Making the case for responsive design – from ROI Magazine

While we’re on the topic of 2015 priorities, now seems the ideal time to revisit responsive design. Building a single code base to serve different versions of merchant sites depending on whether shoppers are using mobile devices or desktop/laptop computers is not a project to be undertaken lightly.

But as MarketLive CEO Ken Burke argues in a recent edition of Retail Online Integration Magazine, for most merchants responsive design represents the best solution for navigating a multi-touchpoint commerce landscape.

Burke writes:

“Most merchants can’t afford to build or manage new platforms for every new device to come down the pike, but responsive commerce uses templates that can easily be adapted and optimized for all existing devices as well as those around the corner, effectively ‘future proofing’ sites by preparing them for changes ahead.”

Mobile site experience improvements due to responsive design implementations for MarketLive clients have resulted in mobile conversion rate improvements of up to 100 percent, Burke reports. With most merchants still seeing mobile traffic far outpace mobile revenue, it’s clear that most eCommerce sites could benefit from such a lift.

While responsive is a worthy project to consider — especially in tandem with a redesign or replatforming project that also requires significant code changes — Burke cautions the move may not be right for everyone. The investment in time and dollars is significant, and merchants whose target audience largely doesn’t shop via mobile device yet may be able to justify delay.

“Every organization will have to make its own careful assessment of the pros and cons of responsive commerce before making the call,” Burke writes. At the end of the day, however, Burke considers responsive design implementation to be “a necessary cost of doing business in a multidevice world.”

The upcoming holiday season is an ideal time to gather data to support a responsive redesign. Merchants should track device usage, mobile revenue, the influence of mobile touchpoints on in-store sales — as well as “lost opportunity” data such as mobile cart and checkout abandonment and “bounce” rates — to quantify how responsive could boost holiday sales in 2015.

Read the full ROI Magazine article for a comprehensive overview of responsive design, including checklists of pros and cons.

Will you implement responsive design in the year ahead — or have you done it already? Why or why not?

Webinar recap: what savvy multi-touchpoint shoppers seek this holiday season

The so-called “360-degree view” of the customer is something of a holy grail for merchants. When it comes to presenting shoppers with relevant products and offers, sellers aim to combine data from in-store, online and mobile activity to create a holistic understanding of how their customers behave.

Last week’s 2014 MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey webinar revealed that the “360-degree view” is important to shoppers, too — but with a twist. As consumers become more savvy and conduct shopping research on mobile devices as well as on desktop computers and in stores, they favor brands that present a unified message across touchpoints, making consistency a crucial differentiator this holiday season.

When asked which components of the brand experience should be consistent and which could be different, a high percentage of consumers said consistency was ideal nearly across the board.

Shopping survey results

Perhaps not surprisingly given holiday shoppers’ hunger for good deals, survey participants reported seeking consistent product pricing, free shipping offers and other promotional discounts across touchpoints. Close to 80% of participants said product assortment was also important; in particular, 45% of shoppers said that a comprehensive product assortment would encourage them to purchase more on mobile devices.

At the same time, exclusive or unique offers continue to appeal to shoppers as an incentive to engage with brands. For example, an exclusive discount available only to followers ranked second only to free shipping as the type of incentive that would spur purchasing via a social networking site. And merchants frequently dangle the lure of exclusive discounts as a reason to sign up for email alerts.

Striking a balance between the demand for consistency and the desire for touchpoint-specific perks requires promotional finesse. To achieve it, merchants should follow these guidelines:

Merchants should message with absolute consistency across touchpoints on:

 

  • Product pricing and pricing guarantees. With fully 90% of shoppers saying they consult Amazon to check prices even when purchasing elsewhere online, it’s crucial for merchants to deliver the same price in stores that shoppers see on their mobile devices, for example.
  • Site-wide free shipping policies. With free shipping remaining the top promotion shoppers seek, whether via eCommerce sites or on social media, offers such as free shipping above a threshold and free ship-to-store services should be universally and prominently messaged.
  • Key customer service information. Shoppers rate guaranteed delivery and free returns as crucial when deciding which brands to patronize, with 49% rating both as “most important”. The overall flexibility of the return policy and the availability of delivery timelines were sought by 41% and 27%, respectively.

 

Merchants have leeway to offer by touchpoint:

  • Sneak peeks at exclusive or new products. More than half of shoppers said access to exclusive products would spur them to purchase via social networks, for example.
  • Flash sale items. Email alerts promoting limited-time offers can motivate shoppers to engage with brands more frequently throughout the season.
  • Loyalty or rewards points tie-ins. Close to 60% of shoppers said loyalty rewards offered via social media would prompt them to make purchases, while 46% said the availability of a loyalty program would encourage repeat sales — making an offer of extra points potentially enticing as a means to lure back existing first-time customers.

Download the webinar replay for many more insights on mobile shopping, the role of social media, discount timing and in-store activities and more. And watch the MarketLive site for the follow-up holiday compendium produced in conjunction with the Consumer Shopping Survey.

3 top priorities for engaging a coveted demographic (no, not that one)

In their quest to achieve online sales growth, merchants are often counseled to target the young. Appealing to the 18-to-34 age bracket is considered the holy grail when it comes to proving brands are cutting-edge and poised for future success.

Bolstering this obsession are statistics showing that today’s youth do indeed consider the multi-touchpoint universe to be retail reality. While their lower incomes means that they rank lower in terms of total dollars contributed, members of Generation Z spend a higher percentage of their earnings via online commerce than other age groups — close to 9%, according to research from Business Insider.

But there’s another age cohort that deserves attention: seniors. As the large and affluent Baby Boomer population, which controls 70% of disposable income in the U.S.,  heads toward retirement, there’s mounting evidence that older consumers are not only increasingly tech-savvy, but willing to commit dollars online like never before.

Merchants need look no further than Amazon for proof of the importance of the senior demographic. The eCommerce giant launched a “50+ Active and Healthy Living” lifestyle microsite in April of this year, featuring a curated collection of wellness products, vitamins and supplements, fitness supplies and travel resources.

Amazon's site for seniors

While Amazon has the advantage of a vast selection of merchandise from which to create a tailored product array, even niche merchants can successfully cater to seniors by adopting a series of best practices that boost cross-touchpoint functionality and service. The bonus? These tactics can not only win sales from older shoppers, but can boost brand appeal for shoppers of all ages. The three top priorities:

Customer service ease-of-use. Seniors are actually less tolerant of inefficient customer service transactions than the young, Forrester found, with 52% of those aged 69 and up and 54% of Baby Boomers saying they’ll abandon a transaction if they can’t find a quick answer to their question — slightly more than Generation Z, 50% of whom report the same tendency. To satisfy the need for quick and comprehensive service, merchants should ensure that key information is close at hand regardless of the touchpoint. Tactics include:

  • Making customer service content searchable. On-site search should employ redirects to commonly-sought information, such as shipping rates and timeframes, and links to service should be displayed for frequently-used keywords.
  • Since seniors are still apt to use the phone and shop in-store as well as browse and buy online and via mobile devices, merchants should ensure policies are communicated consistently across the board — and consider investing in customer service solutions that give reps visibility into shopping behavior across touchpoints (in-store purchases as well as online activity, for example).
  • Simplifying live chat. We recently discussed how live chat should now be a fixture, and merchants should both subject their offerings to rigorous testing and track results to ensure the process is as smooth as possible. In particular, they should strike a balance between collecting information up-front as part of the chat initiation process and speeding the time to connection with a live person; long forms with many required fields are likely to be a turnoff.

Cross-touchpoint functionality. Customer service isn’t the only area where merchants should strive for a seamless and consistent shopping experience. To cater to seniors — as well as an increasingly mobile general population — they should prioritize investments in features that ease the shopping journey from touchpoint to touchpoint. Among them:

  • Print and email buttons, in the cart and elsewhere. Merchants should make product information portable all along the path to purchase, including for offline use in-stores.
  • “Save Cart” as a perk of registration. As we’ve discussed previously, while forced account creation remains a bad idea, merchants should highlight the ability to save products in order to facilitate mobile-to-web, mobile-to-store and web-to-mobile transactions.
  • Alternative payments. We’ve long been an advocate of alternative payments, which can smooth the path to purchase both for desktop and laptop users as well as for mobile shoppers. Additionally, the availability of alternative payments can reassure seniors new to the online shopping process, who may be more hesitant than other cohorts to enter credit card information online.

MarketLive merchant Full of Life puts it all together with a bevy of shopping cart options. The ability to save cart contents is highlighted, and Paypal is offered as an alternative payment option. Finallly, the merchant places a helpful graphic within the cart content to show shoppers how to connect their purchase to the customer ID printed on their print catalogs.

Example from Full of Life

 

Mobile fluency. With seniors freely using mobile devices to shop, merchants should invest in creating a user-friendly experience that both engages and builds trust. Among the tactics to consider:

  • Mobile-minded design. Merchants should review their design standards and ensure that navigation, buttons and images are all tap- and swipe-friendly. Whether employing responsive design or maintaining dedicated mobile and tablet sites, merchants should strive for clarity and readability on mobile devices, ensuring images are sized appropriately to prevent muddiness and text contrasts sufficiently with the background.
  • Apps for focused engagement. While in general we recommend prioritizing mobile Web site development, specialty merchants who can identify a unique offering for their target audience should consider building an app as a way of fostering deeper brand connections. Replenishment reminders, results trackers and wellness tips are potential tools in the health category that might appeal to seniors.

MarketLive merchant Rogaine offers a simple mobile site with icons as well as text in the navigation and a bold, easy-to-read color scheme. The brand offers a results-tracking app for iPhone users that employs similarly user-friendly graphics, such as a meter for measuring progress. Connections to the customer community and access to FAQs make the app a worthwhile download for the audience.

Rogaine mobile site

Rogaine app

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does your eCommerce offering cater specifically to seniors, and if so, how?

 

Priorities for adapting live chat to a multi-touchpoint world

We’ve long argued that customer service can be an important brand differentiator for small- to mid-sized merchants in their quest to win sales and loyalty. Stellar service drives valuable repeat business, while poor interactions can cause site abandonment. And word-of-mouth reputation can hinge on customer interactions with support staff; tales of neglect can go viral, while brand recommendations among friends can spur purchases from new customers.

Merchants seeking further proof of the importance of customer service need look no further than Amazon, which nearly a year ago launched a service called Mayday for owners of its Kindle Fire tablets. With a touch of a button, customers can speak directly with a representative, whose video image is displayed on tablet screens — literally putting a face on a vast organization that had previously offered little in the way of opportunities for one-on-one support interaction. It’s now the most popular means of accessing Kindle Fire support, with 75% of customer requests coming through Mayday, according to Amazon.

Amazon Mayday

While merchants can’t be expected to keep up with Amazon’s every innovation, they shouldn’t ignore the increasingly  widespread adoption of live chat in general. Usage rates are on the rise, jumping from 30% of online consumers in 2009 to 43% as of 2012 — a 43% increase, according to technology researcher Forrester.  And usage isn’t limited to younger consumers; Forrester found that all demographics use live chat, including a third of those aged 57 or above.

As usage levels head toward the 50% threshold, live chat is a must-have for merchants. And they should do more than placing a “live chat” link in the global header or footer; to maximize the revenue opportunity live chat presents, they should adopt new chat features that resonate with their target audience. Among the latest considerations:

Context is more important than ever. We’ve already addressed the importance of context when it comes to prompting shoppers to engage in live chat on the eCommerce site. But the concept of context extends far beyond that, requiring merchants to align chat invitations with shoppers’ individual situations so that chat is a relevant proposition at the very moment a question arises. Among the techniques for presenting chat as a relevant solution:

  • Tailor chat invitation language to match the journey along the path to purchase. Generic live chat promotions should be replaced by category-specific invitations as shoppers narrow their focus. Those using on-site search might be prompted to connect with live chat if they still don’t see what they’re looking for, while viewers of a specific product might see a chat promotion touting the customer service team’s expertise when it comes to fit or style.

MarketLive merchant Title Nine gives live chat increasing prominence as shoppers move along the path to purchase. A text link with small graphic in the global header is supplemented by a “Need Help?” prompt in the center content area of the product page. Shoppers who add items to cart view a prominent chat promotion promising to connect them with a “customer service maven” and listing the hours of live chat availability.

Title Nine chat promotion

Title Nine chat promotion

  • Present geo-aware chat options. Using built-in browser information combined with location data collected with shoppers’ permission, merchants can present not only chat customer service hours in the local time zone, but connect consumers with local store outlet customer service options as well.
  • Use language attuned to the touchpoint. With social media serving as a de facto customer service channel, it’s crucial to promote live chat services via social outposts, highlighting the benefits of connecting with expert staff for in-depth advice.

Women’s retailer Chico’s promotes live chat on Facebook with the offer to connect 24/7 with “style experts,” promising brand followers authoritative advice they can trust.

Chico's live chat promo in Facebook

Mobile live chat matters. As shopping activity on mobile devices continues to grow, so does the need for providing stellar support for mobile shoppers — and that includes offering live chat services. Fully 41% of U.S. mobile shoppers report using mobile live chat for shopping support — ahead of text messaging and mobile social media, the E-Tailing Group found in a recent study. And mobile live chat is poised to play an important role in cross-channel sales, with one in five shoppers saying they accessed mobile shopping support while in physical stores.

Attempting to provide an effective live chat experience on mobile devices is a steep challenge requiring particular attention to context. The E-Tailing Group found that two factors in particular determined the success of chat interactions:

  • The position of the chat window, accessible but without covering key content — and the ability to move it to the optimal location of the shopper’s choosing. More than 75% of consumers said this functionality was important, with close to half specifying it was even more crucial on mobile devices.
  • Speed and brevity. Eighty-five percent of consumers expect the customer service agent to respond quickly to the chat initiation queue — and 53% of shoppers said this response time was especially important on mobile phones. Once engaged with an agent, 75% of consumers said brevity of responses was important, and 52% deemed this characteristic especially important for mobile.

Mobile live chat stats from E-Tailing Group

Video is experimental, but potentially impactful. While just 14% of U.S. consumers use live video chat weekly, according to Forrester, the Amazon Mayday example proves that easy-to-use video support can take off. To maximize its potential impact, merchants should deploy video chat only in circumstances where visuals can enhance the customer support experience — whether by having reps use the camera to show shoppers product details the Web site doesn’t campture, or by having shoppers share relevant visuals with agents — a room for which they’d like to buy furniture, for example.

Merchants who’d like to dip their toes into the video chat pool without taking the plunge can consider Google+ Hangouts on the Air, which give brand experts a platform for connecting with consumers and answering questions either one-on-one or in a group presentation. U.K. retailer ASOS has produced a number of what it calls “shop-along hangouts” featuring style experts, who showcase the latest trends as well as take questions from participants. Shopping links on the ASOS site were displayed as they discussed their favorite items.

ASOS shop-along hangout

How are you using live chat to maximize sales and boost loyalty?

Mobile landing pages take center stage in Google Shopping update

In just over six weeks, a new set of specifications will take effect for Google Product Listing Ads, the paid-search format that’s surged in popularity since its debut in 2012. While the update includes a laundry list of attribute changes that include new descriptors for apparel products and a streamlined process for defining in-stock items, one key highlight stands out: the emphasis on the landing page, and specifically the importance of optimizing landing pages for mobile searchers.

For starts, beginning Sept. 30, merchants will be able to specify distinct landing pages for searchers on mobile devices — thereby helping merchants with mobile-optimized sites direct mobile users to the appropriate environment. But even those who don’t take advantage of the mobile URL option will need to step up efforts to create mobile-friendly landing pages; as part of the update, Google is issuing a new landing page content policy that stipulates more specifically than ever how merchants must “render an actual web page properly.”

Among the requirements, merchants can’t obscure key content related to the ad offer with a pop-up window, the ad offer must be centrally prominent on the landing page, and the call to action must be visible —  a potentially challenging balance on small mobile screens. Furthermore, the policy specifies that merchants must avoid requiring shoppers to run a separate application for the page to work properly, and specifically calls out video applications on mobile devices as an example.

With these moves, Google is honing its PLA service to serve mobile shoppers first and foremost. Given that mobile browsing is ever more prevalent, even as mobile revenues lag, merchants would do well to follow Google’s lead and strive to improve the paid search experience for mobile shoppers.

First and foremost, of course, that means having mobile-optimized content for shoppers to access. As we noted in our previous post on PLAs, investing specifically in mobile-targeted PLA ads is a risky bet for those without a substantial mobile presence and a frictionless mobile path to purchase.

As the new guidelines suggest however, even those merchants not zeroing in on mobile users in their paid search ad specifications are still likely to attract mobile viewers via their PLAs — and they should do their utmost to be ready. Among the changes to consider:

Throttle mobile visuals just right. In a recent post, we advocated amping up visuals for mobile eCommerce sites. When it comes to PLAs, the trick is to feature the right media at the right time on mobile landing pages. Specifically, merchants should adhere to the long-standing best practice of providing visual confirmation of landing page relevance to the ad by “echoing” the ad image in a prominent position on the landing page — including any SKU options tailored to the ad search term. Then, for shoppers whose interest is piqued, merchants should offer an array of secondary options for exploring further, including alternate image views and video demonstrations.

MarketLive merchant Design Within Reach provides a precise visual echo of the mobile PLA for its grasshopper lamp, with the product page image an exact replica of the ad image, right down to the color.

PLA example from DWR         dwr_plamobile1

Incorporate special offers at the mobile product page level. To enable using product pages as effective landing pages that adhere to Google’s content standards, merchants should optimize premium mobile screen real estate to include room for product- or brand-specific offers, or even site-wide discounts that might otherwise be placed in a missable spot within the global header.

MarketLive merchant Beauty Brands highlights its site-wide free shipping offer just beneath the “add to cart” button on the product page — giving the promotion high visibility. Detailed product information and “pro tips” are displayed below the promotion for those who want to delve deeper.

Mobile example from beauty brands

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How are you optimizing PLAs for mobile success?

Performance Index: Mobile challenges and opportunities for the holidays

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

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

Data from the MarketLive Performance Index

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

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

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

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

Mobile example from Sport Chalet

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

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

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

Mobile example from World Market

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

Maximizing your mobile app for Holiday 2014

Mobile-enabled purchasing is on fire. Now is the time to get prospective customers connected to your brand and get your app into their hands so they will be poised to shop with ease as November rolls around.

According to the 2013 MarketLive etailing group survey for Holiday 2013, 50% of users planned to use their smartphones for purchases. In a RetailWire survey 41 percent of consumers now actively use mobile apps while shopping, nearly double the 21 percent that did so in a similar survey last year. Most consumers of all ages indicate that they have two to four shopping apps installed. How can you make one of them yours?

You’ve got some work to do to get that handy little hunk of software onto your customers’ mobile devices and get them engaging with it. Just 5% of non-gaming or entertainment apps see repeat usage within 30 days, according to Forrester Research.

So finding ways to make it something shoppers use regularly is vital to its success. Your first job:

Make sure it’s useful beyond shopping

There are the bedrock capabilities consumers are seeking when using mobile for shopping: the ability to check availability at a store before visiting, and buy or reserve for pick up, and check for sales and specials. But there is so much more creative marketers can do to add value and utility to apps and boost brand engagement.

Speaking of engagement, jewelry retailer and diamond specialist Helzberg Diamonds has created a specialized app that’s a manageable mix of content around its collection of engagement rings.

The highly-rated app is a comprehensive resource that’s focused on one topic, with links to the mobile commerce site woven in at appropriate  junctures. Using the Proposal Pro, suitors can choose the date they plan to propose, browse rings, determine their beloved’s ring size, and read etiquette tips and advice about the ritual. They may even choose to have the app generate their proposal for them, or to rehearse using a built-in recorder.

 

proposal-pro

proprosal-pro2

Then Helzberg Diamonds brings it back to the sale by offering a $25 reward for making progress through the app.

Brand giant Charmin has created an app called Sit or Squat that will direct you to public restrooms which you can then rate and upload photos. “Gotta Go? Relax we got your back.” This is true utility with a splash of humor and perfect fodder for social sharing.

 

sitorsquat-app

Promote It

Even the most innovative apps need to be effectively promoted to ensure they don’t languish in obscurity.

Search engines aren’t likely to direct new customers to your app unless they already know — and type in — your brand name. Even then, searches will most likely lead them to your desktop or mobile web sites where they may never even realize you offer an app.

A few suggestions:

Promote your app consistently and prominently across other brand touchpoints, including on your mobile website, in email campaigns, and in-store at POS.

If someone has found your mobile site, they are a prime candidate for using your app. Make it easy for them.

Apple offers developers Smart App Banners which can detect whether users have already downloaded your app and will either direct them to download or open the app upon clicking.

developer.apple.com 2014-7-22 6 1 39

Consider giving your app not only a prominent position on your web sites but also a preview of how it will improve the shopping experiences.

Design Within Reach, the innovative San Francisco-based furniture and accessories retailer, has an app available for the iPad through the iTunes store that was a 2013 Webby Award finalist.

The company effectively markets the app on its web site with an easy-to-watch video tutorial showcasing the functionality of the tool in action.

The video shows people zooming in on details of tastefully designed rooms, effortlessly flipping through various furniture styles, and learning more about the designers behind it all.

DWR App

Social networking cannot be overemphasized

Reaching those who aren’t already visitors to your sites can be more of a challenge. Be aware that people don’t necessarily find apps the same way they find web sites.

Most people hear about apps through recommendations from friends and family, followed by “top-rated” recommendations in an app store, according to Forrester.

forrester.com

Since it’s likely to be awhile before your new app gains “top rated” status by reviewers, it’s best to focus on helping people discover and share your app through social media. Developing social app content and promoting it on social media sites is a good investment.

Here’s a way Nike has found to tap into their customer’s interest in sharing and comparing their athletic accomplishments through social networking sites.

The Nike + Running app not only allows users to track their workouts via GPS but also includes “leaderboards” where they can share times and see how their workouts over popular routes compare to those of their friends.

Nike-Fuelband-SE-group-leaderboard

There’s even a feature where users can hear a cheer every time someone likes the run they’ve posted on Facebook.

Nike-facebook

The app is effective because it builds a community of runners who are actively engaged with it, then drives them to the main site where they can find multiple links to running gear shopping options.

According to Forrester’s Predictions 2014: US Retail eBusiness, consumers are leading merchants about changes they seek in mobile shopping and showrooming. Merchants who will flourish are willing to experiment with promotional activities and mobile functions that are specific to their product sets.  Find the custom solutions customers are seeking and be willing to adjust your investments accordingly.

Try as many new things to promote your mobile capacities as your budget allows and do it now.

Trend watch: What’s happening with alternative payments?

Implementing alternative payments is a smart move for merchants, and for a plethora of reasons. For starts, alternative payments offer a viable detour around purchase hurdles concerning data security and privacy — and with high-profile data breaches during the 2013 holiday season still painfully fresh in shoppers’ minds, offering a way to avoid typing in credit card data makes more sense than ever. Secondly, alternative payments can ease transactions across borders, enabling merchants to reach growing international eCommerce markets.

But perhaps the most compelling reason for merchants to undertake alternative payment integration is the central importance of mobile shopping. To convince shoppers to complete transactions on mobile devices, merchants must focus relentlessly on convenience and efficiency, and streamline checkout to the utmost. With mobile now the default touchpoint for interacting with brands, and with mobile transactions set to account for close to 30% of all online purchases by the end of this year, alternative payments should be near the top of merchants’ priority lists — if they haven’t implemented them already.

So when we set out to replicate research we conducted in late 2011, crunching data from the Internet Retailer Top 500 database to uncover trends in alternative payment usage, we expected to find substantial increases. Instead, we were surprised to discover that the percentage of merchants who’ve adopted alternative payments has remained completely flat. Just as then, 59.6% of today’s largest online brands offer online payments.

statistics on alternative payments

While nearly 60% may seem like a sizeable figure, given the increasingly-urgent mandate to cater to mobile shoppers, which has accelerated substantially in the past year in particular, we were surprised that the percentage hadn’t budged.

And while the changing lineup in the top 500 might account for the lack of movement, these merchants represent the largest and most successful brands online from year to year, with the resources to experiment with an array of revenue-boosting tactics.. Stasis among their collective ranks suggests that for small- to mid-sized merchants with smaller budgets and technology resources may struggle to prioritize alternative payments.

A deeper dive into the numbers reveals a trend toward consolidation. Among those merchants implementing alternative payments, more than half have opted to implement a single alternative payment service, and the runaway favorite is Paypal. Close to 90% of merchants offering alternative payments use Paypal — that’s more than 50% of all Top 500 merchants. These numbers signal a shift from 2011, when the majority of merchants offered multiple alternative payments.

statistics on alternative payments

statistics on alternative payments

The decline in usage of other payment methods besides Paypal is partially attributable to Google, whose transition from Google Checkout in late 2013 has yet to manifest itself fully. Google  Wallet isn’t an exact equivalent, which explains its decline among top merchants. But Paypal’s Bill Me Later financing service also experienced a decline, as did eBillMe, which has been rebranded as WU Pay as of mid-2012 after its acquisition by Western Union.

With alternative payment options in flux, merchants should rely on their customers to guide them to the right choice for their business. But whatever service is the best fit, merchants shouldn’t delay implementation if they hope to realize the benefits during the all-important holiday season.

Which alternative payments do you use, if any, and why?

MarketLive News: Delivering Responsive Commerce

We’ve discussed at length the crucial role mobile plays in today’s shopping experience — and we’ve stressed the importance of flexible technology  and the importance of sound implementation. That’s why we’re excited to share that today at IRCE in Chicago, MarketLive announced the launch of Version 14.1 of its award-winning e-commerce platform. This latest version delivers MarketLive’s ground-breaking Responsive Commerce technology, which includes responsive design templates to optimize the commerce path to purchase and enable streamlined design, implementation, and management of online stores across desktop, mobile and other device interfaces.

“With this release, we have evolved the integration of responsive design into eCommerce, extending the range of capabilities previously available. We handle responsive design for today’s phones and tablets and other devices, but we go further.  Our implementation of Responsive Commerce incorporates eCommerce best practices across the customer lifecycle, optimizing templates for path to purchase and customer service interactions to ensure our merchants engage and grow their customers, regardless of touchpoint,” said Ken Burke, founder and CEO of MarketLive Inc. “We are constantly improving our platform infrastructure so that our customers can be confident that they have the best technology available on which to run their commerce.  Responsive Commerce is just the latest fulfillment of this promise.”

The new release offers out-of-the-box Responsive Commerce templates that optimize the path to purchase and “future proof” for extension to new devices to come. These templates are designed to automatically present an optimized view on a given device and  manage all aspects of sizing for different devices and screens, including touch/zoom capabilities on any device.

Responsive Commerce from MarketLive is also designed to minimize future complexity for merchants by evolving and adapting to ever-changing shopping norms – it accommodates mobile and tablet today, and can be expanded to include Portable POS, in-store kiosks — and even future commerce interfaces not yet invented.

Among the benefits of this approach to merchants:

  • Reduced complexity in managing cross multiple devices, due to the ability to design, configure and deploy once across desktop, tablet, phone and other touchpoints.
  • Improved customer experience through optimization of load times by device type
  • Flexible merchandising control enabling tailored merchandising experiences by device, if desired
  • Improved SEO through the implementation of responsive design, technology that Google, Bing and other search engines give preference in their rankings
  • Broader range of responsive technology capabilitiesfrom Bootstrap3, the latest, state-of-the-art responsive framework providing enhancements across the responsive design continuum
  • Future proofing for merchandising on future devices, while benefiting now from out of the box responsive templates for phone, tablet portrait, tablet landscape and desktop displays.

For more information, read the full release — or stop by Booth #1601 at IRCE.

Want to re-engage email subscribers for the holidays? Start now.

With the season of sprucing up for the holidays well underway, merchants would do well to tend to their existing email subscribers.

Shoppers are by and large positive about email marketing, and its continuing effectiveness explains why email remains a top investment priority for merchants. Furthermore, as the growth rate for U.S. eCommerce is forecast to drop into single digits in the next five years, with revenue gains increasingly driven by experienced online shoppers, retention is set to take center stage — making it more crucial than ever to engage subscribers who’ve already consented to receive offers in their inboxes.

But perhaps still more compelling — or alarming — is the estimate from email intelligence firm ReturnPath that up to 20% of a merchant’s list is inactive at any one time; those subscribers receive emails, but don’t open them, much less click through to view offer details. While the relatively low cost of email marketing means that merchants may be able to carry this “dead weight” without significantly impacting their budgets, there are consequences when it comes to deliverability: the rate at which recipients engage with emails from a particular sender is a determining factor for email services in gauging whether a message is spam. So if for no other reason, merchants should court inactives as a means of ensuring deliverability for the rest of the list.

Among the ways to entice subscribers to re-engage:

The basics: Make email content mobile-friendly. To better engage all subscribers, not just inactives, merchants should design email Subject: lines and content to render well on mobile screens first and foremost. With fully two-thirds of email messages now being opened on mobile devices, by some counts, the mandate to switch to “mobile first” email is clear. Merchants should develop “responsive emails” that adapt their format in accordance with the device and email reader of the recipient. In addition, merchants should ensure that click-throughs from email offers lead to mobile-optimized landing pages and content.

“Win-back” campaigns: commit to the long haul. Sending a special offer to inactive subscribers is a popular last-ditch effort for merchants looking to cull their lists, and data from Return Path suggests these campaigns can be effective — in an unexpected way. While just 12% of shoppers open initial win-back emails, 45% of those who receive them go on to open subsequent messages from the same brand. This finding suggests that merchants should develop a series of win-back offers, not just a single message, and tweak their calendars to extend the period between delivery of the first offer and list removal.

And when it comes to crafting win-back content, merchants should avoid all-or-nothing calls to action that require shoppers to confirm their subscription. But they needn’t send a stream of increasingly-desperate discounts, either. While a discount offer can be part of the win-back series arsenal, merchants should also attempt to cajole inactive recipients back into action by inviting them to update preferences and reminding them of brand benefits, as this message does from MarketLive merchant H2O Plus. Shoppers who click the link to update preferences can specify which skin care products they’re interested in, as well as the frequency with which they’d like to receive emails and the kinds of notices they’d like to receive (such as new products or general skin care information).

Win-back email example from H2O Plus

Resubscribers: Welcome, don’t ignore. With shoppers hungry for holiday bargains, it’s likely that at least a few inactive subscribers who’ve forgotten they’re already on the list will try to re-subscribe via the eCommerce Web site to gain access to seasonal deals and exclusives. The merchant practice of employing home page pop-up or modal windows that spotlight discount offers for new email signups is likely to contribute to the number of existing subscribers who try to sign up again.

Merchants should adjust their signup processes now to greet these familiar email addresses with a message that encourages re-engagement — starting by acknowledging their status as return shoppers, rather than simply signing them up all over again. And merchants should by all means avoid giving these shoppers an error message for their troubles, as this site does when returning subscribers attempt to sign up again. The message is not only unfriendly, but by prompting shoppers to “enter a different email address,” it puts the onus on them to fix the problem.

Example of a "don't"

Instead, merchants should consider offering returning subscribers the following:

  • the ability to specify which topics or product categories are of interest
  • the option of throttling back delivery frequency
  • information about how to connect with the brand on social media
  • an instant discount better than the one on display for new subscribers.

How are you enticing inactive subscribers to re-engage with the brand?