Why relevance is paramount in 2016 – webinar preview

Our last post enumerated ways merchants can keep the momentum of a successful holiday season going. But to see lasting success in 2016 and beyond, merchants must undertake a fundamental shift that goes beyond individual strategies: they must find ways to prove relevance, or risk being left behind with the laggards who must rely on scattershot results from generic shopping experiences.

Increasingly, shoppers seek a highly individualized relationship with brands they follow. More than half of consumers say it’s important for brands to recognize them personally, whether they choose to shop on screens or in stores. Brands that successfully deliver relevant experiences are rewarded with increased sales and loyalty: 53% of shoppers say they buy more from brands that tailor recommendations based on past purchases and browsing behavior. Similarly, failure to move beyond one-size-fits-all offerings results in diminished interest, with close to 40% of consumers reporting irritation when brands fail to take into account past interactions when sending marketing messages.

Given the heightened competition for consumer dollars online and the continual price pressure exerted by leading mass merchants such as Amazon, merchants can’t afford to risk alienating their audience. Indeed, delivering relevance is so crucial to commerce that technology research firm Gartner predicts that brands offering a fully-personalized experience will outsell those that don’t by 20% by 2018.

In an exclusive webinar set for this Thursday, Jan. 28, at 10 a.m. PST,  Ken Burke, founder of MarketLive (now Kibo), will examine the ramifications of the increasingly critical need for relevance, and identify the five trends for 2016 that will shape merchant priorities for optimizing touchpoints to deliver a unified and relevant experience.  They include:

  • “Buy anywhere” capabilities. Shoppers increasingly expect to transact anywhere that’s most convenient to them, and merchants should meet that expectation with swift, smooth, and secure transactions across touchpoints.
  • Universal inventory access. By making the brand’s entire inventory available to shoppers across touchpoints, merchants can make “out of stock” disappointment a rarity, and instead offer an array of order fulfillment options to suit their budget and timing needs.
  • Digital store experiences. Stores play a crucial role in connecting buyers with physical goods as well as live brand experts, and merchants should do their utmost to bring brand assets from outside the store walls into the experience.
  • Predictive insights. Using cutting-edge technologies, merchants can now marry big-data trend indicators with data from individual shoppers’ profiles to anticipate their next clicks and deliver ultra-relevant products and content.
  • Algorithmic merchandising. To meet shoppers’ expectations, merchants must optimize the on-site experience to the utmost using dynamic, data-rich merchandising – not a static hierarchy of rules.

In an experiment launched over the holidays, The North Face employed IBM’s Watson intelligence engine to match shoppers with jackets right for their needs after a brief Q-and-A to solicit input.

watson

Register for the webinar now to learn about the research behind the trends and the related strategies that will help merchants make relevance a reality — leading to heightened engagement, increased sales, and long-lasting loyalty.

Use holiday mobile success to justify further investment – here’s why — holiday flash report

The final numbers are in for the holiday season, and merchants have reason to be optimistic as they head into the New Year — especially when it comes to mobile sales, which showed vast improvement compared with 2015.

For the period starting December 28 and ending January 3, overall online revenues rose 9% year over year on traffic gains of 24%.  Those gains closely tracked results for the season as a whole (from the Monday before Thanksgiving through Sunday, January 3), which saw online sales improve 8% on a traffic increase of 21%.

Both in the post-holiday period and during the season overall, smartphone growth dominated the results. While traffic to eCommerce sites from smartphones rose only incrementally year over year, smartphone revenues shot up 45% in the post-season and 50% overall. The increased smartphone revenue was due in part to strong gains in smartphone average order value, which rose by 9% to over $140 — just $10 behind desktop AOV.

Holiday data from the marketLive Performance Index

The results speak to marked improvement in mobile shopping experiences compared with last year, when a significant number of brand sites still hadn’t been optimized for mobile users. Now, with solid gains to show for their 2015 last year’s mobile initiatives, merchants should feel confident going back to the table to fight for further investment.

The budget battle is worth having, because further improvements to the smartphone experience will be crucial in 2016. The functional but workmanlike mobile sites we encountered in our holiday surveys are by and large ill-equipped to meet rising consumer expectations for cross-screen relevance. In particular, merchants need to invest in:

Smartphone-targeted presentation, even with responsive design. While we’re strong advocates of responsive design for the access to optimized checkout and deep product content it has the potential to bring, that benefit has a corresponding potential drawback — the tendency to remove any specialized consideration for smartphone users’ needs beyond fitting content and offers to their screens. Designing truly differentiated experiences within a responsive framework — for example, by moving functions such as the store locator and click-to-call customer service front and center — requires significant coding prowess, it’s a necessary investment if merchants are to prove their brand’s relevance to smartphone shoppers.

Video-first content. With a third of video views occurring on mobile devices and with video an increasingly popular format for social networking, which is primarily conducted on mobile devices, merchants who provide ample video content are priming themselves for relevance to smartphone users. MarketLive merchant Group Publishing, a seller of ministry materials for churches, featured video prominently on its mobile home page on Dec. 26 with a “Watch” button for the featured product.

Mobile video example from Group Publishing

In-store optimization. Smartphones play a crucial role as connectors between online research and offline browsing and buying. Merchants should do more to support connections to online content in stores and to tailor those online views according to shoppers’ preferences and past brand interactions. Empowering store associates to access online content and customer records is a fundamental first step, with cutting-edge technologies such as beacons promising to help merchants deliver ever-more-nuanced smartphone services as shoppers move through the store.

How are holiday results impacting your 2016 priority list?

Mobile surges in peak buying period – holiday flash report

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

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

MarketLive Performance Index holiday data

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

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

Mobile holiday performance data from the MarketLive Performance Index

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

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

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

2014 holiday example from Francesca's

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

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

Mobile growth, sane discounts power sustainable holiday gains

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

Holiday season data from the MarketLive Performance Index

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

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

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

Black Friday example from DWR

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

Mobile commerce holiday data from the MarketLive Performance Index

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

Mobile commerce holiday data from the marketLive Performance Index

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

Party City mobile site

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

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

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

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

OVERALL RESULTS:

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

THANKSGIVING & BLACK FRIDAY RESULTS:

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

MarketLive Performance Index data from 2015 holidays

 

SOCIAL COMMERCE:

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

MOBILE COMMERCE:

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

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

Holiday Tip #2: Spotlight easy-pay options (and their alternatives) for mobile shoppers

With mobile shopping set to dominate the holiday season, but mobile buying still lagging behind mobile browsing, merchants should do their utmost to remove hurdles to purchase on smaller screens. Chief among them: mobile checkout.

The facts

Mobile buying is poised for a major breakthrough this holiday season. Last year, mobile buying accounted for 25% of online revenue — a 44% increase from 2013, according to the MarketLive Performance Index, and all indications are that 2015 will see further growth. Indeed, more than two-thirds of participants in the MarketLive/E-Tailing Group 2015 Consumer Shopping Survey had placed at least one order via a mobile device in the past year — and close to 20% had made more than 10 mobile purchases.

Data on mobile purchasing dfrom MarketLive

To improve on those numbers, though, merchants must remove significant impediments to purchase — checkout being chief among them. When asked what would spur survey participants to spend more via mobile devices, smoother checkouts and the availability of alternative payment options that circumvent checkout, such as Paypal, topped the wish list, and one-click checkout rounded out the top five.

Data on mobile purchasing from MarketLive

The action item

Merchants should tweak site presentation to highlight the availability of streamlined payment options — and promote workarounds if their checkouts aren’t fully optimized.

Merchants who offer alternative payments or one-click checkout should:

  • Consider a promotional email spotlighting alternative payments — with a discount. Since the majority of emails are now opened on mobile devices, promoting alternative payment usage to subscribers can spur mobile engagement and sales.
  • Boost visibility before the cart and checkout. Promoting quick checkout on the mobile home page and on product pages, which may also serve as landing pages for mobile searchers, is a smart move, as it enables shoppers to focus on finding the ideal gift picks without worrying about order completion.

Those making do without quick checkout options should especially prioritize these best practices — which are, in fact, applicable to all merchants, as they demonstrate the brand’s flexibility in supporting cross-touchpoint purchasing :

  • Highlight the ease and availability of wish lists and saved carts. Enabling shoppers to save items of interest so they can access them later for purchase via a computer — or offline — helps connect touchpoints seamlessly.
  • Amp up abandoned cart triggered messaging. With shopping cart abandonment now becoming de rigeur, and with mobile abandonment rates still outpacing computer rates by a wide margin, follow-up emails are essential. Personalizing abandonment emails to feature the specific product under consideration gives shoppers a shortcut to resume purchasing later on another screen.
  • Enable ubiquitous click-to-call and live chat. Ensure that mobile shoppers can complete transactions live in person with handy access to customer service on small screens.
  • Use browser detection tools to deliver a proactive targeted message. Shoppers on mobile devices can receive custom messaging encouraging them to return, as on MarketLive merchant Brickhouse Security’s site. Shoppers who enter their email addresses receive an incentive to visit again.

Mobile example from Brickhouse SecurityWatch for more holiday tips daily this week and check out MarketLive’s holiday resource center for the latest holiday research.

3 best practices to boost on-site search for mobile in 2016

On-site search continues to be an unsung hero for eCommerce merchants, driving higher conversion rates than browsing alone. But most brands don’t consider on-site search a top priority, even as the rapid growth of mobile shopping makes efficient wayfinding more important than ever. To remedy this problem, merchants should devote what resources they can to making their on-site search “mobile-first”.

In a world where “Google” is a verb as well as a noun, close to two-thirds of the online population uses the Internet to research products and brands, according to technology researcher Forrester. Up to 30% of shoppers specifically use on-site search on eCommerce sites, according to marketing services firm eConsultancy; they’re often late-stage researchers ready to hone in on specific products to purchase, which partially explains why visits that include on-site search lead to orders at a rate 1.8 times higher than visits based purely on browsing, eConsultancy says.

But even faced with these results, many online brands give on-site search short shrift when it comes to prioritizing investments. When asked by Forrester to rank technology priorities, just 13% of online professionals rank on-site search as a top priority.

That’s a shame, because with the rise of mobile commerce, the need is increasingly acute for search tools that help shoppers winnow options efficiently and accurately — taking into account prior shopping behavior, location and other factors to maximize relevance — all within the constraints of smartphone screen real estate. More than one in five participants in the MarketLive/E-Tailing Group 2015 Consumer Shopping Survey said that faster mobile search would spur them to do more shopping via their devices.

As merchants move into 2016 planning, they should examine whether their on-site search tools are up to the challenge, and optimize them accordingly. Among the top “mobile-first” guidelines to apply:

Don’t make them (re)type. Saving keystrokes is crucial on mobile devices, where shoppers are looking to avoid the tedium of pecking out keyword terms on tiny touchscreens. When it comes to on-site search in particular, avoiding repeated entry of search terms is crucial — which means fine-tuning settings to be both more forgiving and more precise. On-site search should:

  • Offer helpful autocomplete suggestions. The key word here is “helpful.” As shoppers type a search term, they should see suggestions that match with relevant products and categories and that don’t overlap. Merely displaying search log matches isn’t sufficient, as they can be repetitive and lead to zero results pages; merchants should curate the autocomplete suggestions for popular terms to display a meaningful set of options.
  • Enable search by product number/product ID/catalog ID. More than 15% of top eCommerce sites in a recent survey by Smashing Magazine failed to enable this function, which is especially critical for in-store researchers using information on the shelf tag to locate relevant online product content.
  • Account for misspellings. Especially on mobile devices, it’s all too easy for stray characters to find their way into search terms. Merchants should compensate by offering “Did you mean …?” suggestions on the results page — especially when it comes to specific product names, which 18% of sites in the Smashing survey failed to accommodate with alternate suggestions.
  • Find matches for the terms shoppers know. Fully 70% of sites in the Smashing survey insisted that shoppers use the site’s lingo in their keyword terms — failing to return results for “hair dryers” as opposed to  “blow dryers”, for example. Learning a site’s preferred terminology through multiple trial-and-error search attempts is a tedious game mobile shoppers especially are unlikely to play for long.
  • Display the original keyword term in the search box on the results page. More than two-thirds of shoppers need two or more queries to locate their desired results, Smashing found, but just one-third of sites enabled them to quickly narrow their results further by adding additional qualifiers to their original search term, without retyping it.

Offer advanced sort and filter, designed for small screens. Faceted search, which enables shoppers to cull search results using product attributes such as size or color, can be invaluable for maximizing search efficiency. But merchants must implement faceted search thoughtfully and design the presentation with small screens in mind. Merchants should:

  • Get the right mix of attributes. Long lists of facets are off-putting, leading more than half of participants in a study by the E-Tailing Group/Compare Metrics to say that eCommerce sites are overwhelming. That’s doubly true on the small screen, where scrolling through an endless selection of filtering options is onerous. Unless their audience demands it, merchants should avoid using overly technical attributes while ensuring shoppers can see what results provide the right fit or style for their needs. At the same time, merchants shouldn’t overlook merchandising- and fulfillment-related attributes, such as the option to display items qualifying for free shipping — and on mobile devices, factoring in offline fulfillment options, such as items available for in-store pickup, is crucial.
  • Enable selection of more than one attribute before narrowing results. Merchants should give shoppers the option of selecting multiple facets before sending the filter command, so that the mobile site doesn’t grind to a halt processing multiple requests at once to narrow the search results set.
  • Make it easy to back out. Fully 73% of participants in the E-Tailing/Compare Metrics study said they believed that selecting specific attributes or filters would eliminate products that were actually relevant to their needs, so it’s crucial to offer a quick means of restoring the full results set. On mobile devices, that means prominently displaying which facets are in play and giving shoppers the option to eliminate them on the spot without having to return to the full attribute list, which is often tucked away in an accordion-style menu.

MarketLive merchant Wilson’s Leather flags its faceted search options at the top of the search results page, and gives shoppers a succinct list of options to choose from. Once selected, facets are displayed prominently and can be eliminated individually using the X next to each, or all selections can be reversed with the “Reset all” option.

mobile search example from Wilson's Leather

Localize the results. On mobile devices, context is everything — and that imperative extends to on-site search, where combining product results with geographic data based on device location can provide a new level of relevance for shoppers. Localized results are especially important for brick-and-mortar retailers, who should incorporate options such as in-store availability as faceted search attributes.

Brands without physical store outlets can also take advantage of geographic data to increase on-site search relevance. One way to do so is via fulfillment options — for example, the ability to filter results to display products that can be delivered to the shopper’s region in time for Christmas, or items that are available for overnight delivery. Another is to highlight matching products that are local best-sellers, or to

As with faceted search, it’s crucial for merchants to ensure that shoppers can always access the “generic” search results that aren’t influenced by geographic input, whether by re-sorting the results set or switching to a different tab displaying all matches available both online and offline. And as always, merchants must seek permission to access geographic location data and to message how the brand intends to use the information to improve relevance, so that the on-site search results don’t raise flags when it comes to privacy.

Watch for more 2016 planning guidance in the months to come, and meantime, let us know how your on-site search strategy has evolved to serve mobile shoppers — and do they use it?

Last-minute mobile upgrades for the holidays

As the holidays approach, the question on many merchants’ minds isn’t whether mobile is important, but rather just how much growth they’ll see in mobile sales, visit and engagement.

While a total mobile overhaul isn’t feasible before the holiday rush, merchants can still tweak their mobile offerings in seven crucial areas to improve the shopping experience.

Last year, mobile usage surged by 50%, with a quarter of all online revenue in Q4 attributable to mobile devices — and all indications are that this year is is poised to see total mobile dominance. With fully three-quarters of brand interactions occurring on mobile devices as of the second quarter of this year, and with prognosticators estimating that online will influence a whopping two-thirds of all retail sales this holiday season, mobile couldn’t be more crucial.

That’s all well and good for merchants who are sitting pretty with highly-optimized mobile sites. But for the majority of brands, mobile remains a work in progress — which means that there’s still room for improvement in the final weeks before holiday shopping hits its peak. In his latest post for the eTail Blog, MarketLive founder and CEO Ken Burke reassures merchants that they have time to enact seven relatively simple, but crucial changes to their offerings to position themselves for mobile success.

Among the winning tactics: adding social sharing buttons to mobile site product pages. These tools are often given short shrift on mobile due to the constraints of screen real estate, but as Burke points out, “share” buttons are a gateway to higher brand visibility around the Web:

Social media has more influence on shoppers than current attribution models can show. Almost half of social media users report discovering new products via social media, and 36% recommend products themselves. Let those products be yours.

Burke cites MarketLive merchant Wilson’s Leather for pervasive placement of social sharing buttons; wish list and “forward to a friend” links complete the range of options for shoppers to save and pass along product information via their mobile devices.

Social sharing buttons for mobile - example from Wilson's Leather

Read the full eTail Blog post for all 7 last-minute mobile tips — and stay tuned right here for further holiday planning advice.

The 3 essential criteria to consider when assessing new eCommerce vendors

With the online commerce landscape undergoing frequent seismic changes, agility has become a key criterion for assessing potential eCommerce platform vendors. The prospect of new mobile devices and formats and new social media outlets, along with ever-growing consumer expectations for a unified online/offline shopping experience, are among the reasons merchants seek to “future-proof” their sites and vendors promise to deliver infinitely-expanding capabilities.

Dials that go to 11 from "This is Spinal Tap"Merchants who’ve done their homework by thoroughly mapping core strategies and existing technology needs are ahead of the game, but the challenge is still acute. Not only must they separate fact from fiction when it comes to vendors’ claims about existing technologies, but they must also forecast what changes their brands will require in the years ahead, and assess which providers are best suited to adapt and innovate to meet their requirements.

Furthermore, it’s crucial that merchants enlarge the scope of their inquiry beyond futuristic features and formats to ensure that vendors have a solid foundation on which to innovate. As merchants contemplating a 2016 replatforming move into vendor selection mode, they should be sure to assess to following:

Flexibility. Some vendors may promise the ability to adapt their own platform to meet every future demand, and the ability to build custom or new features within their core technology is table stakes for online merchants. Vendors’ practices surrounding upgrades and new features are therefore essential to assess, via both detailed information from the vendor and conversations with existing clients.

But expecting an eCommerce platform to handle every item on the laundry list of feature requests from across the organization is unrealistic. Rather, merchant sites are often at the nexus of a network of technology partners and must be able to interface seamlessly with both online service providers and internal systems. That galaxy of potential third-party integrations is vast, with more than 1,000 companies in the online marketing space alone, by some counts. Merchants must ascertain whether a platform provider’s technology interfaces easily with others and whether key integrations are already part of the offering.

Performance. While the ability to innovate is crucial, all the fresh features in the world are meaningless if the site is unavailable to shoppers due to performance failures. Rising consumer expectations for swift delivery of eCommerce content on all devices means that even brands whose sites are merely poky can suffer irreparable damage.  A 1-second delay in load time is said to equate to an 11% loss of page views, a 16% decrease in customer satisfaction, and a 7% conversion deficit, according to performance monitoring firm Gomez.

Nowhere is the need for speed more acute than in the fast-growing realm of mobile shopping. Close to 40% of shoppers report dissatisfaction with the mobile shopping experience, with the top reasons being slow load times and inaccessibility, according to cloud services provider Akamai. Given that half of users say they’ll abandon a web site they can’t access for another to get their needs fulfilled, and 22% say they won’t return to problematic Web sites, it’s crucial to serve the growing audience of mobile shoppers with swift performance.

To address performance concerns, merchants considering hosted eCommerce solutions must assess how vendors will help their brands scale — both during temporary traffic spikes and for long-term growth. Hosting architecture, partnerships with content delivery networks, and expertise in responsive design techniques that enable efficient multi-touchpoint support are all key components to investigate.

Security. Even as the sophistication of shoppers increases, insecurity about data security remains a chief hurdle to purchasing online.  Of those who say they don’t buy through eCommerce Web sites, the percentage who cite security concerns as the reason has actually increased year over year, from 41% to 43%, professional services firm PwC found. And for the growing number of shoppers who are browsing and researching on mobile devices, the perceived lack of security is among the leading reasons they don’t go on to buy, with two-thirds of consumers saying they’re wary of financial information being hacked on their phones, PwC found.

For merchants, the security shoppers seek is no longer just a matter of keeping credit card data safe. With the increasing number of interactions and data transfers occurring between component parts of an eCommerce site and its related systems, merchants must track an increasing number of potential vulnerabilities. For those contemplating a new eCommerce platform, with or without Web hosting, it’s essential to not only catalog who’s responsible for which data handoffs and firewalls, but to assess the potential eCommerce technology providers’ depth of commitment to staying abreast of the latest security threats and standards. Merchants should quiz potential vendors on PCI DSS security certification, the ability to offer alternative payments that don’t require credit card data entry, and threat monitoring capabilities.

As merchants move ahead with replatforming plans, they need more than a solid eCommerce technology platform to serve as the foundation for their business – they need a partner to enhance their business with experience, technical know-how, and a galaxy of third-party vendor connections to enable swift deployment of cutting-edge competitive features. By rigorously assessing capabilities when it comes to supporting new feature development, scaling performance to accommodate growth, and protecting data from malicious attacks, merchants can accurately discern which eCommerce providers are ready for the challenge.

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

Successful replatforming in 2016 starts with the right shopping list now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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