Performance Index: Focus on first impressions to boost allover growth

MarketLive Performance Index results are in for the first quarter of 2015, and the data shows continued exponential growth for smartphone activity, with year-over-year traffic growing 269% and revenue growing 123%, to account for 12% of all online transactions.

Merchants need look no further than the Index to justify investment in mobile optimization — not just because of the growth, but because of the missed opportunities evidenced by higher abandonment rates and lower conversion rates, both driven by the larger proportion of activity on smartphones, where orders result in just 1% of visits and abandonment hovers near 85%.

But while it’s undeniable that performance on smartphones overall lags behind computers and tablets, it’s clear that improvement is needed across the board if merchants are to continue seeing gains. In fact, when it comes to key metrics, smartphones were actually the devices to show improvement compared with computers and tablets. While conversion on smartphones is still just 1%, that’s an improvement of nearly 136% over 2014, while on computers, the conversion rate fell by 12%.

Nowhere is this improvement discrepancy more obvious than when it comes to engagement metrics prior to the add-to-cart. The “bounce” or “1-and-out” rate, showing the percent of visits ending after a single page, grew by 19% to 42.6% of all visits — meaning that more than 4 in 10 visits are ending before shoppers have an opportunity to explore sites in depth, much less add items to a cart or make purchases. In tandem with this shift, time on site dropped by 20% and the number of pages viewed per visit dropped 11.4%.

One might assume that these changes were wrought by mobile users, whose on-the-go attention spans are limiting opportunities for deep brand engagement — but in fact, the opposite is true. The bounce rate for smartphones was 41.7%, an improvement of 4% compared with 2014. On computers, by contrast, the bounce rate was 42.6%, up by more than a third from 2014, when the bounce rate was 31.4%. The lowest bounce rate was on tablets, which scored 40.1% — but that figure represents a 19.2% increase from 2014. Similarly, the number of pages per visit grew on smartphones, but dropped on both tablets and computers; while time on site dropped across the board, the loss was steepest on computers, which saw a 21.5% decrease, compared with a 1.6% drop on smartphones.

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On the one hand, the performance improvement on smartphones and decline on computers can partly be attributed to the overall shift toward mobile buying behavior; as more savvy, serious shoppers with intent to buy move their activities onto mobile devices, performance is bound to improve.

 

But the discrepancy might also be attributed to tunnel vision on the part of merchants, who are striving so hard to improve smartphone experiences that they’re neglecting the brand’s offerings on other touchpoints. That’s a mistake — firstly because the bulk of purchases are still coming from shoppers on computers. Additionally, a less device-specific outlook that focuses on touchpoint-agnostic strategies will best serve merchants in the long run; fixating on the latest device on the rise can inhibit merchants from thinking holistically to enable successful engagement with brands wherever consumers choose to shop.

 

To create brand experiences that are engaging across devices, merchants should:

Go responsive, and do it right. We’re advocates of responsive design as a technique for serving shoppers across devices; not only does it lay a sound foundation for future adaptation to devices as yet unknown, but it gives merchants a significant SEO advantage; Google explicitly recommends responsive design, although the recent ‘Mobilegeddon’ algorithm change doesn’t give higher priority to responsive sites.

At the same time, we’ve cautioned that responsive done poorly can be damaging and costly. To serve the most relevant experiences to shoppers across devices, a one-size-fits-all framework is unlikely to succeed; indeed, our research revealed that the majority of responsive sites employ so-called ‘hybrid’ techniques that serve variations in code depending on the screen size or device type. (Read our whitepaper “The ROI of Responsive Design” for more insights.) Merchants undertaking responsive projects should front-load their projects with ample research to guide decisions about breakpoints and coding methodologies so that they can support the level of complexity their shoppers desire — on computers as well as mobile devices.

Make landing pages work all the angles. Merchants should use their analytics tools to identify their top entry pages and optimize them so they provide shoppers with as comprehensive a glimpse as possible of the brand’s offerings — especially showcasing differentiating customer service features such as product guarantees or popular promotions such as free shipping with a threshold. And, of course, the landing pages merchants designate for advertising campaigns should not only mirror the ad copy text, but present shoppers with options beyond the main offer so that they can explore more deeply in the site.

MarketLive merchant BeachBody presents paid search ad visitors and those clicking on natural search results links alike with full-featured product pages that present rich content and highlight the brand’s money-back guarantee, along with ratings for its fitness programs and compelling customer testimonials. A product comparison tool helps shoppers discern among the product offerings.

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Create custom categories and content to match popular terms. To ensure that navigation pathways through site offerings that match shoppers’ intentions, merchants should audit their internal site search logs, as well as inbound natural search terms, and glean potential new labels or classifications. Thematic and seasonal terms and searches for popular brand terms and SKUs give merchants input as to which product and services should be highlighted and which areas deserve further content enhancement.

As merchants respond to shoppers’ input, they should ensure that new content pages and amped-up product pages are given prominence in paid campaigns, social media posts and email promotions, so that they gain maximum visibility with shoppers. A “you asked, we delivered” type campaign can even highlight how the brand is responding to its customers’ priorities — boosting brand reputation while also inviting shoppers to engage. MarketLive merchant Perricone MD used email to highlight a shopper-driven promotion featuring an “original collection at unprecedented value” for its UK subscribers. The email highlights differentiating perks such as free samples and 30-day returns, further incentivizing viewers to click through to the site.

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Download the Q1 2015 Performance Index report for detailed data and industry-specific results, and view the official press release for a further summary.

5 ways to buy time post-“Mobilegeddon”

By now, Google’s much-anticipated “Mobilegeddon” algorithm change has rolled out completely, and some retailers are feeling the pain. Hours after the changes took effect on Tuesday, SEO site Search Engine Watch reported that retailer American Apparel had slipped in natural search results for mobile users, and reports of other changes in rankings have started trickling in as the week-long implementation takes effect.

On the one hand, it’s hard to have much sympathy. Despite the alarm bells being rung this week all over the media, the shift toward favoring sites with mobile-friendly content has been in the cards for a long time. Not only did Google first announce the April 21 change in February, giving merchants months to prepare, but the search engine giant has been moving inexorably in this direction over the past year. As we’ve discussed previously, prior algorithm adjustments favoring “contextual search” cues prioritized sites attuned to mobile users; the addition last November of the “mobile-friendly” badge was another sign of Google’s intent. On the paid search side, refinements of Google Shopping policies and parameters to favor mobile-friendly ads and landing pages further indicated that Google has made mobile effectiveness a top goal.

And, of course, Google isn’t making this shift in a vacuum. Most merchants need only look at their eCommerce site analytics to recognize the impact mobile devices have had on shopping. As we’ve reported previously, more than 40% of holiday visits and 25% of holiday revenues were attributed to mobile devices and the majority of marketing emails are viewed first via mobile devices — just two of the reasons we’ve long urged merchants to adopt mobile as a top priority.

At the same time, we appreciate that small- to mid-sized merchants especially face significant resource challenges when it comes to optimizing their sites for mobile shoppers. Because of its prominence, perhaps Tuesday’s change will serve as a catalyst for merchants playing catch-up to commit to a “mobile first” philosophy. As MarketLive CEO Ken Burke said in a recent article for ROI Magazine titled “How Mobile is Changing SEO”,

“Google’s algorithm update puts new urgency on the proposition and promises to widen the revenue growth gap between retailers that have embraced the mobile shopping revolution and those that haven’t.”

Luckily, those who’ve found their mobile search rankings compromised since Tuesday have a few quick options for recovering their standing while they work to further perfect their mobile offerings. Among the ways to regain visibility:

Up mobile paid search spend via PLAs. Google’s paid Product Listing Ads continue to soar in popularity, and their prominence within mobile search and image-centric format give merchants an opportunity to win back visibility if natural search results are sagging. The hitch: Google gives priority to paid placements with mobile-friendly landing pages, so merchants should optimize images and content accordingly to maximize their chances for a successful campaign. And, of course, depending on merchants’ paid search budgets, this workaround can prove an expensive proposition as anything other than a temporary measure.

Piggyback on mobile-friendly sites for visibility. While the flagship eCommerce site may need further mobile optimization, brand outposts on social media and in third-party marketplaces may well earn the coveted “mobile-friendly” badge. Major players such as Facebook and eBay are mobile-optimized to the hilt, and can give merchants a leg-up in visibility as a result via a boosted investment in marketplace listings, usage of social login and social sharing tools, and of course fresh and relevant content on brand social outposts.

Optimize the top 20%. Because the new algorithm assigns “mobile-friendly” status at the page level, merchants can still benefit even if they must adopt a piecemeal approach. Even if the numbers don’t hew exactly to the 80/20 rule, a large majority of merchants’ revenues and traffic are likely to be generated by a relatively small percentage of products and pages. Merchants should identify their most popular products, categories and content and set about creating mobile-optimized versions, if they don’t exist already. To justify further mobile optimization beyond the first batch of upgrades, merchants should track results — in search results rankings as well as in visits and revenue.

Streamline code. Removing mobile-only “page not found” errors and replacing them with appropriate mobile redirects, stripping out calls to content that’s potentially unplayable on mobile devices such as Flash-based video, and removing interstitial ads prompting mobile users to download the brand’s app all count in merchants’ favor in the new algorithm. For a detailed list of code-level changes that can help enhance search rankings, download MarketLive’s “April 2015 Google Mobile SEO Algorithm Update and Reference Guide.”

Boost site speed. As we’ve previously discussed, mobile site speed plays a crucial role in consumers’ expectations, and it’s a factor in search ranking overall as well. As part of their code-streamlining exercise, merchants should strip out obsolete tags, establish a speed-friendly page structure, and consider using a content delivery network if they don’t have one already. For a more detailed list of site speed fixes, read Ken Burke’s contribution to the eTailing Blog titled “Top Speed Hacks for Better Mobile Experiences.”

Of course, these quick fixes will only get merchants so far. To serve shoppers on a variety of devices — as well as to enhance their “mobile-friendly” status in Google — they should consider upgrading to responsive design as a longer-term solution and adopt a mobile-first outlook to stay abreast of shopping changes that go beyond the search engine.

How has “Mobilegeddon” affected your site, if at all?

Research update: 2 resources for mobile commerce optimization

The transformative effect of mobile was the overarching theme at the recent MarketLive Summit. From keynote speeches that envisioned a frictionless commerce experience to breakout sessions on mobile performance and responsive design to panels on multi-channel integration with mobile as the connector, Summit content demonstrated that merchants recognize and are grappling with the new reality of mobile commerce.

But the Summit sessions also demonstrated that there remains significant room for improvement if merchants hope to fully capitalize on the opportunities created by this transition. Mobile conversions remain an abysmal 1%, less than half the rate of desktop sites, and fully 70 percent of the carts opened by mobile shoppers are ultimately abandoned.

Of course, easier-than-ever access makes it easier than ever for shoppers to bail before a sale. Even so, the disparity is remarkable between shoppers’ use of mobile devices to access brands and how often they use them to purchase the products they’re interested in. Despite two-thirds of online shopping taking place on smartphones and tablets, just 11 percent of online purchases are consummated on mobile devices.

And as merchants at Summit freely acknowledged, using mobile to bridge touchpoints and create a unified profile of the customer is so far more of a goal than a reality. With solutions for uniting disparate data streams still in their nascency and in-store hurdles to online adoption proving steep, merchants are finding the going slow, if ultimately worthwhile.

But while completely seamless transactions and universal data profiles may still be a ways off, there are steps merchants can take today to begin taking full advantage of the potential power of mobile. MarketLive’s latest whitepapers offer strategies and tips in two crucial areas:

Mobile KPIs and best practices: how merchants can track and improve mobile performance, from shopping and buying on mobile devices to enhancing the role of mobile as the crossroads of multi-touchpoint shopping. The mobile device as a shopping and buying environment in its own right – and how merchants can optimize mobile engagement, conversion, and revenue

Top Considerations for Responsive Design: how merchants can accurately gauge the impact on both costs and revenues of investment in a responsive design overhaul of their eCommerce sites.

Watch the blog for up to the minute mobile commerce news, and watch for more research reports on mobile topics in months to come.

Surmounting hurdles to online/offline integration – MarketLive Summit Report, II

When it comes to digitizing the retail store and connecting online and offline brand experiences, the devil is in the details. That was the message from speakers at the MarketLive Summit who shared detailed tactics and visionary goals alike around the theme of multi-channel strategy.

With 54% of all retail transactions set to be influenced by the web this year, addressing how physical store locations complement web interactions is a must for merchants. But while buzzwords are flying surrounding technologies such as i-beaconing, clienteling and mobile POS, the reality of integration is far less breezy. Breaking down silos between store and eCommerce operations requires an organization-wide shift with implications beyond simply outfitting retail locations with iPads.

Among the Summit insights speakers shared:

Store associates can make or break offline/online integration – treat them accordingly. Both Summit keynote speakers touched on the importance of store associates when it comes to providing the kind of individualized shopping experience shoppers who visit physical outlets ought to encounter. But as MarketLive founder and CEO Ken Burke highlighted in his keynote, consumers currently prefer by a wide margin consulting information on their phones when in-store — signalling an untapped opportunity. Burke demonstrated how MarketLive’s new point-of-sale tool will give associates a toolset for one to one interactions with customers that can not only drive sales, but build a lasting affinity with the brand.

O’Reilly Media founder and CEO Tim O’Reilly cited the Apple Store as an example of the potential value of store associates. After seeking help on the Web site, he was directed to make an in-store appointment via an online tool. At the store, he was assisted by an in-store “genius” who was able to transact for any equipment costs or fees he accrued. The process was smooth and seamless from the consumer’s perspective, and the brand demonstrated its expertise.

Ryan Gripp of MarketLive merchant H2O+, a beauty manufacturer and retailer, also cited Apple as an example of multi-touchpoint integration done right. “There isn’t even a ‘ship to store’ button, it’s just seamless,” Gripp said. His anecdote called to mind O’Reilly’s earlier mantra to “make customers do less” — for example, rather than presenting them with buttons for in-store pickup versus shipment, the Apple model backgrounds the unlikely options to create a smoother flow for the shopper.

Apple Store as example of successful multi-channel integration

Gripp shared his experiences on a keynote panel of MarketLive merchants whose topic for discussion was multi-channel integration. Also on the panel was Alyssa Young of sporting goods retailer Modell’s, who said it was imperative to back in-store/online initiatives with ongoing and extensive training, coupled with the right employee incentives for store associates and executives alike. “You don’t just put it out there once, you’ve really got to make sure you’re consistently communicating … this is for the customer overall and that’s a good thing,” Young said.

Unified data is a multi-channel initiative in its own right. A comprehensive customer profile that incorporates interactions and purchases across touchpoints is the key to delivering a relevant, individualized experience — so much so that two Summit merchant panelists said data integration was their top multi-channel priority. In addition, Burke’s keynote included a peek at upcoming MarketLive technology to help merchants better visualize customers’ activities across touchpoints.

Rick Turek of MarketLive merchant Sundance Catalog said his organization is working on implementing new data solutions and devising new revenue and order attribution models in the process — but he added that even without new technology, there are ways to ensure disparate data is shared across the business. Currently, he said, customer feedback from live chat, the call center, reviews and retail stores is compiled together and reviewed by representatives from each division. “Oftentimes we’re so busy being focused on our respective areas, it’s easy to forget the most important factor in the equation, and that’s the customer,” Turek said.

Pick your battles. Young emphasized the need to tune out the hype and base priorities on customer expectations. “Based on your customer base, based on your business, what do you think is most important?” she said. She also advised picking a simpler cross-channel implementation to start with, and fully absorbing all the lessons learned in the process, before moving on to larger projects.

It’s crucial to execute properly what projects merchants do undertake, the panelists agreed. Turek related how he used the “buy online, pick up in store” option with a large electronics retailer and was disappointed when the pickup process took the better part of an hour as store associates fulfilled his order and completed the transaction. “When you’re going to roll a program out, you’ve got to have it be a well-oiled solution .. doing it without a well-executed plan can really shoot you in the foot,” he said.

Not only do store associates need to be trained and incentivized to participate, but elements such as store signage, transactional email instructions to the customers, and point of sale procedures need to be synched.  “It is about the entire experience. It’s not just about saying yes, we have ship to store, it’s about the signage and everything,” said MarketLive strategist Scott Compton, who led the panel.

More blog topics based on Summit sessions are forthcoming. Meantime, how have multi-channel initiatives fared in your organization?

Performance Index: Why smartphone optimization is a top 2015 priority

Final results are in for the fourth quarter of 2014, and a clear priority has emerged for merchants: smartphone optimization.

Data from the MarketLive Performance Index shows that year over year mobile usage surged by close to 50%, with fully 44% of all traffic to merchant sites and 25% of all revenues derived from mobile visits.

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What’s perhaps surprising is the marked surge in smartphone contributions specifically. Not only did smartphones’ share of revenues surge close to 125%, but conversion rates on smartphones jumped as well, by 88%.

Tablet growth, meantime, was more moderate, with traffic actually dropping year over year, share of revenue increasing by just under 12%, and conversion by 21%. While these numbers are solid, they represent a marked slowdown from just a year ago, when tablet traffic and revenue both grew by more than 50%, overshadowing smartphone activity.

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Now the situation is completely reversed — and the trend is set to continue. Indeed, MarketLive forecasts that smartphone contributions to the bottom line will overtake tablets in the second quarter of this year.

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In the past, tablets’ relatively large form-factor compared with smartphones allowed merchants to skate by with near-replicas of the desktop experience — if not with sites that failed to optimize for mobile altogether. With tablet conversion rates edging close to those on the desktop browser, and with order sizes and overall revenue contribution higher than smartphones, predictions were rife (including on this blog) that tablets were the key to achieving mCommerce success.

Now, though, merchants can no longer be complacent and rely on tablet performance to shore up mobile sales. Instead, they must re-imagine their businesses to cater first and foremost to smartphone shoppers — and confront and master the challenges of delivering a user-friendly, secure and context-aware smartphone experience for both research and purchasing. In so doing, merchants will be positioning themselves well to take advantage of two key trends driving smartphone primacy:

The tablet plateau. Forecasts call for tablet penetration to plateau in coming years, with growth in the number of worldwide users set to dip below 20% this year and into single digits by 2018 as the market for tablets matures and stabilizes in the U.S. and other developed regions. With tablets perceived as an optional second device after the mobile phone, their penetration into emerging — and high-growth — markets is in doubt. By contrast, smartphones are poised for worldwide ubiquity, with some forecasts calling for fully 90% of the world’s population over the age of six to own one by 2020. Even within the U.S. smartphone ownership has the potential to growth significantly, with ownership hovering just below 70%.

The seamless store. As discussed in our 2015 trends  webinar, the surge in smartphone usage is leading more and more shoppers to consult mobile devices in physical store outlets. During the 2014 holiday season, more than 45% of shoppers said they planned to consult price and product information in-stores, as well as access promotional offers and coupons, according to the MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey. That usage is paying off for brick-and-mortar retailers: Performance Index data shows that merchants with physical store outlets saw the percentage of revenue from smartphones jump from 5.02% to 13.18% — a whopping increase of more than 162%.

Our trends presentation outlined a few of the ways merchants can cater to smartphone shoppers — digitized store experiences, adoption of responsive design, and platform-agnostic loyalty rewards. We’ll explore each of these topics in greater depth in the month to come, as well as dive deeply into mobile KPIs and best practices and further emerging trends influencing smartphone usage.

Meantime, consult the official Performance Index press release and download the report with data tables for more in-depth analysis of Q4 performance.

MarketLive Performance Index: Holiday sales growth accelerates, with help from social (yes, social!)

With the holiday shopping season entering the home stretch, merchants are on track to achieve solid sales growth. While much media hand-wringing ensued following smaller-than-anticipated increases in revenue on Thanksgiving weekend, results from the MarketLive Performance Index show that once off the starting block, merchants are seeing increased sales growth rates as the season progresses.

For the week that included “Green Monday,” Dec. 8, MarketLive merchants achieved a year-over-year revenue growth rate of 11.5% — especially impressive given that visits grew just 8.6%. With the conversion rate trailing last year’s by more than 5% and abandonment up 6.7%, the revenue growth is likely thanks to merchants holding the line on pricing — and, indeed, average order size for the week was up 4.6% year over year.

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Combined totals for the season to date follow the same trend, with revenue up 9.4% on increased visits of 13.5% and average order values averaging 4.1% higher than last year.

 

The increased average order size is especially impressive given the continuing downward price pressure exerted by the largest online mass merchants. The growth in average order value demonstrates that MarketLive merchants are presenting unique finds, relevant promotions for their target audience and stellar service that trump bargain-basement pricing.

In this light, the potential value of social media becomes clear, as it connects merchants with an audience predisposed to be receptive to their products and offers. Although overall, the percentage of visits and revenue directly attributable to social media remains small, a select group of MarketLive merchants have capitalized on the opportunity social media affords to drive a significant percentage of sales and visits from social networking sites.

For the season to date, the merchants with the 15 highest sales figures attributed to social media achieved average social media revenue gains of 212.31% and average social traffic gains of 210.12% year over year — significantly higher than the Index as a whole, which saw gains of 135.7% for social revenue and 113.1% for social traffic. Some individual sites among the top 15 are seeing more than 20% of their traffic and 10% of their revenues originating from social media.

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To maximize social impact in the remaining days of the holiday season — and in the year to come — merchants should:

Display an array of targeted discounts. Merchants can avoid decimating their margins by judiciously targeting discounts to focus on top gift categories, and then promote them socially using imagery that displays the full array of possibilities on offer. MarketLive merchant The Cartoon Network Shop employed this strategy for its extended Cyber Monday sale, offering an array of discounts on top items that were promoted via its Facebook page with a large image showing an assortment of products.

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Showcase social recommendations. Social media is a rich source of word-of-mouth recommendations, and merchants should capitalize on them by boosting visibility of endorsements and reviews. Developing last-minute campaigns focusing on top-reviewed products is one way to go, but merchants should also boost visibility within social media itself using the “share”, “retweet” and other like functions. MarketLive merchant Neutrogena actively retweets posts featuring product recommendations. Not all of them are gift-related — such as a post from BeautyBlitz promoting the opportunity to win makeup removal wipes, which “every girl needs … near her bed,” the post points out, especially during the busy holiday social season. Also retweeted by Neutrogena: mentions in major media outlets such as InStyle, whose feature on celebrity gift picks lends authority to the brand.

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Watch for our final wrapup of holiday results after the New Year, along with 2015 trendwatching and more.

MarketLive Performance Index: Mobile sales zoom as holiday season peaks

As the peak holiday period passes the midpoint, the latest data from the MarketLive Performance Index shows that merchants are continuing to achieve year-over-year revenue gains — with the biggest spoils going to those brands who’ve optimized their mobile experiences.

In the week that started with CyberMonday, shoppers flocked to mobile devices to browse deals and make purchases. A whopping 43% of all online traffic was on mobile devices, and those visits generated 24% of total online revenues. While tablet revenues increased year-over-year by an impressive 42%, smartphone revenue growth was even more impressive, at 107%, accounting for $1 out of every $10 spent online.

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Overall, seasonal growth remains steady, with merchants seeing revenue gains of more than 9% on increased traffic of more than 18%. But while the add-to-cart rate is showing a modest year-over-year increase of 1.3%, the conversion rate has slipped by two-tenths of a percentage point, for a drop of 5%.

The gap suggests that merchants are missing the opportunity to win sales from highly-qualified shoppers who’ve engaged with the site, identified relevant products, and gone so far as to place them in the cart.

Usage of the cart to to research total order costs is likely partly to blame; past research suggests that more than half of shoppers add items to the cart with no intention of buying in the first place, and a similar percentage use the cart to stash items for further perusal later — an activity that has doubtless spiked as shoppers research on phones and complete purchases on desktop or laptop computers, or in stores.

But with the explosive growth in mobile visits and sales, mobile usage is likely contributing to the conversion gap in another way as well — thanks to checkout experiences that are cumbersome on smaller touchscreens. Indeed, half of online consumers say “easier checkout” would spur them to buy more via mobile devices, while a third specifically cited one-click checkout, according to the 2014 MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey.

While it’s far too late to streamline checkout processes for this year’s peak season, merchants whose holiday mobile numbers are lackluster so far may be able to institute small changes that have big potential to smooth the mobile path to purchase — and salvage sales. Worth considering:

Prominent customer service messaging. The mobile checkout process should include a prominent link to customer service throughout, including a live chat option and preferably with click-to-call functionality built in.  Merchants who don’t already display that information should investigate whether they can adjust their checkout templates.

Promotion of account creation and wish lists. Another way to combat cart abandonment is to offer viable alternatives for researchers who wish to save items for later access across touchpoints. Merchants should consider promoting wish list and account creation, using prominent messaging in the cart, in email campaigns and on social media to get the message across.

MarketLive merchant The Room Place encourages mobile users to save cart contents with a prominent button. Shoppers who click the link are invited to create an account with a streamlined form that doesn’t require entering delivery or billing addresses or other extraneous data.

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Watch for more holiday results updates through Christmas and a season-end wrap-up after the New Year.

Performance Index: Cyber Monday gains cap successful holiday kickoff weekend

The results are in for the final salvo of the 2014 Thanksgiving weekend and the results confirm that merchants are off to a strong start — even as consumers appeared to experience promotion fatigue, slowing Cyber Monday revenue gains.

Merchants in the MarketLive Performance Index achieved year-over-year sales growth of 7.3% for CyberMonday, driven by an increase in traffic of more than 20% and an increase in average order value of more than 4%. Mobile saw especially strong revenue gains, with sales from mobile devices up 141%.

Both comScore and Adobe reported double-digit eCommerce revenue gains for CyberMonday — but, tellingly, Adobe separated results for the industry’s top 25 retailers, who each generated more than $30 million on Cyber Monday alone, from smaller merchants generating $2 million or less that day. Adobe’s data found that the mega-merchants achieved 25% growth on Cyber Monday, while the smaller merchants saw 5% year-over-year sales gains.

That widening gulf presents a unique challenge for small- to mid-sized merchants. Not only must they contend with the deep discounting strategies of the online mass merchants who are dominating market share, but they must also find ways to stand out among the torrent of promotions offered by those retailers, whose reach is often deep and wide.

One approach is to manifest brand identity consistently across touchpoints by presenting products and offers that resonate deeply with the target audience. Among the ways to do so:

  • Offer discounts that support brand identity. Small-to-mid-sized merchants can’t match the deep discounting strategies of mass merchants — so instead, they should use discounts as a means to demonstrate their knowledge of the needs and priorities of their target audience. That can mean offering free shipping or a discount on a particular category of products, or gift-with-purchase incentives that strike a chord.
  • Put the spotlight on exclusive products. 43% of shoppers say they’d pay full price for a holiday gift that perfectly matches the recipient, and 37% say they’d pay full price for hard-to-find items, according to the 2014 MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey. Merchants should emphasize unique finds and exclusive sets.
  • Roll out the customer service red carpet. Merchants should strive to provide personal service on a level the big mass merchants can’t match — and to market their customer service offerings as they would a valuable product. MarketLive merchant Title Nine heightens customer service visibility on the all-important shopping cart page with an invitation to engage in live chat and a concise description of the brand’s product guarantee.

cybermonday_brandbuildserviceFor more Cyber Monday and Thanksgiving weekend details, read the full MarketLive press release. And stay tuned for further holiday results next week.

Performance Index: MarketLive merchants see strong Black Friday gains, with mobile leading the way

The numbers are in for Black Friday weekend, and amidst slumping overall sales eCommerce has once again proved a bright spot. Merchants in the MarketLive Performance Index achieved year-over-year revenue gains of 16.2% during the four-day Thanksgiving weekend.

That performance trumps the flat online sales growth reported by the National Retail Federation and the 9.48% gain reported by IBM. At the same time, the growth rate for Thanksgiving and Black Friday was slower than in previous years, suggesting that shoppers visiting MarketLive merchant sites weren’t immune to promotions fatigue — or perhaps they expect the near-constant drumbeat of specials to continue, and are holding out for even better deals.

“We coached our customers and cautioned the industry that pre-empting Black Friday with early discounts is not healthy,” said Ken Burke, MarketLive founder and CEO. “This year saw an unprecedented number of retailers ‘jumping the gun’ on holiday sales and discounts which drove pre-Thanksgiving sales.”

Mobile sales jumped by more than 50%, with close to 30% of revenues originating from a mobile device. MarketLive merchants saw fully half of their visits coming from mobile devices, raising the prospect of shoppers on the go using their devices purely for research versus purchasing, and thereby causing key metrics to slump. Cart abandonment rates did, indeed, increase over the holiday weekend compared with 2013. But conversion rates and average order size held steady or increased, suggesting that merchants have improved their mobile experiences to meet the increased potential for sales.

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The Index and industry results demonstrate that merchants will have to work hard for the remainder of the season if their offers are to stand from the crowd of promotions. Among the tactics to consider:

  • Go for quality vs. quantity with email. As we discussed in one of our recent holiday tips, merchants should aim for maximum relevance when designing email campaigns, and should avoid sending multiple emails per day unless deals really are changing that rapidly. One merchant who shall remain nameless sent five nearly-identical Cyber Monday messages all containing the same content, with only the Subject: line changing — a sure-fire way to irritate consumers and guarantee that future messages will be summarily dismissed.
  • Use social to up visibility of promotions — and monitor their reception. Merchants should go beyond a single status-update post to Facebook and Twitter and find innovative ways to showcase deals via social media. MarketLive merchant Marc Jacobs Beauty promoted its “Blaquer Friday” deals across a range of social networking sites, including Google Plus and Instagram, and even devised a hashtag to increase visibility. And it’s important not to “set it and forget it” when it comes to sharing promotions socially. When a follower complained that exclusive gift packs were sold out by the Saturday after Thanksgiving, a  Marc Jacobs Beauty representative responded within an hour to reassure followers that inventory was still available.

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For more, view the official MarketLive Black Friday press release. And watch for Cyber Monday results and analysis coming momentarily, with weekly updates to continue through Christmas.

Performance Index: Proof mobile-ready merchants will be the winners this holiday season

We’ve long been advocates of mobile commerce competence, and past editions of the MarketLive Performance Index have underscored why: the past year has seen a surge of mobile traffic, but until now mobile revenues have lagged, suggesting merchants must do more to inspire shoppers to complete purchases via their devices.

But third-quarter results suggests that merchants are finally hitting their stride. Not only did mobile traffic surge again to account for 43% of all shopping visits, but mobile revenue jumped to 24% of the total — with the most significant increase coming from smartphone purchases, which grew 110% year over year to account for 11% of all purchases. Tablet revenues comprised 13% of all purchases for an increase of 18% year over year — still an impressive gain, but one that’s dwarfed by the smartphone growth.

Data from the MarketLIve Performance INdex

While the top-line numbers are impressive, a deeper dive into the data shows that plenty of opportunity still exists to capitalize fully on mobile audience growth. After all, more than 40% of traffic is now generated by smartphones and tablets — but low conversion and high abandonment rates plague mobile sites, resulting in failure to earn immediate revenues from mobile interactions. The 0.90% conversion rate for smartphones caused the overall Index conversion rate to drop by 2.7% to 2.05%; the smartphone cart abandonment rate was 83% — 20% higher than on desktop sites.

Still, as merchants head into the holiday season, the Index data suggest that those who’ve worked to optimize mobile offerings have reason to expect strong results. And for those with sub-par experiences, the Index results add fuel to the argument that mobile is 2015’s top priority.

Regardless of whether merchants offer a cutting-edge mobile experience or are getting by with limited mobile resources, they can still take advantage of the holiday season to advance their mobile goals. Two last-minute tactics to adopt:

Promote what you have. As discussed previously, all the mobile savvy in the world won’t pay off unless shoppers know it’s available to them. Merchants should double-check their social media presence, email campaign lineup and eCommerce site supporting content to ensure that mobile receives prominent mention.

Track performance wins and gaps. To justify 2015 investment in mobile, merchants should closely track usage of existing mobile tools. Not only should they attempt to capture any traffic and sales growth, but they should also provide data on where performance gaps hindered purchasing and what mobile content proved most engaging.

Download the full Performance Index report for industry-specific data, mobile analysis and more. And watch this space for further holiday tips in the countdown to Black Friday, including last-minute mobile tactics that can boost sales and engagement.