” able to make purchases through ExpertVoice?
- ExpertVoice response: To learn more about how we work with various retailers, please review the company’s initial response letter.