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

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

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

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

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

Among the strategies to consider:

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

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

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

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

Mobile customer service example from Peruvian Connection

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

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

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

Sport Chalet unified store example

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

Key messaging moments for winning engagement and sales

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

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

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

mobilefirst

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

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

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

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

Data from the ML Consumer Shopping Survey about email

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

 

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

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

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

How has your messaging strategy changed for 2015?

Use social login to boost mobile engagement

We’ve discussed before the benefits of using social login to connect shoppers’ experiences on eCommerce sites with their social media profiles and to smooth the account creation process. Now there’s another compelling reason to bump social login up the priority list: It can be a powerful tool for enhancing the mobile shopping experience.

As outlined in our review of the latest Performance Index data and our 2015 trends outlook,  mobile commerce must remain at the forefront of merchant’s preoccupations — after all, it’s now shoppers’ primary point of contact with brands. Close to two-thirds of all minutes spent with retail brands now occur on mobile devices, according to measurement firm comScore – and for a third of millennials aged 18 to 24, mobile is the only online touchpoint used for shopping.

Given mobile’s swift ascent, and given the dismally low add-to-cart and conversion rates and high abandonment rates most brands are experiencing, merchants ought to be hungry for tools that can help boost mobile engagement and sales. Social login is well positioned to do so, because:

  • Acceptance and usage of social login is on the rise. More than half of Internet users have taken advantage of social login, and fully 88% are at least aware of the technology, according to a study by Blue research.
  • According to Merkle/RFG, the majority of social media usage now occurs on mobile devices. Shoppers are accustomed to using social tools on their phones and tablets and may be more willing to use a familiar login tool than to set up a discrete account on a merchant web site.
  • Finally, by using social login, merchants can piggyback on the innovations of leading companies such as Facebook and Google, improving their mobile experiences in the process.

As always, the devil is in the details; a poorly-executed social login implementation can cause more problems than it solves. To make the most of social login for mobile shoppers, merchants must:

Integrate completely. A quasi-integration with social media that still requires creation of a new password and even additional data entry in order to complete account registration will only frustrate shoppers. Instead, merchants should reward willingness to share social profiles with a minimalist signup process.

Additionally, merchants should connect social login with functions across the site, from wishlist creation to sharing products to saving cart contents for later reference — a crucial piece of functionality for mobile users who may want to revisit items in stores or on desktop computers.

MarketLive merchant Title Nine offers shoppers the ability to save cart contents, and enables social login that requires nothing beyond a username and password to activate.

Social login example from Title NineHeed privacy concerns. While merchants should take advantage of social login’s potential to unlock user profile information, they must also heed privacy concerns and proceed with caution. Shoppers are wary of surrendering too much information while exploring shopping’s digital frontier, with 88% saying “there are too many technologies tracking and analyzing our behavior”  and 86% saying “consumers have lost control of their privacy” — that’s 11% higher than the global average. Nearly three in four U.S. consumers say remarketing and personalized ads are “creepy”. And on mobile platforms, 42% of consumers say accessing their geographic location is an invasion of privacy.

To allay concerns about privacy, transparency should be the norm, and merchants should prioritize what data they need to track key metrics, versus “nice to have” information that might be interesting, but provide no actionable insights. Once they’ve convinced shoppers to engage as registered site users, merchants can request further information incrementally.

For further tips about social login, see MarketLive Founder and CEO Ken Burke’s recent article in Retail Online Integration titled “Why and How to Use Social Login to Win Customers.” And check out MarketLive’s recent whitepaper on analytics, “Connecting Data Points and KPIs in a Multi-Channel World,”  for further best practices on collecting mobile user information.

Are you using social login? Why or why not?

Performance Index: Why smartphone optimization is a top 2015 priority

Final results are in for the fourth quarter of 2014, and a clear priority has emerged for merchants: smartphone optimization.

Data from the MarketLive Performance Index shows that year over year mobile usage surged by close to 50%, with fully 44% of all traffic to merchant sites and 25% of all revenues derived from mobile visits.

2014q4_index_mobile

What’s perhaps surprising is the marked surge in smartphone contributions specifically. Not only did smartphones’ share of revenues surge close to 125%, but conversion rates on smartphones jumped as well, by 88%.

Tablet growth, meantime, was more moderate, with traffic actually dropping year over year, share of revenue increasing by just under 12%, and conversion by 21%. While these numbers are solid, they represent a marked slowdown from just a year ago, when tablet traffic and revenue both grew by more than 50%, overshadowing smartphone activity.

2014Q4_INDEX_mobiledeepdive

Now the situation is completely reversed — and the trend is set to continue. Indeed, MarketLive forecasts that smartphone contributions to the bottom line will overtake tablets in the second quarter of this year.

2014q4index_mobilerevshare

In the past, tablets’ relatively large form-factor compared with smartphones allowed merchants to skate by with near-replicas of the desktop experience — if not with sites that failed to optimize for mobile altogether. With tablet conversion rates edging close to those on the desktop browser, and with order sizes and overall revenue contribution higher than smartphones, predictions were rife (including on this blog) that tablets were the key to achieving mCommerce success.

Now, though, merchants can no longer be complacent and rely on tablet performance to shore up mobile sales. Instead, they must re-imagine their businesses to cater first and foremost to smartphone shoppers — and confront and master the challenges of delivering a user-friendly, secure and context-aware smartphone experience for both research and purchasing. In so doing, merchants will be positioning themselves well to take advantage of two key trends driving smartphone primacy:

The tablet plateau. Forecasts call for tablet penetration to plateau in coming years, with growth in the number of worldwide users set to dip below 20% this year and into single digits by 2018 as the market for tablets matures and stabilizes in the U.S. and other developed regions. With tablets perceived as an optional second device after the mobile phone, their penetration into emerging — and high-growth — markets is in doubt. By contrast, smartphones are poised for worldwide ubiquity, with some forecasts calling for fully 90% of the world’s population over the age of six to own one by 2020. Even within the U.S. smartphone ownership has the potential to growth significantly, with ownership hovering just below 70%.

The seamless store. As discussed in our 2015 trends  webinar, the surge in smartphone usage is leading more and more shoppers to consult mobile devices in physical store outlets. During the 2014 holiday season, more than 45% of shoppers said they planned to consult price and product information in-stores, as well as access promotional offers and coupons, according to the MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey. That usage is paying off for brick-and-mortar retailers: Performance Index data shows that merchants with physical store outlets saw the percentage of revenue from smartphones jump from 5.02% to 13.18% — a whopping increase of more than 162%.

Our trends presentation outlined a few of the ways merchants can cater to smartphone shoppers — digitized store experiences, adoption of responsive design, and platform-agnostic loyalty rewards. We’ll explore each of these topics in greater depth in the month to come, as well as dive deeply into mobile KPIs and best practices and further emerging trends influencing smartphone usage.

Meantime, consult the official Performance Index press release and download the report with data tables for more in-depth analysis of Q4 performance.

Why responsive design is the starting point for 2015 success – webinar recap

As our prior post explained, the need for merchants to unite their disparate online commerce initiatives into a cohesive brand presence has never been greater. But it’s a tall order to tie  together touchpoints to create a shopping experience that’s both consistent and context-relevant, and for many small-to-mid-sized merchants, defining a starting point — and a starting budget — can be a tricky process.

To help merchants get the ball rolling, last week MarketLive CEO and Founder Ken Burke hosted a webinar outlining the top strategies to support the goal of unified commerce. Underpinning them all: the need for a responsive design framework to support nuanced and highly-differentiated iterations of brand sites.

Responsive design — which uses a single code base to deliver information across touchpoints — is on the upswing, thanks in large part to merchants acknowledging the need for comprehensive mobile sites. In 2014, 63% of online business leaders ranked responsive design as a technology priority. That’s a jump of nearly 58% compared with 2013, when just 40% did so. Specifically within retail, just 9% of the top 100 sites employ responsive design — but among mobile leaders, the number is much higher, with more than 20% of Internet Retailer’s Mobile 500 using responsive techniques, according to MarketLive and Fit for Commerce.

But many merchants face significant hurdles when it comes to implementing responsive design. After all, the pitfalls of a poorly-executed responsive design project are by now well-known, and require significant time and investment to avoid; by one measure, the development timeframe can average anywhere from 25% to 200% longer than a conventional desktop-based site relaunch.

To justify investment in responsive design, merchants should factor in the potential gains across touchpoints. By investing in responsive, they can more easily execute Total Commerce strategies across touchpoints, including:

The united storefront. Overwhelmingly, shoppers turn to their mobile devices when seeking information while in stores. Consumers by far prefer to consult their phones to check product prices, seek further product information and even to find out where an item is located in the store, rather than seeking out a store kiosk or a live sales associate. And they expect product, price, and promotional information online to be consistent with what they see on store shelves; more than 75% of participants in the 2014 MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey said consistency in those three categories was crucial. Responsive design supports that consistency by serving content across touchpoints from a common database, making in-store/online connections more seamless.

Loyalty 2.0. With the growth rate for U.S. eCommerce revenues projected to slow to below 10% by 2016, competition for digitally-savvy shoppers’ loyalty will become increasingly fierce. To win repeat business, merchants with rewards programs must update their offerings to include seamless portability among touchpoints, so that shoppers can tap exclusive content and offers in whatever format they choose. And merchants must also recognize new forms of loyalty, from new social followers to shoppers looking to save cart contents for later access on mobile devices. Responsive design enables functionality across touchpoints to unlock the benefits of deep brand engagement — as on the sites for Beauty Brands, where members of the Take 10 program can access their account both on the desktop or laptop site and via mobile device.

20150113_080805beautybrands_desktop_loyaltyEach of these topics — responsive design, digitization of the physical store, and loyalty 2.0 — will be the subject of an upcoming whitepaper. Meantime, download the trends webinar replay and the companion whitepaper for further details and more 2015 priorities. Is responsive design on your 2015 to-do list, and why or why not?

MarketLive Performance Index: Holiday season finishes strong

The 2014 holiday season has drawn to a close, and the initial results from the MarketLive Performance Index are promising. From the period beginning the Monday before Thanksgiving and ending the Sunday after New Year’s Day, revenues are up 11.7% compared with the corresponding timeframe in 2013, and traffic grew 13.3%. The average order size grew a substantial 4.2%, suggesting that Index merchants held the line when it came to pricing and devised creative promotional strategies that succeeded while maintaining margins.

Mobile shopping made its mark, with fully 46% of all eCommerce site traffic generated by smartphones and tablets. And more than a quarter of total online revenues were attributed to mobile devices — with smartphone revenue in particular growing exponentially, at 111%.

But the surge in mobile usage proved a double-edged sword. Overall conversion rates for the season dropped by 4.8% and cart abandonment rose by 3% due to mobile users either consulting sites and adding items to the cart purely for research — or, worse, finding mobile usability impediments too great to continue with their purchases. With mobile poised to make an even greater impact throughout 2015, improving the mobile site experience should remain at the top of merchants’ priority lists.

Holiday results from the MarketLive Performance Index

In addition, the results suggests merchants should:

Front-load the holiday 2015 calendar.  Despite criticism of stores doing business on Thanksgiving day and hand-wringing over tepid Black Friday sales, Index results show that the first part of the holiday season is crucial, with fully 65% of holiday revenue earned before Dec. 14 and the conversion rate for the season peaking on Cyber Monday, Dec. 1, at 5.2%. Data from IBM Digital Analytics suggests that holiday impacts were felt even before Thanksgiving, with revenues the weekend before Thanksgiving surging more than 18% thanks to pre-Black-Friday and “Black Friday Week” deals.  As merchants look ahead to the fourth quarter of 2015, they should plan to launch and promote holiday initiatives earlier than ever in order to accommodate shoppers who seek to buy gifts early in the season.

Develop a refined promotions strategy to maintain margins. Index merchants successfully navigated the holiday season without sacrificing average order value — but with competition tightening for online attention and dollars, they must deliver ever-savvier promotions to entice shoppers to buy. In 2015, with mobile usage poised to dominate, merchants should focus on relevance as the primary goal of promotions — delivering the optimal pricing, products and information to consumers exactly when and on which touchpoint they need it. Connecting in-store and online promotional strategies is an important step toward the goal; with usage of mobile devices to download coupons, check prices and access additional product information while in-store at an all-time high, the time is ripe to develop messages targeted at these online/offline crossover users.

Stay tuned for further discussion of mobile and in-store strategies, plus a 2015 trends webinar and more resources for planning the year ahead. Meantime, how was your holiday, and how will the results impact your 2015 plans?

MarketLive Performance Index: Mobile sales zoom as holiday season peaks

As the peak holiday period passes the midpoint, the latest data from the MarketLive Performance Index shows that merchants are continuing to achieve year-over-year revenue gains — with the biggest spoils going to those brands who’ve optimized their mobile experiences.

In the week that started with CyberMonday, shoppers flocked to mobile devices to browse deals and make purchases. A whopping 43% of all online traffic was on mobile devices, and those visits generated 24% of total online revenues. While tablet revenues increased year-over-year by an impressive 42%, smartphone revenue growth was even more impressive, at 107%, accounting for $1 out of every $10 spent online.

cyberweek_flash_mobilebreakout

Overall, seasonal growth remains steady, with merchants seeing revenue gains of more than 9% on increased traffic of more than 18%. But while the add-to-cart rate is showing a modest year-over-year increase of 1.3%, the conversion rate has slipped by two-tenths of a percentage point, for a drop of 5%.

The gap suggests that merchants are missing the opportunity to win sales from highly-qualified shoppers who’ve engaged with the site, identified relevant products, and gone so far as to place them in the cart.

Usage of the cart to to research total order costs is likely partly to blame; past research suggests that more than half of shoppers add items to the cart with no intention of buying in the first place, and a similar percentage use the cart to stash items for further perusal later — an activity that has doubtless spiked as shoppers research on phones and complete purchases on desktop or laptop computers, or in stores.

But with the explosive growth in mobile visits and sales, mobile usage is likely contributing to the conversion gap in another way as well — thanks to checkout experiences that are cumbersome on smaller touchscreens. Indeed, half of online consumers say “easier checkout” would spur them to buy more via mobile devices, while a third specifically cited one-click checkout, according to the 2014 MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey.

While it’s far too late to streamline checkout processes for this year’s peak season, merchants whose holiday mobile numbers are lackluster so far may be able to institute small changes that have big potential to smooth the mobile path to purchase — and salvage sales. Worth considering:

Prominent customer service messaging. The mobile checkout process should include a prominent link to customer service throughout, including a live chat option and preferably with click-to-call functionality built in.  Merchants who don’t already display that information should investigate whether they can adjust their checkout templates.

Promotion of account creation and wish lists. Another way to combat cart abandonment is to offer viable alternatives for researchers who wish to save items for later access across touchpoints. Merchants should consider promoting wish list and account creation, using prominent messaging in the cart, in email campaigns and on social media to get the message across.

MarketLive merchant The Room Place encourages mobile users to save cart contents with a prominent button. Shoppers who click the link are invited to create an account with a streamlined form that doesn’t require entering delivery or billing addresses or other extraneous data.

roomplace_cartsave2

roomplace_cartsave1

Watch for more holiday results updates through Christmas and a season-end wrap-up after the New Year.

Holiday tip #8: Make mobile tools prominent across touchpoints

With mobile poised to play a dominant role in holiday shopping, merchants should maximize visibility of their mobile offerings by promoting at critical junctures across touchpoints.

The facts

Proof of the power of mobile is everywhere. Statistics show that not only are shoppers using their mobile devices to consult product information and look up store hours, but they’re increasingly making purchases on the go, with 24% of total revenues now attributable to mobile, according to the MarketLive Performance Index.

The holidays present an especially ripe opportunity for mobile engagement, as shoppers are bustling to physical stores to take advantage of seasonal deals as well as intensifying their online purchasing. Last year, mobile visits grew 34% and mobile sales grew 43% on Black Friday alone, and all indications are that this year will see even greater gains.

The action item

Mobile offerings are increasingly integral to merchants’ online offerings — so integral that many brands don’t even promote them separately. But merchants who’ve worked hard to optimize their mobile offerings should promote them as a brand differentiator, and even those with basic mobile sites should let holiday shoppers know they can at least look up store hours and reach customer service on the go.

The key is to place mobile prompts in spots most likely to reach engaged shoppers looking to stay in touch. Top locations include:

  • Black Friday preview pages. Shoppers already scoping out deals are likely to appreciate the opportunity to check in on the go throughout the season.
  • Store locator pages. Let shoppers know they can access the product information and buying advice on the eCommerce site when on the go.
  • Social media. Well over half of all social media consumption occurs on mobile devices, so merchants should promote mobile offerings to brand followers.
  • Mobile sites. It may seem redundant to promote mobile offerings on mobile, but merchants with apps should be sure their mobile Web sites point visitors to the download.
  • Welcome emails. New subscribers who’ve signed up to receive holiday seals should be introduced to all the brand’s offerings, including the availability of mobile purchasing or apps. MarketLive merchant Design Within Reach promotes its iPad app prominently in the first email new subscribers receive, listing the mobile feature alongside shopping categories in the message body’s top navigation.

Example of mobile promo in email from DWR

Holiday tip #2: Tailor mobile images for lightning speed

Another year of explosive growth is on the horizon for mobile holiday shopping. But merely having a mobile site isn’t enough: merchants must deliver lightning-fast response times or risk losing their opportunity to grow mobile engagement and sales.

The facts

When it comes to mobile shopping, consumers’ expectations are high, with 85% expecting mobile pages to load as fast or faster than a desktop site, according to Radware. Close to three-quarters of consumers expect mobile pages to load in five seconds or less, according to performance monitoring firm Gomez — but retail mobile site response times currently average more than 13 seconds as measured by the Keynote Index.

Failure to meet these expectations isn’t merely a matter of consumer frustration; performance impacts revenues, too. A one-second delay in mobile page-load time produced an 8.3% increase in the bounce rate and a 3.5% reduction in conversion rate, Radware found.

The action item

Even at this late juncture, merchants can make changes to improve holiday mobile site performance by focusing on the top cause of performance slowdowns: images. With pages averaging more than 1.9 MB, close to two-thirds of that weight — 1.2 MB — comes from images, according to the HTTP Archive. To drive down image size:

  • Study analytics to identify which devices are driving up load times and use a testing tool such as SizerSoze to test pages using those devices’ breakpoints. By identifying specific problematic image/device combinations, merchants can pinpoint solutions without rewriting all their code.
  • Prioritize static image content. Merchants should ensure that featured product images load first, while resource-heavy content such as video calls, animated .gifs and embedded social media video or images are downpage and load in subsequent server calls.
  • Use progressive .jpgs. With perception as well as actual load time being a crucial factor in how consumers rate mobile page speed, using a progressive .jpg — which loads the whole photo at a lower resolution, then sharpens it, as opposed to loading image fragments one by one — can boost shoppers’ satisfaction with site performance.

MarketLive merchant Cost Plus World Market strikes a balance with image rendering on its mobile site by featuring a rich primary image on the product page and making secondary images available via a slide show shoppers can swipe through. By comparison, on the desktop site thumbnails of each image are loaded.

World Market mobile example World Market exampleWatch for 10 more holiday tips on the blog through Black Friday, and read up on winning strategies in MarketLive’s holiday whitepapers.

Performance Index: Proof mobile-ready merchants will be the winners this holiday season

We’ve long been advocates of mobile commerce competence, and past editions of the MarketLive Performance Index have underscored why: the past year has seen a surge of mobile traffic, but until now mobile revenues have lagged, suggesting merchants must do more to inspire shoppers to complete purchases via their devices.

But third-quarter results suggests that merchants are finally hitting their stride. Not only did mobile traffic surge again to account for 43% of all shopping visits, but mobile revenue jumped to 24% of the total — with the most significant increase coming from smartphone purchases, which grew 110% year over year to account for 11% of all purchases. Tablet revenues comprised 13% of all purchases for an increase of 18% year over year — still an impressive gain, but one that’s dwarfed by the smartphone growth.

Data from the MarketLIve Performance INdex

While the top-line numbers are impressive, a deeper dive into the data shows that plenty of opportunity still exists to capitalize fully on mobile audience growth. After all, more than 40% of traffic is now generated by smartphones and tablets — but low conversion and high abandonment rates plague mobile sites, resulting in failure to earn immediate revenues from mobile interactions. The 0.90% conversion rate for smartphones caused the overall Index conversion rate to drop by 2.7% to 2.05%; the smartphone cart abandonment rate was 83% — 20% higher than on desktop sites.

Still, as merchants head into the holiday season, the Index data suggest that those who’ve worked to optimize mobile offerings have reason to expect strong results. And for those with sub-par experiences, the Index results add fuel to the argument that mobile is 2015’s top priority.

Regardless of whether merchants offer a cutting-edge mobile experience or are getting by with limited mobile resources, they can still take advantage of the holiday season to advance their mobile goals. Two last-minute tactics to adopt:

Promote what you have. As discussed previously, all the mobile savvy in the world won’t pay off unless shoppers know it’s available to them. Merchants should double-check their social media presence, email campaign lineup and eCommerce site supporting content to ensure that mobile receives prominent mention.

Track performance wins and gaps. To justify 2015 investment in mobile, merchants should closely track usage of existing mobile tools. Not only should they attempt to capture any traffic and sales growth, but they should also provide data on where performance gaps hindered purchasing and what mobile content proved most engaging.

Download the full Performance Index report for industry-specific data, mobile analysis and more. And watch this space for further holiday tips in the countdown to Black Friday, including last-minute mobile tactics that can boost sales and engagement.