New eBook: Replatforming in 2015? Here’s what you should consider

As the end of the year approaches, merchants are looking past the frenzy of the holiday season to top 2015 priorities — and for many, the future holds the challenging prospect of replatforming.

In fact, more than 40% of merchants are currently underway with a project or planning to start by the end of this year. As merchants survey the landscape of eCommerce solution providers, flexibility is likely to be a common refrain.

After all, supporting an online commerce business has never been more demanding. The pace of change is accelerating, driven by the increasing connectedness of consumers who are now as accustomed to shopping on their phones as in retail stores, and who are empowered by social media to influence brand success through word of mouth.

When evaluating eCommerce platforms, merchants need to tease out how solution providers can accommodate these ever-shifting needs — whether the core platform is intended to provide every feature, whether technology partners integrate their offerings with the code, and whether it’s possible to take advantage of plug-in-like “agile” solutions that solve a focused need. MarketLive, for one, offers an array of out-of-the-box solutions, paired with extensible technology that integrates easily with both established and new partners.

In this process, merchants must not only ensure compatibility with existing iterations of their site, but attempt to predict what integrations and add-ons might be needed in the future — a tricky exercise to conduct without having a crystal ball, but a crucial one nonetheless, as the consequences of failing to plan for at least the forseeable challenges are significant. With eCommerce playing such a central role in the business, Web site failures are now high profile affairs that can cost companies millions – as when The Finish Line launched a new site in November 2012, only to experience outages that led to missed quarterly earnings projections.  And headlines from this year about multiple instances of hacking at eBay serve as a chilling reminder that brand reputation and trust, and years of potential lost sales, could be at stake if systems become vulnerable.

To avoid the potential pitfalls of replatforming gone awry while still embracing innovation, merchants must strike a balance between flexibility and stability. The spectrum of eCommerce platform options is vast.  Ultimate flexibility but also a high degree of complexity and risk can be found in the “wild West” of open-source solutions on one end; on the other, some hosted platforms offer technology that’s so rigidly controlled there’s no room for individual sites to innovate.

MarketLive’s new eBook on replatforming examines how to navigate between these two technology extremes and outlines the 30 most crucial questions to ask when evaluating new technology vendors. The questions fall into three crucial categories:

  • Flexibility: the ability to get started quickly with a full set of features out of the box, and integrate further cutting-edge technology in the future
  • Performance: the ability to scale both for seasonal spikes and for long-term growth
  • Security: the ability to proactively fend off attacks and comply with industry standards

Download the eBook today for a comprehensive look at replatforming considerations, along with a matrix worksheet.

Webinar recap: what savvy multi-touchpoint shoppers seek this holiday season

The so-called “360-degree view” of the customer is something of a holy grail for merchants. When it comes to presenting shoppers with relevant products and offers, sellers aim to combine data from in-store, online and mobile activity to create a holistic understanding of how their customers behave.

Last week’s 2014 MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey webinar revealed that the “360-degree view” is important to shoppers, too — but with a twist. As consumers become more savvy and conduct shopping research on mobile devices as well as on desktop computers and in stores, they favor brands that present a unified message across touchpoints, making consistency a crucial differentiator this holiday season.

When asked which components of the brand experience should be consistent and which could be different, a high percentage of consumers said consistency was ideal nearly across the board.

Shopping survey results

Perhaps not surprisingly given holiday shoppers’ hunger for good deals, survey participants reported seeking consistent product pricing, free shipping offers and other promotional discounts across touchpoints. Close to 80% of participants said product assortment was also important; in particular, 45% of shoppers said that a comprehensive product assortment would encourage them to purchase more on mobile devices.

At the same time, exclusive or unique offers continue to appeal to shoppers as an incentive to engage with brands. For example, an exclusive discount available only to followers ranked second only to free shipping as the type of incentive that would spur purchasing via a social networking site. And merchants frequently dangle the lure of exclusive discounts as a reason to sign up for email alerts.

Striking a balance between the demand for consistency and the desire for touchpoint-specific perks requires promotional finesse. To achieve it, merchants should follow these guidelines:

Merchants should message with absolute consistency across touchpoints on:

 

  • Product pricing and pricing guarantees. With fully 90% of shoppers saying they consult Amazon to check prices even when purchasing elsewhere online, it’s crucial for merchants to deliver the same price in stores that shoppers see on their mobile devices, for example.
  • Site-wide free shipping policies. With free shipping remaining the top promotion shoppers seek, whether via eCommerce sites or on social media, offers such as free shipping above a threshold and free ship-to-store services should be universally and prominently messaged.
  • Key customer service information. Shoppers rate guaranteed delivery and free returns as crucial when deciding which brands to patronize, with 49% rating both as “most important”. The overall flexibility of the return policy and the availability of delivery timelines were sought by 41% and 27%, respectively.

 

Merchants have leeway to offer by touchpoint:

  • Sneak peeks at exclusive or new products. More than half of shoppers said access to exclusive products would spur them to purchase via social networks, for example.
  • Flash sale items. Email alerts promoting limited-time offers can motivate shoppers to engage with brands more frequently throughout the season.
  • Loyalty or rewards points tie-ins. Close to 60% of shoppers said loyalty rewards offered via social media would prompt them to make purchases, while 46% said the availability of a loyalty program would encourage repeat sales — making an offer of extra points potentially enticing as a means to lure back existing first-time customers.

Download the webinar replay for many more insights on mobile shopping, the role of social media, discount timing and in-store activities and more. And watch the MarketLive site for the follow-up holiday compendium produced in conjunction with the Consumer Shopping Survey.

Survey says: social and mobile are the keys to holiday success – webinar preview

The pivotal role social media and mobile are poised to play this holiday season — and the implications for merchants — will be a key topic discussed during tomorrow’s webinar with MarketLive CEO Ken Burke and Lauren Freeman of the E-Tailing Group.

They’ll share results of the 2014 Marketlive/E-Tailing Group Consumer Shopping Survey, with 1,000 participants sharing their views on everything from Amazon to email marketing.

While the influence of social networks on the eCommerce bottom line is subject to ongoing debate, significant proportions of shoppers in the survey reported factoring in social opinions during holiday shopping. Close to a third of participants (30%) say they’ve made purchases as a direct result of interations on social media.

The findings track earlier data from the MarketLive Performance Index showing that social’s role in purchasing, while still small, is growing at a significant rate. In the second quarter, revenues generated via social media grew close to 15% year over year, even as traffic from social media sites grew at a more modest rate of 2.49%.

The survey also revealed that a smooth mobile experience could be the top differentiator this season when it comes to driving sales growth.

Fully 56% of survey participants say they plan to spend about the same amount of money on holiday gifts this year as they did in 2013, making for an ultra-competitive season as merchants aim to win a larger share of sales despite overall flat spending. In fact, shoppers reported they planned to do less buying in every channel or location except on mobile devices, where more than a third of participants plan to shop — a 28% increase.

shoppingsurvey_channelusage2014The webinar will address:

  • Gifting trends, such as how many gifts shoppers plan to purchase, and when
  • Top barriers to gift purchasing online
  • Which social networks generate the most shopping influence
  • The top ways shoppers share product information socially
  • The mobile features users seek while shopping in-store
  • What would nudge mobile shoppers to become mobile buyers
  • How mobile impacts email marketing effectiveness
  • And more

Register now and join us tomorrow, Wednesday, Oct. 9, at 10 a.m. Pacific time. We look forward to the discussion!

 

3 top priorities for engaging a coveted demographic (no, not that one)

In their quest to achieve online sales growth, merchants are often counseled to target the young. Appealing to the 18-to-34 age bracket is considered the holy grail when it comes to proving brands are cutting-edge and poised for future success.

Bolstering this obsession are statistics showing that today’s youth do indeed consider the multi-touchpoint universe to be retail reality. While their lower incomes means that they rank lower in terms of total dollars contributed, members of Generation Z spend a higher percentage of their earnings via online commerce than other age groups — close to 9%, according to research from Business Insider.

But there’s another age cohort that deserves attention: seniors. As the large and affluent Baby Boomer population, which controls 70% of disposable income in the U.S.,  heads toward retirement, there’s mounting evidence that older consumers are not only increasingly tech-savvy, but willing to commit dollars online like never before.

Merchants need look no further than Amazon for proof of the importance of the senior demographic. The eCommerce giant launched a “50+ Active and Healthy Living” lifestyle microsite in April of this year, featuring a curated collection of wellness products, vitamins and supplements, fitness supplies and travel resources.

Amazon's site for seniors

While Amazon has the advantage of a vast selection of merchandise from which to create a tailored product array, even niche merchants can successfully cater to seniors by adopting a series of best practices that boost cross-touchpoint functionality and service. The bonus? These tactics can not only win sales from older shoppers, but can boost brand appeal for shoppers of all ages. The three top priorities:

Customer service ease-of-use. Seniors are actually less tolerant of inefficient customer service transactions than the young, Forrester found, with 52% of those aged 69 and up and 54% of Baby Boomers saying they’ll abandon a transaction if they can’t find a quick answer to their question — slightly more than Generation Z, 50% of whom report the same tendency. To satisfy the need for quick and comprehensive service, merchants should ensure that key information is close at hand regardless of the touchpoint. Tactics include:

  • Making customer service content searchable. On-site search should employ redirects to commonly-sought information, such as shipping rates and timeframes, and links to service should be displayed for frequently-used keywords.
  • Since seniors are still apt to use the phone and shop in-store as well as browse and buy online and via mobile devices, merchants should ensure policies are communicated consistently across the board — and consider investing in customer service solutions that give reps visibility into shopping behavior across touchpoints (in-store purchases as well as online activity, for example).
  • Simplifying live chat. We recently discussed how live chat should now be a fixture, and merchants should both subject their offerings to rigorous testing and track results to ensure the process is as smooth as possible. In particular, they should strike a balance between collecting information up-front as part of the chat initiation process and speeding the time to connection with a live person; long forms with many required fields are likely to be a turnoff.

Cross-touchpoint functionality. Customer service isn’t the only area where merchants should strive for a seamless and consistent shopping experience. To cater to seniors — as well as an increasingly mobile general population — they should prioritize investments in features that ease the shopping journey from touchpoint to touchpoint. Among them:

  • Print and email buttons, in the cart and elsewhere. Merchants should make product information portable all along the path to purchase, including for offline use in-stores.
  • “Save Cart” as a perk of registration. As we’ve discussed previously, while forced account creation remains a bad idea, merchants should highlight the ability to save products in order to facilitate mobile-to-web, mobile-to-store and web-to-mobile transactions.
  • Alternative payments. We’ve long been an advocate of alternative payments, which can smooth the path to purchase both for desktop and laptop users as well as for mobile shoppers. Additionally, the availability of alternative payments can reassure seniors new to the online shopping process, who may be more hesitant than other cohorts to enter credit card information online.

MarketLive merchant Full of Life puts it all together with a bevy of shopping cart options. The ability to save cart contents is highlighted, and Paypal is offered as an alternative payment option. Finallly, the merchant places a helpful graphic within the cart content to show shoppers how to connect their purchase to the customer ID printed on their print catalogs.

Example from Full of Life

 

Mobile fluency. With seniors freely using mobile devices to shop, merchants should invest in creating a user-friendly experience that both engages and builds trust. Among the tactics to consider:

  • Mobile-minded design. Merchants should review their design standards and ensure that navigation, buttons and images are all tap- and swipe-friendly. Whether employing responsive design or maintaining dedicated mobile and tablet sites, merchants should strive for clarity and readability on mobile devices, ensuring images are sized appropriately to prevent muddiness and text contrasts sufficiently with the background.
  • Apps for focused engagement. While in general we recommend prioritizing mobile Web site development, specialty merchants who can identify a unique offering for their target audience should consider building an app as a way of fostering deeper brand connections. Replenishment reminders, results trackers and wellness tips are potential tools in the health category that might appeal to seniors.

MarketLive merchant Rogaine offers a simple mobile site with icons as well as text in the navigation and a bold, easy-to-read color scheme. The brand offers a results-tracking app for iPhone users that employs similarly user-friendly graphics, such as a meter for measuring progress. Connections to the customer community and access to FAQs make the app a worthwhile download for the audience.

Rogaine mobile site

Rogaine app

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does your eCommerce offering cater specifically to seniors, and if so, how?

 

4 invaluable resources to guide your holiday prep

Holiday preparations are well underway for most merchants. Even if holiday promotions and merchandising aren’t explicitly showcased on the eCommerce site yet, the countdown to Black Friday is definitely on, and some sites may already be on “lockdown” in terms of new features and functionality.

But even given that many merchants have moved from planning to execution mode, there are still plenty of tactics they can implement, based on the latest consumer behaviors and emerging trends. To help merchants prioritize and pick the last-minute additions that make the most sense for their brands, MarketLive is offering an array of holiday resources:

  • Register now for a webinar Thursday, Oct. 9, at 10 a.m. EDT with Lauren Freedman, president of the E-Tailing Group, who will share results from the 2014 MarketLive/E-Tailing Group Consumer Shopping Survey. The survey quizzes participants about their projected and actual holiday shopping habits, covering topics from mobile purchasing to timing of last-minute purchases.
  • Read up on rich media for the holidays in a whitepaper focusing on the ROI of video investments, with a special focus on the right video content for each stage of the holiday customer lifecycle.
  • Learn the top 10 tips for holiday success — leading tactics to implement both now and during the peak holiday season to drive sales growth and customer satisfaction.
  • Explore how to bring tried-and-true merchandising techniques to the frontiers of online commerce with Merchandising 2.0.

Finally, keep watching this blog for holiday tips, tactics and results throughout the holiday season. Happy planning!

Optimizing on-site search for cross-touchpoint success

On-site search has long suffered as the unsung hero of the eCommerce site. Not only does it rarely grab headlines compared with much-hyped mobile, social and video tactics — but recent research suggests that usage is on the decline.

Fully 70% of consumers reported they prefer browsing a site versus using keyword search, according to a recent small study from the E-Tailing Group and Compare Metrics. The marketing services provder E-Consultancy reported that just 30% of site visitors use internal search, and that number drops to just 5.75% on niche brand sites where the number of SKUs is more manageable to browse than when shopping with online mass merchants. Those numbers reflect an ongoing trend in declining usage compared with 2008, when the MarketLive Performance Index found that close to 40% of site visitors used internal search, and 2011, when the number had dropped to 33%.

What’s behind the decline? Possible factors include

  • the prevalence of mobile shopping. Sub-par on-site search experiences on small screens may push shoppers to browse rather than type additional keyword terms, while on tablets, tapping and swiping are conducive to browsing through product options, rather than summoning the keypad for search term entry.
  • the increasing sophistication of Internet search engine results from Google, which can not only showcase individual categories and product pages within a site’s listing, but which now display visually-compelling Product Listing Ads featuring relevant items.

But that doesn’t mean merchants should abandon on-site search. Far from it — because when it’s used, site search remains a powerful conversion tool. Visitors who take advantage of site search tend to convert at nearly double the rate of those who just browse and contribute more than 13% of total revenues, according to eConsultancy.

The key to maximizing profitability of on-site search is to deliver just the right level of specificity, without overwhelming searchers. To hit the on-site search sweet spot, merchants should:

Optimize for late-stage researchers who are primed to buy. The majority of shoppers use a combined approach when it comes to product discovery — with 61% of participants in an E-Tailing Group/dSide study saying they browse in the initial stages of research, then use keyword search to zero in on products once they’ve identified exactly the features they seek. That means merchants should fine-tune results that support very specific search terms, such as

  • colors, sizes and other SKU-specific options. Does the term “red v-neck dress,” “size 8 toddler shoes” or “20 ounce moisturizer” return results?
  • brand name searches.
  • merchandising-related searches, such as “sale jeans” or “free shipping chairs”.

Additionally, merchants should offer a “quick look” option so shoppers can quickly view further details without needing to click through to a results page — and make sure the “quick look” functions optimally on mobile screens. For products that don’t require SKU selection, merchants should consider adding an “add to cart” option directly from search results to streamline the path to purchase — especially on mobile devices.

To identify which keyword terms are important, merchants should study their logs and identify both popular search terms, especially those that are frequently searched, but produce “zero results” — they signify that site language and the search algorithm need to better reflect how shoppers classify and describe products.

 

Choose filters and attributes with care, and make it easy to back out. Faceted search tools make it possible for merchant to offer shoppers myriad choices when it comes to narrowing down a search results set — but while shoppers want to identify relevant results quickly, they also report feeling overwhelmed by too many options. More than half of participants in the E-Tailing Group/Compare Metrics study reported that eCommerce sites were overwhelming, and specifically mentioned long lists of facets in the left-hand column of search results. Not only that, but fully  73% of participants said they believed that selecting specific attributes or filters would eliminate from the search results set products that were actually relevant to their needs.

To make the site search experience less daunting, merchants using faceted search should key the attribute options off actual shopper behavior. Studying on-site search logs can provide guidance as to which attributes are most important to offer, as can conducting tests using paid-search ads (whether text or PLAs) to test search term popularity. Directly surveying customers or conducting usability tests can provide further insight.

Once the right mix of filters and attributes has been achieved, merchants should prominently position the list of which options are in play, and highlight the how to remove each or all of them. MarketLive merchant Delia’s uses its signature bright yellow to call attention to which attribute is being matched in the breadcrumb list above search results and how to remove it. The message is reinforced in the left-hand column, where the selected attribute is highlighted with a different color and a “clear” option gives shoppers a quick way to back out.

 

On-site search example from Delia's

 

Tailor content mix by device. By now, including so-called “value added” content in the search results mix is considered an established best practice for merchants. Whether shoppers seek essential customer service information such as shipping timeframes or advice on product selection from expert buying guides, the growing library of content merchants maintain is a valuable addition to search results. But as with the number of attributes, balance is key: shoppers should be able to find what they need even if it isn’t on a product page, but they also shouldn’t have to wade through reams of product-free content if they are ready to purchase. And on mobile devices, merchants should prioritize results even more ruthlessly. For maximum efficiency, merchants should:

  • Use a tab format for desktop and laptop search results scanning. Giving shoppers access to products and content on separate tabs is a tidy way to make content available without cluttering the path to purchase.
  • Move content downpage on mobile devices. Relevant product links should have prime placement, while content that includes resource-intensive graphics or video should be further down the list or even omitted from the results set.

MarketLive merchant O’Reilly enhances search results for desktop and laptop users looking for items related to the keyword “perl” with a guide to top titles, promotion of free shipping, and information about relevant courses from its School of Technology. On the mobile site, a simple list of products is displayed for maximum efficiency.

oreilly_searchresults_desktop

oreilly_searchresults_mobile

How has on-site search usage changed for your brand over the years, and how are you optimizing to adapt?

Holiday first look: How to engage early shoppers — without offending them

Now that Labor Day and back-to-school promotions have come and gone, the countdown to the 2014 winter holiday season has officially begun. For merchants eager to move from planning mode to execution and results, the milestone is significant.

Indeed, research shows that the early season is a crucial time for brands to connect with consumers. More than a quarter of shoppers intended to start researching holiday gifts before Halloween last year, according to Google/Ipsos, with 69% saying they planned to shop around and 59% expressing openness to trying new brands. Not surprisingly, merchants are responding to this early receptiveness with early promotions. In a new survey from ChannelAdvisor, more than 40% of retailers said they’re starting holiday campaigns this month.

But there’s a contrasting sentiment merchants should also keep in mind: the backlash against “holiday creep,” with some consumers and media outlets protesting the appearance of holiday commercialism before Black Friday, whether on Thanksgiving Day or earlier. Even if actual spending patterns indicate that consumers go ahead and shop early despite their grumbling, merchants should remain respectful of the perception that too much promotion too early can deprive the holidays of their true magic.

So where should merchants draw the line — and how can they engage shoppers for the early-season browsing and research that leads to purchases down the road? A few suggestions:

Showcase products and content that make life easier. While shoppers may just be starting to browse and consider gifts, by now they’re likely aware of their holiday plans — whether they’re hosting a major holiday meal, having houseguests, or traveling themselves, and they may even already have a few red-letter festive dates on the calendar. Merchants should cater to these preparatory needs by stressing the convenience of crossing holiday to-dos off the list now. While this tactic is a tried-and-true approach for home and housewares brands, who can preview tools and tips for holiday feasts and hosting, other merchants can translate the message to fit their target audience. MarketLive merchant Delia’s previews the festive season with a home page promotion showcasing party dresses. Text further downpage invites shoppers to “get prepped to party.”

Early holiday example from Delia's

Encourage signups by listing holiday benefits. Merchants should step up promotions to subscribe to email alerts and follow brands on social media — and spell out the benefits to come throughout the holiday season. Consumers should know what they can expect iIn exchange for committing to follow brands, whether it’s exclusive holiday discounts, product previews or shipping offers; the latest in-store specials; or even special seasonal services such as free gift wrap. MarketLive merchant Modell’s is promoting a “Holiday All-Stars” program that encourages visitors to the brand’s Facebook page to become followers by promising them sweepstakes entries based on how frequently they like and share Modells.com content.

Early holiday example from Modell's

modells_earlyholidayfollow2

Position layaway information prominently.  Previously we’ve discussed how best to support in-store layaway programs online. Now is the time to dust off those tactics and remind shoppers that they can secure sought-after items early and pay over time. Kmart recently launched a “Not a Christmas Commercial” — a cheeky nod to criticism the brand received last year over its early holiday advertising —  that suggests shoppers with “an event in late December you need a lot of gifts for, like maybe your entire family is having their birthday on the same day.” The YouTube video includes an embedded link to Kmart’s online layaway center, where shoppers can set up layaway online or read details of in-store policies and procedures. Layaway is allocated space in the global header navigation, ensuring shoppers can access the information at any point along the path to purchase.

kmart_layawayearly

Are you easing into the holidays, or have you begun full-tilt promotions? What informs the timing of your campaigns?

MarketLive news: Ken Burke shares investment priorities with Mint.com

Merchants who sell goods and services online face a bewildering array of competing priorities. Should their brands be on Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram or all three? Should dollars go toward optimizing site content for high rankings in unpaid “natural” search results or in paid search ads? Is video a good investment? And should tablets or smartphones take precedence when planning mobile strategy?

Ken Burke was recently featured on leading personal-finance site Mint.com, where he shared guidance on how online sellers can prioritize. His top advice: let customers lead.

“By thoroughly understanding their target audience, merchants can focus on the online touchpoints and sales strategies that will resonate most effectively – and earn sales,” Burke wrote.

To see the top three trends driving shoppers’ expectations for merchant sites, and to read more of Burke’s practical advice for developing winning strategies that grow sales, read the full blog post.

How are you prioritizing investments for the holiday season, 2015 and beyond?

Priorities for adapting live chat to a multi-touchpoint world

We’ve long argued that customer service can be an important brand differentiator for small- to mid-sized merchants in their quest to win sales and loyalty. Stellar service drives valuable repeat business, while poor interactions can cause site abandonment. And word-of-mouth reputation can hinge on customer interactions with support staff; tales of neglect can go viral, while brand recommendations among friends can spur purchases from new customers.

Merchants seeking further proof of the importance of customer service need look no further than Amazon, which nearly a year ago launched a service called Mayday for owners of its Kindle Fire tablets. With a touch of a button, customers can speak directly with a representative, whose video image is displayed on tablet screens — literally putting a face on a vast organization that had previously offered little in the way of opportunities for one-on-one support interaction. It’s now the most popular means of accessing Kindle Fire support, with 75% of customer requests coming through Mayday, according to Amazon.

Amazon Mayday

While merchants can’t be expected to keep up with Amazon’s every innovation, they shouldn’t ignore the increasingly  widespread adoption of live chat in general. Usage rates are on the rise, jumping from 30% of online consumers in 2009 to 43% as of 2012 — a 43% increase, according to technology researcher Forrester.  And usage isn’t limited to younger consumers; Forrester found that all demographics use live chat, including a third of those aged 57 or above.

As usage levels head toward the 50% threshold, live chat is a must-have for merchants. And they should do more than placing a “live chat” link in the global header or footer; to maximize the revenue opportunity live chat presents, they should adopt new chat features that resonate with their target audience. Among the latest considerations:

Context is more important than ever. We’ve already addressed the importance of context when it comes to prompting shoppers to engage in live chat on the eCommerce site. But the concept of context extends far beyond that, requiring merchants to align chat invitations with shoppers’ individual situations so that chat is a relevant proposition at the very moment a question arises. Among the techniques for presenting chat as a relevant solution:

  • Tailor chat invitation language to match the journey along the path to purchase. Generic live chat promotions should be replaced by category-specific invitations as shoppers narrow their focus. Those using on-site search might be prompted to connect with live chat if they still don’t see what they’re looking for, while viewers of a specific product might see a chat promotion touting the customer service team’s expertise when it comes to fit or style.

MarketLive merchant Title Nine gives live chat increasing prominence as shoppers move along the path to purchase. A text link with small graphic in the global header is supplemented by a “Need Help?” prompt in the center content area of the product page. Shoppers who add items to cart view a prominent chat promotion promising to connect them with a “customer service maven” and listing the hours of live chat availability.

Title Nine chat promotion

Title Nine chat promotion

  • Present geo-aware chat options. Using built-in browser information combined with location data collected with shoppers’ permission, merchants can present not only chat customer service hours in the local time zone, but connect consumers with local store outlet customer service options as well.
  • Use language attuned to the touchpoint. With social media serving as a de facto customer service channel, it’s crucial to promote live chat services via social outposts, highlighting the benefits of connecting with expert staff for in-depth advice.

Women’s retailer Chico’s promotes live chat on Facebook with the offer to connect 24/7 with “style experts,” promising brand followers authoritative advice they can trust.

Chico's live chat promo in Facebook

Mobile live chat matters. As shopping activity on mobile devices continues to grow, so does the need for providing stellar support for mobile shoppers — and that includes offering live chat services. 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 in a recent study. 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.

Attempting to provide an effective live chat experience on mobile devices is a steep challenge requiring particular attention to context. The E-Tailing Group found that two factors in particular determined the success of chat interactions:

  • The position of the chat window, accessible but without covering key content — and the ability to move it to the optimal location of the shopper’s choosing. More than 75% of consumers said this functionality was important, with close to half specifying it was even more crucial on mobile devices.
  • Speed and brevity. Eighty-five percent of consumers expect the customer service agent to respond quickly to the chat initiation queue — and 53% of shoppers said this response time was especially important on mobile phones. Once engaged with an agent, 75% of consumers said brevity of responses was important, and 52% deemed this characteristic especially important for mobile.

Mobile live chat stats from E-Tailing Group

Video is experimental, but potentially impactful. While just 14% of U.S. consumers use live video chat weekly, according to Forrester, the Amazon Mayday example proves that easy-to-use video support can take off. To maximize its potential impact, merchants should deploy video chat only in circumstances where visuals can enhance the customer support experience — whether by having reps use the camera to show shoppers product details the Web site doesn’t campture, or by having shoppers share relevant visuals with agents — a room for which they’d like to buy furniture, for example.

Merchants who’d like to dip their toes into the video chat pool without taking the plunge can consider Google+ Hangouts on the Air, which give brand experts a platform for connecting with consumers and answering questions either one-on-one or in a group presentation. U.K. retailer ASOS has produced a number of what it calls “shop-along hangouts” featuring style experts, who showcase the latest trends as well as take questions from participants. Shopping links on the ASOS site were displayed as they discussed their favorite items.

ASOS shop-along hangout

How are you using live chat to maximize sales and boost loyalty?

Checklist: Email template to-dos for holiday success

When it comes to email marketing, merchants often obsess about personalized product and offer content, the perfect Subject: line, and deliverability — all worthy areas of focus. But there’s another aspect of email marketing that’s just as worthy of attention: the content of the email template that surrounds the central offer or product showcase. Particularly as the holidays approach, the standard content delivered with each email campaign should be honed to maximize engagement and message relevance to harried gift shoppers.

The exercise is especially worthy as merchants struggle to balance competing goals. On the one hand, with two-thirds of email messages now opened on mobile devices, each component of a message must justify allocation of precious small-screen real estate. But on the other, merchants have more information to convey than ever, what with an array of social media outposts, in-store activities, and policies to promote.

To strike that balance, merchants should focus squarely on the information most relevant to holiday shoppers and streamline other content to the utmost. The holiday template checklist:

Use responsive design — with backup. As we’ve recommended previously, merchants should employ responsive email designs that serve content appropriate to the device. But they should also assist shoppers who somehow fail to receive an optimized version of the message by including a link to manually open a mobile version. The option to view the email in a web browser is another must, so that shoppers whose email clients block images can view the full version.

MarketLive merchant Nancy’s Notions offers shoppers three alternatives above the main email content. They can skip directly to shopping the featured category with the “shop now” link, or use the mobile device or web browser links to access alternate versions of the email content.

Email example from Nancy's Notions

Include connections to live help. If viewing an email triggers shoppers to connect with a merchant in person — whether to check the status of an existing order, to place an order by phone or check local store hours — they should be able to do so without having to hunt the Web for a phone number. Merchants should include a customer service contact number — enabling click-to-call for those viewing the email on mobile devices — as well as a live chat link, if available.

Promote free shipping. Free shipping continues to be a priority with shoppers, especially during the holiday season. Last year, 91% of holiday shoppers reported they’d be likely to take advantage of free delivery with no threshold and nearly one in two saying they’d make enough purchases to qualify for a free shipping threshold, according to the 2013 MarketLive/e-tailing group Consumer Shopping Survey.

Given free shipping’s central role in driving purchase decisions, merchants should allocate prime email real estate to displaying whatever free shipping offer is currently in play. MarketLive merchant Francesca’s promotes free shipping and low-cost returns in the email header.

Email example from Francesca's

Display geo-aware physical store locations. With the Web set to influence more than 50% of all retail sales in 2014, according to technology researcher Forrester, it’s crucial for merchants to provide resources that connect online browsing and offline buying. Merchants should highlight whether email offers apply both in-store and online — and at a minimum, the email template should provide a link to a store locator. Even better is to key off location data provided by the shopper, whether through GPS information accessed via opt-in permission or from past purchase data, to display details for the closest physical store location.

Enable word of mouth. To cater to shoppers who want to spread the word about offers, whether via email or through social touchpoints, merchants should design email templates to include links to the brand’s social media outposts, and should also highlight the ability to forward messages to friends.

MarketLive merchant Helzberg includes more than the standard array of social media icons in the message footer; the merchants also specifically calls out the ability to forward the email to a friend and to share the message offer on Facebook in the email header as well.

Email example from Helzberg

Don’t forget the gift center link. The final item on our email template to-do list may seem obvious, but our survey of holiday emails always turns up a few merchants whose email templates do nothing to reflect the festive season. Merchants whose emails routinely include navigation links should tweak the lineup to include a gift guide, reinforcing the central offer which presumably will feature gift options during the peak holiday season. Other holiday-centric content, such as a shipping deadline countdown clock and links to gift card information, should also be incorporated into the standard template.

MarketLive merchant Sport Chalet’s holiday email featured a link to the gift center at the top, along with a banner calling out shipping deadlines, a free shipping offer, holiday store hours and e-gift cards. The template background featured snow and icicles at the borders, further accentuating the holidays.

 

Email example from Sport Chalet

How are you fine-turning your email messaging to prepare for the holidays?

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