Holiday first look: How to engage early shoppers — without offending them

Now that Labor Day and back-to-school promotions have come and gone, the countdown to the 2014 winter holiday season has officially begun. For merchants eager to move from planning mode to execution and results, the milestone is significant.

Indeed, research shows that the early season is a crucial time for brands to connect with consumers. More than a quarter of shoppers intended to start researching holiday gifts before Halloween last year, according to Google/Ipsos, with 69% saying they planned to shop around and 59% expressing openness to trying new brands. Not surprisingly, merchants are responding to this early receptiveness with early promotions. In a new survey from ChannelAdvisor, more than 40% of retailers said they’re starting holiday campaigns this month.

But there’s a contrasting sentiment merchants should also keep in mind: the backlash against “holiday creep,” with some consumers and media outlets protesting the appearance of holiday commercialism before Black Friday, whether on Thanksgiving Day or earlier. Even if actual spending patterns indicate that consumers go ahead and shop early despite their grumbling, merchants should remain respectful of the perception that too much promotion too early can deprive the holidays of their true magic.

So where should merchants draw the line — and how can they engage shoppers for the early-season browsing and research that leads to purchases down the road? A few suggestions:

Showcase products and content that make life easier. While shoppers may just be starting to browse and consider gifts, by now they’re likely aware of their holiday plans — whether they’re hosting a major holiday meal, having houseguests, or traveling themselves, and they may even already have a few red-letter festive dates on the calendar. Merchants should cater to these preparatory needs by stressing the convenience of crossing holiday to-dos off the list now. While this tactic is a tried-and-true approach for home and housewares brands, who can preview tools and tips for holiday feasts and hosting, other merchants can translate the message to fit their target audience. MarketLive merchant Delia’s previews the festive season with a home page promotion showcasing party dresses. Text further downpage invites shoppers to “get prepped to party.”

Early holiday example from Delia's

Encourage signups by listing holiday benefits. Merchants should step up promotions to subscribe to email alerts and follow brands on social media — and spell out the benefits to come throughout the holiday season. Consumers should know what they can expect iIn exchange for committing to follow brands, whether it’s exclusive holiday discounts, product previews or shipping offers; the latest in-store specials; or even special seasonal services such as free gift wrap. MarketLive merchant Modell’s is promoting a “Holiday All-Stars” program that encourages visitors to the brand’s Facebook page to become followers by promising them sweepstakes entries based on how frequently they like and share Modells.com content.

Early holiday example from Modell's

modells_earlyholidayfollow2

Position layaway information prominently.  Previously we’ve discussed how best to support in-store layaway programs online. Now is the time to dust off those tactics and remind shoppers that they can secure sought-after items early and pay over time. Kmart recently launched a “Not a Christmas Commercial” — a cheeky nod to criticism the brand received last year over its early holiday advertising —  that suggests shoppers with “an event in late December you need a lot of gifts for, like maybe your entire family is having their birthday on the same day.” The YouTube video includes an embedded link to Kmart’s online layaway center, where shoppers can set up layaway online or read details of in-store policies and procedures. Layaway is allocated space in the global header navigation, ensuring shoppers can access the information at any point along the path to purchase.

kmart_layawayearly

Are you easing into the holidays, or have you begun full-tilt promotions? What informs the timing of your campaigns?

Christmas in July — Get your video game on

It’s mid-summer, and most consumers are far from focused on their holiday shopping.

But merchants and marketers hoping to succeed during this all-important sales season are already strategizing how to connect with their customers and best the competition.

Increasingly, those battles are playing out online, with 60 percent of all US retail sales expected to involve the Internet in some way by 2017, according to Forrester Research.

And those shoppers, from casual browsers to loyal consumers, are increasingly getting their information from and interacting with online videos.

MarketLive and partner Invodo have already teamed up to provide seamless video integration in the ML E-commerce platform. Now we’re working on an upcoming whitepaper aimed at helping merchants better understand what’s behind the explosive growth of Internet video and how they can harness it to engage customers, improve conversions and boost sales.

Industry Statistics

The statistics are compelling. Fully 90 percent of consumers watch online videos, with 65 percent of watching to completion. And those who watch videos are 1.8 times more likely to make purchases than those who don’t. That alone speaks to video’s power to engage shoppers in ways static images and text cannot.

Strategy specifics

We’ll outline Best of Breed strategies for tailoring different types of videos to different customers depending on where they are in their journey with your product.

For customers landing on the home page, for example, brand awareness videos should give visitors a general overview and sense of what the company and its products are all about.

As the customers progress toward purchase, the videos need to be tailored to their particular needs. The videos for consumers during the consideration stage are meant to guide them to the right product category, while customers on the cusp of purchase need the most detailed product-specific information.

We’ll also dive into the myriad benefits of how-to videos — which go beyond merely increasing conversions — to provide side benefits such as customer confidence, reduced returns and call center costs.

Videos in action

Learn how top retailers are using videos to engage their customers on a whole new level.

From high-end outdoor furniture retailer Brown Jordan’s polished videos detailing the craftsmanship and features of its various collections, to Cost Plus World Market’s simple but effective demonstrations of ways to tie a scarf, we’ll highlight some of the ways top retailers are making effective use of video on their sites, and beyond.

Cost Plus Instructional Scarf Videos

If done right, an effective video campaign can cross all channels, from the homepage, to mobile sites for phones and tablets, social sites like Facebook and Twitter, and in-store through apps or displays, increasing ROI.

So merchants seeking deeper engagement with their customers this holiday season and the boost to the bottom line that follows should start thinking now about ways to up their game when it comes to video commerce.

What you can do now to prevent holiday returns later

It may only be July, but e-tailers everywhere are already racking their brains for ways to minimize costly returns this holiday season.

Their angst is understandable given the staggering statistics about the impact of returns on their bottom lines. Fully one-third of all Internet sales are ultimately returned, according to a recent Wall Street Journal story.

While it’s worthwhile to spruce up the fine print to let shoppers know what your policies are should they wish to make a return, merchants should also endeavor to prevent returns altogether with product information that proactively addresses concerns and matches them with the right items, the first time around

Video

Though video production can represent a significant investment, practical videos can contribute to the bottom line by increasing conversion and staving off returns.

Nearly 60% of consumers say they’re more confident about online purchases thanks to product videos, and 44% say they purchase more on sites that provide videos, according to research from the E-Tailing Group and MarketLive technology partner Invodo.

The E-Tailing Group study found that shoppers are most willing to spend time with videos that educate them about a particular product category, while videos that demonstrate how to use an individual product came in a close second. 55% of shoppers prefer to consult videos as part of the deep consideration process that takes place on the product page.

Consider investing in videos centered around these three essential types of video content:

Problems and solutions. Create videos centered around common shopper concerns or challenges, such as swimsuit fit for an apparel merchant or wet weather preparedness for a camper.

Buying guides. Help shoppers navigate among the choices in a particular product category with video buying guides that step them through the factors they should consider.

Product demonstrations. At the most detailed level of the purchase consideration process, videos that show how to use individual products help consumers see concretely whether the item is a fit for their needs.

High Tech Tools

Though highly effective, videos aren’t the only tools available to help retailers improve customer satisfaction.

Consider using specialized tools or apps for matching colors or allowing customers to take a virtual test-drive of your products. Though development may be daunting, cost-savings for providing them — particularly for big-ticket and/or match-required products could be worth the the effort.

Design Within Reach partnered with mydeco.com to offer DWR 3-D Room Planner allowing customers to create or upload floor plans and then complete rooms with details, including the vast collection of DWR furniture and accessories to get a realistic preview of how they will appear in home.

www.dwr.com 2014-7-8 15 38 18

Sherwin Williams has also developed an app called ColorSnap® which easily matches colors in images you capture with your iPhone to Sherwin-Williams paint colors.

Fit Guides and Super Specifics

The biggest cause of returns by far is size. It’s a persistent sales hurdle for apparel merchants: helping shoppers find the right fit without being able to physically try on items before purchase.

This means going beyond traditional fit charts, which list sizes and dimensions in inches in a static grid. Consider the following ideas more tailored to online customers who expect the process to be quick and convenient.

Develop an at-a-glance system. Go beyond the numbers and develop a system appropriate for your merchandise that conveys key fit information — whether garments are meant to be loose-fitting or tight or whether watches are rugged or delicate, for example.

With the web becoming increasingly visual, merchants in all industries should  find ways to allow customers to employ faceted search and communicate facet options on category and product pages with icons, shapes or sliders. Eyewear and eye care site Lenscrafters lets shoppers filter frames by face shape as well as frame shape, using icons as guides.

Lenscrafters

Save the numbers. If you ask shoppers to supply their dimensions, save the information to their profile for future reference — a time-saving feature shoppers will appreciate — and use the data to present products that are most likely to fit, whether on the eCommerce site or in targeted email or mobile offers.

Synch sizes across brands.  If shoppers know their size in a particular brand, you can use that information to help match them to other garments. You can make this process as simple as creating an equivalency chart for shoppers to consult, or you can employ a matching technology such as TrueFit, which asks shoppers to create a profile based on a sampling of brands that fit well, plus information about body type. The portable profile lets shoppers visiting the sites of participating merchants view which items are likely to fit them well, as at the Macys.com denim shop for women.

Product Q and A

Your customers are invariably going to have questions you didn’t think of adding to your Q & A lists.

Seventy-two percent of customers trust online opinions as much as they trust their own friends and family, according to Forrester. According to Forbes, ninety-two percent of consumers around the world say they trust word-of-mouth recommendations, whether from strangers or from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising.

Let shoppers pose questions and customers answer them. Integrate  your questions and answers with your review section, the bedrock of any ecommerce site, with the main stream of product information. By doing so, the information not only is more likely to be read, but more questions are likely to be spawned – thereby creating momentum.

Skincare merchant Perricone MD gives reviews and Q and A content equal weight, using a tabbed format so that shoppers can swiftly switch information streams as they conduct research.

Perricone MD

Such a presentation not only makes for interesting reading; it also solves the critical-mass problem common to product Q-and-A tools that are siloed separately from reviews.

By enabling fluid dialogue between existing customers and potential shoppers, merchants create a platform for exchanging candid information – thereby establishing the brand as a credible hub of product knowledge and increasing customers confidence in their purchasing decisions.

This stream of user-generated content that ends up benefiting everyone.

Let shoppers know they can try and buy in-store

While shopping online is convenient, sometimes customers would still prefer to visit stores to ensure they’re getting the right fit.

Jewelry merchant Helzberg Diamonds prominently offers in-store appointments to view any of their 30,000 diamonds and jewelry collections for those shoppers who just need to see before they buy. An appointment icon displayed throughout their site offers a click-and-schedule feature. They add, “We look forward to seeing you!”

Shoppers can still use web sites to browse the full product catalog to narrow down choices but try and buy where they can see and feel the merchandise in person.

What methods do you use to prevent returns. What worked? What challenges are you facing?

Get your PLAs in order now for holiday success to come

With Memorial Day in the rearview mirror, the windup to the all-important holiday shopping season has begun. Among the myriad priorities merchants are juggling, search marketing is a key component of promotional calendars and spending plans — and a relative newcomer to the array of search marketing tools is poised to take center stage: the Google Product Listing Ad.

Ever since Google converted its shopping results to a paid format in 2012, its Product Listing Ads (PLAs) have soared in popularity with both consumers and merchants. The format of product-specific images and links seems to be a winning one, with one out of every five paid search clicks going to a PLA in 2013, according to Marin Software. During the holiday season, click-through rates for PLAs soared 20.5% year over year, compared with just a 4.6 click-through rate increase for text-based search ads.

In response to this new shopping behavior, merchants are investing more than ever in PLAs. Technology researcher Forrester reports that 6% of all interactive budgets were allocated to PLAs in 2013. That investment partially explains the shift in dollars away from natural search engine optimization and toward paid search advertising, which merchants said was the #2 area for increased investment, behind email. PLAs specifically were the #3 priority for increased spending; natural SEO dropped from #1 to #5 as the increasing fragmentation of audiences and devices and algorithm changes requiring a new and nuanced approach to earning visibility rendered “SEO 1.0” techniques obsolete.

Specifically during the holidays, investment in PLAs soared 80% year over year in Q4 of 2013 compared with Q4 of 2012, according to the Adobe Digital Index. Close to a quarter of total search spend was allocated to PLAs during the holidays in 2013, according to Marin Software, and that number is forecast to jump to 33% in 2014.

The growth in activity means that cost-per-click rates are skyrocketing — forcing merchants who wish to stretch their budgets while taking advantage of the visibility and popularity of PLAs to fine-tune their strategies. Summertime, before the bidding frenzy begins, is the perfect time for merchants to:

Perfect the content of their feeds. In order to win clicks from shoppers considering a series of PLAs, merchants should develop content specific to the environment, including:

  • Images that are optimized for both dimensions and content. Merchants should follow Google’s PLA guidelines for pixel dimensions and also consider the content of the photos; shots of product collections can end up looking microscopic when rendered to thumbnail size.
  • Comprehensible text that omits abbreviations and merchant lingo. Text should also prioritize key product attributes, not the merchant’s brand name, since the lines are truncated.

Merchants would do well to consider manually assembling PLA text and images for top sellers, exclusive products and other potential holiday hits.

MarketLive merchant Party City’s PLA for Star Wars Lego party supplies features an image of a colorful collection of products that registers well at the thumbnail size. The text calls out the fact that the product is a “super party kit,” in contrast with the single-item listings from other merchants, and includes a free shipping offer.

paid listing ad from Party City

Throttle granularity just right.  Merchants should experiment with how best to combine campaigns, ad groups and product targets and set negative keywords to achieve the right level of specificity when it comes to displaying products for particular search terms. While a single All Products ad group is likely insufficient for segmenting offers and bid prices, establishing ad groups for each product can be burdensome when it comes to tracking performance and setting bid prices. All in all, merchants should group their products so they can:

  • Highlight unique offerings with tailored promotions. Merchants should structure their groups so they can apply promotions that demonstrate relevance to their target audience — an offer of a free accessory with purchase that complements the featured product, for example, or a discount on products from a particular brand manufacturer.
  • Up bids on top holiday sellers, and drop poor performers. As the season progresses, merchants need the flexibility to adjust PLA campaigns to feature the items that are driving engagement and sales, to take advantage of unexpected PR buzz, to tailor targets according to popular search terms — or to minimize spend on products not performing up to par.

Realistically assess the mobile PLA opportunity. While we’re bullish on mobile paid search in general, when it comes to PLAs, merchants should think twice. Shoppers engaging with PLAs are looking for comprehensive product details, so if merchants don’t have a robust mobile offering that includes mobile-optimized landing pages and a frictionless path to purchase, investment in mobile PLAs might be putting the cart before the horse.

How are you using PLAs now, and how will they feature in your holiday campaigns?

Performance Index: Holiday season finishes strong

The final results are in from the holiday season, and merchants in the MarketLive Performance Index fared very well indeed. Merchants achieved traffic and revenue gains of more than 15%, and average order size grew a substantial 6.1% — suggesting that deep discounting isn’t always the key to holiday sales growth.

Additionally, merchants in the Index outperformed the industry at large, which notched a 10% sales gain overall, according to measurement firm comScore. The results demonstrate that small- to mid-sized merchants held their own against the mass merchants whose revenues account for the majority of online sales overall.

Holiday sales data from MarketLive

The results also revealed potential areas of improvement for 2014. Both the add-to-cart rate and conversion rate ended the season a tenth of a percentage point lower than in 2013 after lagging in the final days before Christmas and in the first rush of post-season sales. To reverse the trend in 2014, merchants must do more to capitalize on increased traffic if they want to achieve even greater revenue growth. The 3% increase in cart abandonment further eroded the benefit of traffic gains, suggesting merchants must do more to compel shoppers to become brand customers, using whatever touchpoint they prefer.

In our upcoming 2014 trends report, we’ll examine the key initiatives that will help merchants achieve these goals. Among them:

From mobile presence to mobile competence. Our survey of eCommerce sites during the holidays revealed that many merchants have a long way to go when it comes to offering truly effective mobile touchpoints. While most brands have mobile offerings, many are rudimentary efforts that faintly echoed the marketing and merchandising campaigns of the desktop browser Web sites. Instead, regardless of the technical sophistication of their mobile offerings, merchants must customize content and products to take into account shoppers’ situational priorities and present relevant context. MarketLive merchant Armani Exchange presented mobile shoppers with a streamlined experience that included gift guides by price. Email signup was prominently integrated into the presentation so that mobile browsers could sign up to receive special holiday offers, while sharing tools enabled shoppers to post favorite items with ease.

Mobile example from Armani Exchange

Making it personal. Personalization as a concept has existed for years, but the tools now exist for merchants of all sizes to present shoppers with an experience tailored to their preferences and purchase histories and enhanced by individualized customer service. By delivering wholly unique brand interactions, merchants can set their offerings apart from mass discounters and create long-lasting customer relationships. During the holidays, brand manufacturer Carter’s followed up in-store purchases with an invitation to submit a customer review and enter to win a gift card. The message additionally gives shoppers further ways to connect with the brand via social media, and promotes gift card purchase — especially relevant for the holiday season — as well as including store information for the local outlet.

Personalized email example from Carter's

How did your holidays wrap up, and how are the results influencing your priorities for 2014?

Riding the second wave: post-season sales

While the holiday gift-buying season is wrapping up, the next shopping frenzy is just about to begin. Post-season sales and gift card redemption purchases are poised to fuel a busy leadup to the New Year — and data suggests that consumers will start this wave of spending earlier than ever.

Measurement firm comScore reported that in 2012, online sales on Christmas Day itself rose by 36% to $288 million — not a huge sum compared with billion-dollar holiday events like Black Friday, but a significant opportunity nonetheless. Overall, online sales for the first quarter have topped $50 billion for the past two years, according to comScore, signaling that merchants mustn’t let their focus lapse after the peak fourth quarter.

To kick off the post-season, merchants should:

Balance email promotions for Christmas Day. Many merchants thank shoppers for their support in a year-end email that has no commercial strings attached. But with shoppers increasingly logging on immediately after the gifts under the tree have been opened, merchants must strike a new balance with their messaging — whether by scheduling a second message to highlight the kickoff of post-season sales, or by subtly combining the two functions, as Totes-Isotoner did last year. The MarketLive merchant positioned its 50% offer as a thank-you gift to its customers.

Christmas email example from Totes

Spotlight recent favorites and exclusives on the eCommerce site. The fresh wave of shoppers visiting merchant sites is likely to include recipients of gift cards or gifts to exchange who aren’t already familiar with the brand. That’s why, in addition to crucial customer service information, merchants should spotlight popular products and brand exclusives to tantalize them into purchasing. Showcasing top gift picks from the recent holiday season, top-rated products, or trending items on social networking sites such as Pinterest demonstrates the breadth of the brand’s offering, as well as providing endorsements from other customers.

Be prepared for a social rush. Social media users rely on that channel to interact with brands for customer service: nearly half have relied on “social care,” according to NM Incite, and 30% of consumers prefer to access customer service via social media than the phone. A positive customer service experience can lead to a boost in word-of-mouth recommendations: shoppers who use social networks for customer service are three times as likely to recommend a brand after a successful interaction, according to NM Incite. So it behooves merchants to staff up for instant response during the post-season sales rush, as shoppers flock online in search of information about returns and exchanges and gift card redemption.

Merchants should even consider proactively posting customer service information on social networks, boosting efficiency and convenience. MarketLive merchant Figi’s anchors a link to customer service information at the top of its Facebook timeline page, providing users of the social network direct access to a searchable set of frequently-asked questions, along with the ability to ask a question directly online.

Facebook customer service example from Figi's

We have a lot of great content planned in 2014 — starting with a MarketLive Performance Index wrapup of holiday season sales and a look ahead at the trends set to shape online commerce in 2014. Stay tuned, and meantime, best wishes for a prosperous holiday!

Performance Index: merchants well-positioned for final holiday push

The clock is ticking down on the holiday season, and the latest data from the MarketLive Performance Index indicates that merchants are beginning their final push well-positioned to see sustained growth.

In the week of December 9, which began with “Green Monday” (the last Monday in December with at least 10 days before Christmas), Performance Index merchants saw revenue gains of almost 30%, thanks in part to a traffic increase of 23%. Conversion rose by 3.4%, and the average order size outpaced last year’s by 3.5%, again suggesting that merchants are winning sales without resorting to constant bargain-basement pricing.

Combined with the record gains achieved during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the latest strong results put merchants on track to end the season with substantial sales growth. Cumulative season-to-date revenue is 30% higher than last year, despite the shortened season, and conversion is up more than 6%, while average order size is more than 2% higher than last year.

Holiday data from the MarketLive Performance Index

For many merchants, the deadline is nigh for delivery by Christmas Eve via ground shipping — so the trick for sustaining revenue gains through the end of the season will be to encourage continue spending despite this logistical hurdle. Tactics merchants can adopt include:

Highlighting in-stock items. Merchants should flag items that are in-stock, both for online purchase and for pickup or purchase in stores — enabling shoppers to zero in on the gifts that can make it under the tree in time.

Pairing a collection of in-stock gift finds with a discount on expedited shipping provides online buyers with a compelling reason to complete their purchases immediately. For merchants with physical store outlets, enabling online browsers to view items that qualify for in-store pickup before Christmas at a location near them smooths the online-offline purchase process.

MarketLive merchant Helzberg Diamonds promotes “green truck” items that are guaranteed to arrive on time if purchased by December 23. An icon and shipping estimate are provided on the product page, with a key explaining the fulfillment classification system and displaying estimated delivery dates for each.

Guaranteed delivery promotion from Helzberg

Product page example from Helzberg

Shipping cutoffs explained, from Helzberg

Easing the last-minute store rush. Merchants with physical store locations should move links to the store locator out of the customer service section and into the spotlight. They should additionally bolster standard store-locator information with promotions of relevant online content and services. Gap’s store locator for shoppers browsing the eCommerce site on their desktop or laptop displays not only location-specific hours, but promotes the ability to reserve items online for purchase in-store, along with a curated gift guide showcasing tailored gift picks. On the mobile site, Gap’s store locator — always anchored prominently on the home page — calls out holiday hours in the “Special Hours” section.

Store locator example from Gap

Mobile store locator from Gap

Boosting e-gift card visibility. As discussed in last week’s post, merchants should promote gift card options ubiquitously, in locations that go far beyond the holiday gift guide section. And in the final week, gift cards should receive pride of place on the home page, with merchants highlighting swift delivery via email and flexibility as main selling points. And on the gift card product page, merchants should ensure that options for physical versus virtual gift cards are clearly delineated, so that shoppers wishing to purchase cards for delivery by Christmas are sure to pick the right one.  MarketLive merchant dELiA*s promotes delivery timeframes along with gift card options on its home page. The gift card product page has been updated to reiterate the cutoff dates and delineates the two separate ordering processes for physical versus virtual cards.

Gift card promotion from dELiA*s

Gift card product page from dELiA*s


What last-minute tactics are you employing to keep shoppers engaged through the end of the season?

Performance Index: Cyber Monday week sees major gains

As the short holiday season hits the halfway mark, the news is encouraging for specialty and niche merchants. According to weekly data from the MarketLive Performance Index, Cyber Monday and the week that followed continued the Thanksgiving weekend trend of increased traffic and improved performance metrics, driving overall revenues 32% higher compared with the same week last year.

Furthermore, the data suggests that even amidst heavy discounting, merchants are making strong gains. For one, while traffic for December 2 – December 9 grew by 17%, revenue grew even more substantially, suggesting that individual buyers are purchasing more than last year.  The conversion rate increased by 2.4%. Meantime, the average order size compared with last year held steady, suggesting merchants are successfully wooing shoppers without necessarily discounting steeply.

MarketLive Performance Index data

The only performance challenge merchants face is with the add-to-cart rate, which plummeted nearly a full percentage point, by more than 8%, compared with the prior week. With offers flying fast and furious, shoppers are comparison shopping and waiting for the right deal to entice them to finalize purchases. While overall the add-to-cart rate for the season is up by 11.3%, merchants should redouble their efforts to convert shoppers to buyers. Among the quick tactics to try:

Promote limited-time offers beyond the obvious spots.  Merchants should include notices about free shipping offers or price discounts in the cart, whether via a global banner or a promotional fill slot. But even before shoppers reach that milestone on the path to purchase, merchants should flag promotions and direct shoppers to relevant information. Locations to consider include:

  • The drop-down global cart. As we’ve noted previously, graphics or images in motion are more likely to capture our attention than static site content, so including promotions in this automated display stand a better chance of being seen.

  • In secondary navigation. When used, a left-hand column usually exposes the depth of products on offer, whether via  a detailed sub-category list or by using a guided-navigation-style list of attributes shoppers can access to resolve problems. But it’s also an opportunity to reiterate the latest promotion and its end date, so that shoppers can access details from wherever on the site they roam.

  • On product pages. With consumers increasingly accessing eCommerce sites via interior pages after being directed there from search engines, it’s crucial for merchants to feature deals right alongside product content.MarketLive merchant Armani Exchange highlights current discounts in red on the product page, calling out the free shipping thresholds and “deal of the week” merchandise.

Promotion example from Armani Exchange

Fine-tune triggered emails. As we’ve reported previously, nearly three-quarters of merchants don’t yet have a triggered email program in place to attempt to recapture sales after consumers leave the site.  While it’s too late to institute such a program from scratch right now, merchants with existing abandoned-cart triggered emails should consider revamping them slightly. The messages should include:

  • Plenty of product content. Merchants should incorporate more than just the image of the product the shopper left in the cart, but should take the opportunity to provide a longer product story. A comprehensive description, paired with how-to videos demonstrating usage and even a buying guide matching the product category, can win over hesitant shoppers by helping them envision how the product might fit or feel.

  • Abundant customer service links. Merchants should put contact information front and center in cart-recovery messages, with links to product guarantees and delivery timelines that help shoppers what they need.

  • Social connectors. The ability to connect to communities of followers on social outposts may help shoppers find lifestyle content that convinces them to commit to a purchase from the brand.

Clothier French Connection puts it all together in its cart abandonment email. In addition to displaying a picture of the abandoned item and the means to link directly to checkout, the message includes a sizable section describing customer service and displaying contact information. A series of links at the bottom of the message directs shoppers to connect via social media.
Abandoned cart email from French Connection

What tactics are you using to drive continued engagement through the holiday season?

The 3 locations merchants overlook when promoting gift cards

As the holiday season rounds the bend into the final fortnight, merchants would do well to step up promotion of gift cards. As we previously reported, gift card sales are poised to soar again this year, with more than half of shoppers reporting they’ll turn to gift cards for at more than one in 10 recipients on their list, according to the MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey. Industry-wide, the National Retail Federation reports that 8 in 10 shoppers will purchase  a gift card this season, and the amount spent on gift cards will jump 4% compared with last year.

Given the importance of gift cards, most merchants by now know to promote their offerings prominently, and to pre-empt customer service enquiries by clearly spelling out delivery options redemption policies. But while there’s almost always a home page link to gift card purchasing and mention of gift cards in email campaigns, there are several key junctures merchants are missing when it comes to gift-card messaging.

As shoppers become increasingly desperate to find gifts for the final names on their lists, and as order deadlines for items to arrive in time pass, merchants should use every means available to promote gift cards. Tweak site presentation and promotions now to highlight gift cards:

In transactional email. Recent buyers are low-hanging fruit for merchants; they’re already familiar with the brand and have committed to purchasing. And as we’ve reported earlier, the majority of consumers now expect to receive promotional information along with order and delivery confirmation emails, according to a study from the E-Tailing Group and MyBuys. Merchants should remind these customers that after scoring a valuable gift find the first time around, they can take care of other recipients on their list with ease and convenience using gift cards.

Via social media. It’s one thing to post a status update or Tweet reminding followers to pick up last-minute gift cards; it’s another to anchor gift cards into the social experience. Merchants should make gift card information — or better yet, direct gift card purchase — one of the main links from the Timeline page in Facebook, and include a direct link to gift card purchasing from Twitter. Merchants can even get creative and build Pinterest pinboards around top items for gift-card recipients.

MarketLive merchant Sport Chalet has anchored a link to gift cards from a prominent spot on the brand’s Facebook Timeline. Followers can buy either a physical card or an e-gift card directly from within Facebook, upping convenience by enabling them to complete gift purchases without leaving the social environment.

Gift card promotion from Sport Chalet

On product pages. While most merchants include prominent promotion of gift cards on their eCommerce site home pages and in holiday gift guides, many shoppers now enter brand sites directly on product pages via search engine results. A text link in the global header doesn’t suffice to alert these incoming visitors to gift card options; merchants should incorporate a promotion within the center content area — if need be, by using a cross-sell slot, as ThinkGeek does with an anchored “Gift Certificates” link.

Gift certificate promotion from ThinkGeek

Where and how are you promoting gift cards this holiday season?

Performance Index: Holiday season off to strong start

The initial results are in from the Thanksgiving and Black Friday weekend, and merchants have reason to rejoice. Data from the MarketLive Performance Index, which reports aggregate data from leading specialty merchants, shows year over year sales gains of more than 50% on both Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday, with Saturday and Sunday each earning revenue growth of more than 40%.

The increased sales were driven by double-digit growth in visits throughout the weekend that peaked with a 44% jump in traffic on Black Friday. Improvements in the add-to-cart rate, conversion rate and abandonment rate indicated that merchants have fine-tuned offerings to present relevant products and offers that spur shoppers to become buyers.

Performance Index data for Black Friday weekend

These results are especially heartening after indications that the weekend brought lean results industry-wide. The National Retail Federation estimated that overall sales in stores and online totaled $57.4 billion — a 1.7% drop compared with the organization’s 2012 estimate of $59.1 billion for the same weekend. Online, the news was brighter, with measurement firm comScore reporting revenue gains of 21% for Thanksgiving and 5% for Black Friday, when online sales topped $1 billion for the day.

The even stronger results from the MarketLIve Index suggest that small- to mid-sized merchants are winning buyers without necessarily resorting to the deep-discounting strategies adopted by leading mass merchants whose combined revenues make up the lion’s share of the industry results. By presenting shoppers with comprehensive product and lifestyle content, building a community of like-minded enthusiasts, showcasing superior customer service and encouraging repeat sales and long-term loyalty, merchants are successfully competing with Amazon and other top online destinations, even during this ultra-competitive season.

To continue outperforming the industry for the remainder of the season, merchants should:

Encourage repeat engagement. Many merchants we surveyed over the peak buying weekend had launched extended initiatives spotlighting one product or deal per day. Such campaigns not only entice shoppers to continually return to the site and potentially make additional purchases as new offers are revealed, but they also provide buzz-worthy fodder for sharing via social media. MarketLive merchant World Market launched its “24 Days of Deals” over the weekend, with a daily discount presented via an Advent-calendar type layout on the eCommerce site.

Holiday promotion from World Market

Entice social followers into deeper interaction. Social media can be an effective tool for driving new visitors to brand sites, and during this peak season, savvy merchants are capitalizing on the buzz on social outposts to encourage further engagement from followers. Among the tactics in play:

  • Sweepstakes that allow shoppers to enter daily or earn extra entries when they share products or offers with friends

  • User-generated content submissions that express the brand’s identity

  • Direct purchasing via Facebook — especially for gift cards

  • Email signup via Facebook

MarketLive merchant dELiA*s offers Facebook followers the opportunity to sign up to receive email updates without leaving the social network environment. Followers can even register using their profile information, further smoothing the signup process. By promising that subscribers will “always be the first” to learn about new products and promotions, dELiA*s appeals to social followers accustomed to receiving constant updates and being instantly in-the-know. By subscribing to email alerts, followers will receive word of brand offerings even if they happen to miss an individual post or Tweet.

Social email signup from Delia's

Stay tuned to the blog for further holiday results throughout the season. Meantime, how was your Black Friday weekend, and what tactics are seeing the most success for your brand?

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