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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Performance Index: Mobile challenges and opportunities for the holidays

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

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

Data from the MarketLive Performance Index

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

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

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

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

Mobile example from Sport Chalet

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

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

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

Mobile example from World Market

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

Performance Index: Mobile takes center stage

The latest MarketLive Performance Index, reporting first quarter results, contains heartening news: revenues continued their double-digit growth streak, climbing 18.7% year over year on traffic gains of 13.9%. Average order size also grew, by 4.4%, suggesting that merchants are finding ways to engage shoppers beyond rock-bottom discounts.

But the report also reveals that these gains, impressive as they are, could have been even more substantial. Merchants are missing a key opportunity to win sales, and that opportunity is mobile.

On the one hand, compared with last year, mobile commerce is growing, with revenue from smartphones up nearly 47% and revenue from tablets up more than 30%. But those large percentage gains mask the fact that mobile revenues are significantly underperforming compared with mobile traffic. Most glaringly, 22% of all eCommerce visits originates on a smartphone, but smartphone purchases account for just 6% of revenue — suggesting merchants have a long way to go to make the touchpoint a viable source of sales.

performance_index_vol24_devices

A deeper dive into the numbers reveals still other challenges:

  • The need for speed on smartphones. With nearly 1 in 2 smartphone visits ending after a single page, merchants are losing a vast number of potential shoppers before they even engage. As one possible remedy, merchants should conduct performance testing on their mobile sites; the majority of consumers now expect load times of less than three seconds, and are disinclined to return to sites that experienced load time problems, according to performance monitoring firm Gomez. And clumsily-implemented responsive design can drag down performance, so merchants contemplating site overhauls should be vigilant.
  • Near-misses on tablets. The add-to-cart rate on tablets is a healthy 11.9% — higher than on desktop sites — but then merchants fail to capitalize on this potential, with the tablet conversion rate lagging at 1.82%. In addition to cart and checkout optimization (more on which below), merchants should also consider the cross-touchpoint habits of their tablet shoppers and cater to those using their devices for research while potentially completing sales elsewhere. “Save cart” and “email cart” options are crucial; merchants should target tablet shoppers with messages incentivizing cross-device access as a benefit of account registration. Additionally, merchants should spotlight options to connect tablet browsers to in-store shopping, such as in-store inventory lookup or the ability to book a personal shopping appointment.
  • Major obstacles on the final steps of the path to purchase. The abandoned cart rate for smartphones is a whopping 83%, and 78% on tablets. While these numbers may partly be driven by shoppers using their devices purely for research, the checkout abandonment percentages are also shockingly high, at 65% for smartphones and 46% for tablets — suggesting that even for shoppers committed to making mobile purchases, the process is far from smooth. Our new whitepaper on path-to-purchase optimization, which we’ll cover in greater depth on the blog soon, contains a compendium of best practices related to mobile checkout we can’t recommend highly enough.

Download the full Performance Index report for more insights into mobile, including “day parting” and mobile performance by vertical. How does your mobile performance stack up?

 

Guest post: Creating a seamless omnichannel loyalty experience

Alinn Louv of Social Annex Marketing, a member of the MarketLive Agency Network,  contributed this post.

By now, most merchants know that consumers expect to shop across touchpoints. And they also recognize the importance of improving loyalty.   After all, it costs 6-7 times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one. Perhaps that’s why from 2008-2012, loyalty programs grew by 10% each year.

But it’s not enough to award shoppers points for purchases; to meet the needs of the always-connected consumer, merchants must develop an omnichannel loyalty strategy that caters to customers – and entices them to make repeat purchases — wherever they interact with the brand. We’ve come up with a four- step plan to help you develop and implement your loyalty strategy across all channels for a seamless experience for your shoppers.

1. Create a seamless mobile experience. As of last year, more than half of all American adults own a smartphone (Pew). More and more consumers are starting to shop online either through a mobile device or tablet, with the time spent on mobile surpassing time spent on desktops last year (eMarketer).Of those mobile users, nearly three-quarters say it’s important that websites are mobile-friendly (Search Engine Watch). So the first step in moving toward an omnichannel experience is creating a mobile experience. Make your site mobile friendly, with large visuals and simplified navigation to help mobile users quickly find what they are looking for. Integrate loyalty across all channels, including mobile apps, to ensure that customers are receiving points and rewards no matter how they shop.

2. Focus on the customer experience first. Forty percent of consumers buy more from retailers who personalize the shopping experience across channels (Internet Retailer). So merchants should ersonalize the experience at every step possible. Utilize a social login tool in order to gather insights and create a more complete customer profile. Collect data from social network APIs for structured data, such as verified email addresses and birthdates, and unstructured data, such as interests, likes, friends, and more. Use this information to structure your loyalty program. Find out which rewards and perks will resonate with your shoppers and how active your users are on each social network. This information can help build your loyalty program with a focus on Facebook contests or “Pin to Win” Pinterest campaigns.

3. Manage user data. Fifty-four percent of marketers revealed that the biggest inhibitor in establishing a consistent omnichannel customer experience is not having a single view of customers across channels (Retail Systems Research Institute). Gathering data is only half the challenge; still more important is sorting through and organizing the ‘big data’ so merchants can actually derive useful strategies from the information. Standardize all information gathered from a variety of social networks in order to maximize the full potential of personalization. Ensure you have the right infrastructure in place to store massive amounts of data and the ability to access it quickly as well. Organized data makes it easier to scale marketing efforts and target the right customers, at the right time. Leverage this data to inform email marketing efforts, to target new buyers, repeat buyers or inactive buyers. Remind inactive buyers of their expiring rewards to drive them back onsite. Reward repeat buyers with bonus loyalty points or rewards for making their third purchase. Motivate new buyers to sign up for loyalty with large first-time incentives. Keep your loyalty program segmented with staggered rewards to keep your members excited about exclusive access to sales and perks.

4. Engage with customers across all channels. Actively engage with users to foster user generated content, boost SEO, increase referrals, time spent onsite and ultimately conversions. Implement loyalty across all channels and reward users for shopping on each one. Once the channels are in place, engage with users on each channel with social media to boost your loyalty program. Run social contests within social apps or onsite. Interact with users and build a branded community with ratings and reviews. Fully 90% of consumers would recommend a brand after interacting with it via social (IAB, 2013). Furthermore, 64% of Twitter users and 51% of Facebook users are more likely to buy the products of brands they follow online (Business2Community). Reward users for cross promotion to further drive engagement to every channel. Use point incentives to motivate shoppers to download mobile apps, or shop in store for bonus perks.

Leverage customer data and insights to personalize the omnichannel user experience and create an authentic, immersive customer experience that is sure to increase brand loyalty and lifetime customer value. All businesses and customers are unique; loyalty programs should be too.

Performance Index: Lessons from the fourth-quarter crucible

When it comes to seasonal cycles, most merchants acknowledge that the pivotal fourth quarter requires special focus. The latest data from the MarketLive Performance Index demonstrates that the fourth quarter is indeed a crucible. While traffic spikes and conversion rates get a boost, the ruthless mindset of the holiday shopper leaves no room for error — translating into metrics that reveal top areas for improvement in the year ahead.

Overall, the fourth-quarter and annual metrics in the Index report bring good news: merchants achieved year-over-year revenue gains of 26% for the year and 16% for the fourth quarter — beating industry standards by significant margins in both cases. Moreover, those revenue gains were achieved without resorting to race-to-the-bottom discounting, as average order size for both periods also rose year over year. The feat is especially impressive for the  fourth quarter, when merchants saw average order size rise 6.2% despite consumers’ quests for holiday shopping discounts.

MarketLive Performance Index data

But there are performance discrepancies, too. For the year, a significant increase in the add-to-cart, or engagement, rate helped boost revenue gains; once shoppers had placed items in the cart, merchants held the line on “purchase fallout,” with the conversion, abandoned cart, and abandoned checkout rates holding their gain or loss to within roughly 1% compared with 2012.

By contrast, in the fourth quarter, the boost in revenue was tied more directly to the increase in traffic; conversion and add-to-cart rates increased by almost the same percentage, and those gains were undercut by increases in both the abandoned cart rate and the abandoned checkout rate. Breaking down fourth-quarter results even more to focus on the holiday period (November 1 – Jan. 5), the gap widens further, with the both the add-to-cart and conversion rate slipping year over year, in addition to the abandoned cart rate rising.

MarketLive Performance Index holiday data

The numbers from the fourth-quarter crucible suggest one possible pivot point around which to organizing priorities: the all-important add-to-cart rate, which signals intent on the part of shoppers and whose improvement during the other quarters of the year contrasts with the holiday season, when it declined.

Prior to the add-to-cart: develop content to engage shoppers. When it comes to connecting shoppers with relevant products and content and convincing them to add items to the cart, the annual Index data shows that merchants are making marked improvement. But the holiday numbers suggest that they must redouble their efforts if they’re to compete in the battle for holiday shoppers’ engagement. Among the strategies to consider:

  • Service-centric content. As we discussed in our recent post regarding Google’s “Hummingbird” algorithm update, content that focuses on proactively addressing shoppers’ questions about products, service and pricing is more crucial than ever — and needn’t be relegated to the “about us” section. During the holiday season, when shoppers relentlessly research products and hunt for service extras, this content is even more likely to help drive sales.

  • Videos focusing on utility. Product demonstrations, installation tips, and video buying guides add significant value for shoppers, as we discussed previously in our post covering key video content. During the holidays, videos can give shoppers the reassurance they need to commit to purchasing gifts without first touching or trying them.

After the add-to-cart: eliminate roadblocks to purchase — across touchpoints. While merchants maintained a relatively steady state when it came to conversion, cart abandonment and checkout abandonment the rest of the year, the holiday season saw slippage across all three metrics — suggesting that merchants can do more to compel shoppers who’ve already added items to the cart to complete purchases, whether via the touchpoint where they started their shopping journey or not. Merchants should:

  • Use the cart for more than estimated shipping and tax. More than just a cost calculator, the shopping cart should give consumers comprehensive information to support their order, from product upsells to information about product guarantees, returns and exchanges. Free shipping promotions and loyalty club benefits should also be prominent, giving shoppers a bevy of options to successfully complete their transactions. And the ability to print and save cart items for later smooth the path to purchase from online browsing to offline buying.

  • Consider single-page checkout. While we’ve written before about how no single checkout format dominates among the largest of merchants,  prior Performance Index data suggests single-page checkout is becoming more prevalent among specialty and boutique sellers, with 75% of Index transactions taking place via one-page checkout. Furthermore, a streamlined single-page checkout can provide a viable starting point for mobile implementations, which need to be even more frictionless. Whatever the format, merchants should dive deep into their analytics to ferret out checkout problems across touchpoints and devices, and deploy A/B tests to put potential solutions through their paces.

  • Implement alternative payments. We’ve repeatedly addressed the importance of adopting alternative payments, to enable both desktop and mobile purchasing. Of course merchants should take into consideration their target audience and the prevailing standards for their category — for example, BillMeLater is more of a priority to implement for sellers of big-ticket items such as furniture or jewelry than merchants offering fast-fashion T-shirts — but in all likelihood, offering at least one alternative payment option should be a top priority for 2014.

Download the latest Performance Index report for in-depth metrics, including mobile data and KPIs by vertical, and further strategic recommendations. How do your 2013 metrics compare with the MarketLive Index benchmarks, and how are the numbers influencing your 2014 plans?

Performance Index: Holiday season finishes strong

The final results are in from the holiday season, and merchants in the MarketLive Performance Index fared very well indeed. Merchants achieved traffic and revenue gains of more than 15%, and average order size grew a substantial 6.1% — suggesting that deep discounting isn’t always the key to holiday sales growth.

Additionally, merchants in the Index outperformed the industry at large, which notched a 10% sales gain overall, according to measurement firm comScore. The results demonstrate that small- to mid-sized merchants held their own against the mass merchants whose revenues account for the majority of online sales overall.

Holiday sales data from MarketLive

The results also revealed potential areas of improvement for 2014. Both the add-to-cart rate and conversion rate ended the season a tenth of a percentage point lower than in 2013 after lagging in the final days before Christmas and in the first rush of post-season sales. To reverse the trend in 2014, merchants must do more to capitalize on increased traffic if they want to achieve even greater revenue growth. The 3% increase in cart abandonment further eroded the benefit of traffic gains, suggesting merchants must do more to compel shoppers to become brand customers, using whatever touchpoint they prefer.

In our upcoming 2014 trends report, we’ll examine the key initiatives that will help merchants achieve these goals. Among them:

From mobile presence to mobile competence. Our survey of eCommerce sites during the holidays revealed that many merchants have a long way to go when it comes to offering truly effective mobile touchpoints. While most brands have mobile offerings, many are rudimentary efforts that faintly echoed the marketing and merchandising campaigns of the desktop browser Web sites. Instead, regardless of the technical sophistication of their mobile offerings, merchants must customize content and products to take into account shoppers’ situational priorities and present relevant context. MarketLive merchant Armani Exchange presented mobile shoppers with a streamlined experience that included gift guides by price. Email signup was prominently integrated into the presentation so that mobile browsers could sign up to receive special holiday offers, while sharing tools enabled shoppers to post favorite items with ease.

Mobile example from Armani Exchange

Making it personal. Personalization as a concept has existed for years, but the tools now exist for merchants of all sizes to present shoppers with an experience tailored to their preferences and purchase histories and enhanced by individualized customer service. By delivering wholly unique brand interactions, merchants can set their offerings apart from mass discounters and create long-lasting customer relationships. During the holidays, brand manufacturer Carter’s followed up in-store purchases with an invitation to submit a customer review and enter to win a gift card. The message additionally gives shoppers further ways to connect with the brand via social media, and promotes gift card purchase — especially relevant for the holiday season — as well as including store information for the local outlet.

Personalized email example from Carter's

How did your holidays wrap up, and how are the results influencing your priorities for 2014?

Performance Index: merchants well-positioned for final holiday push

The clock is ticking down on the holiday season, and the latest data from the MarketLive Performance Index indicates that merchants are beginning their final push well-positioned to see sustained growth.

In the week of December 9, which began with “Green Monday” (the last Monday in December with at least 10 days before Christmas), Performance Index merchants saw revenue gains of almost 30%, thanks in part to a traffic increase of 23%. Conversion rose by 3.4%, and the average order size outpaced last year’s by 3.5%, again suggesting that merchants are winning sales without resorting to constant bargain-basement pricing.

Combined with the record gains achieved during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the latest strong results put merchants on track to end the season with substantial sales growth. Cumulative season-to-date revenue is 30% higher than last year, despite the shortened season, and conversion is up more than 6%, while average order size is more than 2% higher than last year.

Holiday data from the MarketLive Performance Index

For many merchants, the deadline is nigh for delivery by Christmas Eve via ground shipping — so the trick for sustaining revenue gains through the end of the season will be to encourage continue spending despite this logistical hurdle. Tactics merchants can adopt include:

Highlighting in-stock items. Merchants should flag items that are in-stock, both for online purchase and for pickup or purchase in stores — enabling shoppers to zero in on the gifts that can make it under the tree in time.

Pairing a collection of in-stock gift finds with a discount on expedited shipping provides online buyers with a compelling reason to complete their purchases immediately. For merchants with physical store outlets, enabling online browsers to view items that qualify for in-store pickup before Christmas at a location near them smooths the online-offline purchase process.

MarketLive merchant Helzberg Diamonds promotes “green truck” items that are guaranteed to arrive on time if purchased by December 23. An icon and shipping estimate are provided on the product page, with a key explaining the fulfillment classification system and displaying estimated delivery dates for each.

Guaranteed delivery promotion from Helzberg

Product page example from Helzberg

Shipping cutoffs explained, from Helzberg

Easing the last-minute store rush. Merchants with physical store locations should move links to the store locator out of the customer service section and into the spotlight. They should additionally bolster standard store-locator information with promotions of relevant online content and services. Gap’s store locator for shoppers browsing the eCommerce site on their desktop or laptop displays not only location-specific hours, but promotes the ability to reserve items online for purchase in-store, along with a curated gift guide showcasing tailored gift picks. On the mobile site, Gap’s store locator — always anchored prominently on the home page — calls out holiday hours in the “Special Hours” section.

Store locator example from Gap

Mobile store locator from Gap

Boosting e-gift card visibility. As discussed in last week’s post, merchants should promote gift card options ubiquitously, in locations that go far beyond the holiday gift guide section. And in the final week, gift cards should receive pride of place on the home page, with merchants highlighting swift delivery via email and flexibility as main selling points. And on the gift card product page, merchants should ensure that options for physical versus virtual gift cards are clearly delineated, so that shoppers wishing to purchase cards for delivery by Christmas are sure to pick the right one.  MarketLive merchant dELiA*s promotes delivery timeframes along with gift card options on its home page. The gift card product page has been updated to reiterate the cutoff dates and delineates the two separate ordering processes for physical versus virtual cards.

Gift card promotion from dELiA*s

Gift card product page from dELiA*s


What last-minute tactics are you employing to keep shoppers engaged through the end of the season?

Performance Index: Cyber Monday week sees major gains

As the short holiday season hits the halfway mark, the news is encouraging for specialty and niche merchants. According to weekly data from the MarketLive Performance Index, Cyber Monday and the week that followed continued the Thanksgiving weekend trend of increased traffic and improved performance metrics, driving overall revenues 32% higher compared with the same week last year.

Furthermore, the data suggests that even amidst heavy discounting, merchants are making strong gains. For one, while traffic for December 2 – December 9 grew by 17%, revenue grew even more substantially, suggesting that individual buyers are purchasing more than last year.  The conversion rate increased by 2.4%. Meantime, the average order size compared with last year held steady, suggesting merchants are successfully wooing shoppers without necessarily discounting steeply.

MarketLive Performance Index data

The only performance challenge merchants face is with the add-to-cart rate, which plummeted nearly a full percentage point, by more than 8%, compared with the prior week. With offers flying fast and furious, shoppers are comparison shopping and waiting for the right deal to entice them to finalize purchases. While overall the add-to-cart rate for the season is up by 11.3%, merchants should redouble their efforts to convert shoppers to buyers. Among the quick tactics to try:

Promote limited-time offers beyond the obvious spots.  Merchants should include notices about free shipping offers or price discounts in the cart, whether via a global banner or a promotional fill slot. But even before shoppers reach that milestone on the path to purchase, merchants should flag promotions and direct shoppers to relevant information. Locations to consider include:

  • The drop-down global cart. As we’ve noted previously, graphics or images in motion are more likely to capture our attention than static site content, so including promotions in this automated display stand a better chance of being seen.

  • In secondary navigation. When used, a left-hand column usually exposes the depth of products on offer, whether via  a detailed sub-category list or by using a guided-navigation-style list of attributes shoppers can access to resolve problems. But it’s also an opportunity to reiterate the latest promotion and its end date, so that shoppers can access details from wherever on the site they roam.

  • On product pages. With consumers increasingly accessing eCommerce sites via interior pages after being directed there from search engines, it’s crucial for merchants to feature deals right alongside product content.MarketLive merchant Armani Exchange highlights current discounts in red on the product page, calling out the free shipping thresholds and “deal of the week” merchandise.

Promotion example from Armani Exchange

Fine-tune triggered emails. As we’ve reported previously, nearly three-quarters of merchants don’t yet have a triggered email program in place to attempt to recapture sales after consumers leave the site.  While it’s too late to institute such a program from scratch right now, merchants with existing abandoned-cart triggered emails should consider revamping them slightly. The messages should include:

  • Plenty of product content. Merchants should incorporate more than just the image of the product the shopper left in the cart, but should take the opportunity to provide a longer product story. A comprehensive description, paired with how-to videos demonstrating usage and even a buying guide matching the product category, can win over hesitant shoppers by helping them envision how the product might fit or feel.

  • Abundant customer service links. Merchants should put contact information front and center in cart-recovery messages, with links to product guarantees and delivery timelines that help shoppers what they need.

  • Social connectors. The ability to connect to communities of followers on social outposts may help shoppers find lifestyle content that convinces them to commit to a purchase from the brand.

Clothier French Connection puts it all together in its cart abandonment email. In addition to displaying a picture of the abandoned item and the means to link directly to checkout, the message includes a sizable section describing customer service and displaying contact information. A series of links at the bottom of the message directs shoppers to connect via social media.
Abandoned cart email from French Connection

What tactics are you using to drive continued engagement through the holiday season?

Performance Index: merchants riding wave of growth into holidays

As the high-stakes holiday season kicks into overdrive, the latest data from the MarketLive Performance Index suggests merchants are well-positioned to see double-digit revenue gains.

In the third quarter, merchants saw improvement across a wide range of performance metrics. Year-over-year visits increased more than 15%, and with the add-to-cart rate and conversion rate both seeing modest gains, overall revenue rose 17%. The average order size also nudged upwards by 1.5%, suggesting merchants needn’t adopt bargain-basement pricing strategies to win new business.

Among the key findings:

Mobile sales — from both smartphones and tablets — are growing. Mobile continues to play an ever-more-crucial role in the shopping experience. More than a third of all traffic originates with smartphones or tablets, driving 17% of total revenue. While smartphone performance overall lags tablet metrics, smartphone revenue has jumped by an impressive 65% year over year to 4% of all online sales — a faster growth rate than tablet sales, which increased 39%, to 13% of the total.

Statistics from the MarketLive Performance Index

The data suggests that merchants need to account for both device types as they plan their mobile strategies for 2014. Considerations include:

  • How to “flip” to mobile-first email. By some counts, more than half of email is now read via mobile devices, which means that merchants must tailor their messaging for maximum mobile utility. Designing appropriately-sized “tap targets”, streamlining Subject: lines and ensuring video and animation elements render properly on mobile platforms should all be on the checklist.

Social’s role is small — but potentially important. There’s no denying that compared with mobile, social media affords merchants a less direct path to revenues. Index data reveals that while just 1 to 2% of traffic and revenue can be directly attributable to social media, even those small percentages represent substantial increases from the prior year. Social traffic grew 29%, while social revenue skyrocketed by 77% — suggesting that merchants deploying savvy social  strategies will increasingly reap ROI rewards. In particular, merchants should:

  • Give social followers a holiday boost. To increase potential engagement and word-of-mouth buzz, merchants should offer social shoppers the means to interact with the brand around holiday promotions — whether by running a holiday-themed contest,  offering them a sneak peek at Black Friday discounts or even giving them the opportunity to vote on what those discounts will be in the first place.

  • Entice brand “newbies.” Index data reveals that nearly three quarters of traffic to merchant eCommerce sites from social networks derives from first-time visitors, compared with the overall average of 61% first-time visitors. To engage these would-be brand enthusiasts, merchants should take pains to communicate their brand’s unique identity on social outposts. They should prominently post brand-defining product guarantees, return policies and shipping offers, and use social promotions to showcase the breadth and depth of their product offering. Lifestyle content that appeals to target audiences demonstrates the brand’s expertise, as with MarketLive merchant Stila Cosmetics, whose Pinterest profile demonstrates a passion for trend-setting fashion via boards displaying products used during New York Fashion Week and “We <3 Fashion,” a board of favorite apparel and makeup picks from around the Internet.

Social media example from Stila

Download the full Index report for industry-specific metrics and further data. What metrics will you be watching this holiday season?