“Buy Now,” “Buy Now” everywhere, but no customers to gain?

The rumor that Google is preparing to debut a “buy” button for search ads on mobile devices has set off a flurry of speculation and recommendations for merchants. But the search giant is just the latest big online player to join the race to provide a shortcut on the path to purchase. Merchants should not only evaluate the options and prepare to experiment; they should acknowledge that these initiatives send clear messages about the shortcomings of their own commerce offerings.

Like Google, Pinterest is rumored to have a “buy” button in the works, while Facebook and Twitter both officially announced initiatives in the past year. Both are still in limited release, with Facebook “buy” buttons popping up occasionally and Twitter’s offering most often seen for event ticketing so far.

Buy button example from Facebook

As merchants evaluate these new options, they should keep in mind the balancing act required to successfully sell on marketplaces without undermining their brands, and determine:

  • What customer information, if any, the host of the “buy” button will share with merchants
  • Which entity conducts the financial transaction
  • What branding elements, if any, will be displayed with the product and transactional content
  • How they’ll pay the “buy” button host. Google is rumored to be integrating the “buy” button into its pay per click search ads, thereby raising the prospect of intense bidding wars to own the “buy” button for popular terms.

But over and above the immediate strategic concerns, the dash to roll out “buy” buttons has other repercussions. Tech titans Google and Facebook are likely using the initiatives, in part, to vie for total Internet dominance, with Amazon and eBay in their sights; and all three social networks are likely scurrying for the “buy” button as a means of demonstrating concretely the ROI of social media.

But there’s a still larger message for merchants to ponder, which is how their own offerings have fallen short and created the void Google and others now seek to fill. While few foresaw just how quickly mobile changed the shopping landscape, merchants’ past decisions to silo eCommerce as just another sales channel alongside — but not integrated with — retail or catalog operations rendered their organizations less nimble when the time came to adapt. With more than 40% of retail traffic to eCommerce sites now coming from mobile devices, but generating barely more than a quarter of online retail revenue, according to the MarketLive Performance Index, the gap was too large for tech giants to ignore.

So while it’s unrealistic to forgo experimenting with the new slew of “buy” buttons, merchants should simultaneously tend to their own brand offerings. Specifically, they should:

Go responsive — in the code and beyond. Merchants should consider responsive design techniques as the best current solution to standardizing the purchase experience across touchpoints, including sharing the alternative-payment options that could rival the convenience of being able to pay with Google. But beyond committing to the design and programming investment responsive design entails, merchants should also adopt a nimble mindset for their businesses that endeavors to break down barriers between online and offline operations so that future changes can be taken in stride.

Evaluate what success on social media looks like for their unique brand, and act accordingly.  While the lack of revenue directly attributable to social media has long been problematic for merchants, that doesn’t mean they should automatically begin plastering Facebook “buy” buttons on all their product promotions. After all, with the convenience of in-Facebook purchasing comes a loss in direct connection with the customer, which should be balanced in the equation. And merchants should recall that early “f-commerce” attempts by large brands such as J.C. Penney, Gamestop and The Gap were all shuttered within a year due to lackluster results.

Former f-commerce experiment by JCPWhether shoppers are now more apt to buy via social media, and whether the improved efficiency of having payment data stored by Facebook will spur sales, remains to be seen. Before merchants enact “buy” buttons, they should gauge the degree of engagement of their brands’ social followers and whether they’re inclined to try the new service in the first place.

Develop online “express lanes” for returning customers. While lifestyle content, product imagery and videos, and comprehensive product information are all invaluable, merchants should also devise ways to enable ultra-efficient reordering for those customers who already know what they want and just want to get it, without paging through a lot of additional information. Merchants should consider offering automated replenishment or subscription services; use social login to speed access to stored account information; and even enable shoppers to pre-set how they’d like to handle refills to speed future orders, in the style of Amazon’s new Dash button. The gizmo is receiving mixed reviews in its limited release so far, but enables Amazon Prime members to customize recurring orders of products from participating manufacturers and make those purchases without using a screen at all.

Amazon dash promo video

Optimize paid search spending now for targeted “buy” button bids in the future. With paid search spending on the rise, spurred largely by product listing ads, merchants are already in competition to win prime spots on mobile devices for top keywords — a contest that may only intensify once “buy” buttons are added to the mix. Merchants should do their utmost to target paid search campaigns so that they can easily add or subtract the “buy” button to segmented product groups.

Which new “buy” buttons have you tried, if any — and why? How are they performing?

Why B2B sellers must begin thinking like B2C merchants – webinar preview

By now, most B2B brands recognize that the Internet has upended the world of corporate purchasing. Customers who once relied on printed catalogs and placed orders through sales reps are increasingly ordering online using self-service tools, using mobile devices for research, and sharing feedback on suppliers via social media.  As a result, B2B online sales are forecast to top $1.1 trillion by 2020, comprising 12% of all B2B sales. To put those numbers in perspective, the forecasted revenues for B2B eCommerce this year total $780 billion, more than double the $334 billion projected for all of direct-to-consumer retail sales online.

In response to this burgeoning growth, business-to-business providers are stepping up investment in online initiatives.  Half of B2B executives in 2013 said they would upgrade their core eCommerce platform by this year, compared with just 12% of eBusiness executives overall.

Initial reports from those who’ve begun focusing on digital initiatives are positive. B2B executives report that customers who’ve migrated online are more likely to try new offerings, make repeat purchases, and spend more than offline-only customers. Simultaneously, the costs are lower to support purchasers taking advantage of self-service online tools; in fact, 56% of vendors report they now service customers who would otherwise have been too expensive to support via traditional offline models.

With such clear signals from the marketplace and the industry, many B2B merchants can rationalize investment in their online offerings. But when it comes to mapping exactly how to invest, the devil is in the details. Best practices abound from the world of B2C eCommerce, which has a decades-long track record compared with many online B2B providers, 45% of whom have been selling products or services online for five years or fewer.

But as B2B vendors strive to follow along, they encounter the same problems many B2C merchants face – a huge array of potential priorities and a seemingly-overwhelming rate of change within the marketplace. Just a few of the challenges B2B providers must contend with:

A merging B2B/B2C marketplace. Some of the largest names in B2C commerce, such as Amazon and Google, are playing a growing role in B2B purchasing. As in direct-to-consumer eCommerce, Amazon is emerging as a force to be reckoned with, having just relaunched and renamed its B2B site, Amazon Business. Fully 45% of B2B purchasers say they’ve purchased on the Amazon site, and a quarter of those report using it frequently. Among younger corporate buyers, Amazon is even more popular: fully 82% of those age 35 or younger say they’re aware of Amazon Business, 63% say they’ve purchased there at least once, and 40% do so frequently.

amazonbusiness

The exponential growth of mobile.  While less than half of B2B executives currently report that even 10% of their online revenues come from mobile devices, workers are increasingly using multiple devices on the job. That means B2B vendors can expect to see the same “mobile-first” shift already underway in B2C eCommerce, where the majority of brand interactions occur via mobile touchpoints. B2B vendors are cognizant of the need to adapt, with 58% reporting that mobile functionality is a top investment priority.

Growing expectations for seamless, unified experiences across touchpoints. While shoppers appreciate the convenience of being able to shop via a variety of touchpoints, research shows they also crave consistency when it comes to products, pricing and promotions. When asked which aspects of the shopping experience should be consistent, participants in the 2014 MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey ranked product pricing, free shipping policies, and other promotions as the three key areas where they sought a standardized approach.  For B2B brands, that means connecting call center and catalog operations with the eCommerce site, as well as giving sales reps on the road insights into customers’ online activities.

To learn how B2B sellers are grappling with these changes — and what they must do to succeed — register for MarketLive’s webinar next Wednesday, May 20, at 10 a.m. PDT. The session will cover Amazon Business and other non-traditional competitors, examine trends affecting the B2B industry, and recommend three core strategies to shape priorities for 2015-2016. And download the companion whitepaper, which includes detailed research and makes a persuasive case for why B2B brands should “go B2C”.

What B2C principles have proven successful for your B2B business?

Tilting at windmills: the hopeless but crucial quest to reduce cart abandonment

In our previous post reviewing first-quarter results from the MarketLive Performance Index, we discussed the performance impact of mobile’s exponential growth and showed how it’s worth taking a deeper dive into the numbers before blaming mobile for lagging KPIs.

While in that post we specifically addressed engagement metrics, the mobile performance gap that’s most widely lamented is cart abandonment. While the 70.6% cart abandonment rate achieved via computer browsers isn’t ideal, it’s far lower than on smartphones, at 84.6%. As a result, the overall Index abandonment rate rose 1.4% year over year to 76.0% — an all-time high.

mlpi_abandonmenttrend

It’s easy to blame these disheartening results on the growing share of shopping visits attributed to mobile phones. But, as is the case with engagement, a closer look reveals that there’s more to the story than meets the eye.

The bad news: cart abandonment may never drop, regardless of how much optimization merchants undertake.  The good news: if handled right, abandonment can become a mere detour on the path to purchase, not an irredeemable disaster.

While the shift to mobile is an underlying factor, the rise in cart abandonment rate reflects a larger trend in consumer behavior. As increasingly-savvy consumers do more research for online and offline purchases, and as they continue to shop across a growing array of digital and offline touchpoints, their journey to purchase has become more circuitous. At one time, high shipping costs far outranked all the other reasons why shoppers left items in the shopping cart. Now, while shipping costs remain the top hurdle to purchase, causing 58% of shoppers to abandon sales, that percentage is followed closely by the 57% of shoppers who use the cart to research total order costs, and the 55% who say they just wanted to save items for later.   Indeed, a whopping three quarters of those who’ve abandoned carts say they actually intend to return to the same site to complete purchases.

Closing the gap between that intent and action is merchants’ new challenge, and one that’s formidable in its own right. In this light, optimizing sites to the utmost remains crucial, but as a way to facilitate — rather than prevent — come-and-go activity, and to ensure that once ready, consumers encounter no obstacles to closing the sale.

Among the measures to deploy:

Support researchers with “save” tools. Given the rising rates at which shoppers use the cart as a research tool, merchants should adopt an “if you can beat them, join them” mentality and ensure that potential customers can easily pick up where they left off, across devices. Easing the wish list creation and sharing process can potentially divert would-be abandoners into using an alternate tool for saving items of interest. But merchants should also consider implementing an explicit “save cart” feature within the shopping cart itself, tying it to a painless signup process — ideally featuring social login — that presents a swift way to access saved items later via mobile or computer.  “Email cart” and “print cart” functions can provide further alternatives for shoppers to store and retrieve product information.

Merchants who optimize their wish lists and shopping carts for researchers should promote the amped-up features — especially a few months from now, when the holiday season begins to ramp up. In 2014, MarketLive merchant Nancy’s Notions promoted wish list creation in an email that asked, “You know what you want. But does everyone else?” The message additionally highlighted top wish list picks — both encouraging shoppers to use the tool and displaying items they might want to add right away.

nancysnotions_wishlistpromo

Personalized remarketing email. Merchants are increasingly employing remarketing tactics to entice back shoppers who’ve left the site without completing purchases. In 2014, more than a third of merchants in the Internet Retailer Top 500 and Second 500 used abandoned cart emails to recover sales – a 36.7% increase over 2013, according to Listrak. These campaigns are effective, enjoying an average conversion rate of more than 20% — five times higher than a standard promotional campaign.

In order to maximize their effectiveness, abandoned cart notification emails should be as personalized as possible.  Messages that picture the exact item(s) left behind in the cart had a 25% higher transaction rate than those that merely employed a text link back to the brand site, according to Experian. If possible, merchants should include SKU specific images and product details, and personalize messaging further by letting shoppers know whether items are available at nearby outlets. Regardless of personalization capabilities, all merchants should use abandonment emails to message any free shipping offers or free site-to-store services, as well as customer service contact information and value-added content related to the product or the category.

Social media for retargeting. We’ve touched before on the effectiveness of retargeting campaigns that “follow” shoppers across the Internet after departing from a brand’s Web site. While there’s a tricky balance to achieve to avoid seeming creepy, these ads can be effective — and social media presents a low-pressure way to spur further engagement when shoppers are likely at leisure, catching up on the latest news from their feeds and receptive to reminders about shopping they have yet to finish. Although less than half of marketers currently use social retargeting, more than two-thirds say they plan to increase investments in the coming year, according to Marin Software.

MarketLive merchant Intermix invites past browsers to connect with the brand by displaying previously-browsed items and reinforcing brand messaging with text that promises followers will have access to “exclusive designer pieces.”

intermix_remarket_facebook

A relentless focus on lowering *checkout* abandonment. While reducing cart abandonment may not be possible, checkout abandonment is another matter altogether. After all, by entering checkout, shoppers are signaling a clear intent to purchase, and any deviation from the path merchants lay out for them should be studied closely. To ensure the order process is frictionless, merchants should give their analytics tools a workout by creating fallout reports by device to gain insight into which steps present hurdles on mobile devices as well as on computers. In their analysis they should include secondary checkout paths, such as those for registered users and those employing alternative payments.

As we’ve written previously, checkout is an area where mobile is, indeed, lagging. In the latest Performance Index, checkout abandonment on smartphones was a whopping 59%, compared with 36.6% on computer-based browsers — a significant gap. To improve, merchants should incorporate proven best practices into their mobile offerings, including guest checkout, alternative payments and ample customer service messaging, and do their utmost to streamline the number of steps and required text input fields. Using responsive design to deliver a uniform experience across touchpoints can help merchants significantly improve mobile checkout usability.

How are you combating abandonment?

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?

Mobile payments: it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee when it comes to key integrations

On the surface, mobile payments would seem to be more of a much-hyped distraction for online merchants than a legitimate top priority. But while merchants may not need to jump on the bandwagon immediately, the innovations percolating in the mobile payment space deserve attention — and should cause some projects to move higher up the “must do” list.

Defined as portable technologies for enabling offline and online transactions digitally, without plastic cards, mobile payments are currently deployed by just a few well-known brands. The most visible and successful payment system belongs to Starbucks, which has offered a mobile app combining loyalty benefits and payments since 2011, allowing customers to pay for their morning caffeine fixes by scanning their phones at cash registers and earning points in the process. The company now claims that 16% of all in-store transactions are conducted using mobile devices and that mobile payments are growing 50% annually.

 

starbux

Of course, Starbucks isn’t the only merchant experimenting with mobile payments. In addition to the much-hyped debut of ApplePay late last year, mega-players Google and Amazon are both in the alternative-payments business, and Visa and Mastercard are both experimenting with payments that smooth transactions both on- and offline. Several major retailers, such as Walmart and Best Buy, are backing an independent effort called CurrentC. And there’s still Paypal, which remains the most widely-used alternate payment option for online transactions to date.

While to date just 3% of U.S. shoppers report accessing a mobile wallet in stores recently, sorting through the options is increasingly an imperative for merchants. As more and more merchants adopt mobile payment solutions and more and more consumers encounter and become familiar with the options, wider usage is only a matter of time. In fact, Forrester predicts that mobile payment adoption will grow exponentially, to 18 to 20% of consumers just three years from now.

To sort through the options, MarketLive founder Ken Burke offers this advice in “Merchants and the Race for Mobile Payments” in Retail Online Integration:

2015 will be a year of profound experimentation and flux in the mobile payments arena. Retailers should consider several factors before deciding which providers to partner with, including the percentage of their customers using mobile devices. Those with brick-and-mortar stores need to consider that an increasing number of their customers will be expecting to not only interact with their mobile devices in-store, but be able to purchase goods through them as well.”

Whether or not merchants undertake a mobile payment integration  in 2015, they can position themselves for smooth and swift adoption by optimizing their mobile experiences to the utmost. After all, the mobile payment solution doesn’t exist in a vacuum; merchants should prioritize key functionality that allows shoppers not only to check out quickly, but to take full advantage of brand offerings in the process.

As Burke writes in “Online Payments and their Effects on Mobile,” also in Retail Online Integration magazine,

“If consumers get used to buying music on iTunes or apps on Google Play with one click, they’ll expect the same experience in other mobile transactions. If their phones allow them with a single touch to buy a sandwich at Subway, how much patience will they have for m-commerce sites that take too long to load or don’t correctly adjust to the smaller mobile screen size? If they can buy a washing machine at Sears by scanning a barcode with their phone, how will they react in the frenzy of the holiday rush when an online retailer requires them to fill out multiple screens of personal, shipping and payment information on the fly?”

Beyond paying attention to essentials such as mobile site speed and checkout optimization, merchants should prime themselves for mobile payments by focusing on two key areas:

Loyalty programs. We’ve already noted the importance of a unified loyalty strategy for today’s maturing eCommerce marketplace. And with mobile payments on the horizon, the stakes are even higher: when consumers were asked what features they’d like to see in a mobile wallet, loyalty program integration was the top pick, with 57% of shoppers saying they’d want the ability to view their points balance and redeem rewards alongside mobile payments, Forrester found. Merchants can prime themselves for this future scenario by integrating rewards or loyalty programs with their online operations if they haven’t done so already — and prioritizing mobile functionality as the core of their offering.

Mobile coupon alerts and redemption.  The ability to access digital coupons and promotions was second on consumers’ wish lists for mobile wallet functionality, according to Forrester. Add the fact that 55% of shoppers reported they’d use their phones in stores to redeem coupons during the 2014 holiday season and mobile coupons become a compelling proposition. In addition to considering whether to implement SMS deal alerts, merchants should integrate in-store redemption options into existing email and social campaigns using scannable barcodes or QR codes shoppers can snap using their phones and take to stores.

How is the prospect of mobile payments affecting your priorities?

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.

3 fundamental shifts merchants must make to meet customer expectations – MarketLive Summit Report

The MarketLive 2015 Summit opened Tuesday morning with a bracing challenge for attendees: stop thinking like eCommerce site owners. The morning’s keynote speakers, MarketLive founder and CEO Ken Burke and O’Reilly Media founder Tim O’Reilly, urged merchants to undertake fundamental shifts in perspective in order to continue serving shoppers with the relevant experiences that earn sales and loyalty.

Thanks to rapid technological innovation, consumers’ shopping behaviors and expectations are changing more quickly than merchants have so far been able to match, said Burke. The rapid rise of mobile has triggered demand for a new in-store experience that draws on the wealth of information available online, and in the process has laid bare inconsistencies and gaps between touchpoints. Mobile has also become the default access point for consumers to flit among a growing array of social networks; 52% of U.S. online adults use multiple social media sites, according to Pew Research.

social network data from Pew

O’Reilly described how technology is on the cusp of revolutionary change that will eliminate manual searching, browsing, and buying in favor of seamless interactions where consumption implies consent to purchase and transactions occur entirely behind the scenes. As an example of how existing modes of commerce are being upended, O’Reilly cited the driving service Uber, where riders provide payment information on signup and are automatically charged per ride, rather than having to dig in their wallets at the end of each trip. Other cutting-edge examples of frictionless commerce include Cover, which allows diners to skip waiting for the check at meal’s end, and Etup, whereby college students snap selfies to charge meals to their campus accounts.

Example of transactionless commerce - Etup

To position themselves for this new paradigm, merchants need to adopt new modes of thinking for 2015 and beyond, letting go of fundamental ecommerce tenets to make way for innovation. Among the necessary shifts:

It’s not (just) about the Web site. With two-thirds of consumers using a combination of mobile and desktop to interact with brands, and fully a third of 18-to-24-year-olds using mobile exclusively, merchants should adopt “mobile first” as their credo — not only in designing site experiences, but in how they themselves interact with brands and services online.

Moreover, by escaping the tethered web browser and exploring the unique blend of location data, social networking information and image tools mobile apps can draw on, merchants can move beyond segmentation and even personalization to deliver truly individualized commerce, said Burke. Rather than offering one-site-fits-all experiences, brands should take into account shoppers’ preferences and personal shopping histories, marrying disparate data points to deliver a wholly unique set of products and offers for each customer, Burke said.

Eliminate payments. As we’ve discussed previously, merchants should adopt alternative payments both to ease online transactions and to smooth potential offline-to-online purchases occurring in stores. But merchants should also begin mapping new modes of shopping that background transactions altogether. Automatic replenishment programs and subscription models such as the one used by O’Reilly Media (itself a MarketLive merchant) for digital books are only the beginning of the possibilities merchants should explore.

Subscription payment example from O'Reilly

They’re not customers; they’re community members. O’Reilly urged merchants to connect with consumers by identifying and serving their passions and demonstrating authentic expertise, saying that despite having a large social media following, his social contributions have at times been less effective than posts featuring lesser-known tech authors who nonetheless have an ardent following in the niches they cover.

Rather than focusing on individual social networks, brands should focus on telling the stories that resonate with their communities, and giving a platform to the voices that help tell that story. “By celebrating the people in your community, you actually create a social web,” said O’Reilly.

Sport Chalet, showcased during Summit as a MarketLive Merchant Award winner, has built a series of robust communities focused on individual sports and recreational activities, showcasing user-contributed social content, learning videos and expert profiles.

sportchalet

Watch the blog for more Summit recaps coming soon.

How to unlock video’s engagement potential

As online commerce matures and audiences grow more sophisticated, the challenge of engaging browsers and researchers so that they embark upon the path to purchase is becoming ever more acute. With the growing cacophony of social networks, close to 60% of shoppers reporting they delete email almost as quickly as it’s received, and merchants playing catch-up to consumer behavior on mobile devices, the ability to deliver a brand message that is truly arresting has become something of a holy grail.

Take the add-to-cart rate — the percentage of visits that result in items being placed in the shopping cart. Arguably, the cart plays a more important role than ever: as shoppers hop from touchpoint to touchpoint, the cart can serve as a repository for items they’ve researched and wished to access later, whether via a different device, in stores or on their computers once they get home. Data from the MarketLive Performance Index shows that the add-to-cart rate grew 1.5% year over year in Q4 2014, but still hovers below 10%, meaning that fewer than 1 in 10 shoppers are resonating with products enough even to want to save them — much less to buy them.

The main culprit behind the sluggish performance: smartphones, on which a mere 6%of shoppers added items to the cart.  And it’s not just the add-to-cart rate; pages per visit and time on site also lag on smartphones compared with the overall Index average, and the bounce rate, at 47%, is 30% higher than the overall average. These numbers are especially troubling given that smartphones are increasingly the key to mobile success, and given that mobile overall plays an increasingly crucial role in both online and offline sales.

To cut through the chatter and combat shopper ennui, merchants should take a close look at their video strategy. Since we last addressed the effectiveness of videos during the product consideration phase, more and more evidence has surfaced to demonstrate that video can be an effective engagement tool — including on mobile devices.

While the audience for brand videos is still relatively small, with around 10% of shoppers visiting pages with videos opting to view the content, that audience goes on to engage deeply and powerfully: not only do 70% of video viewers watch at least 80% of the video, but they’re 1.9 times as likely to make purchases after watching, according to video services firm and MarketLive Connect partner Invodo.

What’s more, fully a third of those video views occur on mobile devices, and mobile viewers are among the most engaged when it comes to promotional video content. Nielsen and AOL found that smartphone viewers were more likely to recall advertising content than desktop, tablet, or TV users, with 88% of smartphone users who watched ads without interruption remembering them. Even when distracted by their devices, 57% of smartphone users remembered ads, as opposed to just 23% of television viewers; when interrupted by a person, over a third of smartphone users remembered the ads, rivaling the recall of desktop computer users and trumping television by far.

In order to maximize the potential for videos to engage shoppers, merchants should:

Create and test different video content for different audiences. Rather than use a templated approach that shoehorns all their products into a single video format for shoppers across touchpoints, merchants should vary the length and content of video content — and track results religiously to tease out which combinations work best.

In general, shorter videos correlate with higher conversion rates, according to video services provider LiveClicker. (That doesn’t mean merchants should shy away from in-depth product demonstrations when they’re necessary, but they might want to experiment with multi-part tutorial rather than a single long segment.) When it comes to substance, video featured on smartphones should feature enough close-up content to render well on small screens; by contrast, finer details will be visible to desktop and laptop viewers.

Place video throughout the eCommerce site, not just on product pages. Merchants should give shoppers multiple pathways to access video content, including in content hubs where all videos are available to browse and on category pages. And like other forms of value-added content, relevant videos should be accessible via search results pages.

MarketLive merchant Brickhouse Security includes a link to its Video Center on the home page alongside blog and Q and A content, and a search for “nanny cams” brings up a featured video in addition to products.

Video promotion example from Brickhouse SecurityVideo promotion example from Brickhouse Security

 

Go native with social formats. In addition to experimenting with video content and length on their eCommerce sites, merchants should also use video content on social media — and not just by posting video links. Rather, merchants should take advantage of native social video formats, such as the micro-video Vine app for Twitter and Instagram’s mini-video feature. And with posts featuring video drawing heightened engagement from social followers,  there’s a benefit to porting over longer segments as well. Brands posting video on social platforms may even see a boost in visibility, as Facebook last fall altered its algorithm to favor video content using the Facebook player, as opposed to an external link to YouTube.

How do you plan to use video to maximize engagement in 2015?

 

Compete with Amazon, 2015: Growth leaves plenty of room for merchants to thrive

The online behemoth Amazon.com is on a winning streak. North American sales were up more than 22% year over year in the fourth quarter, and for 2014 as a whole North American revenues grew nearly 25%. Amazon already accounts for more than a quarter of all eCommerce sales in the U.S., according to Internet Retailer’s Top 500 report, and the recent numbers suggest Amazon will grab an even larger slice of the pie this year.

Furthermore, despite a recent price increase to $99, Amazon’s Prime program continues to attract shoppers, with roughly 45% of its customers paying the subscription fee to access free shipping with every order and exclusive streaming content. The high percentage of subscribers is significant because they spend an average of $1,500 annually with Amazon, 140% more than other Amazon customers.

But looking beyond these impressive numbers, there’s reason for small- to mid-sized merchants to take heart. For starts, Amazon’s direct sales of products were up 9.6% in Q4 — in the same league as the 9.1% reported by the MarketLive Performance Index — demonstrating that pure direct-to-consumer sales for even the biggest of the online mass merchants were in line with the market overall. Instead, the bulk of Amazon’s Q4 growth came from marketplace fees, Amazon’s Web Services cloud hosting service, and other smaller revenue contributors, which together saw year-over-year growth of 37%.

And Amazon still faces significant challenges when it comes to matching smaller brands’ ability to deliver personal service and niche product and lifestyle expertise. As we addressed in our series on competing with Amazon, the giant’s economies of scale give shoppers discounted products and shipping on a wide selection of items, the overall shopping experience can be like using “a massive vending machine”. Attempts to tailor the experience for specific niches — such as fashion, health and B2B purchasing — are still nascent, which means that for now, at least, there’s room for merchants with compelling brand stories to compete successfully.

Among the strategies to consider:

Leverage the visibility of Amazon’s marketplace, but strategically. Nowadays, it’s commonplace for brands competing with Amazon to simultaneously take advantage of its dominant position by participating in the Amazon Marketplace program. As we’ve discussed previously, in addition to gaining SEO advantage and reaching new customers, merchants can use the marketplace to piggyback on Amazon’s international forays and establish brand footholds abroad without the headaches of launching a standalone site.

To ensure the benefits are maximized for their own brands and not simply feeding that huge Amazon bottom line, merchants should curate marketplace product selections and track performance carefully. And they should explore other marketplace opportunities that offer visibility benefits, such as via Buy.com or Sears.com, and keep an eye on new upstarts like Jet.com, set to launch this spring, which is set to offer marketplace shopping to members.

Use mobile to spotlight service. With mobile serving as the primary connector between offline and online, eCommerce and social, merchants should do their utmost to ensure that mobile shoppers feel supported by customer service. By making proactive, individualized service a centerpiece of brand offerings on mobile devices — which are now the primary way shoppers connect with brands — merchants can distinguish themselves from Amazon, whose size demands a less service-obsessed approach.

MarketLive merchant Peruvian Connection puts customer service links front and center on its mobile site, with helpful information such as a sizing guide presented along with standard service links such as “contact us”. A toll-free customer service link anchored in the footer ensures mobile shoppers can always reach a live person from any page on the site.

Mobile customer service example from Peruvian Connection

Bridge in-store and online to create an immersive brand experience. Merchants with brick-and-mortar locations have a distinct advantage over Amazon: the ability to combine the depth of product information online with the concrete experience of touching and trying items in-store and accessing face to face assistance with shopping decisions. And thanks to the ubiquity of smartphones, the opportunity to create such an immersive experience has never been greater; technology researcher Forrester estimates that 68% of shoppers use their phones in stores.

Merchants should ensure that device-empowered shoppers in store can access the brand resources they need in a swift and seamless manner, and further differentiate their brands by giving store associates access to online information and training in guiding shoppers toward a purchase decision. Currently, shoppers have low expectations of retail floor staff: close to 60% of consumers believe they’re more knowledgeable than store staff about pricing and product availability, even as 54% say they would buy more from stores where associates were knowledgeable.

MarketLive merchant Sport Chalet opened a downtown Los Angeles outlet in 2013 featuring tablet stations throughout the store where shoppers can browse the brand’s entire product offering, consult reviews and in-depth product information, and seek live help from store experts.

Sport Chalet unified store example

How are you positioning your brand for success against the commerce giants?

Key messaging moments for winning engagement and sales

Email marketing continues to be the workhorse of eCommerce marketing campaigns. Less sexy than social media or paid search remarketing, but decidedly profitable, email remains a top tool in merchants’ marketing arsenals.

But while merchants who rely on “batch and blast” messages may still realize strong ROI on email for now, fundamental changes in the way shoppers interact with brands require new strategies for delivering effective and profitable messages.

Topping the list of changes, of course, is the impact of mobile. Fully 59% of retail email messages are now opened on either smartphones or tablets, according to technology reseacher Forrester — making adoption of a “mobile-first” email mindset essential.

mobilefirst

Given the primacy of mobile, any consideration of email strategy should also factor in SMS campaigns, which can be an effective sales tool — but not by merely replicating email messaging content. To craft an effective dual-messaging strategy for smartphone users, merchants must understand key differences between SMS and email touchpoints, and capitalize on their unique benefits.

The second major change for merchants to contend with is personalization. As more and more brands adopt personalization techniques, the evidence is mounting that — privacy concerns aside — consumers respond positively to tailored products, content and offers. More than two-thirds of shoppers want to receive personalized emails, the E-Tailing Group and MyBuys found. The payoff for merchants is potentially significant: technology researcher Gartner predicts that by 2018, brands that have invested in personalization will outperform by 30% those that have not.

In short, when it comes to messaging, shoppers’ context matters, and most likely, that context involves using a mobile device. Merchants who can transform email marketing into situational messaging — matching recipients’ needs, location and budget — are poised to stand out among the competition and reap substantial gains. To get started, merchants should:

Adopt a “less is more” attitude — especially via SMS. While consumers by and large are receptive toward email, with nearly one in four saying it’s a great way to learn about products and offers, there’s a limit to the goodwill — and the attention span. Fully half of shoppers say they rarely receive an attention-grabbing email, and fully 58% confess that they often delete marketing messages as soon as they’re received, according to the MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey. More than a third say they open most of their emails on their phone, but don’t pay as much attention to them as when opening messages on a computer.

Data from the ML Consumer Shopping Survey about email

To fight against this ennui, merchants should focus on quality versus quantity and on relevance over frequency. By delivering only those messages that match the recipient’s interests, merchants demonstrate that every email they send is worth reading.

 

The need to downshift frequency is especially acute for SMS campaigns. Because text messaging is not only a one-to-one medium, but an immediate one — with 90% of text messages being read within 3 minutes, by some counts — merchants should exercise caution with the timing and frequency of their messages to avoid crossing the line from relevant to intrusive.

Build a trigger-based, personalized strategy. To trim frequency, merchants should build their messaging strategy around delivering the most relevant possible message in the right format following key events and at purchase decision points. Among the situations that merit tailored messaging:

  • On signup. The “welcome email” has been a best practice for years, but merchants should update it by extending their messaging into a series that offers new subscribers a taste of the myriad ways the brand can serve them, with links to social media and value-added content alongside discount and product offers. Merchants should modernize these messages by incorporating personalized product assortments of items previously browsed and others like them, and additionally should tailor design and content depending on whether shoppers are using mobile devices or computers.While SMS subscribers likely don’t want an extensive series of welcome messages, merchants should consider sending an invitation to join the brand community via the flagship web site or social media.
  • On store visit. Subscribers who consult the store locator or reserve items for in-store pickup should be alerted to in-store events and deals. Once at the store location, subscribers who download product content via QR code promotions or otherwise interact with the brand’s online offerings can be sent coupons for redemption during their visit.
  • On wish list activity — on-site or on social. Shoppers who establish a wish list can be reminded to share it with friends. They can also be alerted when wish list items go on sale or are almost out of stock.Merchants should also be aware of opportunities to message to social media users who’ve established wish list type collections. On Pinterest, for example, shoppers can receive alerts when pinned items go on sale — a service merchants can tap by optimizing their products for “rich pins”, especially for items featured in promoted pins.
  • On cart abandonment. Just a third of merchants in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 and Second 500 send emails following cart abandonment, Listrak found — a definite missed opportunity, as abandonment emails can spur purchasing at 19 times the rate of regular promotional emails, according to Experian. Personalization is the key to driving maximum ROI from cart recovery emails: messages that displayed the exact item(s) left in the cart were more than 200% effective than generic “you have items in your cart” reminders.abandonBecause so many shoppers now use the cart for research, and as a repository of saved items to consider later on their desktop computers or in stores, merchants should craft their messages as reminders and offer the full range of options for completing the sale, spotlighting information about in-store pickup or reservation options as well as a link to buy online.
  • On purchase. Merchants have long known they can take advantage of the series of transactional messages following an online order to further promote brand offerings. Now they have the opportunity to do the same for in-store shoppers, by offering to send an e-receipt via email or text message.  Merchants can build out the series of post-transactional messages with invitations to contribute reviews and, for replenishment items, reminders that it’s time to purchase again.

How has your messaging strategy changed for 2015?