April 10, 2014 Leave a Comment
It’s been a couple of weeks since the 2014 MarketLive Summit, but we’re still abuzz over the strategies speakers and attendees discussed. While the statistics and trends were enlightening, the chief inspiration from this Summit came from the MarketLive merchants who shared their success stories — and challenges — in detail. Through them, it was possible to glimpse the real-life implications of the new commerce paradigm, where brands seek to engage always-connected consumers via a variety of touchpoints.
Just how omnipresent has the online shopping experience become? In his opening address, MarketLive CEO and Founder Ken Burke shared data from technology researcher Forrester predicting that more than 50% of all retail sales in 2014 would be influenced by the web, either through direct online sales or online research feeding offline transactions.
More dramatically, Pat Duncan of MarketLive merchant Helzberg Diamonds said that online initiatives have such a profound impact for multi-channel retailers that they account for five to seven times the amount of revenue directly attributed to sales through the web site.
Throughout the Summit, merchants demonstrated how that outsized impact plays out in the trenches of daily commerce. And while there was plenty of discussion about the perennial hot topics of social media and mobile devices, the dominant theme was more fundamental: merchants must become ever more flexible in their brand presentation, even as a strong foundational core of eCommerce content and products is more essential than ever.
Such a combination of solid substance and agile fluidity allows merchants to cater to always-connected consumers at every stage of the path to purchase via a variety of touchpoints. Among the strategies merchants discussed to achieve the right balance:
Use responsive design for the flexibility to focus on consumer needs — not devices. In his keynote address, Mark Hurst of Creative Good reminded merchants that they need to develop technology based on users’ needs, rather than by rote by device. While he did make specific recommendations for mobile platforms (develop a smartphone-friendly mobile site and a tablet-friendly desktop/browser site, and mostly eschew apps), the larger message was that merchants need to be prepared to address shoppers’ questions and unmet needs, even if they require a heretofore-unimagined combination of core functionality and content.
While responsive design isn’t a silver bullet for achieving this goal, with plenty of pitfalls to avoid, it’s a strategy merchants should seriously consider adopting, as it gives them maximum flexibility to tailor the site experience according to a shopper’s situation and device. We’ll be writing a lot more about responsive design in the months to come as MarketLive rolls out new functionality to support it, but meantime the 46% of merchants planning complete site overhauls this year should be incorporating the approach into their plans.
Customize views of brand-building content and functionality. Now more than ever, merchants have the ability to tailor the site experience, presenting a different array of products, content and features according to criteria that range from the shoppers’ location to the length of their tenure as customers. In so doing, they boost convenience and relevance, and create positive associations with the brand.
For new visitors, manifesting the essence of the brand throughout the experience is essential, as merchants battle to differentiate themselves and compete with discount mass merchants like Amazon. Lori Edmonds of Peruvian Connection urged merchants to consider the Web site their premier flagship store, a showcase for the brand’s story and the source of continuity among multi-touchpoint experiences. She detailed how brand identity can be consistently manifested — not only through text tone and voice and design elements like colors and fonts, but through technical specifications and functionality. Such consistency not only conveys a singular brand vision, but also boosts shoppers’ confidence in the site and facilitates movement along the path to purchase.For example, Peruvian’s use of consistent images on index page listings through to the product page instantly provides visual confirmation and brand reinforcement.
For returning customers, these brand signifiers remain important — but merchants should also appeal to potential repeat buyers by spotlighting convenience and efficiency. For example, they could present complementary items likely to be relevant based on past purchasing history, send timely refill or replenishment reminders, or populate content sections with advanced topics rather than introductory brand-building information. Kyle Janssens of Greatland Corp. detailed how the site experience for returning customers was streamlined to include a custom reorder page, while bypassing introductory content. The tailored reordering experience, which was promoted via an email campaign highlighting past buyers’ “personal order history,” helped Greatland achieve a 28% lift in sales.
In our next post, we’ll look at how the guiding principal of fluidity applies to online/offline interactions. Meantime, how are you maximizing flexibility of your eCommerce assets?