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.

Follow the retailers to unified shopping success – MarketLive Performance Index

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

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

MarketLive Performance Index data

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Content example from Beauty Brands

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

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

Online promotion of in-store services from DWR

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

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

Loyalty club support from Cost Plus

Signage promoting mobile loyalty club features

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

When to jump on the bandwagon – and when to go it alone

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

The old adage came to mind last Wednesday, as headlines about Amazon’s Prime Day sales event peppered news feeds and email inboxes were full of discount offers — and not just from Amazon itself. While the competing sale offered by Wal-Mart grabbed most of the media attention, dozens of retailers calendared deep discounts and free shipping days to coincide with Prime Day in an effort to ride Amazon’s coattails to a revenue high.

These sales events, while competing with Amazon for shopping dollars on the big day, were at the same time tacit endorsements of the mega-merchant’s power — “allowing Amazon to wag the Internet,” as one analyst put it. The world’s top Internet merchant, in effect, created a sales event out of nowhere, and achieved Black Friday-like revenue results.

Third-party marketplace merchants on Amazon also enjoyed a bounce, with sales 93% higher than the comparable date last year. Other merchants who jumped on the bandwagon may have seen their boat rise with the tide — or they may have inadvertently reminded their customers to check out Amazon’s event instead.

The question of whether to join forces with big players or to go it alone is relevant beyond Prime Day. In fact, with the ultra-competitive holiday season on the horizon, it may be more crucial than ever.

In our opinion, merchants who engage with their larger competitors via marketplaces and other tactics stand to gain visibility and new audiences they would otherwise be unable to achieve. The key is to strike a balance and, moving beyond the initial sale, to engage those shoppers to interact directly with their own brands. Among our recommendations for when to jump on the bandwagon — and when not to:

When to join:

  • Gain mobile visibility via social networks. Mobile is now the default touchpoint for social networking, with some 71% of social traffic now originating on mobile devices; and the latest crop of fast-growing social sites, such as Instagram and social-messaging services such as Snapchat and WhatsApp, are designed primarily for mobile users. As a result, merchants with brand outposts on social networks have another avenue for reaching shoppers via their mobile devices — one they can capitalize on by ensuring that relevant customer service and content links are fully integrated in the social environment and by stimulating connections with brand-owned resources. And with the new spate of “buy” buttons debuting on social networks, the time may soon come when those social pathways lead even directly to purchase.
  • Leverage mobile payment options. Use of mobile wallets is forecast to rise steeply in the next few years, rising from 3% of U.S. shoppers today to 18-20% by 2018. So merchants would do well to assess which payment provider is the best potential partner, track whether third-party marketplaces are offering integrated mobile payments, and survey customers to understand their interest in and usage of mobile payments.

When to go solo:

  • There’s no substitute for native mobile prowess. While merchants can partner their way to increased mobile visibility, that heightened consumer awareness will lead nowhere unless brand sites are usable and offer a seamless transition from device to screen to physical store location. If they haven’t already, merchants should invest in fully optimizing their mobile Web sites, whether through responsive design or as a standalone offering, and devise the means to track meaningful mobile performance data.
  • Give loyal customers a home in a brand-owned community. While social networking on the leading sites such as Facebook and Instagram is a good way to attract a new audience and invite existing followers to take action, ultimately merchants should establish direct relationships with their best customers — and feature their contributions — within the walls of their own brand’s flagship site. Such “owned” communities aren’t subject to the vagaries of social networks’ algorithm changes, privacy policy revisions or functionality upgrades. Loyalty club content and perks can be incorporated into the community to encourage members to use the site, alongside expert content and user-submitted video and/or images. Offering discussion forums and the ability to vote on ideas for improvement gives the floor to consumers in a meaningful way.

Fitness company and MarketLive merchant Beachbody provides customers with a comprehensive community that offers training support, recipes, and more for those who aim to get in shape. Content such as customer testimonials and tips are cross-posted to Facebook, but valuable lookup tools for finding workout trainers and partners are exclusive to the brand’s site — as is content from the message boards and direct-messaging capability.

Cmmunity example from Beachbody

How are you leveraging partnerships with big players, and what areas does your brand “own”? And why?

How to make apps work for your brand — whether you build one or not

Conventional wisdom these days dictates that merchants forgo mobile apps. We ourselves have recommended that merchants should prioritize perfecting their mobile Web sites, which can be accessed using devices’ native browsers or via mobile search results, over investing time and money in custom-built programs shoppers download to their devices. The advent of responsive design, which enables maintenance of mobile, tablet and desktop sites from a single base of code, makes mobile apps even more obviously a stretch, as they require separate updates and integrations.

Nonetheless, there’s a compelling argument to be made for building a branded app, and that argument is based on the bottom line. As MarketLive founder Ken Burke notes in “Where’s Your App?” on the eTail Blog, apps drove 44% of mobile commerce sales in 2014, and app-savvy merchants such as Neiman Marcus and Victoria’s Secret credit as much as 60% of their mobile sales to their apps.

So while apps are no substitute for a solid mobile Web site, merchants may find they’re worth undertaking if they can design an experience that delivers unique functionality and efficiency, such as mobile payments or loyalty club features. As Burke describes it:

Retailers seeking committed users need to ensure their app provides shoppers with something of value. Think outside the desktop toward unique mobile-enhanced experiences rather than just replicating what your web site does. … When developing your app think, “What can only be done using a smartphone?”

As an example, Burke cites The Home Depot, which takes advantage of the portability of mobile devices and their built-in cameras to enable shoppers to “see” how products would look in their homes using an “augmented reality” app.

App example from Home Depot

In addition to detailing the pros and cons of apps, Burke offers advice to those merchants who still can’t see their way to prioritizing app development. By piggybacking on other successful apps, Burke says, brands can achieve visibility and forge customer connections.

Read the full Etail Blog article, and then let us know your app strategy and the rationale behind it.

How to overcome security concerns for the holidays

As merchants prepare for the 2015 holiday season, they’ll need to overcome lingering malaise about information and payment security. The good news is that online touchpoints can play a starring role in the effort.

Thanks to a series of high-profile security breaches since late 2013, from Target to Neiman Marcus to Michael’s to Home Depot, shoppers are jittery about the safety of their transactions, with repercussions for merchants’ bottom line. Fully 45% of all shoppers say they don’t trust merchants to keep  their information safe, according to the marketing firm Retail Perceptions; a third say they’ve hesitated to make purchases online due to security concerns, and 29% have been reluctant to make purchases at physical stores, according to BizRate Insights.

Of those who’ve actually experienced a data breach, more than a third say they’ll shop at the targeted retailer less frequently, and a third say they shared their experiences via social media. Of those who do persist with the brand whose data was breached, 26% say they intentionally spend less.

And lest merchants think the nervousness is confined to tech-averse oldsters, data from defense specialist Raytheon reveals that even Millennials (aged 18-24) are pessimistic about online data security. Four in five are concerned that personal information can be collected about them online, 77% worry about identity theft — and more than one in four have abandoned a shopping transaction due to security concerns.

If there’s a silver lining for eCommerce merchants, it’s that online shopping on desktop or laptop computers is actually considered the most secure shopping touchpoint, edging out brick-and-mortar stores by two percentage points, according to BizRate — likely because those big data breaches in the past year were via retail store point of sale terminals. Not surprisingly, mobile was considered the least secure, with 65% of shoppers saying merchants didn’t offer enough in the way of security for transacting and sharing information via their devices.

Perceptions of information security from BizRateCounteracting these negative perceptions and earning trust is crucial to winning sales, especially during the upcoming holiday season, when shoppers’ gift research could bring them into contact with new brands whose security track record is unknown.  While it’s likely too late to enact basic technology upgrades in support of PCI compliance, encryption and tokenization, there’s still time for merchants to make strides on the security front and spotlight their commitment to keeping shoppers’ information safe. Among the strategies:

Tighten internal controls — especially with an mPOS rollout. Revising and enforcing internal business rules that can close a substantial portion of security loopholes. Just 38% of breaches are caused by actual hacking from external sources, according to the Online Trust Alliance, whereas fully 29% arose from a lack of internal controls such as password policies, and 21% were caused by lost or stolen company devices, equipment or documents. Especially as more and more store associates begin using online brand resources and facilitating purchases via mobile points-of-sale, having security policies and procedures and taking them seriously are essential.

Adopt alternative payments. As we’ve stressed repeatedly over the years, alternative payments can allay shoppers’ fears by giving them a means to complete purchases without entering credit card data. Offering a quick shortcut through checkout is especially important for mobile shoppers, who not only need extra reassurance that their transactions are safe but also are hard-pressed to peck out numerous form fields using a handheld device’s keyboard.

Merchants who offer alternative payments should promote them well before the cart and checkout, so shoppers know they can complete their transactions safely and efficiently from the get-go. MarketLive merchant Sport Chalet promotes its affiliation with Visa Checkout prominently on the front page and even offers a promotional discount to those using the service.

Alt payment example from Sport ChaletEnable a saved cart. Give shoppers the flexibility to complete checkout wherever they most feel comfortable doing so. With desktop or laptop eCommerce sites perceived as least lacking in security features, mobile shoppers may well wait to complete orders until they get home.

Watch the horizon for still more options. Not only should merchants be considering mobile payments, especially in connection with their mobile apps and loyalty programs, but they should keep an eye out for further innovations as vendors jostle to offer the ultimate seamless-and-secure payment solution. One such cutting-edge technology employs facial recognition software to tie shoppers to their stored payment data using selfies snapped on a mobile phone. While futuristic-sounding, this payment method is already offered by the firm Etup on college campuses — and Chinese commerce giant Alibaba debuted “Smile to Pay” in March, with plans to launch it widely coming soon.

How do you put shoppers’ minds at ease when it comes to payment and personal information security?

Why “easy” internationalization is still harder than it looks – and how to tackle it anyway

As the middle of the year approaches and merchants start looking beyond the holidays to map out their core priorities for 2016, internationalization is high on the list for many. And with good reason: while U.S. online commerce is forecast to grow by a healthy 12% this year, and to average gains of 10% through 2019, other countries are experiencing more marked growth. Nascent markets in Asia and India are expected to see online sales jump by more than 20% by 2019, and even the relatively mature European market represents an opportunity to capture significant new audiences. While the United Kingdom’s eCommerce growth rate is forecast to average just 9.1% over the next three years, for example, those sales will represent 18% of all retail transactions in 2018. By comparison, in the same year in the U.S., online revenues are set to make up just 12% of retail sales.

When contemplating launch into new markets, merchants understandably cast their eyes first toward markets that seem “easier”: the Canada, the U.K., and Australia, where language and cultural barriers appear minimal. And these three countries represent a significant sales opportunity:

  • The U.K. is currently Europe’s largest eCommerce market, forecast to generate more than 56 billion Euros in revenue this year.
  • In Canada, year-over-year growth of 15% is forecast for the second year in a row in 2015, bringing total eCommerce revenues to more than 25 billion Canadian dollars. eCommerce giant Amazon has seized the opportunity, announcing this week that it now offers 100 million products through its Canadian site and speciality shopping hubs for fashion and shoes.
  • Australia is forecast to generate $28.9 billion in eCommerce revenues this year — with much of it in play for cross-border companies, thanks to a friendly duty-free import allowance.

But merchants tempted to jump into business abroad armed with little more than an eCommerce site in local currency should consider recent failures by some of the U.S.’s biggest brands. Target closed the last of its Canadian outlets in April after a two-year fiasco that included supply chain problems and a glaring lack of eCommerce. Coffee juggernaut Starbucks pulled out of Australia after products failed to resonate with local tastes. Best Buy ended efforts to expand into the U.K. in 2011 and ceased all European operations in 2013.  And, proving that cross-border difficulties go both ways, in 2013 U.K. retailer Tesco sold off its Fresh and Easy stores on the West coast of the U.S.

These high-profile flops suggest that even English-speaking countries represent a significant expansion challenge for U.S. brands. Subtle but significant cultural differences abound; fulfillment and supply chain logistics are complicated by geographic distance and legal fine print; and in Canada, merchants must develop a strategy for serving the 22% of the population claiming French as their mother tongue — including 80% of residents in Canada’s second-largest city, Montreal.

Among the factors merchants must consider before making the leap:

Mobile readiness. In many parts of the world, mobile is even more ubiquitous than in the U.S., with some populations using mobile devices as their primary means of accessing the Web. In Australia, one in five consumers researches purchases on smartphones at least weekly, while 16% report making purchases. By 2018, 49% of all European online retail transactions are forecast to take place on mobile devices; the U.K. specifically is set to see an average growth rate of 36% year over year. That means a “mobile-first” strategy must not only be an ideal, but concrete reality for merchants wishing to expand abroad; they must offer full-featured mobile sites on a par with local competitors. In the U.K., department store Debenhams offers a rich mobile experience, complete with reviews and easy-to-scan delivery information, and also gives shoppers the option of app downloads that incorporate barcode scanning in stores and tracking loyalty club points for beauty purchases.


Order fulfillment nimbleness. In densely-populated areas, two-day shipping can be the norm, with some brands offering same-day delivery as a differentiating service. Merchants must weigh whether they can compete on local terms using their own supply and delivery networks, and at what cost. In Canada, the postal service has been a key player in online commerce shipment options. A new service gives shoppers the ability to direct individual orders to post offices for pickup, while the Delivered Tonight program has been in operation since 2013 offering same-day shipping in greater Toronto and Vancouver — a service Amazon is now matching.


“Lite” alternatives. We’ve previously addressed how brands can test the waters abroad by offering international shipping from U.S. sites and selling in marketplaces internationally. Merchants should also delve into local social media sites to build interest and check out the competition; that might mean establishing outposts on sites still nascent in the U.S., such as mobile/social messaging services in Asia. Merchants can also consider using new “buy” button alternatives on social media and mobile search as an alternative to launching full-fledged eCommerce efforts.

MarketLive merchant Ylang 23 relies on Borderfree to fulfill shipments to more than 100 countries. The integration includes localized currency sitewide and duties and taxes calculated in checkout.


Whose “boots on the ground” can help. Brands opting to launch full-fledged eCommerce efforts should either establish their own base of operations in target countries, or consider partnerships that can provide access to native knowledge of the local industry, trends and culture. Agencies, fulfillment partners, distributors, technology providers and manufacturers’ retail outlets can all provide valuable insights and best practices.

Local privacy laws and norms.  As we’ve touched on previously, European sites must now disclose use of cookies to track shopping behavior, a mandate merchants considering U.K. expansion must mind. But beyond the letter of the law, merchants should understand what data collection practices are considered acceptable and adhere to local standards. By some counts, Europe and Asia are more lax in attitudes toward privacy; fully 86% of Americans agreed with the statement, “Consumers have lost control of their privacy,” while only 76% of European and 74% of Asia-Pacific consumers did so.

Are you operating internationally, or do you plan to make the leap in 2016? How and why?