Mobile landing pages take center stage in Google Shopping update

In just over six weeks, a new set of specifications will take effect for Google Product Listing Ads, the paid-search format that’s surged in popularity since its debut in 2012. While the update includes a laundry list of attribute changes that include new descriptors for apparel products and a streamlined process for defining in-stock items, one key highlight stands out: the emphasis on the landing page, and specifically the importance of optimizing landing pages for mobile searchers.

For starts, beginning Sept. 30, merchants will be able to specify distinct landing pages for searchers on mobile devices — thereby helping merchants with mobile-optimized sites direct mobile users to the appropriate environment. But even those who don’t take advantage of the mobile URL option will need to step up efforts to create mobile-friendly landing pages; as part of the update, Google is issuing a new landing page content policy that stipulates more specifically than ever how merchants must “render an actual web page properly.”

Among the requirements, merchants can’t obscure key content related to the ad offer with a pop-up window, the ad offer must be centrally prominent on the landing page, and the call to action must be visible —  a potentially challenging balance on small mobile screens. Furthermore, the policy specifies that merchants must avoid requiring shoppers to run a separate application for the page to work properly, and specifically calls out video applications on mobile devices as an example.

With these moves, Google is honing its PLA service to serve mobile shoppers first and foremost. Given that mobile browsing is ever more prevalent, even as mobile revenues lag, merchants would do well to follow Google’s lead and strive to improve the paid search experience for mobile shoppers.

First and foremost, of course, that means having mobile-optimized content for shoppers to access. As we noted in our previous post on PLAs, investing specifically in mobile-targeted PLA ads is a risky bet for those without a substantial mobile presence and a frictionless mobile path to purchase.

As the new guidelines suggest however, even those merchants not zeroing in on mobile users in their paid search ad specifications are still likely to attract mobile viewers via their PLAs — and they should do their utmost to be ready. Among the changes to consider:

Throttle mobile visuals just right. In a recent post, we advocated amping up visuals for mobile eCommerce sites. When it comes to PLAs, the trick is to feature the right media at the right time on mobile landing pages. Specifically, merchants should adhere to the long-standing best practice of providing visual confirmation of landing page relevance to the ad by “echoing” the ad image in a prominent position on the landing page — including any SKU options tailored to the ad search term. Then, for shoppers whose interest is piqued, merchants should offer an array of secondary options for exploring further, including alternate image views and video demonstrations.

MarketLive merchant Design Within Reach provides a precise visual echo of the mobile PLA for its grasshopper lamp, with the product page image an exact replica of the ad image, right down to the color.

PLA example from DWR         dwr_plamobile1

Incorporate special offers at the mobile product page level. To enable using product pages as effective landing pages that adhere to Google’s content standards, merchants should optimize premium mobile screen real estate to include room for product- or brand-specific offers, or even site-wide discounts that might otherwise be placed in a missable spot within the global header.

MarketLive merchant Beauty Brands highlights its site-wide free shipping offer just beneath the “add to cart” button on the product page — giving the promotion high visibility. Detailed product information and “pro tips” are displayed below the promotion for those who want to delve deeper.

Mobile example from beauty brands

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How are you optimizing PLAs for mobile success?

Boosting brand engagement on Pinterest

It has only been 2 years since we labeled Pinterest the social media to watch. Based on the concept of a bulletin board, users, individuals and companies “pin” item images to themed “pinboards” they create, reflecting their own interests, personalities and branding. Since then the visual bookmarking site has exploded fetching a recent valuation of $5 billion.

According to the 2014 Digital Marketer: Benchmark and Trend Report by Experian Marketing, Pinterest is the top social traffic driver to retail websites with 30 billion pins on 750 million boards.

As more and more people use social media as discovery platforms, some Internet-watchers think Pinterest could become a serious competitor to Google for searching for objects because people define what is relevant in a given search, rather than a computer algorithm. Search engines are great for answering specific questions. Pinterest helps with questions that have more than one right answer — and you will know you have found the right one when you see it.

Optimize your presence

You have established a Pin Board with categories relevant to your products, and you have covered the basics. We’ve discussed some of them elsewhere on this blog:

  • Promote your Pinterest presence on your website and  in emails
  • Make sure customers can easily pin items from inside your site
  • Your site is employing structured mark-up to take advantage of Rich Pins
  • You are encouraging community and interaction with contests and wish lists
  • You are cross-promoting with other social media and all touchpoints

Now what?

Consider the niche

According to RJMetrics, 92% of users are female and the site has an unprecedented user-retention rate of 84% of users still active after 4 years. Intel Social Media strategist Ekaterina Walter estimates women now account for 85% of all consumer purchases, so this is a segment you will want to invest in.

“Pinning says “I want this.” It’s aspirational. People pin products they’d love to own, recipes they want to cook, and projects they want to tackle” said Robert J Moore of RJ Metrics. Study the most popular categories and see how your brand fits. Look for ways to speak to the audience. Lowe’s has taken advantage of the DIY and home-related interest in Pinterest boards to develop a following of almost 3.5 million people.

womens-pins-by-category

Build it and they will come

With Pinterest’s newly introduced Guided Search, descriptive guides will allow users to scroll through and tap any that look interesting to steer their search in the right direction. We’ve written previously on How to Generate Pinterest Interest using theme-based pin boards. Now is the right time to beef up your existing ones and create more content. You can develop a strong brand presence on Pinterest by featuring creative and useful concepts for your pin boards.

REI has a board called The Gearhead which features not only product but amazing places to use it with acknowledgements back to the original sources. This tagging helps to link back and create that all important social synergy of the like-minded.

rei-pinterest-gearhead

Aspiration and Inspiration

Users come to Pinterest to be inspired. Inspire them. Make your boards more than just a product catalog. You should repin content found on sites other than your own that your target audience would find interesting. This kind of attention to your customers will pay off in retention of engagement, building your brand’s image, and creating the community that social media sites are all about.

Nordstrom, one of the most popular Pinterest retailers with over 4.4 million followers features product images as well as how-to’s, trends, wedding ideas and travel images.

Title Nine, a clothier for women on the move, mixes product with off-product topic boards like Bookshelf and Difficult Women, to entertain their core customer base, as well as draw in those who would be aligned with their brand but may not know about them yet when other Pinterest users repin the content.

Title Nine Pinterest Board Difficult Women

MarketLive merchant Design Within Reach (DWR) created a retreat-themed board that features both great places to rejuvenate and products for sale that fit the category.

Design Within Reach (DWR) Pinterest Board

DWR has also created a category landing page, Backyard Escape 101, on their website for products featured on the Pinterest board that can help consumers create their own retreats. This is a great example of cross-selling and an ideal organic result of a Guided Search for “retreats.” Be sure to link back to specific category or product pages from your Pins, not just the home page. Get customers as close to the buy as you can.

DWR Backyard Retreat

Make the highly active niche Pinterest user, your evangelizer and customer. Bring them content outside your usual brand promotion materials to help engage them in what your company is about. Then guide them through how your products can help them find the lifestyle they seek.

Performance Index: Mobile challenges and opportunities for the holidays

If the latest MarketLive Performance Index is any indication, the upcoming holiday season could be a fruitful one for merchants. Index data reveals that year over year revenue for the second quarter was up by more than 19%, building on traffic gains of 11.1%. The conversion rate increased nearly 5% as merchants optimize their offerings to convince browsers to become buyers — and even better, the average order size grew by more than 5%, indicating that tactics other than bargain-basement discounting are driving the improved performance.

And just as in Q1, the impact of mobile device usage for shopping is significant. Smartphone traffic now accounts for one in four visits to merchant sites, with traffic soaring 334% year over year, while tablets now drive 15% of visits. But also as in Q1, merchants are by and large failing to capitalize on the mobile opportunity. While conversion rates for both smartphones and tablets increased from Q1 to Q2, cart and abandonment rates remained shockingly high — suggesting that merchants have a long ways to go before realizing their mobile potential.

Data from the MarketLive Performance Index

While mobile cart and checkout optimization should be a top priority, the holiday season’s rapid approach means that many merchants are out of time for major integrations and technical overhauls. But there are more straightforward changes merchants can still undertake to drive improved holiday mobile results. Among them:

Amp up mobile cart messaging about shipping options and costs. To cater to consumers’ continuing obsession with shipping costs and promotions, our recent survey of 100 top mobile merchant sites found that 77% of mobile-optimized sites display the shipping price in the mobile shopping cart. Fewer merchants, however, back up this key piece of information with two other data points that help shoppers make purchase decisions:

  • Close to 8 in 10 mobile sites fail to include a description of shipping methods and their timeframes for each tier of delivery service, whether on the cart page or even through a link — which means that there are plenty of carts displaying shipping costs without letting shoppers know what, exactly, the charge buys them. Shoppers value this information, with more than one in five saying they’ve abandoned sites when no estimated delivery date was provided early in the purchase process, according to comScore.
  • Just a third of mobile sites feature a free shipping promotion in the mobile shopping cart — whether by displaying a free shipping threshold, a free shipping promo code, or by dynamically calculating the amount shoppers should add to meet the threshold.

Merchants should ensure this information is prominent in the mobile cart. MarketLive merchant Sport Chalet calls out a free shipping promotion at the top of the cart, with the cost deducted further downpage for good measure.

Mobile example from Sport Chalet

Bulk up visual mobile offerings. Consumers are increasingly using their mobile devices not just for text messaging and store locator lookup, but to browse rich visual environments. For example, the image-driven social pinboard site Pinterest reported in late 2013 that three-quarters of all usage was generated from mobile devices — a 50% year-over-year increase. Fully 15% of all video traffic globally is generated on mobile devices, while on YouTube specifically, 40% of traffic comes from mobile, according to Business Insider.

And yet most merchants fail to cater to this hunger for mobile visuals, often offering mobile shoppers a single product image, with no video content to speak of. Merchants should rectify the situation by adding existing supplemental images and product videos from the desktop/laptop site to the mobile environment.

MarketLive merchant World Market uses a slideshow format to present multiple images on the product page. THe photos give shoppers the opportunity to swipe through the series to see different product details, such as this close-up showing the texture of a hammered metal lamp base.

Mobile example from World Market

Download the full Index report for further performance stats, including sector snapshots and further statistics about mobile. What final touches are you adding to your mobile offerings for the holidays?

Maximizing your mobile app for Holiday 2014

Mobile-enabled purchasing is on fire. Now is the time to get prospective customers connected to your brand and get your app into their hands so they will be poised to shop with ease as November rolls around.

According to the 2013 MarketLive etailing group survey for Holiday 2013, 50% of users planned to use their smartphones for purchases. In a RetailWire survey 41 percent of consumers now actively use mobile apps while shopping, nearly double the 21 percent that did so in a similar survey last year. Most consumers of all ages indicate that they have two to four shopping apps installed. How can you make one of them yours?

You’ve got some work to do to get that handy little hunk of software onto your customers’ mobile devices and get them engaging with it. Just 5% of non-gaming or entertainment apps see repeat usage within 30 days, according to Forrester Research.

So finding ways to make it something shoppers use regularly is vital to its success. Your first job:

Make sure it’s useful beyond shopping

There are the bedrock capabilities consumers are seeking when using mobile for shopping: the ability to check availability at a store before visiting, and buy or reserve for pick up, and check for sales and specials. But there is so much more creative marketers can do to add value and utility to apps and boost brand engagement.

Speaking of engagement, jewelry retailer and diamond specialist Helzberg Diamonds has created a specialized app that’s a manageable mix of content around its collection of engagement rings.

The highly-rated app is a comprehensive resource that’s focused on one topic, with links to the mobile commerce site woven in at appropriate  junctures. Using the Proposal Pro, suitors can choose the date they plan to propose, browse rings, determine their beloved’s ring size, and read etiquette tips and advice about the ritual. They may even choose to have the app generate their proposal for them, or to rehearse using a built-in recorder.

 

proposal-pro

proprosal-pro2

Then Helzberg Diamonds brings it back to the sale by offering a $25 reward for making progress through the app.

Brand giant Charmin has created an app called Sit or Squat that will direct you to public restrooms which you can then rate and upload photos. “Gotta Go? Relax we got your back.” This is true utility with a splash of humor and perfect fodder for social sharing.

 

sitorsquat-app

Promote It

Even the most innovative apps need to be effectively promoted to ensure they don’t languish in obscurity.

Search engines aren’t likely to direct new customers to your app unless they already know — and type in — your brand name. Even then, searches will most likely lead them to your desktop or mobile web sites where they may never even realize you offer an app.

A few suggestions:

Promote your app consistently and prominently across other brand touchpoints, including on your mobile website, in email campaigns, and in-store at POS.

If someone has found your mobile site, they are a prime candidate for using your app. Make it easy for them.

Apple offers developers Smart App Banners which can detect whether users have already downloaded your app and will either direct them to download or open the app upon clicking.

developer.apple.com 2014-7-22 6 1 39

Consider giving your app not only a prominent position on your web sites but also a preview of how it will improve the shopping experiences.

Design Within Reach, the innovative San Francisco-based furniture and accessories retailer, has an app available for the iPad through the iTunes store that was a 2013 Webby Award finalist.

The company effectively markets the app on its web site with an easy-to-watch video tutorial showcasing the functionality of the tool in action.

The video shows people zooming in on details of tastefully designed rooms, effortlessly flipping through various furniture styles, and learning more about the designers behind it all.

DWR App

Social networking cannot be overemphasized

Reaching those who aren’t already visitors to your sites can be more of a challenge. Be aware that people don’t necessarily find apps the same way they find web sites.

Most people hear about apps through recommendations from friends and family, followed by “top-rated” recommendations in an app store, according to Forrester.

forrester.com

Since it’s likely to be awhile before your new app gains “top rated” status by reviewers, it’s best to focus on helping people discover and share your app through social media. Developing social app content and promoting it on social media sites is a good investment.

Here’s a way Nike has found to tap into their customer’s interest in sharing and comparing their athletic accomplishments through social networking sites.

The Nike + Running app not only allows users to track their workouts via GPS but also includes “leaderboards” where they can share times and see how their workouts over popular routes compare to those of their friends.

Nike-Fuelband-SE-group-leaderboard

There’s even a feature where users can hear a cheer every time someone likes the run they’ve posted on Facebook.

Nike-facebook

The app is effective because it builds a community of runners who are actively engaged with it, then drives them to the main site where they can find multiple links to running gear shopping options.

According to Forrester’s Predictions 2014: US Retail eBusiness, consumers are leading merchants about changes they seek in mobile shopping and showrooming. Merchants who will flourish are willing to experiment with promotional activities and mobile functions that are specific to their product sets.  Find the custom solutions customers are seeking and be willing to adjust your investments accordingly.

Try as many new things to promote your mobile capacities as your budget allows and do it now.

Christmas in July — Get your video game on

It’s mid-summer, and most consumers are far from focused on their holiday shopping.

But merchants and marketers hoping to succeed during this all-important sales season are already strategizing how to connect with their customers and best the competition.

Increasingly, those battles are playing out online, with 60 percent of all US retail sales expected to involve the Internet in some way by 2017, according to Forrester Research.

And those shoppers, from casual browsers to loyal consumers, are increasingly getting their information from and interacting with online videos.

MarketLive and partner Invodo have already teamed up to provide seamless video integration in the ML E-commerce platform. Now we’re working on an upcoming whitepaper aimed at helping merchants better understand what’s behind the explosive growth of Internet video and how they can harness it to engage customers, improve conversions and boost sales.

Industry Statistics

The statistics are compelling. Fully 90 percent of consumers watch online videos, with 65 percent of watching to completion. And those who watch videos are 1.8 times more likely to make purchases than those who don’t. That alone speaks to video’s power to engage shoppers in ways static images and text cannot.

Strategy specifics

We’ll outline Best of Breed strategies for tailoring different types of videos to different customers depending on where they are in their journey with your product.

For customers landing on the home page, for example, brand awareness videos should give visitors a general overview and sense of what the company and its products are all about.

As the customers progress toward purchase, the videos need to be tailored to their particular needs. The videos for consumers during the consideration stage are meant to guide them to the right product category, while customers on the cusp of purchase need the most detailed product-specific information.

We’ll also dive into the myriad benefits of how-to videos — which go beyond merely increasing conversions — to provide side benefits such as customer confidence, reduced returns and call center costs.

Videos in action

Learn how top retailers are using videos to engage their customers on a whole new level.

From high-end outdoor furniture retailer Brown Jordan’s polished videos detailing the craftsmanship and features of its various collections, to Cost Plus World Market’s simple but effective demonstrations of ways to tie a scarf, we’ll highlight some of the ways top retailers are making effective use of video on their sites, and beyond.

Cost Plus Instructional Scarf Videos

If done right, an effective video campaign can cross all channels, from the homepage, to mobile sites for phones and tablets, social sites like Facebook and Twitter, and in-store through apps or displays, increasing ROI.

So merchants seeking deeper engagement with their customers this holiday season and the boost to the bottom line that follows should start thinking now about ways to up their game when it comes to video commerce.

What you can do now to prevent holiday returns later

It may only be July, but e-tailers everywhere are already racking their brains for ways to minimize costly returns this holiday season.

Their angst is understandable given the staggering statistics about the impact of returns on their bottom lines. Fully one-third of all Internet sales are ultimately returned, according to a recent Wall Street Journal story.

While it’s worthwhile to spruce up the fine print to let shoppers know what your policies are should they wish to make a return, merchants should also endeavor to prevent returns altogether with product information that proactively addresses concerns and matches them with the right items, the first time around

Video

Though video production can represent a significant investment, practical videos can contribute to the bottom line by increasing conversion and staving off returns.

Nearly 60% of consumers say they’re more confident about online purchases thanks to product videos, and 44% say they purchase more on sites that provide videos, according to research from the E-Tailing Group and MarketLive technology partner Invodo.

The E-Tailing Group study found that shoppers are most willing to spend time with videos that educate them about a particular product category, while videos that demonstrate how to use an individual product came in a close second. 55% of shoppers prefer to consult videos as part of the deep consideration process that takes place on the product page.

Consider investing in videos centered around these three essential types of video content:

Problems and solutions. Create videos centered around common shopper concerns or challenges, such as swimsuit fit for an apparel merchant or wet weather preparedness for a camper.

Buying guides. Help shoppers navigate among the choices in a particular product category with video buying guides that step them through the factors they should consider.

Product demonstrations. At the most detailed level of the purchase consideration process, videos that show how to use individual products help consumers see concretely whether the item is a fit for their needs.

High Tech Tools

Though highly effective, videos aren’t the only tools available to help retailers improve customer satisfaction.

Consider using specialized tools or apps for matching colors or allowing customers to take a virtual test-drive of your products. Though development may be daunting, cost-savings for providing them — particularly for big-ticket and/or match-required products could be worth the the effort.

Design Within Reach partnered with mydeco.com to offer DWR 3-D Room Planner allowing customers to create or upload floor plans and then complete rooms with details, including the vast collection of DWR furniture and accessories to get a realistic preview of how they will appear in home.

www.dwr.com 2014-7-8 15 38 18

Sherwin Williams has also developed an app called ColorSnap® which easily matches colors in images you capture with your iPhone to Sherwin-Williams paint colors.

Fit Guides and Super Specifics

The biggest cause of returns by far is size. It’s a persistent sales hurdle for apparel merchants: helping shoppers find the right fit without being able to physically try on items before purchase.

This means going beyond traditional fit charts, which list sizes and dimensions in inches in a static grid. Consider the following ideas more tailored to online customers who expect the process to be quick and convenient.

Develop an at-a-glance system. Go beyond the numbers and develop a system appropriate for your merchandise that conveys key fit information — whether garments are meant to be loose-fitting or tight or whether watches are rugged or delicate, for example.

With the web becoming increasingly visual, merchants in all industries should  find ways to allow customers to employ faceted search and communicate facet options on category and product pages with icons, shapes or sliders. Eyewear and eye care site Lenscrafters lets shoppers filter frames by face shape as well as frame shape, using icons as guides.

Lenscrafters

Save the numbers. If you ask shoppers to supply their dimensions, save the information to their profile for future reference — a time-saving feature shoppers will appreciate — and use the data to present products that are most likely to fit, whether on the eCommerce site or in targeted email or mobile offers.

Synch sizes across brands.  If shoppers know their size in a particular brand, you can use that information to help match them to other garments. You can make this process as simple as creating an equivalency chart for shoppers to consult, or you can employ a matching technology such as TrueFit, which asks shoppers to create a profile based on a sampling of brands that fit well, plus information about body type. The portable profile lets shoppers visiting the sites of participating merchants view which items are likely to fit them well, as at the Macys.com denim shop for women.

Product Q and A

Your customers are invariably going to have questions you didn’t think of adding to your Q & A lists.

Seventy-two percent of customers trust online opinions as much as they trust their own friends and family, according to Forrester. According to Forbes, ninety-two percent of consumers around the world say they trust word-of-mouth recommendations, whether from strangers or from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising.

Let shoppers pose questions and customers answer them. Integrate  your questions and answers with your review section, the bedrock of any ecommerce site, with the main stream of product information. By doing so, the information not only is more likely to be read, but more questions are likely to be spawned – thereby creating momentum.

Skincare merchant Perricone MD gives reviews and Q and A content equal weight, using a tabbed format so that shoppers can swiftly switch information streams as they conduct research.

Perricone MD

Such a presentation not only makes for interesting reading; it also solves the critical-mass problem common to product Q-and-A tools that are siloed separately from reviews.

By enabling fluid dialogue between existing customers and potential shoppers, merchants create a platform for exchanging candid information – thereby establishing the brand as a credible hub of product knowledge and increasing customers confidence in their purchasing decisions.

This stream of user-generated content that ends up benefiting everyone.

Let shoppers know they can try and buy in-store

While shopping online is convenient, sometimes customers would still prefer to visit stores to ensure they’re getting the right fit.

Jewelry merchant Helzberg Diamonds prominently offers in-store appointments to view any of their 30,000 diamonds and jewelry collections for those shoppers who just need to see before they buy. An appointment icon displayed throughout their site offers a click-and-schedule feature. They add, “We look forward to seeing you!”

Shoppers can still use web sites to browse the full product catalog to narrow down choices but try and buy where they can see and feel the merchandise in person.

What methods do you use to prevent returns. What worked? What challenges are you facing?

Lies, damn lies, and statistics: Getting real about social media’s eCommerce impact

The blogosphere is a-twitter (no pun intended) about the recent report from Gallup which found that close to two-thirds of consumers believe social media has no influence on their purchasing behaviors.

The study has prompted a flurry of posts and articles, including a statement from Facebook itself, pointing out that consumers’ self-reported behavior is unreliable; measuring what they actually do online reveals that social media marketing and advertising pay off, these sources claim.

But then how to square findings such as the attribution data from the latest MarketLive Performance Index, which found that social media directly drives just 2% of traffic and 1% of revenue? With such miniscule potential payoff, it’s no surprise that just 3% of marketers named social media a top-3 priority for 2014, according to technology researcher Forrester.

As a result, merchants attempting to allocate limited resources in advance of the all-important holiday season may be tempted to sideline social media. But that would be a mistake — because social media can help with the very strategies the Gallup report itself advocates adopting.

Gallup claims that the crucial differentiator for brands is engagement — which Gallup defines as an emotional connection that includes alignment with the brand’s identity and confidence in the brand’s ability to deliver what it promises. Gallup found that engaged consumers contribute 23% more to brands — using measures such as revenue, profitability and share of wallet — than those who are merely neutral; while consumers who are disengaged represent a 13% drag.

To maximize the return on social media, then, merchants should use it to support engagement — which is markedly different than simply chasing followers and using outposts to “push” marketing messages. Specifically, brands should:

Choose their social media lineup carefully. As we’ve reported previously, the growing number and diversity of social networking sites means that some are more likely to appeal to a brand’s target audience than others. Merchants should assess where their market is, and only establish brand outposts where it makes sense — even if that means ignoring the hype about the latest and greatest social phenomenon.

One way to gather data on how shoppers use social media is to permeate the merchant’s flagship eCommerce site with social links — the kinds that enable sharing of products and content on an array social networks, regardless of whether the brand has an official outpost there. By tracking the performance of these links, they can get a snapshot of where shoppers who visit their sites congregate and interact.

MarketLive merchant Delia’s includes a bevy of social media sharing tools on product pages, including for the fashion-specific niche site Polyvore, where the brand maintains an official presence, and for sites StumbleUpon, Tumblr and and Google+, where it doesn’t.

Social media example from Delia's

Emphasize the individuals behind the brand — on both sides. Merchants should find ways to spotlight the people who power the brand, both internally among the staff and among its followers. Rather than asking consumers to connect with a nameless, faceless organization, merchants who spotlight individuals give shoppers the opportunity to connect on a personal level.

Blog posts from staff experts and behind-the-scenes snapshots and videos demonstrate how employees embody the brand, such as in this Facebook post from women’s recreational outfitter Title Nine, whose employees cycled from San Francisco to Los Angeles and summited a mountain.

Social media example from Title Nine

Position social media for stellar customer service. Delivering a consistent brand experience across the notoriously fluid landscape of social media requires much more than a style guide.  Since both rapid response and authentic dialogue are valued by social media followers, merchants must empower social media customer service staff to act — not just post scripted replies. By allowing employees on the front lines to resolve problems, merchants not only cut response times and deliver superior service; they demonstrate how deeply and widely held are the brand’s principles, reinforcing the brand’s image for existing customers and followers.

MarketLive merchant Berkshire Blanket demonstrated the depth of the brand’s loyalty to its customers when a previous buyer wrote a Facebook message describing how the plush dog included with a blanket had become her child’s favorite, and how the stuffed animal was now wearing out and in need of replacement. The customer had searched high and low for a similar item with no success, and was appealing to Berkshire Blanket for help. Not only was the social media staff able to respond quickly to the reply, but they were able to access inventory, locate a similar plush dog, and ship it to the customer complete with a personal note. The effort earned the brand priceless word of mouth praise as well as repeat business.

Social media example from Berkshire Blanket

How are you using social media to create a personal connection — and active engagement — with the brand?

What Bing Ads Express’ demise means for merchants

MSN’s decision to shutter the Bing Ads Express service at the end of July has ramifications for merchants large and small, whether or not they were using the service, which simplified local paid search placement.

First, the decision is in part testament to Google’s continuing dominance of the overall search landscape as well as paid search. Measurement firm comScore’s latest search rankings estimate that Google owns a whopping 67% of search share, while Yahoo and Microsoft properties together amount to less than 30%. And while the smaller Bing/Yahoo audience might offer opportunities for niche targeting at a lower price point than with Google AdWords, 2013 research from AdGooRoo suggests that the ads are less effective as well as less widely seen. For example, ads in the shopping and classified category saw an average click-through rate nearly 70% lower than AdWords.

Bing research

So while Bing Ads Express was targeted at small-to-mid-sized merchants as a means of reaching searchers without a resource-intensive ad management process, the lack of broad reach and effectiveness meant those same merchants with limited resource were less likely to consider Yahoo/Bing in the first place. Or, as search firm Acquisio put it, “SMBs with limited experience and a limited budget more often than not invested their money in paid search they recognized and trusted – like Google.”

So, what’s a merchant with limited paid search expertise and budget to do? As we’ve reported previously, more than half of mobile shopping searchers hope to make purchases in the next hour, and fully 83% intend to buy within a day. Recent research from comScore underscores the importance of mobile in local shopping, with the study finding that 40 to 50% of all mobile searches have local intent, and 78% of local shopping searches on mobile phones end with a purchase, often offline.

With such compelling statistics, merchants may be tempted to  invest heavily in mobile spending — but unless their site is mobile-optimized, and landing pages offer mobile-friendly calls-to-action, those dollars could well be wasted. While mobile optimization should be a top priority, merchants should also consider:

Using search ad enhancements to fulfill shoppers’ top local shopping information needs. The comScore study found that mobile phone users are looking for store physical addresses and directions, local coupon offers, and phone numbers as well as actual product matches. Merchants can meet these needs within the content of the search ad itself using mobile-specific add-ons, such as click-to-call and click-to-navigate buttons, as well as adding links to promotions.

Local search research

 

Boost visibility in favored natural search content. We’ve covered before how natural search rankings are becoming ever more nuanced and context-specific, and how algorithms increasingly prioritize inbound links as a measure of relevance, making straight keyword-based SEO obsolete. Rather, merchants should rely on an array of techniques to boost visibility, from marketplace selling on highly-ranked sites to participation on social platforms. On Bing/Yahoo, for example, content from the local-business ratings site Yelp! has been integrated to a high degree, so merchants seeking to reach Bing/Yahoo visitors would do well to optimize their Yelp! presence, including proactive response to negative reviews. MarketLive merchant World Market’s Bing listings are enhanced by multiple Yelp citations.

Bing example from World Market

How are you reaching local shopping searchers, both on mobile devices and desktop/laptop browsers?

Trend watch: What’s happening with alternative payments?

Implementing alternative payments is a smart move for merchants, and for a plethora of reasons. For starts, alternative payments offer a viable detour around purchase hurdles concerning data security and privacy — and with high-profile data breaches during the 2013 holiday season still painfully fresh in shoppers’ minds, offering a way to avoid typing in credit card data makes more sense than ever. Secondly, alternative payments can ease transactions across borders, enabling merchants to reach growing international eCommerce markets.

But perhaps the most compelling reason for merchants to undertake alternative payment integration is the central importance of mobile shopping. To convince shoppers to complete transactions on mobile devices, merchants must focus relentlessly on convenience and efficiency, and streamline checkout to the utmost. With mobile now the default touchpoint for interacting with brands, and with mobile transactions set to account for close to 30% of all online purchases by the end of this year, alternative payments should be near the top of merchants’ priority lists — if they haven’t implemented them already.

So when we set out to replicate research we conducted in late 2011, crunching data from the Internet Retailer Top 500 database to uncover trends in alternative payment usage, we expected to find substantial increases. Instead, we were surprised to discover that the percentage of merchants who’ve adopted alternative payments has remained completely flat. Just as then, 59.6% of today’s largest online brands offer online payments.

statistics on alternative payments

While nearly 60% may seem like a sizeable figure, given the increasingly-urgent mandate to cater to mobile shoppers, which has accelerated substantially in the past year in particular, we were surprised that the percentage hadn’t budged.

And while the changing lineup in the top 500 might account for the lack of movement, these merchants represent the largest and most successful brands online from year to year, with the resources to experiment with an array of revenue-boosting tactics.. Stasis among their collective ranks suggests that for small- to mid-sized merchants with smaller budgets and technology resources may struggle to prioritize alternative payments.

A deeper dive into the numbers reveals a trend toward consolidation. Among those merchants implementing alternative payments, more than half have opted to implement a single alternative payment service, and the runaway favorite is Paypal. Close to 90% of merchants offering alternative payments use Paypal — that’s more than 50% of all Top 500 merchants. These numbers signal a shift from 2011, when the majority of merchants offered multiple alternative payments.

statistics on alternative payments

statistics on alternative payments

The decline in usage of other payment methods besides Paypal is partially attributable to Google, whose transition from Google Checkout in late 2013 has yet to manifest itself fully. Google  Wallet isn’t an exact equivalent, which explains its decline among top merchants. But Paypal’s Bill Me Later financing service also experienced a decline, as did eBillMe, which has been rebranded as WU Pay as of mid-2012 after its acquisition by Western Union.

With alternative payment options in flux, merchants should rely on their customers to guide them to the right choice for their business. But whatever service is the best fit, merchants shouldn’t delay implementation if they hope to realize the benefits during the all-important holiday season.

Which alternative payments do you use, if any, and why?

MarketLive News: Delivering Responsive Commerce

We’ve discussed at length the crucial role mobile plays in today’s shopping experience — and we’ve stressed the importance of flexible technology  and the importance of sound implementation. That’s why we’re excited to share that today at IRCE in Chicago, MarketLive announced the launch of Version 14.1 of its award-winning e-commerce platform. This latest version delivers MarketLive’s ground-breaking Responsive Commerce technology, which includes responsive design templates to optimize the commerce path to purchase and enable streamlined design, implementation, and management of online stores across desktop, mobile and other device interfaces.

“With this release, we have evolved the integration of responsive design into eCommerce, extending the range of capabilities previously available. We handle responsive design for today’s phones and tablets and other devices, but we go further.  Our implementation of Responsive Commerce incorporates eCommerce best practices across the customer lifecycle, optimizing templates for path to purchase and customer service interactions to ensure our merchants engage and grow their customers, regardless of touchpoint,” said Ken Burke, founder and CEO of MarketLive Inc. “We are constantly improving our platform infrastructure so that our customers can be confident that they have the best technology available on which to run their commerce.  Responsive Commerce is just the latest fulfillment of this promise.”

The new release offers out-of-the-box Responsive Commerce templates that optimize the path to purchase and “future proof” for extension to new devices to come. These templates are designed to automatically present an optimized view on a given device and  manage all aspects of sizing for different devices and screens, including touch/zoom capabilities on any device.

Responsive Commerce from MarketLive is also designed to minimize future complexity for merchants by evolving and adapting to ever-changing shopping norms – it accommodates mobile and tablet today, and can be expanded to include Portable POS, in-store kiosks — and even future commerce interfaces not yet invented.

Among the benefits of this approach to merchants:

  • Reduced complexity in managing cross multiple devices, due to the ability to design, configure and deploy once across desktop, tablet, phone and other touchpoints.
  • Improved customer experience through optimization of load times by device type
  • Flexible merchandising control enabling tailored merchandising experiences by device, if desired
  • Improved SEO through the implementation of responsive design, technology that Google, Bing and other search engines give preference in their rankings
  • Broader range of responsive technology capabilitiesfrom Bootstrap3, the latest, state-of-the-art responsive framework providing enhancements across the responsive design continuum
  • Future proofing for merchandising on future devices, while benefiting now from out of the box responsive templates for phone, tablet portrait, tablet landscape and desktop displays.

For more information, read the full release — or stop by Booth #1601 at IRCE.

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