Last-minute mobile upgrades for the holidays

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As the holidays approach, the question on many merchants’ minds isn’t whether mobile is important, but rather just how much growth they’ll see in mobile sales, visit and engagement.

While a total mobile overhaul isn’t feasible before the holiday rush, merchants can still tweak their mobile offerings in seven crucial areas to improve the shopping experience.

Last year, mobile usage surged by 50%, with a quarter of all online revenue in Q4 attributable to mobile devices — and all indications are that this year is is poised to see total mobile dominance. With fully three-quarters of brand interactions occurring on mobile devices as of the second quarter of this year, and with prognosticators estimating that online will influence a whopping two-thirds of all retail sales this holiday season, mobile couldn’t be more crucial.

That’s all well and good for merchants who are sitting pretty with highly-optimized mobile sites. But for the majority of brands, mobile remains a work in progress — which means that there’s still room for improvement in the final weeks before holiday shopping hits its peak. In his latest post for the eTail Blog, MarketLive founder and CEO Ken Burke reassures merchants that they have time to enact seven relatively simple, but crucial changes to their offerings to position themselves for mobile success.

Among the winning tactics: adding social sharing buttons to mobile site product pages. These tools are often given short shrift on mobile due to the constraints of screen real estate, but as Burke points out, “share” buttons are a gateway to higher brand visibility around the Web:

Social media has more influence on shoppers than current attribution models can show. Almost half of social media users report discovering new products via social media, and 36% recommend products themselves. Let those products be yours.

Burke cites MarketLive merchant Wilson’s Leather for pervasive placement of social sharing buttons; wish list and “forward to a friend” links complete the range of options for shoppers to save and pass along product information via their mobile devices.

Social sharing buttons for mobile - example from Wilson's Leather

Read the full eTail Blog post for all 7 last-minute mobile tips — and stay tuned right here for further holiday planning advice.

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Introducing the POS tool for bridging the online/offline divide – MarketLive News

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We’ve long been arguing that store associates are the key to digital store success. MarketLive announced yesterday the release of Omni-Touch POS, the feature set to empower those associates not only to stave off the specter of lost sales due to “showrooming”, but to successfully convert online/offline shoppers into loyal buyers.

Giving associates the training and tools necessary to supplement information shoppers access on their phones, as well as insights into to customers’ purchase histories and prior brand interactions, can transform an anonymous store experience into a nuanced one-to-one sales conversation. Consumers hunger for — and increasingly expect — staff members to act as mediators to the wealth of online information available about brands and products. When technology researcher Forrester asked what store associates equipped with mobile devices should be able to do for them, 80% of shoppers said associates should be able to check prices for them, 58% said associates should be able to provide further product information and access to customer reviews, and 55% expected associates to be able to access detailed technical specs. They also expected associates to have access to a brand’s total inventory, with 63% saying associates should be able to check inventory across local outlets; 53% expected associates to be able to reserve items at other locations for later pickup. And more than a third of shoppers expected mobile-equipped associates to be able to complete transactions without heading to the checkout line.

But while expectations are lofty in the hypothetical situation described in the survey, most consumers have significantly lower opinions of sales associates in current reality. Close to 60% of consumers believe they’re more knowledgeable than store staff about pricing and product availability, even as 54% say they would buy more from stores where associates were knowledgeable.

MarketLive’s Omni-Touch POS aims to change that dynamic, providing store associates with a powerful selling tool to service customers in-aisle. Via a user-friendly tablet interface, sales associates can:

  • Process in-store transactions, line busting in aisle, or behind the counter, leveraging peripheral devices such as a barcode scanner, card swipe, cash drawer, and receipt printer
  • Look up customer and order history information, recommend related items, and display catalog and extended product content to provide a fully personalized shopping experience.
  • Scan items in-hand, find products by keyword, SKU, UPC, and search the entire online product catalog from a single interface.
  • Find any item, whether in-store, in the warehouse, at another store, or online through endless aisle capabilities and ship it directly to the customer.
  • Provide ‘Buy Online / Pick-Up in Store’ fulfillment via MarketLive’s ‘pick, pack, and pick-up’ interface.

For further information about Omni-Touch POS, read the official press release. Or stop by MarketLive’s booth (#1021) at October 5-7 in Philadelphia for an opportunity to test drive the application and receive in-depth information.

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The 3 essential criteria to consider when assessing new eCommerce vendors

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With the online commerce landscape undergoing frequent seismic changes, agility has become a key criterion for assessing potential eCommerce platform vendors. The prospect of new mobile devices and formats and new social media outlets, along with ever-growing consumer expectations for a unified online/offline shopping experience, are among the reasons merchants seek to “future-proof” their sites and vendors promise to deliver infinitely-expanding capabilities.

Dials that go to 11 from "This is Spinal Tap"Merchants who’ve done their homework by thoroughly mapping core strategies and existing technology needs are ahead of the game, but the challenge is still acute. Not only must they separate fact from fiction when it comes to vendors’ claims about existing technologies, but they must also forecast what changes their brands will require in the years ahead, and assess which providers are best suited to adapt and innovate to meet their requirements.

Furthermore, it’s crucial that merchants enlarge the scope of their inquiry beyond futuristic features and formats to ensure that vendors have a solid foundation on which to innovate. As merchants contemplating a 2016 replatforming move into vendor selection mode, they should be sure to assess to following:

Flexibility. Some vendors may promise the ability to adapt their own platform to meet every future demand, and the ability to build custom or new features within their core technology is table stakes for online merchants. Vendors’ practices surrounding upgrades and new features are therefore essential to assess, via both detailed information from the vendor and conversations with existing clients.

But expecting an eCommerce platform to handle every item on the laundry list of feature requests from across the organization is unrealistic. Rather, merchant sites are often at the nexus of a network of technology partners and must be able to interface seamlessly with both online service providers and internal systems. That galaxy of potential third-party integrations is vast, with more than 1,000 companies in the online marketing space alone, by some counts. Merchants must ascertain whether a platform provider’s technology interfaces easily with others and whether key integrations are already part of the offering.

Performance. While the ability to innovate is crucial, all the fresh features in the world are meaningless if the site is unavailable to shoppers due to performance failures. Rising consumer expectations for swift delivery of eCommerce content on all devices means that even brands whose sites are merely poky can suffer irreparable damage.  A 1-second delay in load time is said to equate to an 11% loss of page views, a 16% decrease in customer satisfaction, and a 7% conversion deficit, according to performance monitoring firm Gomez.

Nowhere is the need for speed more acute than in the fast-growing realm of mobile shopping. Close to 40% of shoppers report dissatisfaction with the mobile shopping experience, with the top reasons being slow load times and inaccessibility, according to cloud services provider Akamai. Given that half of users say they’ll abandon a web site they can’t access for another to get their needs fulfilled, and 22% say they won’t return to problematic Web sites, it’s crucial to serve the growing audience of mobile shoppers with swift performance.

To address performance concerns, merchants considering hosted eCommerce solutions must assess how vendors will help their brands scale — both during temporary traffic spikes and for long-term growth. Hosting architecture, partnerships with content delivery networks, and expertise in responsive design techniques that enable efficient multi-touchpoint support are all key components to investigate.

Security. Even as the sophistication of shoppers increases, insecurity about data security remains a chief hurdle to purchasing online.  Of those who say they don’t buy through eCommerce Web sites, the percentage who cite security concerns as the reason has actually increased year over year, from 41% to 43%, professional services firm PwC found. And for the growing number of shoppers who are browsing and researching on mobile devices, the perceived lack of security is among the leading reasons they don’t go on to buy, with two-thirds of consumers saying they’re wary of financial information being hacked on their phones, PwC found.

For merchants, the security shoppers seek is no longer just a matter of keeping credit card data safe. With the increasing number of interactions and data transfers occurring between component parts of an eCommerce site and its related systems, merchants must track an increasing number of potential vulnerabilities. For those contemplating a new eCommerce platform, with or without Web hosting, it’s essential to not only catalog who’s responsible for which data handoffs and firewalls, but to assess the potential eCommerce technology providers’ depth of commitment to staying abreast of the latest security threats and standards. Merchants should quiz potential vendors on PCI DSS security certification, the ability to offer alternative payments that don’t require credit card data entry, and threat monitoring capabilities.

As merchants move ahead with replatforming plans, they need more than a solid eCommerce technology platform to serve as the foundation for their business – they need a partner to enhance their business with experience, technical know-how, and a galaxy of third-party vendor connections to enable swift deployment of cutting-edge competitive features. By rigorously assessing capabilities when it comes to supporting new feature development, scaling performance to accommodate growth, and protecting data from malicious attacks, merchants can accurately discern which eCommerce providers are ready for the challenge.

This post is produced in conjunction with the Plumtree Group, part of MarketLive’s Implement program. Through MarketLive and the Plumtree Group, omni-channel retailers can quickly deploy and customize e-commerce features and functionality in order to meet market demands, increase revenue and loyalty.  The MarketLive/Plumtree partnership provides the emerging merchant who will need to transition off of Amazon Webstore in the coming months with the tools they need to succeed today and grow with unlimited scale tomorrow.

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Build critical mass on social media now for holiday success later

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As the holidays approach, many merchants are planning promotions targeted at their social media audience. But as they plot the substance of offers, merchants would also do well to launch initiatives now to build a critical mass of followers so those holiday promotions can have an impact.

Designing social-specific campaigns for the holidays is a wise move, as discounts and promotions are the top reason by far that shoppers follow brands in the first place. But with directly-attributable revenue from social media stubbornly persisting at or below one percent of the total, merchants must cast a wide net in the hopes of seeing an appreciable impact on sales during the holidays.

MarketLive Performance Index data on social media impact

To build up social media audiences now, merchants should:

Offer plenty of substantial, visually rich content for sharing. As discussed previously, visual content should now be the centerpiece of social offerings — and the more merchants provide eye-catching content existing followers are willing to share, the more likely they are to win new social fans thanks to word of mouth. Not only should social media posts be visually-oriented, but shareable product images and content on the eCommerce site should offer pinners and posters the option of choosing a picture that goes beyond showing the item in question to portray the personality of the brand. This recent shot from MarketLive merchant Peruvian Connection is about more than a jacket, but speaks to the adventurous, opulent lifestyle of their target audience.

peruvianimagesFocus contests on solving shoppers’ real needs. Rather than spawning yet another hashtag campaign just so shoppers can tag photos of themselves using a brand’s products, merchants should solicit ideas for how to address real needs. To gauge what solutions shoppers seek, merchants should study on-site search and search engine queries and popular content related to their category, and then design contests or sweepstakes that align with those needs.

Ikea encouraged contestants to submit ideas for how to decorate their patios for summer. The winner was chosen by popular vote from a group of finalists, upping visibility of the contest.

Social example from Ikea

Follow influencers, and earn the follow back. Merchants should be authentic participants on their social media platforms of choice, following key influencers in their category and earning mentions and reciprocal follows. Rather than constantly posting canned comments and product promotions, merchants should strive to demonstrate subject matter expertise by posting knowledgeable comments and contributions, and also show the brand’s responsiveness to feedback from customers and influencers by highlighting changes or improvements to products made based on community input.

Invite existing email subscribers and customers to socialize. Encouraging shoppers already connected to the brand to become social media followers is a wise move. Increased opportunities for engagement up the chances of converting shoppers to buyers; and for existing customers, social media is a way to stay connected with the brand and receive notice of relevant new products and offers.

MarketLive merchant Title Nine let email subscribers know that their contributions were welcome on social media — a campaign that underscores the brand’s commitment to showcasing styles for real active women.

Social example from T9

How are you building social media followers prior to the holidays?

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How to get personal with holiday shoppers – eBook preview

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Until recently, merchants could succeed during the holiday season with a one-size-fits-all approach. Holiday gift guides and email campaigns shared uniformly across touchpoints, Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals broadcast widely, and store shopping experiences focused on catering to the masses have all been the norm.

Now, however, changes in the commerce landscape necessitate a new holiday scenario altogether. The rise of mobile shopping and social media mean that shoppers are seeking to connect with brands more fluidly than ever, while the sheer growth of the eCommerce market means that shoppers have more choices than ever and can navigate quickly away if brands fail to match their unique criteria for holiday deals. Attention metrics such as product views and time on site have all faltered over the past two years, while the bounce rate – the percentage of visits ending after a single page – has steadily risen, according to IBM.

These factors have combined to create a heightened expectation among shoppers for relevance and immediacy during the holidays. More than half of shoppers now expect holiday promotions to take into account their past purchases, browsing behavior and preferences, according to marketing services firm Listrak.

So far, though, these expectations for individually relevant shopping experiences are being largely unmet. Less than a quarter of merchants believe they have enough data to truly personalize their shopping experiences, research firm The E-Tailing Group found. Not surprisingly given these figures, close to two-thirds of consumers say even their favorite brands don’t understand them and fail to deliver relevant experiences, according to IBM and eConsultancy.

Facing these daunting overall conditions, it’s perhaps unsurprising that close to half of merchants say they’re unprepared to deliver an effective multi-touchpoint experience this holiday season, Listrak found.  That’s too bad, because this year more than ever it’s possible for merchants to capitalize on new technologies to deliver individualized experiences using automated routines, so that merchants can focus the efforts of holiday staff on delivering the responsive service that can differentiate brands and win valuable trust and loyalty.

In fact, throughout the customer lifecycle, there are opportunities to personalize holiday shopping. Even now, as the calendar edges into September, merchants can put systems into place to create the illusion of a one-to-one shopping experience. Key junctures in the purchase cycle include:

Discovery. As shoppers find their way to brand sites and narrow their product searches, merchants should cater to their specific criteria and concerns. Opportunities to prove brands’ relevance to shoppers begin with the first interaction As holiday gift seekers begin research, merchants can cater to their needs – both stated and implied – by presenting engaging content, products and services that speak to individual needs and criteria.

One way to demonstrate relevance is to syndicate gifting content elsewhere on the eCommerce site, spotlighting individual selections from the gift guide alongside other relevant products and creating a tailored view of gifting options based on browsing behavior.

MarketLive merchant Cost Plus World Market seeds gifting content within a themed category displaying bakeware, cake mixes and other items related to cupcakes. A promotion for gift cards and for a referral program – whereby shoppers earn credit if they invite friends to the site who go on to purchase – along with a free shipping promotion are relevant to gift hunters who might be perusing the category, which is full of present-worthy picks.

Syndicated gift content from Cost Plus

Consideration. In some ways, the industry’s focus on the conversion rate has blinded merchants to the true nature of eCommerce purchasing. Hand-wringing about the stubbornly low percentage of visits that end in orders has encouraged a focus on short-term, single-session tactics to convince shoppers to buy immediately.

But in fact, the 97% of shoppers who choose not to convert within a single session are potentially more valuable than those who stick to a single touchpoint for their transaction: those who consult a brand’s digital offerings and visit stores are 20% more likely to buy, for example, and those who consult social media as part of their research are 29% more likely to make a purchase within a day, according to Deloitte.

For the holidays, then, the challenge isn’t how to persuade shoppers to buy immediately, or dissuade them from hopping touchpoints in their search for ideal gifts; rather, brands must strive to deliver consistent, personalized experiences that acknowledge the shopper’s circuitous path to purchase and even welcome usage of an array of brand resources.

Purchase Support. In a world dominated by Amazon-style self-service customer care, individualized and responsive customer service is increasingly a brand differentiator — and a crucial building block for future loyalty. Satisfactory resolution of customer service inquiries lead 92% of shoppers to continue their relationship with the brand, and has considerable impact on word of mouth as well, with 86% of consumers saying they’d be willing to recommend the brand after a successful first customer service interaction, according to the Harvard Business Review.

The hectic holiday season presents merchants with a golden opportunity to demonstrate the kind of one-to-one, proactive customer service that can forge lasting brand connections. Store associates play a crucial role in delivering one-to-one holiday shopping expertise; the call center continues to be a popular option for shoppers seeking to interact with brands; and the new front lines of customer service — live chat and social media — deserve attention as well. Wherever holiday shoppers connect with online support, expectations are sky-high for instantaneous, efficient, and relevant service; on social media, for example, the majority of consumers expect brands to respond to social service requests within an hour, according to Edison Research.

When a customer tweeted about an item being out of stock, MarketLive merchant, Wilson’s Leather responded swiftly to explain the situation and promised to keep the shopper in the loop; the tweet was posted on the retailer’s main feed so that others with the same question could see their plight addressed. The symathetic “hang in there!” humanizes the brand.

Social media service from Wilson's Leather

Download MarketLive’s latest holiday eBook for further opportunities to deliver individualized shopping experiences. What one-to-one strategies are you deploying for the holidays, and why?

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How to optimize PLA merchant promotions for the holidays

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Google’s Product Listing Ads (PLAs) have been a popular option for merchants since their debut in 2012. Now, just in time for the holidays, Google has introduced changes that will put the focus squarely on promotions and discounts — which poses both potential benefits and challenges.

As of the end of this month, Google will eliminate free-form promotional text within the ads in favor of displaying various ad extensions — from customer reviews to Google-generated alerts notifying customers when a merchant is offering an especially attractive price. According to Google, the promotional extensions fare better when it comes to clicks and sales than the straight promotional text, and for merchants, the extensions are free and can be incorporated as easily after a quick signup process and adjustment to their PLA feeds. In one case study, conversion jumped 36% with the inclusion of ad extensions.

But the switch can also pose a challenge for merchants whose selling strategy doesn’t revolve around competitive pricing and discounts. Those who are unable to offer free shipping, in particular, may feel the sting during the holidays, as free shipping continues to be consumers’ top-sought promotion; some 65% of transactions during the fourth     quarter last year involved free shipping, according to comScore.

Furthermore, as promotional ad extensions become the default mode of display as opposed to an occasional highlight on PLA listings, their overall impact may decrease — leading consumers to skim over them more.

In short, merchants with and without promotions to tout should optimize their PLA execution now, watch performance closely for changes in the coming month, and be prepared to adjust accordingly heading into the peak shopping season. Among the tactics to employ:

Ensure promotions are reflected on landing pages site-wide. This long-held best practice is especially important given PLAs’ emphasis on promotions. Merchants should synch their feeds with site copy and ensure that product, index and category landing pages reflect the offer highlighted in their listings.

Establish critical mass for reviews, and display them in PLAs. Merchants should take advantage of the ability to display aggregate product ratings culled from customer reviews — valuable content that can also serve to underscore a merchant’s reputation and popularity. The PLA content can help ads stand out even without a discount offer attached, as for Perricone MD, whose extensive reviews indicate that the site serves as a definitive information hub about its products.

Perricone PLAs for Cold Plasma products

Share nearby inventory within PLAs. Another potential option for merchants with brick-and-mortar locations — and a solid inventory integration in place — is to enroll to participate in Google’s local inventory ad program, which includes in-store availability as part of the PLA listing, as in this promotion for chairs available from MarketLive merchant Design Within Reach.

DWR PLA with local availability

Watch international PLA performance. Because not all promotional PLA extensions are available in all overseas markets, merchants who are targeting other countries should have alternative plans for messaging products and offers to those audiences.

How are you optimizing your holiday PLA feeds?

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Unwrap the potential of unboxing and haul videos for the holidays

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In the quest to find ways to channel user-contributed content in the service of sales, merchants often contrive contests or social media hashtag campaigns. But there’s another category of content with origins that are decidedly grassroots: haul and unboxing videos.

For the uninitiated, haul videos feature shoppers showing off piles of loot, whether shopping trip picks or gifts from birthdays or Christmas. Unboxing videos depict shoppers unpacking and inspecting products they’ve received, with the focus usually on single items; depending on the items, unboxing videos may include demonstrations of setup or footage of using the items for the first time. Commentary during the videos may include rundowns of the purchase experience, mentions of pricing and discounts, notes about product quality and features, and remarks about the ease or difficulty of using products.

Unboxing video for Apple watchThese unvarnished views of shopping are increasingly popular, with views of videos with the keyword “haul” in the title growing 170% year-over-year as of last fall. In the same timeframe, unboxing video views grew 57%, with one in five YouTube viewers saying they’ve watched one.  Makers of popular videos can attract millions of followers to their YouTube channels, and can reap substantial financial rewards via advertising. Teen “haul star” Bethany Mota earns an estimated $40,000 per month from her videos, has a talent agent, interviewed President Obama, and released a clothing line in cooperation with teen retailer Aeropostale.

Bethany Mota's 2013 Black Friday haul video

Merchants, too, stand to gain from haul and unboxing videos. Consumers say that the videos have value beyond sheer entertainment and help guide purchase decisions; 62% of those who watch unboxing videos say that they use them for researching products, and more broadly, views of haul and unboxing videos spike around key shopping events such as Black Friday, suggesting that shoppers turn to them for information prior to purchase.


The challenge for merchants is to tap the potential of haul and unboxing content without destroying the authenticity that makes it popular. Among the methods to consider:

Study what’s already being posted, and incorporate it into brand offerings. Merchants should be conducting keyword searches for haul and unboxing videos featuring their brands and monitoring the content. Many of these videos are enthusiastic endorsements of the brands and products under discussion, so merchants would do well to share noteworthy examples to social media feeds and even incorporate especially useful unboxing videos onto eCommerce site product pages.

Revamp packaging and inserts. Unboxing videos in particular put the spotlight on how items are packaged and presented, and for items requiring assembly or installation, the how-to instructions are paramount. Merchants shouldn’t neglect these important components of the product experience, and should consider what marketing materials might be of interest and gain visibility on unboxing videos.

Buy targeted video ads to complement the content. Merchants can reach viewers of unboxing and haul videos in relevant categories via ad placements.

Consider courting content creators – but tread with care. While it may seem the easiest way to win the hearts and minds of haul and unboxing video viewers would be to send a bevy of free samples to top influencers, most say they avoid that practice — and legally must be disclosed. Paid product placements and promotions such as offering video creators free merchandise to use for giveaways are alternative methods to consider; the site FameBit offers brands the opportunity to collect bids for collaboration from content creators. Whichever route merchants choose, they should ensure that the content itself retains the authentic appeal that made its creators popular in the first place.

Ulta Cosmetics collaborated with popular beauty blogger Tori Sterling to create a series of haul videos, which are featured on the Ulta site with direct links to products featured below as well as on Sterling’s YouTube channel.

Ulta beauty haul with Tori SterlingMake original unboxing or haul videos. Brands can use the haul and unboxing concepts to showcase products themselves. A number of brands have used unboxing videos for product launches, often with a unique twist — from the ultra-dramatic unboxing of the PlayStation 4 from Sony, the launch of a new version of the Firefox Web browser with an unboxing video, or the witty introduction of the bookbook from Ikea, which gently pokes fun at Apple with its use of hyper-inspirational vocabulary and tech jargon to describe its printed catalog.

Ikea BookbookAre you using unboxing or haul videos as part of your holiday strategy? If so, how?


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Successful replatforming in 2016 starts with the right shopping list now

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A new eCommerce software platform is at the top of many online merchants’ shopping lists for 2016. For some, the impending closure of Amazon’s Webstore eCommerce solution has forced their hands, while for others, the time is simply ripe for updated technology that can help achieve multi-touchpoint mastery. Whatever the reason, close to one in five merchants say replatforming is a top priority, according to technology researcher Forrester.

But the replatforming process is much like painting the interior of a house: while applying color is the splashy result that immediately springs to mind, most of the effort is actually devoted to preparation — covering furniture and floors, taping borders, priming walls, and testing different paint shades. Similarly, merchants shouldn’t jump into the splashy fray of shopping for eCommerce platform vendors without first laying the groundwork of a solid plan. They should thoroughly assess their current capabilities and identify performance gaps and opportunities – not only within the eCommerce sphere, but across the entire organization.

The scope of this soul-searching may seem daunting, but it’s also absolutely essential. The role of the Web is only poised to keep growing for shoppers, regardless of how they end up making purchases. Forrester estimates that nearly 60% of B2C purchases of any type will be influenced by the Web by 2018.

The assessment itself needn’t take undue resources or time. While the specifics may vary, the following checklist will stand merchants well as they begin to shape their vision for the perfect technology for their business.

1. Look to the right sources for guidance. Merchants must resist the impulse to “keep up with the Joneses” and add whiz-bang features to their list only because competitors already offer them. Instead, merchants should focus with singular intensity on understanding their own customers and how best to serve them, both online and offline. Potential sources to inform their assessment include:

  • Analytics data: Site usage data can be a goldmine of actionable information on what shoppers seek and where sites need further improvement to resonate.
  • Store associates: Merchants should find the means to tap these valuable front-line information sources and act on their recommendations when it comes to gaps in brand offerings.
  • Visitor and customer surveys: Asking shoppers directly what features of the site resonate and what expectations are going unmet can be valuable input in advance of replatforming.

2. Articulate a plan for mobile. Mobile shopping is soaring, with fully a quarter of revenues during the fourth quarter of 2014 derived from mobile devices, a year over year growth rate of 44%, according to the MarketLive Performance Index. And when it comes to shopping research, mobile is now shoppers’ primary point of contact with brands. According to measurement firm comScore, close to two-thirds of all minutes spent with retail brands now occur on mobile devices.

Consequently, even small to mid-sized merchants must prioritize mobile optimization. Before replatforming, merchants should carefully consider their mobile site options and develop a road map for development. Deciding whether to undertake responsive design is a key decision point. Plans for mobile apps, email and SMS messaging campaigns, in-store mobile features, and alternative and mobile payment integrations should also come into play. With a mobile development plan in hand, merchants can develop a list of mobile-focused criteria potential vendors must meet.

3. Identify integrations organization-wide and how to improve them. Merchants should understand how the eCommerce platform interacts with technology across their business, from fulfillment operations to the call center, and identify existing and new opportunities for integrations that can improve efficiency and customer service.

For brick-and-mortar retailers, the top priority in this category must be in-store inventory integration. While just 20% of retailers offer it currently, consumers now expect total visibility and consistency, regardless of where they are physically and what screens they use. According to Forrester, 56% of consumers say they expect products to be priced consistently, whether in-store or online.

Furthermore, universal inventory transparency supports “endless aisle” capabilities that can save sales and drive up average order value, and unlocks a host of fulfillment options, such as store-to-store and ship-from-store delivery networks, that can boost efficiency across the organization.

4. Audit existing content and plan new development. The old mantra “content is king” has lately seen a resurgence. Whereas 34% of customer experience professionals cited Web content management as a top technology priority in 2013, the number jumped to 60% in 2014, Forrester found – a whopping 76% increase. The reasons for prioritizing content are numerous, but foremost among them is the imperative to differentiate the brand by communicating what’s uniquely valuable. Along with product selection and pricing, content forms the third component of a potentially compelling brand story.

Merchants contemplating replatforming should therefore develop a detailed content strategy to inform their criteria for potential vendors. They should also audit the content they have — from product information to videos to user-submitted social content — and identify opportunities for growth, syndication and improved efficiency, along with content imports and exports.

5. Build measurement into the technology foundations. With consumers shopping across multiple screens, social outlets providing streams of information, and new technologies increasingly available to quantify offline activities, merchants are juggling plenty of data beyond what traditional Web analytics tools provide — but struggle to put it all together to create a complete picture of customer behavior. Fewer than a third of merchants believe they have strong or even average capabilities when it comes creating a unified view of customer behavior across touchpoints.

To avoid further compounding the challenge, merchants should examine how potential technology solutions interact or integrate with their existing measurement tools, what data is provided and how it can be knit together with other sources.

Replatforming is a potentially daunting project. But by analyzing existing and desired capabilities before adding vendors to the mix, merchants can ensure that they meet their brands’ needs — and better serve customers in the long run.

This post is produced in conjunction with the Plumtree Group, part of MarketLive’s Implement program. Through MarketLive and the Plumtree Group, omni-channel retailers can quickly deploy and customize e-commerce features and functionality in order to meet market demands, increase revenue and loyalty.  The MarketLive/Plumtree partnership provides the emerging merchant who will need to transition off of Amazon Webstore in the coming months with the tools they need to succeed today and grow with unlimited scale tomorrow.

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Why customer service is a top priority for pre-holiday content development

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Content is on the ascendancy once again, and in the runup to the 2015 holiday season merchants are devising innovative campaigns that spotlight engaging content that resonates with shoppers and spurs them to buy. While video, social and user-submitted content are all alluring, there’s another category of content that merchants should prioritize — customer service content.

Perennially overlooked and undervalued, and often relegated to the global footer, customer service content  has a significant potential impact on sales. Self-service content on brand Web sites is now the top customer service source of choice, used by 76% of consumers, topping even phone service from call center reps. With more than half of consumers saying they’ll abandon brands that don’t provide quick answers to their queries and with 77% saying valuing their time is the top way brands can deliver stellar service, it’s crucial for merchants to develop content that proactively addresses top questions about products, ordering and policies.

Not only can finding information quickly and efficiently ensure that shoppers stay on the path to purchase, but demonstrating efficient service for a first transaction is a key building block for future loyalty. Fully 73% of customers say a high-quality customer service experience is important when deciding whether to repurchase.

And prominent customer service is acutely needed on mobile devices, where shoppers must often struggle with cumbersome checkout processes and where smaller screen sizes often force merchants to background crucial product information, policies, or both.

During the holiday season, when shoppers will compare products and promotions on the go and across screens in their quest for the best value, customer service content has further potential to differentiate brands and instill trust. As merchants begin their countdown to the holidays, they should dedicate content resources to articulating their customer service policies across touchpoints. Among the key components to feature:

Plain English information featured like a top product. Customer service information is of vital importance to shoppers. Two-thirds of shoppers review merchant return policies before purchasing products, according to measurement firm comScore, while 53% said knowing the shipping cost and estimated delivery timeframe was a purchase influences, second only to a free shipping offer. Multi-channel service options are key: more than 60% of shoppers said the ability to purchase online and return in-store was a factor in purchase consideration, while 44% said the ability to buy online and pick up items in-store would encourage them to purchase, comScore reported.

To cater to this desire for information, merchants should assign merchandising copywriters the task of crafting customer service information that’s as enticing as product descriptions. The information should be succinct and jargon-free, so that it can be promoted in a variety of locations throughout the path to purchase.

MarketLive merchant Title Nine, a women’s recreational outfitter, specializes in sports bras, and has “product-ized” its fit system and syndicated information about it across touchpoints. Not only do product pages include comprehensive fit charts, but the bottom of the home page features a guide to bra fitting, and relevant product index pages display fit tips. The brand uses social media to promote in-store events giving shoppers the opportunity to be measured by the pros.

t9_bras t9_bras_fitfest_fb

How to connect with a real person. Shoppers with questions should be able to reach live help at any point along the path to purchase – and that includes on mobile sites. Fully 41% of U.S. mobile shoppers report using mobile live chat for shopping support, ahead of text messaging and mobile social media, the E-Tailing Group found. And mobile live chat is poised to play an important role in cross-channel sales, with one in five shoppers saying they accessed mobile shopping support while in physical stores.

To support cross-touchpoint access to live help, merchants should ensure not only that customer service contact information is prominently placed on product pages, in the cart and throughout checkout; they should also layer in functionality such as click-to-call and mobile live chat for users on smartphones and tablets.

Once the content has been developed, merchants should feature it prominently by:

Creating a hub of self-help resources on the eCommerce site. Merchants should tap call center and live chat staff to develop comprehensive content to address common questions, and gather that content into a help center where shoppers can search and browse popular topics. Additionally, product or category “Q and A” sections where brand experts and customers alike weigh in give prospective buyers the opportunity to ask specific questions that might not be covered in product specs or reviews.

Developing nuggets of “micro-content” to nudge shoppers along the path to purchase. Merchants should pay attention to every snippet of verbiage they serve to shoppers – from pop-up windows containing shipping and delivery estimates to descriptions of video clips and email signup form language. Especially on mobile devices where space is at a premium, merchants must convey core information quickly and without scrolling, while providing links to further information where relevant.

Home improvement giant Lowe’s has optimized content and information design on its mobile product pages to maximize information delivery. Colorful icons help shoppers understand at a glance the delivery options available to them, while was/is pricing information and the upcoming end date for the promotional discount are also displayed.


Establishing a forward position on social media. Nearly half of social media users have relied on “social care,” according to NM Incite, and Forrester found that 37% have used Twitter specifically to seek customer service. Given shoppers’ propensity to consult social channels for brand information, merchants would do well to adopt a proactive approach and to repurpose and post their core customer service content directly to social channels.

MarketLive merchant Berkshire Blanket has posted on Facebook detailed information about care and maintenance of its bedding items – proactively addressing an important topic for those considering a purchase and wondering what the total cost of ownership is. A separate FAQs page addresses further popular topics, from shipping policies to wholesale agreements. Both pages feature “Read More” links connecting shoppers to the eCommerce site, along with sharing buttons so that followers can alert friends to the information. Links to both pages are anchored prominently in the left-hand column of the brand’s timeline.


What content are you polishing in advance of the holiday push?

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Follow the retailers to unified shopping success – MarketLive Performance Index

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Should anyone still need convincing that delivering a unified shopping experience is a priority, the latest data from the MarketLive Performance Index proves it — and reveals the leaders of the pack in cross-touchpoint effectiveness: brick and mortar retailers.

It may seem surprising to spotlight retailers for online performance, given that the category’s conversion rate lags other categories overall, and abandonment is among the highest in the Index. But retailers have managed to do something no other sector in the Index has: they’ve accumulated steady gains in conversion and revenue across both mobile devices and desktop and laptop browsers — signaling that they seem to be navigating the rough seas of cross-touchpoint commerce more successfully than other merchants.

MarketLive Performance Index data

Happily, every sector is realizing significant gains when it comes to smartphone shopping. But, as we discussed in our coverage of the previous volume of the Index, the tables have now completely turned when it comes to performance by screen; whereas just a year ago, lagging smartphone performance was responsible for tempering overall Index results, now it’s desktop and laptop sessions that are failing to pull their weight.  And because the vast majority of shoppers who transact online opt to do so on the big screen, overall Index performance is suffering.

One reason retailers are bucking the trend may be that they’ve contended with at least two consumer audiences since the earliest days of eCommerce: those looking to buy online, and those researching online prior to visiting physical stores. Retailers were also among the first to feel mobile’s influence, as on-the-go shoppers demanded access to store information from their devices and began using early “showrooming” tools such as RetailMeNot to check prices while in stores.

(Catalogers, too, have potentially served online and offline audiences simultaneously, but in reality most cross-touchpoint catalog traffic has been one-way, with printed catalog browsers turning to their computers to place orders efficiently rather than online searchers discovering the brand through the Web site before ordering offline.)

While the challenges and opportunities for retailers are in some aspects unique, it can be instructive for merchants to study leading brick-and-mortar merchants in their own product category. And while it’s foolhardy to play “keep up with the Joneses,” such analysis can reveal fresh approaches to audience engagement and new features and functionality that may be worth consideration.  Among the best practices leading retailers in the Index demonstrate:

They work hard to engage visitors past the “one and out.” In addition to maintaining growth in revenue and conversion, retailers are holding the line on the bounce rate, the percentage of visits ending after a single page. The overall bounce rate for retailers grew just 5.3% year over year, to 31.5% — significantly lower than the 19.8% growth in the bounce rate for the index overall, to a high of over 40%.

To achieve that engagement, retail merchants are developing content that informs purchase decisions and encourages participation from brand followers, with a focus on visual elements such as video and hashtag campaigns for user-submitted photos.

MarketLive merchant Beauty Brands puts the focus on individual brands sold online and in stores with rich content. From a “brands” button in the global navigation, shoppers can access extensive brand stories, how-to videos, and shade-matching charts, along with individual products sorted by sub-category. An inspiration page displays user-submitted photos from Instagram and other social sites.

Content example from Beauty Brands

They encourage, rather than discourage, cross-touchpoint usage. Successful brick-and-mortar retailers devote significant space on their eCommerce sites to describing the in-store experience and encouraging store visits, and provide the tools to enable a smooth transition.  In going beyond a listing of store hours and locations, these merchants develop continuity across channels and distinguish their brands from mass merchants by promoting a unique shopping experience.

MarketLive merchant Design Within Reach encourages visits to its “design studios” in a set of dual home page promotions. The store locator page includes a photo gallery and an enticing description that promises “you’ll never see a ‘do not touch’ sign.” A second promotion specifically spotlights the brand’s design consulting services – emphasizing the high level of in-house expertise that stands behind the brand. Shoppers can make appointments online using a simple-to-navigate interface. Further along the path to purchase, shoppers can save the contents of their shopping cart for quick retrieval later on another screen or in the store.

Online promotion of in-store services from DWR

They cater to return as well as new visitors on smartphones. With the recent hand-wringing about “Mobilegeddon”, the skyrocketing costs for mobile paid search, and the hype about mobile “buy” buttons in search and social media, it seems that merchants are focusing mobile efforts predominantly on acquisition. But they would do well to take a page from leading retailers who are focusing just as intently on supporting existing customers — whether through mobile tools for loyalty club members, mobile apps for those familiar with the brand, or personalized paths to purchase that take into account prior browsing and buying behavior. Such efforts to engage returning customers have the potential to pay off handsomely, as returning customers currently comprise 40% of the eCommerce customer base, but account for 61% of total online revenues.

MarketLive merchant Cost Plus World Market fully supports its Explorers Club loyalty program via smartphone, with the capability to sign up and check rewards status via the mobile site. In-store shoppers are reminded to avail themselves of discounts using their mobile devices, thereby encouraging usage.

Loyalty club support from Cost Plus

Signage promoting mobile loyalty club features

Download the latest Performance Index report for further data, including results by sector and product category, and read the official press release for more details. What retailer innovations have you adapted, if any? What retail brands are you watching?

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