Three Key Strategies for Competing with Amazon in 2016

No merchant needs to be told that Amazon continues to dominate online commerce — if anything, its lead over other sellers seems only to be widening. But merchants can compete with the online behemoth by taking advantage of their ability to nimbly demonstrate deep category expertise and build lasting relationships with customers.

Amazon’s growth continues to be nothing short of phenomenal. Its revenues in the fourth quarter of 2015 shot up 22 percent compared with 2014, bringing the year’s overall sales growth to 20 percent. But more than its sheer earning power, Amazon is dominant when it comes to consumers’ attention and engagement. More than a third of all shopping visits to websites in the fourth quarter were to Amazon, according to measurement firm Hitwise.

Additionally, thanks to its vast collection of product content and reviews, Amazon is often a waystation along the path to purchase. For example, during the 2015 holiday season, 87 percent of consumers reported using Amazon to browse for ideas and comparison shop, even if they ultimately bought elsewhere.

But despite these impressive numbers, there’s plenty of room for merchants to make headway against Amazon. As always, Amazon’s chief strength — its massive size, with all the economies of scale and breadth of selection that entails — can also be its Achilles heel. Whether the product is wine or handbags or batteries, the shopping experience is uniform, whereas merchants focusing on a more narrow set of product categories can tailor their offerings to showcase deep expertise and  foster community connection.

To compete successfully with Amazon in 2016, merchants should:

Use social media to inform and create content.
To satisfy the information cravings of those consumers using Amazon for research, merchants should not only develop comprehensive core product content, but they should aim to achieve critical mass for customer reviews by actively courting customer contributions via multiple touch points — from product packaging to post-purchase email communications — and likewise use review content in social media, in email campaigns featuring top-rated items, and in stores.

Tailoring review criteria to include category-specific criteria, such as ease of assembly or whether apparel fits true to size, further distinguishes merchants’ offerings and demonstrates knowledge of what product attributes are important to shoppers.

Kibo merchant Crazy Shirts uses detailed reviews that illuminate the fit and style of apparel items, as well as the type of dresser the reviewer is, so that shoppers can evaluate which reviews are most relevant to them. Review text is incorporated into promotions, including on the home page.

Crazy Shirts 2

Crazy Shirts 1

Merchants should also seek opportunities to incorporate further user contributions, with social media serving as both a source of content and a sounding board for which information spurs engagement and eventual purchase. By encouraging participation in content creation, merchants empower customers and followers to help shape the brand’s identity.

Promoting that content beyond social media, and closely tracking the results of related campaigns, ensures that merchants make the most of their efforts to spur user contributions, while informing the future direction of content initiatives. Ultimately, merchants can create and sustain a tightly-knit community around their content, building value that helps sustain an audience of loyal customer advocates.

Amp up the proactive service.
Amazon gets high remarks for responsive service and provides comprehensive self-service information that other merchants should match. But because policies vary according to whether products are sold by Amazon itself or marketplace sellers, consumers must read the fine print to determine how their orders will be handled.

To distinguish themselves from Amazon and their other competitors, sellers should make the most of their sole ownership of customer service. They should highlight FAQs about shipping and delivery, returns, gift card redemption, and loyalty club services in locations other than a “customer service” link in the global footer.

And given that fully two-thirds of shoppers consult return policies prior to purchase, merchants should call attention to perks such as extended windows for returns or free return shipping. Kibo merchant Title Nine promotes its “360 Guarantee” pervasively throughout the eCommerce site, from the home page to the product page to the global cart dropdown display.

Title Nine

Going still further, merchants can take advantage of their deep category knowledge to provide proactive pre-purchase service that supports shoppers in the research and consideration phase. Detailed fit guides that go beyond a size chart, product demonstration videos, and links to user manuals and installation instructions can proactively address key questions. Apps and other category-specific branded tools to help shoppers winnow their selections can further distinguish merchant sites as a go-to helpful resource.

Kibo merchant Design Within Reach pictures furniture dimensions on the product page, and offers a free swatch service so shoppers can touch and try fabrics prior to ordering pieces. Swatches can be ordered directly from the product page, thereby allowing shoppers to continue their browsing uninterrupted. Design Within Reach also provides a custom tool which allows shoppers to enter room dimensions and arrange furniture items to get a further perspective on fit and design.

Design Within Reach 1

Design Within Reach 2

Design Within Reach 3

Promote online/offline connections.
There’s a reason Amazon has opened a retail store, with others possibly on the way: despite the strong growth of online commerce, the vast majority of retail sales still take place in person at physical outlets. The ability to touch and try items and carry purchases home that day, not to mention the social experience of shopping, give stores a unique advantage. Merchants should do their utmost to integrate information about in-store availability, store promotions, and special events into the online shopping experience so that consumers researching online with intent to buy at their local outlet have further incentive to visit.

Once in the store, shoppers are already fashioning a blended online/offline experience for themselves using their smartphones — a third of store shoppers say they use their mobile devices to check prices, and a quarter seek further information online about products on shelves. Merchants should support this behavior by promoting the comprehensive array of content and further inventory available online, from reviews to personalization services. Kibo merchant Cost Plus World Market highlights store items that are popular on Pinterest, and encourages loyalty club members to log on via mobile devices prior to checkout to access their current coupons.



How do you distinguish your brand from Amazon and the rest of the competition?


Making the leap from mobile to “buy anywhere” – MarketLive Performance Index

Throughout the holiday season, mobile stole the show. The surge in mobile traffic — and, happily, mobile purchasing — capped a year that demonstrated time and again the importance of catering to shoppers on small screens. Now, quarterly and annual data from the Kibo Performance Index point to a new trend that goes beyond merely mobile to embrace contextual purchasing anywhere.

Throughout the year, commerce-related activity soared not only on mobile devices but on social networks, which drove traffic to merchant sites at a rate 46% higher than in 2014, while revenues attributed to social networks increase 76% year over year. Crucially, on smartphones, social fared even better, with traffic originating from social networks on smartphones increasing 236% and revenue 247% — underscoring the rich symbiosis between mobile and social.

Of course, the totals are still small when it comes to the total commerce picture: social drives just 1.5% of traffic and a little more than 0.5% of revenues (at least according to last-click attribution). But the data hints at the ways mobile is upending commerce in ways beyond the mobile commerce web site and brand app to transform interactions across the Internet. From  the predicted rise of mobile wallets to heightened expectations for online/offline fluency to mobile-enabled “shoppable windows” that are increasingly a feature of urban hubs, consumers are on the go not only physically, but in their browsing and transactional habits.

Mobile buying via qr code

In order to meet these expectations, merchants must not only standardize their processes so that nothing stands in the way of a swift, smooth, and secure purchase; they must also syndicate that functionality so that shoppers need not leave their current environment to transact. While this goal may present technical challenges, the potential upside is that merchants can win business via serendipitous finds arising organically from content or community engagement, rather than expecting shoppers to set aside time to “shop online”, or interrupt what they’re doing to visit an online store.

To stay ahead of the “buy anywhere” trend, merchants should:

Aim beyond functional for mobile experiences. But while functional, many mobile sites remain workmanlike, with little accommodation for mobile shoppers’ unique priorities – not an encouraging sign in an era when relevance trumps all.

One possible culprit behind generic mobile experiences may well be responsive design, the coding methodology by which multiple iterations of sites for different screen sizes and devices can be derived from a single base of code. We believe responsive design delivers significant benefits, especially when it comes to standardizing checkout and payment options; after all, ease of checkout and availability of alternative payments topped consumers’ wish lists of features that would convince them to buy more via mobile devices, according to the MarketLive/E-Tailing Group Consumer Shopping Survey.

But the standardization that’s so welcome during transactions can translate into monotony when it comes to site merchandising and content. Designing truly differentiated experiences within a responsive framework — for example, by moving functions such as the store locator and click-to-call customer service front and center for mobile users — requires significant coding prowess, but it’s a necessary investment if merchants are to prove their brand’s relevance to smartphone shoppers.

Kibo merchant Marc Jacobs Beauty creates a compelling mobile experience via responsive design by making apt content choices. Video, a crucial element for mobile shoppers, is front and center, along with reviews, and product details are available in an accordion-style layout.


Experiment with “buy” buttons.  As we’ve discussed previously, nascent “buy” button offerings from Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram deserve a cautious approach —  but that doesn’t mean merchants shouldn’t wait to use them, especially as early results suggest they’ll be an effective way to encourage purchasing. While Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram are still in the process of rolling out their “buy” button programs, Pinterest reports that pinned items with “buy” buttons convert at twice the rate of regular posts on mobile devices.

To take an appropriately measured approach, merchants should identify the social networks where their most engaged audiences gather and pinpoint which product categories or sale offers would be most effective — essentially viewing social media outposts as a new form of third-party marketplace, with all the attendant potential benefits and drawbacks.

Go deep with content/commerce connections. Marrying Web content management and eCommerce platform functionality has been the initial hurdle for merchants to overcome in order to provide shoppers the perfect mix of content and products. Now, with social media and mobile offerings further complicating the picture, it’s become even trickier for merchants to ensure that pathways through engaging content lead to actionable products and offers. Tools such as Paypal’s “In-Context Checkout” provide a model for merchants to emulate for delivering truly seamless purchasing alongside their most compelling content; on the path toward realizing that vision, merchants must avoid actionless dead ends with a relentless focus on integrating new content sources with existing touchpoints and commerce functionality.

Kibo merchant Helzberg Diamonds blends commerce and content effectively by showcasing photos submitted to its branded hashtag campaign on the eCommerce home page. Product images and links are displayed alongside the submitted photo, with a prominent “shop” link as well as the option to share on social media.

Content and commerce example from Helzberg

Download the latest Performance Index for further data from Q4 and 2015 as a whole, including detailed breakouts by sector, and read the official press release for further statistics. How are you enabling shoppers to buy anywhere?

Mobile surges in peak buying period – holiday flash report

As delivery cutoff dates loom, merchants continue to achieve solid holiday gains, thanks in part to improvements in mobile performance. With mobile poised to play an even larger role as a connector to last-minute gifts in the final days of the season, merchants stand to end the year on a high note.

Data from the MarketLive Performance Index shows that for the season to date, merchants are realizing revenue gains of 7.3% on traffic growth of 19.9%. Average order value continues its growth pattern, with order totals up 6.6% for the season to date.

MarketLive Performance Index holiday data

The week leading up to Green Monday saw a surge in traffic compared with the prior year, with visits increasing close to 24% as shoppers researched heavily for gifts; revenue gains for the week were more modest, at 3.2%. The week also saw an uptick in mobile purchasing, with smartphone conversion increasing 18.4% year over year to 1.4% and mobile AOV growing 7.3% — the highest growth rate among screen types.

This strong mobile showing is in keeping with the season overall, which has seen steady gains in mobile purchasing. While smartphone conversion rates continue to lag desktop and laptop conversion, the consistent double-digit improvements signal that merchants are better capitalizing on the sizable audience using mobile sites for research and convincing them to buy. Furthermore, in the two weeks starting with Cyber Monday, smartphones’ share of total online revenue has increased by more than 50% to more than 15% of all orders. Combined with tablets’ share of revenue, the share of revenue attributable directly to mobile devices now tops 30%.

Mobile holiday performance data from the MarketLive Performance Index

As shoppers move from ordering online to looking for instantly-available last-minute options, mobile is poised to play still a greater role as a connector to in-store purchasing. To capitalize on the increased activity, merchants should:

Message expedited delivery and store options for mobile users. As on the flagship eCommerce site, merchants should ensure that customer service content related to shipping options and in-store pickup are prominently highlighted on small screens. Furthermore, access to store inventory should be promoted as a key feature for last-minute shoppers, whether by flagging items that can still be delivered on-time as a distinct product category, boosting visibility of fulfillment options on product pages, or both.

As the holiday clock ticked down in 2014, MarketLive merchant Francesca’s highlighted remaining delivery options on the mobile home page, giving shoppers comprehensive information within the small-screen format.

2014 holiday example from Francesca's

Position gift card options as prominently on mobile sites as on other screens. With gift card sales set to top $124 billion, promoting these popular last-minute options is crucial as the clock ticks down. Merchants should ensure that mobile gift card content clearly delineates online and postal mail delivery options, and gives shoppers an easy way to select and purchase gift cards in the format that suits their needs.

Look for a wrapup of season results after the New Year. Happy holidays!

Relevance differentiates brands as shopping peaks – holiday flash report

As the 2015 holiday season chugs along, merchants are holding on to year over year gains, even as the season’s peak period of research and comparison has brought a slowdown compared with the highs of Black Friday weekend. As shoppers come to a decision point about gift purchases, a steady focus on serving relevant products and offers can win merchants sales and widen gains for the season overall.

Merchants in the MarketLive Performance Index saw revenues for the week starting with Black Friday inch upward by 2.4% on a visit increase of 22.4%, suggesting that shoppers are intensively researching and winnowing down the list of potential finds during this peak phase of the season. The week’s gains put season-to-date revenue growth at 8.3% on an increase in visits of 19.4%. Happily, total order amounts remained high, with AOV for the week up 4.1%, bringing the season-to-date growth to 7.4%.

holiday data from the MarketLive Performance Index

As merchants move into the season’s final week before delivery cutoff dates begin to take effect, they should continue to put the focus on value and variety with relevant offers that reflect shoppers’ past interactions with the brand. Among the top options:

Up the abandoned cart ante. We’ve discussed before how abandoned carts are now a normal detour on the path to purchase, not a dead end — and that’s truer than ever during the holiday season, when shoppers are avidly comparing their options, considering and re-considering their gift lists, and consolidating orders to qualify for free shipping. Merchants should revisit and fine-tune their triggered email messaging to cart abandoners to ensure holiday relevance. Free shipping offers, cutoff dates for on-time delivery, and services such as gift-wrapping should be in the mix along with a SKU-specific list of items left in the cart.

Make the most of social messaging. Social media continues to play a relatively small role as a last-click source of visits and revenue. But in the week starting on Cyber Monday, social sites began engaging shoppers at a higher rate than in 2014, with social revenue up 114.5% and revenue as a share of the online total up by more than two thirds. Similarly, social visits for the week rose by nearly 50%, bringing the share of total traffic up by 66%.

Holiday data from the MarketLive Performance Index

The data suggests that as shoppers intensify their research, they are engaging with brands via social media and exploring the content and offers merchants showcase. Merchants should take advantage of this pattern by showcasing the breadth and uniqueness of of their offering and proactively addressing customer service questions in the social environment.

MarketLive merchant Helzberg Diamonds is engaging shoppers on Facebook with frequent posts that showcase the breadth of the brand’s selection in innovative ways. A recent trio of posts included a “regram” of a user-submitted photo with a link to the featured product, notice of exclusive “friends and family” discounts for the weekend, and a timely post connected to the announcement of Pantone’s “colors of the year” with relevant products on display.  The content is varied and engaging while maintaining the focus on selling.

Holiday social example from Helzberg Diamonds

Watch for more holiday results next week, and meantime visit MarketLive’s holiday resource center for a collection of best practices and research data.

Mobile growth, sane discounts power sustainable holiday gains

With the first week of the holiday season under their belts, merchants have cause to celebrate. Amidst reports of tepid retail sales overall, online commerce was a standout, and all signs point to continued success throughout the season.

Holiday season data from the MarketLive Performance Index

For the five days culminating in Cyber Monday, merchants in the MarketLive Performance Index saw revenue jump 13% on a 16.2% increase in traffic. Two key signs suggest that such growth rates are sustainable throughout the season:

Slow and steady discounting and growing AOV. Average order value increased 11.1%, suggesting that the gains were based on a solid foundation of growth as opposed to steep temporary price cuts. Rather, with shoppers on the hunt for bargains throughout the season, “Black Friday preview” and “Cyber Week” promotions extended the opening weekend into a fortnight-long marathon where steady but sustainable discounting was the rule. Many Performance Index merchants played their hands early, posting Black Friday deals on Thanksgiving or even the day before and then largely holding the line on further price cuts. Shoppers responded with a surge of purchasing that tapered off through the weekend: After the double-digit gains on Thanksgiving and Black Friday reported previously, Performance Index merchants saw growth drop to an average of 6.13% for the remainder of the weekend and Cyber Monday.

MarketLive merchant Design Within Reach maintained a 15% discount on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, while changing its home page lineup to focus on gifting. As merchants move through the rest of the season, adopting a similarly level-headed approach to discounting while promoting the brand’s overall value can help win sales from shoppers with the potential to become long-term customers.

Black Friday example from DWR

Cyber Monday example from DWRSolid mobile gains. Shoppers began turning to their phones as a shopping tool in earnest last year — but even as they browsed and researched extensively, mobile sales lagged due to poor experiences on smartphones and tablets. Happily, the 2015 results so far suggest that the tide is turning, particularly on smartphones, which saw average revenue gains of 46% for Black Friday and Cyber Monday on an increase in visits of 8.5%.

Mobile commerce holiday data from the MarketLive Performance Index

Similarly, while the combined share of traffic for smartphones and tablets for the opening holiday weekend was just under 50% — an 11% increase over the fourth quarter total for 2014 — the share of revenue approached 30%, a jump of 17% compared with the fourth quarter last year. The data suggests that merchants are well-positioned to take care of increased mobile activity as the season progresses and shoppers research products and compare offers more avidly.

Mobile commerce holiday data from the marketLive Performance Index

Merchants are also capitalizing on the  potential for smartphones to serve as bridges between online and offline experiences, offering tailored discounts for store shoppers and incentivizing “long tail” purchasing. In addition to promoting Black Friday discounts, MarketLive merchant Party City offered smartphone shoppers the opportunity to get free shipping on any order placed while in stores.

Party City mobile site

Stay tuned to the blog for updates throughout the season. Meantime, check out MarketLive’s holiday resource center for best practices and data.

Thanksgiving, Black Friday results show strong gains – holiday flash report

Initial results from MarketLive Performance Index merchants for the first part of the holiday season’s big opening weekend show across-the-board double-digit increases in traffic, conversion and revenues.

Millions of consumer purchases were tracked via MarketLive’s e-commerce transaction platform during Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday, and the following Saturday and Sunday. Among the data highlights:


  • Total revenue YOY increase (4 days from Thanksgiving through Sunday): + 20%


  • Thanksgiving Day revenue increase: +36%
  • Average Order Value (AOV) for Thanksgiving Day rose +27.8% to $202.47
  • Black Friday revenue increase: +24%

MarketLive Performance Index data from 2015 holidays



  • Social referral traffic: +58%
  • Social conversion rate: +62%
  • Social revenue increase: +240%


  • Smartphone traffic: +11%
  • Smartphone Conversion Rate: +21%
  • Smartphone revenue: +56%

Watch the blog for Cyber Monday results and further analysis coming later this week, and stay tuned for updates throughout the season. Meantime, check out MarketLive’s holiday resource center for best practices and data.

3 ways to thrive in the brave new world of acquisition – MarketLive Performance Index

Third-quarter results are in for the MarketLive Performance Index, and the data indicates that merchants are heading into the holiday season with strong growth potential — even as reaching new customers poses a real challenge.

Top-line revenue growth topped 13% on traffic growth of nearly 20%, signalling that shoppers flocked online through the autumn to take advantage of back-to-school and pre-holiday promotions. That strong traffic growth originated from an increase in direct visits to the Web site (e.g. from those who typed in the URL) and visits from email. Both of those marketing channels are typically associated with existing customers, or at least those already connected with the brand: typing in the URL suggests familiarity with the brand, and clicks from email are usually coming from those who’ve already subscribed to marketing messages.

Of couse, improvement in retention is good news. Returning customers currently are responsible for an outsized proportion of total eCommerce revenues: while repeat customers represent 40% of Web site visitors, they bring in 61% of total online sales, according to technology researcher Forrester. Heading into the peak holiday season, merchants should do their utmost to continue appealing to these valuable shoppers with personalized offers that reflect past browsing and buying behavior. (This topic is so important we’ll dedicate an entire holiday-themed post to it; stay tuned.)

But the Index data also suggested a more challenging trend for merchants for the holidays, with declines in traffic from social media and both paid and natural search. Since those sources are often considered acquisition channels for new shoppers, the Index results suggest that merchants may have an uphill battle when it comes to standing out from the crowd to win new business.

Any number of factors could be at play to drive down the incoming traffic from search and social — the difficulty of winning prime natural search results real estate, especially on smartphones;  the steadily rising costs of paid search placements (including PLAs, or product listing ads), changes in Facebook’s news feed algorithm, and more. The sheer competitiveness of the marketplace is also a factor; according to our number-crunching, the top 10 merchants in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 account for more than 50% of total eCommerce sales, leaving the vast majority of the online marketplace to compete for their share of the remaining revenues.

This environment poses a special challenge during the holiday season, when over half of consumers are open to new brands and 41% actually purchase from a new brand, according to Google. To take advantage of that opportunity, and to buck the trend suggested by the Index data, merchants should consider circumventing “traditional” modes of winning referral traffic to engage shoppers effectively. Among the options:

In-social “conversion” opportunities. Whether or not merchants opt to experiment with the “buy” button now offered on social networks, they can offer visitors to their brand outposts more than scrolling status updates. By enabling consumers to connect with live chat, subscribe to email promotions, and even purchase gift cards without leaving the social environment, merchants avoid requiring a transition to the eCommerce site to engage more deeply with the brand.

MarketLive merchant Marc Jacobs Beauty invites visitors to its Facebook page to become “LoveMarc Member”s by signing up for email updates. Filling out the brief form results in a thank-you message displayed within Facebook that includes an instant offer code.

Social conversion opportunity from Marc Jacobs Beauty

Visibility via online influencers. Merchants should actively seek out and court bloggers, haul video creators, and Instagrammers who have significant followings among the brand’s target audience, and participate actively in their communities. In doing so, merchants build visibility, credibility and interest in their brands, while also evaluating whether it’s worthwhile to approach content creators with paid placement or partnership offers.

Amped-up referrals. To boost the already-considerable power of word-of-mouth recommendations, merchants should follow the example of flash sale sites, Amazon Prime, and other cutting-edge sellers to incentivize referrals with cold, hard cash. Formalized referral programs that earn benefits for the referrer as well as discounts for the new customer both introduce the brand to potential new customers and invite repeat business.

MarketLive merchant Cost Plus World Market offers $10 off to referrers whose friends go on to make a purchase, and those customers receive $10 off a $50 purchase. The simple sign-up form requires only a name and email address and offers shoppers the means to invite friends via social media, email, or using a direct link.


Download the full Performance Index report for more data, including results by industry, and read the official press release for further details. Stay tuned for further holiday advice and results throughout the season — and meantime, let us know: what techniques have been successful in earning new holiday business?

Successful replatforming in 2016 starts with the right shopping list now

A new eCommerce software platform is at the top of many online merchants’ shopping lists for 2016. For some, the impending closure of Amazon’s Webstore eCommerce solution has forced their hands, while for others, the time is simply ripe for updated technology that can help achieve multi-touchpoint mastery. Whatever the reason, close to one in five merchants say replatforming is a top priority, according to technology researcher Forrester.

But the replatforming process is much like painting the interior of a house: while applying color is the splashy result that immediately springs to mind, most of the effort is actually devoted to preparation — covering furniture and floors, taping borders, priming walls, and testing different paint shades. Similarly, merchants shouldn’t jump into the splashy fray of shopping for eCommerce platform vendors without first laying the groundwork of a solid plan. They should thoroughly assess their current capabilities and identify performance gaps and opportunities – not only within the eCommerce sphere, but across the entire organization.

The scope of this soul-searching may seem daunting, but it’s also absolutely essential. The role of the Web is only poised to keep growing for shoppers, regardless of how they end up making purchases. Forrester estimates that nearly 60% of B2C purchases of any type will be influenced by the Web by 2018.

The assessment itself needn’t take undue resources or time. While the specifics may vary, the following checklist will stand merchants well as they begin to shape their vision for the perfect technology for their business.

1. Look to the right sources for guidance. Merchants must resist the impulse to “keep up with the Joneses” and add whiz-bang features to their list only because competitors already offer them. Instead, merchants should focus with singular intensity on understanding their own customers and how best to serve them, both online and offline. Potential sources to inform their assessment include:

  • Analytics data: Site usage data can be a goldmine of actionable information on what shoppers seek and where sites need further improvement to resonate.
  • Store associates: Merchants should find the means to tap these valuable front-line information sources and act on their recommendations when it comes to gaps in brand offerings.
  • Visitor and customer surveys: Asking shoppers directly what features of the site resonate and what expectations are going unmet can be valuable input in advance of replatforming.

2. Articulate a plan for mobile. Mobile shopping is soaring, with fully a quarter of revenues during the fourth quarter of 2014 derived from mobile devices, a year over year growth rate of 44%, according to the MarketLive Performance Index. And when it comes to shopping research, mobile is now shoppers’ primary point of contact with brands. According to measurement firm comScore, close to two-thirds of all minutes spent with retail brands now occur on mobile devices.

Consequently, even small to mid-sized merchants must prioritize mobile optimization. Before replatforming, merchants should carefully consider their mobile site options and develop a road map for development. Deciding whether to undertake responsive design is a key decision point. Plans for mobile apps, email and SMS messaging campaigns, in-store mobile features, and alternative and mobile payment integrations should also come into play. With a mobile development plan in hand, merchants can develop a list of mobile-focused criteria potential vendors must meet.

3. Identify integrations organization-wide and how to improve them. Merchants should understand how the eCommerce platform interacts with technology across their business, from fulfillment operations to the call center, and identify existing and new opportunities for integrations that can improve efficiency and customer service.

For brick-and-mortar retailers, the top priority in this category must be in-store inventory integration. While just 20% of retailers offer it currently, consumers now expect total visibility and consistency, regardless of where they are physically and what screens they use. According to Forrester, 56% of consumers say they expect products to be priced consistently, whether in-store or online.

Furthermore, universal inventory transparency supports “endless aisle” capabilities that can save sales and drive up average order value, and unlocks a host of fulfillment options, such as store-to-store and ship-from-store delivery networks, that can boost efficiency across the organization.

4. Audit existing content and plan new development. The old mantra “content is king” has lately seen a resurgence. Whereas 34% of customer experience professionals cited Web content management as a top technology priority in 2013, the number jumped to 60% in 2014, Forrester found – a whopping 76% increase. The reasons for prioritizing content are numerous, but foremost among them is the imperative to differentiate the brand by communicating what’s uniquely valuable. Along with product selection and pricing, content forms the third component of a potentially compelling brand story.

Merchants contemplating replatforming should therefore develop a detailed content strategy to inform their criteria for potential vendors. They should also audit the content they have — from product information to videos to user-submitted social content — and identify opportunities for growth, syndication and improved efficiency, along with content imports and exports.

5. Build measurement into the technology foundations. With consumers shopping across multiple screens, social outlets providing streams of information, and new technologies increasingly available to quantify offline activities, merchants are juggling plenty of data beyond what traditional Web analytics tools provide — but struggle to put it all together to create a complete picture of customer behavior. Fewer than a third of merchants believe they have strong or even average capabilities when it comes creating a unified view of customer behavior across touchpoints.

To avoid further compounding the challenge, merchants should examine how potential technology solutions interact or integrate with their existing measurement tools, what data is provided and how it can be knit together with other sources.

Replatforming is a potentially daunting project. But by analyzing existing and desired capabilities before adding vendors to the mix, merchants can ensure that they meet their brands’ needs — and better serve customers in the long run.

This post is produced in conjunction with the Plumtree Group, part of MarketLive’s Implement program. Through MarketLive and the Plumtree Group, omni-channel retailers can quickly deploy and customize e-commerce features and functionality in order to meet market demands, increase revenue and loyalty.  The MarketLive/Plumtree partnership provides the emerging merchant who will need to transition off of Amazon Webstore in the coming months with the tools they need to succeed today and grow with unlimited scale tomorrow.

Follow the retailers to unified shopping success – MarketLive Performance Index

Should anyone still need convincing that delivering a unified shopping experience is a priority, the latest data from the MarketLive Performance Index proves it — and reveals the leaders of the pack in cross-touchpoint effectiveness: brick and mortar retailers.

It may seem surprising to spotlight retailers for online performance, given that the category’s conversion rate lags other categories overall, and abandonment is among the highest in the Index. But retailers have managed to do something no other sector in the Index has: they’ve accumulated steady gains in conversion and revenue across both mobile devices and desktop and laptop browsers — signaling that they seem to be navigating the rough seas of cross-touchpoint commerce more successfully than other merchants.

MarketLive Performance Index data

Happily, every sector is realizing significant gains when it comes to smartphone shopping. But, as we discussed in our coverage of the previous volume of the Index, the tables have now completely turned when it comes to performance by screen; whereas just a year ago, lagging smartphone performance was responsible for tempering overall Index results, now it’s desktop and laptop sessions that are failing to pull their weight.  And because the vast majority of shoppers who transact online opt to do so on the big screen, overall Index performance is suffering.

One reason retailers are bucking the trend may be that they’ve contended with at least two consumer audiences since the earliest days of eCommerce: those looking to buy online, and those researching online prior to visiting physical stores. Retailers were also among the first to feel mobile’s influence, as on-the-go shoppers demanded access to store information from their devices and began using early “showrooming” tools such as RetailMeNot to check prices while in stores.

(Catalogers, too, have potentially served online and offline audiences simultaneously, but in reality most cross-touchpoint catalog traffic has been one-way, with printed catalog browsers turning to their computers to place orders efficiently rather than online searchers discovering the brand through the Web site before ordering offline.)

While the challenges and opportunities for retailers are in some aspects unique, it can be instructive for merchants to study leading brick-and-mortar merchants in their own product category. And while it’s foolhardy to play “keep up with the Joneses,” such analysis can reveal fresh approaches to audience engagement and new features and functionality that may be worth consideration.  Among the best practices leading retailers in the Index demonstrate:

They work hard to engage visitors past the “one and out.” In addition to maintaining growth in revenue and conversion, retailers are holding the line on the bounce rate, the percentage of visits ending after a single page. The overall bounce rate for retailers grew just 5.3% year over year, to 31.5% — significantly lower than the 19.8% growth in the bounce rate for the index overall, to a high of over 40%.

To achieve that engagement, retail merchants are developing content that informs purchase decisions and encourages participation from brand followers, with a focus on visual elements such as video and hashtag campaigns for user-submitted photos.

MarketLive merchant Beauty Brands puts the focus on individual brands sold online and in stores with rich content. From a “brands” button in the global navigation, shoppers can access extensive brand stories, how-to videos, and shade-matching charts, along with individual products sorted by sub-category. An inspiration page displays user-submitted photos from Instagram and other social sites.

Content example from Beauty Brands

They encourage, rather than discourage, cross-touchpoint usage. Successful brick-and-mortar retailers devote significant space on their eCommerce sites to describing the in-store experience and encouraging store visits, and provide the tools to enable a smooth transition.  In going beyond a listing of store hours and locations, these merchants develop continuity across channels and distinguish their brands from mass merchants by promoting a unique shopping experience.

MarketLive merchant Design Within Reach encourages visits to its “design studios” in a set of dual home page promotions. The store locator page includes a photo gallery and an enticing description that promises “you’ll never see a ‘do not touch’ sign.” A second promotion specifically spotlights the brand’s design consulting services – emphasizing the high level of in-house expertise that stands behind the brand. Shoppers can make appointments online using a simple-to-navigate interface. Further along the path to purchase, shoppers can save the contents of their shopping cart for quick retrieval later on another screen or in the store.

Online promotion of in-store services from DWR

They cater to return as well as new visitors on smartphones. With the recent hand-wringing about “Mobilegeddon”, the skyrocketing costs for mobile paid search, and the hype about mobile “buy” buttons in search and social media, it seems that merchants are focusing mobile efforts predominantly on acquisition. But they would do well to take a page from leading retailers who are focusing just as intently on supporting existing customers — whether through mobile tools for loyalty club members, mobile apps for those familiar with the brand, or personalized paths to purchase that take into account prior browsing and buying behavior. Such efforts to engage returning customers have the potential to pay off handsomely, as returning customers currently comprise 40% of the eCommerce customer base, but account for 61% of total online revenues.

MarketLive merchant Cost Plus World Market fully supports its Explorers Club loyalty program via smartphone, with the capability to sign up and check rewards status via the mobile site. In-store shoppers are reminded to avail themselves of discounts using their mobile devices, thereby encouraging usage.

Loyalty club support from Cost Plus

Signage promoting mobile loyalty club features

Download the latest Performance Index report for further data, including results by sector and product category, and read the official press release for more details. What retailer innovations have you adapted, if any? What retail brands are you watching?

Research update: 2 resources for making the most of your data

As the Web plays an ever more central role in shopping, more data than ever is available to help merchants deliver the relevant experiences that spur sales and foster brand loyalty.

With the number of eCommerce merchants growing, the number of devices consumers use to shop proliferating, social outlets providing new streams of information about brand reputation and word of mouth recommendations, and new technologies increasingly available to capture and quantify offline activities, merchants have plenty of numbers at their fingertips.

Analyzing and giving shape to that data – and turning it into actionable results – is the crucial next step for merchants, and a necessary one to take. Increasingly, consumers want brand interactions to be anything but generic, but rather to cater to their personal preferences and histories. Among the expectations:

Data is central to meeting these expectations, and merchants acknowledge the importance of integrating systems to move beyond isolated data sets such as web analytics and CRM databases that fail to take into account shoppers’ activities across the brand. Fully 83% of merchants somewhat or fully agree that a single view of the customer is crucial to long-term success, according to eConsultancy, and 56% seek to deliver cross-touchpoint personalization, the E-Tailing Group found.

But identifying a goal isn’t the same is attaining it, and so far merchants report trailing behind consumers’ expectations for sophisticated data analysis and the tailored experiences that should result. There are multiple pain points:

  • Less than a third of merchants report having strong or even average capabilities when it comes to uniting data from different sources into a single customer profile, according to eConsultancy.
  • Fully 85% of merchants say they’re unable to extract full value from the data they already have, and 62% report being overwhelmed by that data, eConsultancy found.
  • At the same time, the E-Tailing Group reports that less than a quarter of merchants believe they have enough data to truly personalize their shopping experiences.

As merchants strive to capture valuable insights from the upcoming holiday season — and plan for data-gathering improvements, upgrades and integrations in 2016 — they should consult two essential MarketLive resources:

Implementing Big Data for the Mid-Sized Merchant defines concretely the much-hyped term “big data” in the context of online commerce, and offers real-world applications of big data to improve brand interactions throughout the customer lifecycle.

Connecting Data Points and KPIs in a Multi-Channel World examines how merchants can move beyond the basics of their Web analytics packages to attain a cross-touchpoint view of shopping behaviors, from social media interactions to online/offline connections.

Stay tuned for our latest MarketLive Performance Index benchmark report, as well as performance updates throughout the holiday season.