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.




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.



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. 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.


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.

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.


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


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 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. 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.


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 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.

Want to re-engage email subscribers for the holidays? Start now.

With the season of sprucing up for the holidays well underway, merchants would do well to tend to their existing email subscribers.

Shoppers are by and large positive about email marketing, and its continuing effectiveness explains why email remains a top investment priority for merchants. Furthermore, as the growth rate for U.S. eCommerce is forecast to drop into single digits in the next five years, with revenue gains increasingly driven by experienced online shoppers, retention is set to take center stage — making it more crucial than ever to engage subscribers who’ve already consented to receive offers in their inboxes.

But perhaps still more compelling — or alarming — is the estimate from email intelligence firm ReturnPath that up to 20% of a merchant’s list is inactive at any one time; those subscribers receive emails, but don’t open them, much less click through to view offer details. While the relatively low cost of email marketing means that merchants may be able to carry this “dead weight” without significantly impacting their budgets, there are consequences when it comes to deliverability: the rate at which recipients engage with emails from a particular sender is a determining factor for email services in gauging whether a message is spam. So if for no other reason, merchants should court inactives as a means of ensuring deliverability for the rest of the list.

Among the ways to entice subscribers to re-engage:

The basics: Make email content mobile-friendly. To better engage all subscribers, not just inactives, merchants should design email Subject: lines and content to render well on mobile screens first and foremost. With fully two-thirds of email messages now being opened on mobile devices, by some counts, the mandate to switch to “mobile first” email is clear. Merchants should develop “responsive emails” that adapt their format in accordance with the device and email reader of the recipient. In addition, merchants should ensure that click-throughs from email offers lead to mobile-optimized landing pages and content.

“Win-back” campaigns: commit to the long haul. Sending a special offer to inactive subscribers is a popular last-ditch effort for merchants looking to cull their lists, and data from Return Path suggests these campaigns can be effective — in an unexpected way. While just 12% of shoppers open initial win-back emails, 45% of those who receive them go on to open subsequent messages from the same brand. This finding suggests that merchants should develop a series of win-back offers, not just a single message, and tweak their calendars to extend the period between delivery of the first offer and list removal.

And when it comes to crafting win-back content, merchants should avoid all-or-nothing calls to action that require shoppers to confirm their subscription. But they needn’t send a stream of increasingly-desperate discounts, either. While a discount offer can be part of the win-back series arsenal, merchants should also attempt to cajole inactive recipients back into action by inviting them to update preferences and reminding them of brand benefits, as this message does from MarketLive merchant H2O Plus. Shoppers who click the link to update preferences can specify which skin care products they’re interested in, as well as the frequency with which they’d like to receive emails and the kinds of notices they’d like to receive (such as new products or general skin care information).

Win-back email example from H2O Plus

Resubscribers: Welcome, don’t ignore. With shoppers hungry for holiday bargains, it’s likely that at least a few inactive subscribers who’ve forgotten they’re already on the list will try to re-subscribe via the eCommerce Web site to gain access to seasonal deals and exclusives. The merchant practice of employing home page pop-up or modal windows that spotlight discount offers for new email signups is likely to contribute to the number of existing subscribers who try to sign up again.

Merchants should adjust their signup processes now to greet these familiar email addresses with a message that encourages re-engagement — starting by acknowledging their status as return shoppers, rather than simply signing them up all over again. And merchants should by all means avoid giving these shoppers an error message for their troubles, as this site does when returning subscribers attempt to sign up again. The message is not only unfriendly, but by prompting shoppers to “enter a different email address,” it puts the onus on them to fix the problem.

Example of a "don't"

Instead, merchants should consider offering returning subscribers the following:

  • the ability to specify which topics or product categories are of interest
  • the option of throttling back delivery frequency
  • information about how to connect with the brand on social media
  • an instant discount better than the one on display for new subscribers.

How are you enticing inactive subscribers to re-engage with the brand?

Get your PLAs in order now for holiday success to come

With Memorial Day in the rearview mirror, the windup to the all-important holiday shopping season has begun. Among the myriad priorities merchants are juggling, search marketing is a key component of promotional calendars and spending plans — and a relative newcomer to the array of search marketing tools is poised to take center stage: the Google Product Listing Ad.

Ever since Google converted its shopping results to a paid format in 2012, its Product Listing Ads (PLAs) have soared in popularity with both consumers and merchants. The format of product-specific images and links seems to be a winning one, with one out of every five paid search clicks going to a PLA in 2013, according to Marin Software. During the holiday season, click-through rates for PLAs soared 20.5% year over year, compared with just a 4.6 click-through rate increase for text-based search ads.

In response to this new shopping behavior, merchants are investing more than ever in PLAs. Technology researcher Forrester reports that 6% of all interactive budgets were allocated to PLAs in 2013. That investment partially explains the shift in dollars away from natural search engine optimization and toward paid search advertising, which merchants said was the #2 area for increased investment, behind email. PLAs specifically were the #3 priority for increased spending; natural SEO dropped from #1 to #5 as the increasing fragmentation of audiences and devices and algorithm changes requiring a new and nuanced approach to earning visibility rendered “SEO 1.0” techniques obsolete.

Specifically during the holidays, investment in PLAs soared 80% year over year in Q4 of 2013 compared with Q4 of 2012, according to the Adobe Digital Index. Close to a quarter of total search spend was allocated to PLAs during the holidays in 2013, according to Marin Software, and that number is forecast to jump to 33% in 2014.

The growth in activity means that cost-per-click rates are skyrocketing — forcing merchants who wish to stretch their budgets while taking advantage of the visibility and popularity of PLAs to fine-tune their strategies. Summertime, before the bidding frenzy begins, is the perfect time for merchants to:

Perfect the content of their feeds. In order to win clicks from shoppers considering a series of PLAs, merchants should develop content specific to the environment, including:

  • Images that are optimized for both dimensions and content. Merchants should follow Google’s PLA guidelines for pixel dimensions and also consider the content of the photos; shots of product collections can end up looking microscopic when rendered to thumbnail size.
  • Comprehensible text that omits abbreviations and merchant lingo. Text should also prioritize key product attributes, not the merchant’s brand name, since the lines are truncated.

Merchants would do well to consider manually assembling PLA text and images for top sellers, exclusive products and other potential holiday hits.

MarketLive merchant Party City’s PLA for Star Wars Lego party supplies features an image of a colorful collection of products that registers well at the thumbnail size. The text calls out the fact that the product is a “super party kit,” in contrast with the single-item listings from other merchants, and includes a free shipping offer.

paid listing ad from Party City

Throttle granularity just right.  Merchants should experiment with how best to combine campaigns, ad groups and product targets and set negative keywords to achieve the right level of specificity when it comes to displaying products for particular search terms. While a single All Products ad group is likely insufficient for segmenting offers and bid prices, establishing ad groups for each product can be burdensome when it comes to tracking performance and setting bid prices. All in all, merchants should group their products so they can:

  • Highlight unique offerings with tailored promotions. Merchants should structure their groups so they can apply promotions that demonstrate relevance to their target audience — an offer of a free accessory with purchase that complements the featured product, for example, or a discount on products from a particular brand manufacturer.
  • Up bids on top holiday sellers, and drop poor performers. As the season progresses, merchants need the flexibility to adjust PLA campaigns to feature the items that are driving engagement and sales, to take advantage of unexpected PR buzz, to tailor targets according to popular search terms — or to minimize spend on products not performing up to par.

Realistically assess the mobile PLA opportunity. While we’re bullish on mobile paid search in general, when it comes to PLAs, merchants should think twice. Shoppers engaging with PLAs are looking for comprehensive product details, so if merchants don’t have a robust mobile offering that includes mobile-optimized landing pages and a frictionless path to purchase, investment in mobile PLAs might be putting the cart before the horse.

How are you using PLAs now, and how will they feature in your holiday campaigns?

3 top priorities for optimizing mobile checkout

In previous posts, we’ve surveyed top eCommerce web sites to gauge how merchants are optimizing the shopping cart and checkout to maximize sales. But as the latest MarketLive Performance Index revealed, the desktop experience is only part of the overall shopping picture: mobile devices now account for more than a third of all traffic to merchant sites and bring in nearly 20% of online revenues.

In last week’s blog post, we revealed how a deeper dive into those numbers exposed a lost opportunity: smartphone shopping. With 22% of traffic generating just 6% of total online revenues, it’s clear that merchants must do more to win sales on the small screen.

The Performance Index numbers confirmed our findings from the survey of mobile purchase experiences we undertook for our new whitepaper, which details path-to-purchase practices for 100 top sites on both desktop and smartphones. We found that in general, mobile purchasing is reminiscent of online shopping circa 2000 – basic, sometimes un-intuitive functionality often lacking crucial supporting content or creative offers. And on the extreme end, 13% of the sites we surveyed didn’t even offer a mobile-optimized version, while the purchase process on a few of the allegedly optimized sites was longer and more complicated than on the desktop/laptop browser version!

While the mobile add-to-cart and shopping cart steps had their own highs and lows, the most glaring deficiencies came in checkout. For starts, our tally revealed that close to 40% of mobile-optimized sites required at least five pages to complete checkout, compared with just 16% of desktop sites  – a counter-intuitive finding, since we assumed that merchants would streamline the process to the utmost for small screens with finicky touch keypads.

Checkout research from MarketLive

We hoped that the higher number of steps was merely due to a desire to limit the amount of scrolling mobile shoppers had to undertake. Unfortunately, that was not the case; rather, the high number of steps was due to clunky implementations that in some cases require more typed input than on the desktop sites.

To improve the mobile checkout experience, merchants should:

Provide guest checkout. We can’t say it enough: forcing shoppers to set up usernames and passwords in order to complete purchases is an unwise move — especially on mobile sites, where streamlining is the name of the game. So we were surprised that a higher percentage of mobile sites (11%)  than desktop sites (8%) required registration to complete purchases. Even more surprisingly, the discrepancy was partly due to instances where account creation was required on a brand’s mobile site, but not its desktop site – a jaw-dropping finding which made us wonder whether the eCommerce executives in charge had ever actually tried purchasing on their own mobile sites.

Instead, most mobile sites would do well to skip the “login vs. guest checkout” step altogether or relegate it to a secondary position, as MarketLive merchant Helzberg Diamonds does in its three-step mobile checkout process.  A link labeled “Sign In” at the top right gives registered users access to their saved information, while the majority of shoppers proceed directly to entering billing information, including the email address on the first screen.

Helzberg checkout

Implement alternative payments. The popularity of alternative payments continues to soar, as shoppers seek ways to skip entry of credit card data and eliminate checkout steps. Not only were more than a quarter of all online purchases in 2012 made using something other than a credit card – but a whopping 78% of mobile transactions were completed using an alternative payment method such as PayPal, according to technology provider ShopVisible.

Given that staggering figure, the percentage of merchants in our survey who promote the availability of alternative payments on their mobile sites seems low, at 44%. In another counter-intuitive finding, we discovered that a greater percentage of desktop sites promoted alternative payments (56%), meaning that some brands did highlight alternative payments for desktop users, but not mobile shoppers — a glaring oversight.

Go back to basics for checkout form design. With the prevalence of inefficient sequencing and usability problems in mobile checkout, we recommend that merchants start with a clean slate, developing a checkout process that caters specifically to mobile users and the challenges of the small-screen format. Merchants should:

  • Use shortcuts to streamline the number of fields. Merchants should attempt to reduce the number of keystrokes needed to complete purchase by eliminating as many non-essential fields as possible. They should:
    • Set form defaults to assume that the billing and shipping address are the same, unless the shoppers indicates otherwise.
    • Use the ZIP code to trigger the city and state, rather than requiring shoppers to select their state from a long drop-down list.
    • Eliminate the prompt to select a credit card type before entering its number, since different types of credit cards use different number sequences. Once the number has been entered, merchants need only display the card type so shoppers can confirm they’ve entered the right one.
    • Eliminate every non-essential field, including email subscription signups and collection of demographic data (yes, a site in the survey actually did this in mobile checkout). If merchants can convince mobile shoppers to purchase, post-purchase transactional emails provide plenty of opportunity to promote email, social media and the like.
  • Facilitate form entry by triggering input-specific keyboard layouts. That is, when shoppers click on a field that requires numerical entry, the mobile device’s touch “keyboard” should convert to a number pad; when a field requests an email address, the keyboard should display specific options for entering online data, such as an easily-accessible “@” sign.
  • Clearly label checkout steps. This advice seems like eCommerce 101, but a number of sites we reviewed failed to give mobile shoppers any inkling of how long the checkout process might take.
  • Encourage order completion by any means necessary. At a minimum, the global footer should include click-to-call and click-to-chat prompts for reaching customer service if checkout hurdles otherwise prove insurmountable.

MarketLive merchant Sport Chalet puts it all together with a sleek mobile checkout process that clearly labels the three steps involved – addresses, payment, and order review and submission. Login for registered customers is available via a link at top right, while optional loyalty club data entry is accessible via a collapsible menu. A second collapsible menu puts order contents within easy reach, while customer service contact information is listed via the global footer. Form data is kept to a minimum and uses field-specific keyboard entry.

Sport Chalet mobile checkout


Download the whitepaper for more path-to-purchase insights and best practices for both desktop and mobile commerce sites. How are you optimizing the mobile experience to maximize sales?

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