Webinar recap: 3 reasons to be optimistic this holiday season

There was a plethora of information in Wednesday’s webinar reviewing the results of the 2013 MarketLive/E-Tailing Group Holiday Shopping Survey. While we’ll cover specific themes and tactics in the weeks to come, we thought it worthwhile to set the tone for the holidays with some uplifting news: this year has plenty of potential to reap great rewards for merchants.


It’s certainly true that merchants will face stiff competition and plenty of challenges this holiday season, as we reported in our recent post on holiday sales forecasts. The National Retail Federation’s predicted overall retail sales growth rate of 4.1% is almost 27% lower than the recent highs of 2010 and 2011, which both saw gains of 5.6%. And in Wednesday’s webinar, E-Tailing Group president Lauren Freedman said that 47% of merchants surveyed said they’re nervous about not meeting aggressive sales goals, while more than a third said they believed the year would result in flat sales growth at best.

But the webinar also pinpointed a number of areas where consumers themselves indicated they’re both ready to spend and receptive to merchant offerings. Here are three reasons to feel confident heading into the season — and three ways to translate the opportunities into tangible tactics:

Shoppers are willing to buy more, in more categories, than ever. Fully 40% of consumers said they planned to make more holiday purchases online this year than last year, and for almost every product category the percentage of shoppers planning purchases has risen significantly, indicating increased confidence in online buying and appreciation of the convenience, savings and selection on offer. And some of the most dramatic increases by category are in high-ticket items, such as jewelry and watches, which shows 86% growth in online purchase intent, and consumer electronics, at 53% growth.

E-Tailing Group/MarketLive survey data

Merchants should take advantage of consumers’ broad-mindedness by showcasing the broadest possible assortment of potential gift items via home page displays, gift guides and email creative that emphasize variety. MarketLive merchant Sundance Catalog used its 2012 gift guide to showcase categories from gift wrap to footwear to jewelry, increasing the likelihood that shoppers would spot items for recipients on their lists.

Gift guide example from Sundance Catalog

Shoppers are more willing to buy items at full price. While the survey showed that shoppers remain price-conscious and hungry for discounts (especially free shipping), the percentage of consumers who said they would never pay full price for an item dropped significantly compared with 2012. While more than a third of consumers last year said they would refuse to pay full price for items, 2013’s survey found that less than a quarter of shoppers now share the same sentiment — a 31% drop. Meantime, more consumers are willing to pay for unique finds that perfectly match gift recipients, for items that never go on sale and for hot-selling items difficult to source in physical stores. Rewards for purchasing, including free shipping and loyalty points, are further incentives to pay full price, participants said.

E-Tailing Group/MarketLive survey data

To capitalize on this opportunity, merchants should promote wish list creation and sharing, including Pinterest wish list boards — perhaps via a “win your wish list” or “pin it to win it” contest — as a means of encouraging consumers to self-identify ideal gift picks. Additionally, merchants should message prominently the uniqueness of their wares, spotlighting the craftsmanship and/or traditions behind the products. MarketLive merchant Simon Pearce devotes considerable content resources to detailing the painstaking craftsmanship, traditions and company heritage the brand represents, underscoring the uniqueness and value of the pieces on offer.

Content example from Simon Pearce

Shoppers are willing to buy on smartphones — yes, smartphones. Tablets have performed so strongly in the early going that much emphasis has been placed on their potential to make mobile commerce a viable reality. But the survey revealed that smartphones stand to make a significant impact this season as well. Given that all participants in the survey owned smartphones, fully 53% of them said they intended to use their devices to buy gifts, while research activities scored even higher.

E-Tailing Group/MarketLive survey data

This news should come as a relief to merchants who’ve invested in optimizing their mobile sites for transactions, not just browsing. While it’s too late to make major changes to mobile site design or functionality, merchants can still make meaningful adjustments to ensure maximum effectiveness for their mobile offerings. For starts, gift guides, gift card information and other holiday-centric site sections should all be featured prominently in mobile format. Customer service information is another key component to spotlight, including prominent access to live chat and the click-to-call 800 number, shipping cutoff dates, and order tracking as well as the store locator.

Finally, merchants should promote mobile functionality prominently and fully integrate mobile messaging into holiday campaigns, as Nordstrom did in 2012 with its “Giving Made Easy” email campaign. “Shop Our Site on the Go” is included in a comprehensive list of convenient and time-saving services, alerting recipients to the availability of mobile purchasing.

Mobile promotion example from Nordstrom

What’s your outlook for the 2013 holiday season, and what strategies do you forecast will be successful?

Holiday first look: Merchants brace for competitive season

If the first 2013 holiday forecasts are accurate, merchants are in for a tough but potentially rewarding battle. Overall retail sales growth is expected to be tepid, with store traffic measurement firm ShopperTrak predicting revenues will increase just 2.4%. That forecast is in line with the patchy results reported for the back-to-school season, which saw merchants using deep discounts to boost purchasing even as August sales fell short of estimates for leading mass merchants.

As with past years, eCommerce promises to be a bright spot, with eMarketer’s forecast predicting online sales growth of 15.1%.  Merchants themselves are bullish, with close to a third predicting eCommerce sales will grow more than 20%, according to a survey conducted by the E-Tailing Group and reported by eMarketer.

While these preliminary estimates tend to be highly speculative, when combined with the overall trend of a maturing eCommerce market and resulting increased competition for existing customers, the takeaway for merchants is that they must prepare to compete harder than ever for consumers’ attention and dollars this holiday season. As the final countdown to the season begins, merchants should fine-tune key components of their strategy to maximize potential sales. Among the last-minute to-dos:

Get your house in order when it comes to free shipping. Given that shipping discounts are highly sought after by consumers, nearly 49% of merchants report they’ll increase their free shipping offers this year compared with 2012, according to the eMarketer forecast. Free shipping with no threshold was by far the most successful promotion merchants offered in 2012.

Research on holiday promotions from eMarketer

That doesn’t mean merchants must join the crowds and offer unrestricted free shipping — but it does mean they need to offer shoppers alternative ways to keep shipping costs down and compensate for the lack of free shipping by spotlighting brand value — a central tenet of our year-long “Competing with Amazon” series. Merchants should take the time now to tweak promotions and content design to highlight these alternatives.

Win followers and subscribers now for repeat engagement opportunities later. Merchants should find ways now — before the holiday clamor has begun — to encourage shoppers to stay in touch with brands. They should position email signup invitations prominently and devise incentives for following brands on social media, such as MarketLive merchant Ulla Popken does with a double offer on its home page. Shoppers who follow the brand on Facebook are entered in a drawing for a $250 gift card, while clicks on links shared via social networks or email earn followers and the friends who do the clicking a 20% referral discount.

Engagement invitation example from Ulla Popken

Tune in next Wednesday, October 9, at 10 a.m. PDT for a webinar covering the results of the MarketLive/E-Tailing Group pre-holiday consumer shopping survey. And stay tuned to the blog for further holiday forecasts, research and last-minute tips. Meantime, what are your top last-minute tweaks in advance of the season?

Why it’s worthwhile to spruce up the fine print for the holidays

While most merchants have formulated plans for innovative content and discounts for the upcoming holiday season, another area worthy of attention may have escaped scrutiny: the “fine print” that explains in detail the logistics of delivery, returns and product guarantees.

While this topic may seem downright boring compared with free shipping offers or social media promotions, the information conveyed in policy statements is vital for shoppers. Consider these statistics, from a recent comScore/UPS study:

  • Two-thirds of shoppers review merchant return policies before purchasing products.

  • More than 60% of shoppers said the ability to purchase online and return in-store was a factor in purchase consideration, while 44% said the ability to buy online and pick up items in-store would encourage them to purchase.

  • Knowing the shipping cost and estimated delivery timeframe was second only to a free shipping offer as a purchase influencer, sought by 53% of shoppers.

  • More than one in five shoppers said they’ve abandoned sites when no estimated delivery date was provided early in the purchase process.

In addition, the availability of simple, across-the-board policies is now a key brand differentiator when compared with Amazon.com, eBay, and other sites whose wares are sold by a variety of vendors, each of whom may have different shipping charges or gifting services. Especially heading into the hectic holiday season, merchants should flaunt this ease and convenience.

In short, while it’s likely too late for merchants to overhaul the substance of their policies before the holiday season, boosting visibility and access to the information is a worthwhile project that can boost sales and brand reputation. A few tactics to consider:

Write “product descriptions” for policies — and promote accordingly. Assign your merchandising copywriters the task of crafting shipping and returns information and product guarantees that are as enticing as product descriptions. Make them succinct, too, so that they can be promoted in a variety of locations throughout the path to purchase — much as you would promote cross-sell products. (If the legal team balks, simply include a link to the original long-winded policy at the end of the new version.)

MarketLive merchant Title Nine has dubbed its return policy the “360 Guarantee” and promotes it prominently on the eCommerce site — in the global footer, on a tab on the product page, and in the cart, with the tagline “No questions. No hassles. No kidding.”

Product guarantee example from Title Nine

Amp up policy information around gift cards. With the popularity of gift cards for the holidays, merchants should ensure that policies surrounding their offerings are crystal-clear and prominently accessible. Details to cover include:

  • What denominations are available

  • For physical cards, different design options as available

  • Delivery options for both virtual and physical cards. For virtual cards, merchants should communicate whether mobile or social media versions are available and if so, how they operate.

  • Expiration dates

  • Fees

  • Redemption rules both online and in physical stores for both physical and virtual cards

Not only does such information assist shoppers contemplating a gift card purchase, but the gift card information hub can be a compelling landing page for campaigns centered on gift card giving. From a link in the global navigation for MarketLive merchant Sport Chalet, shoppers access a dedicated gift card store that includes prominent links to frequently-asked questions and customer support, along with clear delineation of the two purchase options available which outlines online/offline redemption options, delivery methods and more.

Gift card information example from Sport Chalet

Find a way to communicate delivery timelines across touchpoints. With the timing of gift delivery a crucial factor during the holidays, merchants must do what they can to give shoppers an accurate arrival estimate as early as possible in the purchase process. While not every merchant can dynamically display a specific delivery date, posting a timeframe for each type of shipping service offered gives shoppers the means to gauge which option is right for them. MarketLive merchant Party City includes shipping information on a tab on the product page, outlining the brand’s same-day fulfillment policy and linking to a ground-shipping delivery map showing the number of days orders spend in transit. The information is also promoted in the global footer. Delivery timeline example from Party City

Delivery timeline example from Party City

How are you promoting crucial fine-print policies for the holidays and beyond?

Pre-empting the craze for free holiday shipping

The importance of free shipping promotions for the upcoming holiday season can’t be overstated, as new data from measurement firm comScore demonstrates. While merchants are well aware that free shipping is shoppers’ top-sought discount, it’s still impressive to see just how thoroughly the availability of free shipping — or lack thereof — affects purchase outcomes. To begin with, fully 51% of eCommerce transactions in the second quarter of this year involved free shipping — and the holiday season will likely see that percentage surge even higher.

Data on free shipping from comScore

Additionally, two of the top five reasons for abandoning carts are directly related to free shipping: 48% of comScore survey respondents who’ve abandoned carts said they did so because no free shipping was offered, while 45% said purchases stalled when their orders failed to qualify for the free shipping threshold.

Some larger mass merchants have responded to consumers’ demand for free shipping by lowering or even eliminating altogether the threshold for qualifying for the discount. For most merchants, though, the cost of offering free shipping across the board is too great of a burden to bear.

The good news is that consumers are willing to consider alternate routes to free shipping. And with six weeks still to go in the third quarter, merchants have time to promote these services in an attempt to pre-empt the mad rush for free shipping discounts once the peak holiday buying period begins. Consider these strategies:

Showcase the shipping benefits of loyalty club membership. Nearly half of all consumers have signed up for a retailer rewards or loyalty program, according to the comScore report, and 10% have committed to a paid membership that delivers an array of perks, with free shipping usually chief among them. Additionally, more than one in five consumers say they would consider paying for such a program — suggesting there’s an opportunity for merchants to devise and market meaningful incentives for their target audience.

As discussed in a previous post, blanket free shipping needn’t be the default for rewards club members. But the perception that free shipping is just as available without membership is a key reason consumers avoid loyalty programs, according to the comScore study: 42% of those who wouldn’t pay to join a rewards club say they can get free shipping anyway. So merchants should ensure that club members get the best possible shipping deal at all times — and that may well include holiday free shipping or free upgrades to expedited delivery. And they should explicitly and prominently highlight those shipping benefits in their loyalty club promotions, so shoppers know members get access to discounts found nowhere else.

Road Runner Sports promotes its VIP program with global banners on the eCommerce site and a dedicated page on Facebook, along with a YouTube video that promotes “free shipping every day” and “warp speed” expedited order fulfillment offered to members.

Loyalty club example from Road Runner Sports

Highlight free site-to-store options. More than half of all consumers have used “ship-to-store” services when shopping online, and 38% report selecting that option because it’s free, comScore found. Merchants who have physical store outlets and offer site-to-store services should therefore highlight availability as the holiday season approaches, letting shoppers know they have an alternative to shipping fees.

Ace Hardware promotes its free store delivery service in a global banner, then reiterates the message on product pages. Shoppers checking availability can view whether an item is currently in-stock or, if not, how long delivery to the local store will take.

Free site to store shipping example from Ace Hardware

Reach out to cart abandoners. Since the lack of free shipping and the inability to reach a free shipping threshold are top reasons for cart abandonment, merchants should reconnect with these would-be customers and entice them back to the site with ways to save. Rather than automatically offering a free shipping discount for order completion, though — which might “train” users to abandon carts — merchants should consider alternative messaging, such as:

  • sending an abandoned cart reminder displaying the items left behind, along with complementary items that would bring the order total to above the free shipping threshold.

  • triggering a message to recent cart abandoners the next time a site-wide free shipping offer is, indeed, in effect.

  • promoting free site-to-store delivery services.

  • offering an alternate discount or a gift with purchase.

MarketLive merchant Totes/Isotoner follows up with cart abandoners via  a series of emails, the last of which offers a 10% discount for order completion.

Cart abandonment example from Totes

How are you gearing up for the onslaught of free-shipping-seekers this holiday season?

How to fine-tune faceted search for the holidays

As the holiday season approaches, merchants seeking to optimize their sites for maximum conversion would do well to invest time fine-tuning the faceted navigation that powers their on-site search. When it comes to connecting shoppers with relevant products, faceted search seems like a dream solution. By allowing shoppers to select those product attributes that matter to them, shoppers are empowered to define their own personal path to purchase by in essence creating a personalized, targeted category custom-built for their needs. As our previous post pointed out, such opportunities for individualized shopping help distinguish brands from their competition.

But faceted search is complex to implement on a number of levels — SEO, anyone? — and often merchants struggle to realize its promise as a tool that smooths the path to purchase, rather than befuddles shoppers. Chief among the challenges: identifying the right attributes to offer as filters. While shoppers should have enough options to help them zero in on the most relevant products, it’s crucial not to present a confusing cascade of product details.

To continually improve the attribute set, merchants should conduct regular evaluations — and now, before the holiday season kicks into high gear, is an ideal time to make adjustments as needed. Merchants should:

  • Study existing internal search logs to determine which product attributes shoppers already search for, and what keyword terms they use – don’t assume insider industry terms are commonly used by consumers.

  • Consider a survey of existing customers to determine how they’d like to be able to refine search results.

  • Browse competitor sites to see what attributes other merchants in the same industry use.

While the list of must-have attributes is different for each brand, there are a few key categories merchants would do well to consider. Among them:

Go beyond color with visual-cue attributes. Apparel merchants have long employed color palettes within the list of facets as a means for giving shoppers a quick way to filter the results set to display only items available in their chosen hue. But with the web becoming increasingly visual, merchants in all industries should go farther and find ways to communicate facet options 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.

On-site search example from Lenscrafters

Devise merchandising-based attributes. Especially during the holiday season, when gift buyers seek bargains and unique finds, the ability to narrow the results set quickly to qualifying items is crucial. Attributes to consider:

  • On Sale. Let shoppers view only those matches that are discounted.
  • Free Shipping. Similarly, let shoppers filter to view which items qualify for free shipping – the most sought-after discount and a powerful purchase incentive.
  • New. Let shoppers view only the latest additions to the catalog that match their terms.

Use customer ratings — “x or better”.  Merchants should leverage the power of product reviews to allow shoppers to see which products other customers endorse. Specifically, the attributes should display all reviews that match or exceed the shoppers’ selection — that is, if a shopper selects three stars, presumably that’s the lowest rating they’re willing to accept, and products earning higher ratings should also be shown. REI’s facet tool lets shoppers click the minimum star rating for products they’d like to consider and displays how many matches will result.

Faceted search example from REI

What faceted search attributes are most useful for your holiday shoppers?

Holiday wrapup: Sales grew 28% despite lull in final week

Two weeks into 2013, the final reports from the 2012 holiday season are rolling in — and the results should make merchants optimistic for sales in the year to come. Industry-wide, spending was up 14% over 2011 for November and December, according to measurement firm comScore, despite leveling growth in the final weeks of the season as consumer confidence was shaken by the “fiscal cliff” negotiations in Washington.

Data from the MarketLive Performance Index shows a similar lull in year-end activity, with engagement and conversion dipping slightly for the week ending December 30. Revenue still grew 2.2%, however, thanks to increased visits of more than 13% and a nearly 5% jump in average order value.

Despite the year-end slowdown, the Index shows significant year-over-year gains, with revenue increasing more than 28% and conversion rates up 7.4% — suggesting that small- and mid-sized merchants held their own against mass merchants and discount sites.

Holiday data from the MarketLive Performance Index

Although the holiday season is officially over, merchants haven’t let up the pace. Post-Christmas sales have given way to Valentine’s Day promotions and previews of new spring merchandise. They’re also taking advantage of the more than 25% increase in visits over the holiday period to acquaint new brand followers with relevant offerings in the hopes of maintaining engagement. To that end, our next two blog posts will explore how to make the most of new audiences by selling socially beyond the “buy” button and keeping new email subscribers engaged — stay tuned!

Overall, the holiday challenge merchants faced to differentiate their offerings in a crowded marketplace will become a year-round preoccupation in 2013, as big brands get bigger and smaller merchants battle fiercely for ownership of their niches. We’ll explore this concept in-depth — as well as look at the top trends and strategies merchants can adapt to fit their brands’ unique needs — in a webinar slated for February 6. Register today — and meantime, let us know: what are your top priorities for the year to come?


Holiday results: finishing strong in the final stretch

With Christmas just days away, data from the MarketLive Performance Index shows continued gains compared with last year’s results. As shoppers rushed to complete purchases for on-time delivery, performance across the board rebounded: whereas for the prior week conversion lagged the same time period in 2011, for December 10 – December 16 conversion was higher by more than 25%, engagement was up more than 6% and even cart abandonment dipped slightly — signalling that merchants are successfully executing sophisticated strategies.

Bolstered by the week’s strong performance, the overall numbers for the season continue to show marked gains. Both revenue and traffic are up more than 27%, while conversion is up more than 8% and engagement is up 3%. Meanwhile, the cart abandonment rate has now risen less than 0.5%, indicating that merchants have stemmed the tide of lost sales by successfully convincing shoppers to complete purchases. And average order value has dipped by less than a percent, suggesting merchants have avoided resorting to bargain-basement pricing as a lure.

Holiday data from the MarketLive Performance Index

Now that the holidays are entering the home stretch, merchants must make transition messaging from pre-holiday gift-buying to post-holiday promotions. While steep discounts typically lure shoppers to return to stores after Christmas, merchants should also message:

Self-gifting. With 74% of consumers planning to make non-gift purchases for themselves or their families, according to the MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey, merchants should put the spotlight on indulgences for shoppers to buy themselves. Last year, glassware maker Simon Pearce urged shoppers to treat themselves with New Year’s-themed creative showcasing sought-after items and a flat-rate shipping offer.


Stocking up. To offset steep discounts and keep average order sizes high, merchants should urge shoppers to buy multiples of popular items and replenishment products. Apparel company Eddie Bauer last year offered a “stock up event” featuring low prices on essentials such as T-shirts and jeans.


Accessorizing gifts. Merchants should showcase items that complement popular gifts to encourage shoppers to further outfit themselves and maximize the enjoyment of what they received. Last year, Wayfair promoted “gifts for your gifts” in an email featuring items such as tablet covers and TV stands. The message promised to help make “holiday gifts feel at home.”


What creative messaging are you planning to boost post-Christmas sales?

Using holiday content to build brand value

As we’ve reported for the past three weeks, results from the holiday season so far give merchants cause to be optimistic, with double-digit growth in revenue. Even better, success isn’t limited to national brands and mega-merchants; small and mid-sized retailers are holding their own, thanks to well-orchestrated campaigns and communications.

One strategy we’re highlighting as a means of competing with Amazon and other big brands is to communicate value — a concept that goes beyond prices to include service, brand reputation and uniqueness of products. Value topped the list of product and price factors that influence purchases, according to October’s MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey, with 87% of survey participants saying it’s important — just ahead of product price alone, which 85% of participants said was a priority.

Now that the season is underway, merchants are successfully communicating value — and one key way they’re doing so is through the use of custom-created content. Specifically, this holiday season merchants are using content to:

Underscore the uniqueness of product offerings. In addition to providing comprehensive content on function, fit and usage, merchants are creating product stories to showcase unique attributes such as one-of-a-kind materials and craftsmanship. MarketLive merchant Cost Plus World Market showcases a section called “Global Holiday Treats & Traditions” that explains the history behind favorite holiday foods, such as the tidbit that fruitcake was once “outlawed throughout Europe for being ‘sinfully rich.’” (Who knew?) Links to related products beneath the descriptions make the connection from content to commerce.

Holiday example from World Market

Help shoppers find gifts attuned to their lifestyle. Buying guides authored by brand experts are nothing new, but this year merchants are going beyond the standard offerings of “shop by price” and “shop by recipient” to offer increasingly targeted and selective gift suggestions. These collections are part look book, part buying guide, and are often curated by an authoritative, and opinionated, personality. Outdoor merchant Moosejaw features a gift guide for “the eclectic and outdoorsy girl” on its blog, featuring picks from a staffer named Margo. The seven items are presented in a magazine-style layout, with callouts such as “love the faux fur and tribal pattern.”

Holiday example from Moosejaw

Promote stellar service. Brands that offer personalized, responsive customer service stand out from the pack — and for the holidays, savvy merchants are showcasing service-oriented content alongside products and promotions. In addition to must-have information about shipping cutoff dates and return policies, merchants are promoting services such as gift wrap and personal shoppers. Apparel merchant J. Crew is promoting its “very personal stylist” service as part of its holiday gift guide, letting shoppers know free round-the-clock consultations are available via email and phone as well as in stores.

Holiday example from J. Crew

For more content ideas to implement now and in 2013, review coverage of our content webinar from earlier this year and download the related whitepaper. What content are you featuring this holiday season?

Holiday results update: enticing researchers to buy now

The final countdown is on for the 2012 holiday season, and our weekly snapshot from the MarketLive Performance Index shows that merchants have much reason to rejoice. By and large, key performance metrics such as conversion and average order size are holding steady, allowing merchants to capitalize on increased traffic to win double-digit revenue gains both for the week and the season as a whole.

Comparing last week to the same time period in 2011, merchants saw traffic increase by more than 25% and revenues jump nearly 14%, with average order size remaining steady. For the season to date, top-line performance is even stronger, with both visits and revenue seeing gains of more than 27%.

Key performance indicators have slipped slightly as shopping research has intensified and shoppers began completing purchases offline to ensure gifts are in hand on time. This week, conversion and engagement both dipped, although season-to-date performance is still up compared with last year. For the second week in a row, cart abandonment rose — by 2.2% last week and 1.8% this week — nudging average cart abandonment for the season higher than last year’s rate by 0.7%.

Holiday data from the MarketLive Performance Index

While the results are rosy indeed, merchants could realize even stronger gains by capitalizing on increased traffic more effectively to drive higher conversion and staunch abandonment rates. Indeed, the most successful merchants are successfully negotiating the end-of-season frenzy by:

Stepping up messaging about delivery options. As discussed in our post on Free Shipping Day, cutoff dates for holiday delivery should be prominently highlighted across touchpoints. But beyond that, merchants should communicate other methods for shoppers who complete purchases online to receive their gifts in time. Key services and options to promote include:

  • Fast shipping. Consider offering a free shipping upgrade or even free expedited shipping to help reassure shoppers that gifts will arrive on time.
  • In-store pickup services. Merchants with physical locations who can offer the ability to buy online and receive merchandise in-store should not only promote availability of the service in general, but highlight specifically how short the timeframe is between order and pickup. Sears offers same-day in-store pickup of items ordered online — a service promoted in a global banner, in promotional slots on category pages and on product pages, where shoppers can view in-store in-stock status for multiple locations.

Holiday example from Sears

Putting the emphasis on scarcity. Merchants who highlight exclusive products or limited-edition items, and who flag unique gifts that are going fast, give shoppers an incentive to complete purchases immediately rather than continuing to click around the Internet doing research. To step up the urgency, merchants should:

  • Put unique items front and center. Merchants should highlight exclusives in email, social and paid search campaigns, and let shoppers sort and filter on-site search results to focus on items not found anywhere else. Helzberg Diamonds uses email to promote the exclusivity of its “limited edition” line by touting the small number of items produced and the unique packaging, which includes a certificate of authenticity.
  • Holiday example from HelzbergUse in-stock status to promote urgency. On the product page, rather than simply communicating whether an item is in stock, merchants can make transparent quickly-dwindling inventories of hot items by letting shoppers know exactly how many remain once the number drops below a certain point. Merchants can even create a sense of further scarcity by limiting the number of purchases per customer, as Toys R Us does with this item from its “Hot Toys” list, which is additionally flagged with a banner letting shoppers know it’s an exclusive.

Holiday example from Toys R Us

How are you encouraging holiday shoppers to move from research to purchase?

Free Shipping Day last-minute tips: Navigating the discount merchants love to hate

The peak holiday season is underway, and merchants are rapidly approaching the finish line for 2012. With holiday purchasing going full throttle, the approach of Free Shipping Day on Dec. 17 is likely to cause anxiety as well as anticipation.

There’s no doubt that for shoppers, free shipping offers are the brass ring of holiday promotions. According to the 2012 MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey, free shipping with no conditions is the discount most likely to spur purchasing, with 85% of shoppers saying they’d be likely to take advantage of such a promotion. Last year, Free Shipping Day generated more than $1 billion in sales, more than Black Friday, according to measurement firm comScore.

For merchants, of course, free shipping is another story altogether. While a free shipping offer can boost overall orders, margins suffer — and especially this late in the season, there’s a risk that delivery issues will prevent gifts from arriving on time, causing customer dissatisfaction. To successfully negotiate the potential pitfalls and score sales wins on Free Shipping Day, merchants need to promote what discount they offer widely, while at the same time clearly communicating deadlines and limitations. Consider incorporating the following tactics into your strategy:

Go deep and wide to promote your free shipping offer. Merchants should make the most of the free shipping offer they’ve devised by prominently promoting it throughout the brand experience. That includes:

  • Signing up on the official Free Shipping Day Web site, freeshippingday.com.
  • Highlighting the offer throughout the eCommerce store. Merchants should not only promote free shipping on the home page, but also
    • on individual product pages. Help nudge shoppers toward the add-to-cart by listing free shipping offers prominently on the product page. If there’s a threshold, indicate whether individual items qualify on their own, as Moosejaw does on its product pages. Not only does the global header state the site’s policy of free shipping on orders over $49, but the message is reinforced on the product page by flagging qualifying items, such as this child carrier, with the note “Free shipping on this item.”
    • Shipping example from Moosejaw
    • in the drop-down global shopping cart. If merchants employ a global cart that displays the contents, add a flag letting shoppers know a free shipping offer is in effect, and what the threshold is, if any, so they can be sure to qualify. Lifestyle merchant Gaiam’s global cart highlights the site’s free shipping offer, including a link to detailed information that includes delivery method and the offer end date.
    • Shipping example from Gaiam
    • on the main shopping cart page. If possible, merchants should help shoppers do the math and calculate how much more merchandise they need to add to qualify for any threshold.
  • Sending the offer to email subscribers. Let them know free shipping is available and, if there’s a threshold, highlight items that qualify. Be sure to message the expiration date on the offer prominently to create a sense of urgency, as Beauty.com does in this promotion from last year. Not only is the offer flagged as being available “today only”, but the message text restates the deadline of 11:59 p.m.
  • Shipping example from beauty.com
  • Sharing the offer socially. Let brand followers know about the free shipping offer and include links to qualifying items or categories.
  • Flagging the discount for mobile shoppers. Highlight the free shipping alert on mobile devices with a prominent display on the mobile Web site, as beauty merchant H2O Plus does on its mobile home page.
  • Shipping example from H2O Plus


Step up visibility of delivery timelines and deadlines. With the holiday countdown clock ticking, merchants should use Free Shipping Day as an opportunity to let shoppers know now is the time to commit to their final gift purchases. If they aren’t already, delivery deadlines should now be accessible from everywhere the free shipping offer is promoted. In particular, consider:

  • A global element on the eCommerce site. Use the global header and/or footer to communicate shipping deadlines and link to detailed delivery information to ensure that shoppers can access the information from everywhere on the site. Last year, the Gap included a reminder to order by December 20 in its global header alongside its free shipping offer.
  • Shipping example from gap.com
  • A reminder in the eCommerce shopping cart. Reinforce delivery timelines in the cart by spelling them out explicitly. The Sharper Image includes estimated delivery dates alongside each shipping method’s cost, helping shoppers select the timeframe that meets their needs.
  • Holiday example from The Sharper ImageTimelines in email marketing. Add to the sense of urgency of the Free Shipping Day offer by displaying shipping cutoff dates as part of the marketing message, as Garden Botanika did last year by headlining its offer “Last Day”.
  • Holiday example from Garden Botanika

Reassuring shoppers with trust-building elements. In addition to clearly communicating delivery timelines, merchants should message reliability throughout the shopping experience to let shoppers know their Free Shipping Day order will be in good hands. Consider boosting the visibility of customer service contact information and product guarantees:

  • In the cart on the eCommerce site. Help shoppers at this crucial juncture on the path to purchase by messaging reliable delivery and easy access to customer service, as ThinkGeek does with a banner headlined “Ordering from ThinkGeek is safe and awesome.” The message stresses “secure shopping, fast shipping and super friendly customer service” and the accompanying display includes third-party certification badges as well as information about payment methods accepted.
  • Holiday example from ThinkGeek
  • On social outposts. Convince brand followers to take advantage of Free Shipping Day offers by stepping up customer service messaging and highlighting it prominently, as Land’s End does on its Facebook page. The summary information about the brand includes its trademark product guarantee and 800 customer service number, while a prominent link to customer service information leads to a page outlining further details about the product guarantee and messaging 24/7 support, free returns and other crucial holiday information.
  • Holiday example from Lands' End

Are you participating in Free Shipping Day? What offers will you promote?

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