Holiday Tip #1: How to encourage shoppers to buy early and buy often

Note: As October closes and the countdown begins in earnest to Black Friday, MarketLive will present 12 top holiday tips for maximizing sales during the upcoming season. Here’s Tip #1.

Halloween isn’t even over yet, but the holiday season has most definitely begun. While consumers may complain about “holiday creep”, they’re also getting shopping done early — and merchants should help them along.

The facts

Shoppers are starting their holiday purchasing earlier this year than they did in 2014. Fully 61% of participants in the MarketLive/E-Tailing Group’s 2015 Consumer Shopping Survey predicted they would start their shopping by now, compared with 56% last year.

Happily for merchants, the early start doesn’t mean an early finish: fully 73% of shoppers anticipate they’ll still be finishing up their gift lists come December. While that’s fewer procrastinators than in 2014, the opportunities are still robust to extend holiday sales well beyond the traditional period between Black Friday and Christmas.

Holiday shopping timing data from the E-Tailing Group and MarketLive

The action item

The challenge for merchants early in the season is to encourage shoppers to purchase immediately without undercutting later promotions, particularly around red-letter shopping days like Cyber Monday. To succeed, they should appeal to shoppers’ changing needs throughout the season.

Right now, emphasize:

  • Exclusives and hard-to-find items. Merchants should highlight items that might be out of stock later in the season and difficult to find elsewhere, putting the emphasis on the brand’s unique product offering.
  • Items to help with seasonal preparation. Cookware and home decor are obvious product categories to promote early, as are other purchases preparatory to tackling the actual gift list.
  • Early purchasing benefits for existing followers and customers. Offering exclusive deals to loyalty club members and others already familiar with the brand rewards a crucial audience segment while spurring early spending.

MarketLive merchant Cost Plus World Market is kicking off the season with free shipping for selected holiday products, such as stockings and other decor, with a global banner. The stockings index page cross-promotes other holiday-prep categories, such as candles and entertaining supplies.

Holiday example from World Market

In the peak season, highlight:

  • Best-sellers, top-rated items and other popular gifts. Now is the time to spotlight the products and categories that are perennial customer favorites and encourage shoppers to share their own wish list picks for maximum mass appeal.
  • Popular discounts for new acquaintances. As shoppers kick into peak research mode, they’ll be on the lookout for free shipping offers and product price discounts and willing to explore new brands, merchants should introduce their brands with whatever savings they can offer.

After December 15, message:

  • Gift cards and in-stock items. Merchants should selectively spotlight those items that can reach their destinations on time and step up customer service messaging around delivery deadlines. Gift cards should be promoted, including via purchasing mechanisms within social networks.
  • In-store fulfillment options and last-minute store savings. Pickup in-store, ship-to-store, curbside pickup options, and in-store events and promotions should all take center stage as shoppers hustle to complete their purchases.

We’ll address post-Christmas messaging in a future holiday tip. Check back for new tips daily next week and visit MarketLive’s Holiday Resource Center for the latest research.

How to stand out from the crowd to meet holiday challenges – webinar preview

Standing out in the crowded holiday marketplace will be more important than ever in what’s shaping up to be a challenging holiday season. Results from the 2015 MarketLive/E-Tailing Group Consumer Shopping Survey, set to be released Wednesday in a live webinar with E-Tailing Group President Lauren Freedman and MarketLive Founder and CEO Ken Burke, reveal the top opportunities for merchants to distinguish themselves in meeting consumer expectations.

While the earliest forecast predicted rosy overall sales growth of more than 5.5% and online growth of close to 14%, prognostications released more recently suggest that revenues will not increase as much as they did last year. The National Retail Federation is predicting overall growth of 3.7%, down from a 4.1% growth rate last year; and when it comes to online revenues specifically, the NRF forecasts growth of 6 to 8 percent — a decline from the double-digit gains of years past.

Furthermore, the largest of mass merchants threaten to monopolize whatever online growth opportunities exist. The 2015 MarketLive/E-Tailing Group Consumer Shopping Survey reveals that fully 57% of shoppers plan to buy at least a quarter of their gifts from Amazon alone.

That number is down a full 10 percentage points from 2014, however — indicating that shoppers are increasingly willing to consider other options that present exactly the right combination of products, pricing and promotions for their needs.

etailinggroup_amazon2015Multi-touchpoint fluency, mobile shopping prowess, social engagement, and the right timing of offers throughout the season are all crucial, according to the survey results. Register for the webinar, slated for Wednesday, Oct. 14, at 11 a.m. Pacific/2 p.m. Eastern to learn what shoppers are looking for, and the tactics that deliver results.

Last-minute mobile upgrades for the holidays

As the holidays approach, the question on many merchants’ minds isn’t whether mobile is important, but rather just how much growth they’ll see in mobile sales, visit and engagement.

While a total mobile overhaul isn’t feasible before the holiday rush, merchants can still tweak their mobile offerings in seven crucial areas to improve the shopping experience.

Last year, mobile usage surged by 50%, with a quarter of all online revenue in Q4 attributable to mobile devices — and all indications are that this year is is poised to see total mobile dominance. With fully three-quarters of brand interactions occurring on mobile devices as of the second quarter of this year, and with prognosticators estimating that online will influence a whopping two-thirds of all retail sales this holiday season, mobile couldn’t be more crucial.

That’s all well and good for merchants who are sitting pretty with highly-optimized mobile sites. But for the majority of brands, mobile remains a work in progress — which means that there’s still room for improvement in the final weeks before holiday shopping hits its peak. In his latest post for the eTail Blog, MarketLive founder and CEO Ken Burke reassures merchants that they have time to enact seven relatively simple, but crucial changes to their offerings to position themselves for mobile success.

Among the winning tactics: adding social sharing buttons to mobile site product pages. These tools are often given short shrift on mobile due to the constraints of screen real estate, but as Burke points out, “share” buttons are a gateway to higher brand visibility around the Web:

Social media has more influence on shoppers than current attribution models can show. Almost half of social media users report discovering new products via social media, and 36% recommend products themselves. Let those products be yours.

Burke cites MarketLive merchant Wilson’s Leather for pervasive placement of social sharing buttons; wish list and “forward to a friend” links complete the range of options for shoppers to save and pass along product information via their mobile devices.

Social sharing buttons for mobile - example from Wilson's Leather

Read the full eTail Blog post for all 7 last-minute mobile tips — and stay tuned right here for further holiday planning advice.

Build critical mass on social media now for holiday success later

As the holidays approach, many merchants are planning promotions targeted at their social media audience. But as they plot the substance of offers, merchants would also do well to launch initiatives now to build a critical mass of followers so those holiday promotions can have an impact.

Designing social-specific campaigns for the holidays is a wise move, as discounts and promotions are the top reason by far that shoppers follow brands in the first place. But with directly-attributable revenue from social media stubbornly persisting at or below one percent of the total, merchants must cast a wide net in the hopes of seeing an appreciable impact on sales during the holidays.

MarketLive Performance Index data on social media impact

To build up social media audiences now, merchants should:

Offer plenty of substantial, visually rich content for sharing. As discussed previously, visual content should now be the centerpiece of social offerings — and the more merchants provide eye-catching content existing followers are willing to share, the more likely they are to win new social fans thanks to word of mouth. Not only should social media posts be visually-oriented, but shareable product images and content on the eCommerce site should offer pinners and posters the option of choosing a picture that goes beyond showing the item in question to portray the personality of the brand. This recent shot from MarketLive merchant Peruvian Connection is about more than a jacket, but speaks to the adventurous, opulent lifestyle of their target audience.

peruvianimagesFocus contests on solving shoppers’ real needs. Rather than spawning yet another hashtag campaign just so shoppers can tag photos of themselves using a brand’s products, merchants should solicit ideas for how to address real needs. To gauge what solutions shoppers seek, merchants should study on-site search and search engine queries and popular content related to their category, and then design contests or sweepstakes that align with those needs.

Ikea encouraged contestants to submit ideas for how to decorate their patios for summer. The winner was chosen by popular vote from a group of finalists, upping visibility of the contest.

Social example from Ikea

Follow influencers, and earn the follow back. Merchants should be authentic participants on their social media platforms of choice, following key influencers in their category and earning mentions and reciprocal follows. Rather than constantly posting canned comments and product promotions, merchants should strive to demonstrate subject matter expertise by posting knowledgeable comments and contributions, and also show the brand’s responsiveness to feedback from customers and influencers by highlighting changes or improvements to products made based on community input.

Invite existing email subscribers and customers to socialize. Encouraging shoppers already connected to the brand to become social media followers is a wise move. Increased opportunities for engagement up the chances of converting shoppers to buyers; and for existing customers, social media is a way to stay connected with the brand and receive notice of relevant new products and offers.

MarketLive merchant Title Nine let email subscribers know that their contributions were welcome on social media — a campaign that underscores the brand’s commitment to showcasing styles for real active women.

Social example from T9

How are you building social media followers prior to the holidays?

How to get personal with holiday shoppers – eBook preview

Until recently, merchants could succeed during the holiday season with a one-size-fits-all approach. Holiday gift guides and email campaigns shared uniformly across touchpoints, Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals broadcast widely, and store shopping experiences focused on catering to the masses have all been the norm.

Now, however, changes in the commerce landscape necessitate a new holiday scenario altogether. The rise of mobile shopping and social media mean that shoppers are seeking to connect with brands more fluidly than ever, while the sheer growth of the eCommerce market means that shoppers have more choices than ever and can navigate quickly away if brands fail to match their unique criteria for holiday deals. Attention metrics such as product views and time on site have all faltered over the past two years, while the bounce rate – the percentage of visits ending after a single page – has steadily risen, according to IBM.

These factors have combined to create a heightened expectation among shoppers for relevance and immediacy during the holidays. More than half of shoppers now expect holiday promotions to take into account their past purchases, browsing behavior and preferences, according to marketing services firm Listrak.

So far, though, these expectations for individually relevant shopping experiences are being largely unmet. Less than a quarter of merchants believe they have enough data to truly personalize their shopping experiences, research firm The E-Tailing Group found. Not surprisingly given these figures, close to two-thirds of consumers say even their favorite brands don’t understand them and fail to deliver relevant experiences, according to IBM and eConsultancy.

Facing these daunting overall conditions, it’s perhaps unsurprising that close to half of merchants say they’re unprepared to deliver an effective multi-touchpoint experience this holiday season, Listrak found.  That’s too bad, because this year more than ever it’s possible for merchants to capitalize on new technologies to deliver individualized experiences using automated routines, so that merchants can focus the efforts of holiday staff on delivering the responsive service that can differentiate brands and win valuable trust and loyalty.

In fact, throughout the customer lifecycle, there are opportunities to personalize holiday shopping. Even now, as the calendar edges into September, merchants can put systems into place to create the illusion of a one-to-one shopping experience. Key junctures in the purchase cycle include:

Discovery. As shoppers find their way to brand sites and narrow their product searches, merchants should cater to their specific criteria and concerns. Opportunities to prove brands’ relevance to shoppers begin with the first interaction As holiday gift seekers begin research, merchants can cater to their needs – both stated and implied – by presenting engaging content, products and services that speak to individual needs and criteria.

One way to demonstrate relevance is to syndicate gifting content elsewhere on the eCommerce site, spotlighting individual selections from the gift guide alongside other relevant products and creating a tailored view of gifting options based on browsing behavior.

MarketLive merchant Cost Plus World Market seeds gifting content within a themed category displaying bakeware, cake mixes and other items related to cupcakes. A promotion for gift cards and for a referral program – whereby shoppers earn credit if they invite friends to the site who go on to purchase – along with a free shipping promotion are relevant to gift hunters who might be perusing the category, which is full of present-worthy picks.

Syndicated gift content from Cost Plus

Consideration. In some ways, the industry’s focus on the conversion rate has blinded merchants to the true nature of eCommerce purchasing. Hand-wringing about the stubbornly low percentage of visits that end in orders has encouraged a focus on short-term, single-session tactics to convince shoppers to buy immediately.

But in fact, the 97% of shoppers who choose not to convert within a single session are potentially more valuable than those who stick to a single touchpoint for their transaction: those who consult a brand’s digital offerings and visit stores are 20% more likely to buy, for example, and those who consult social media as part of their research are 29% more likely to make a purchase within a day, according to Deloitte.

For the holidays, then, the challenge isn’t how to persuade shoppers to buy immediately, or dissuade them from hopping touchpoints in their search for ideal gifts; rather, brands must strive to deliver consistent, personalized experiences that acknowledge the shopper’s circuitous path to purchase and even welcome usage of an array of brand resources.

Purchase Support. In a world dominated by Amazon-style self-service customer care, individualized and responsive customer service is increasingly a brand differentiator — and a crucial building block for future loyalty. Satisfactory resolution of customer service inquiries lead 92% of shoppers to continue their relationship with the brand, and has considerable impact on word of mouth as well, with 86% of consumers saying they’d be willing to recommend the brand after a successful first customer service interaction, according to the Harvard Business Review.

The hectic holiday season presents merchants with a golden opportunity to demonstrate the kind of one-to-one, proactive customer service that can forge lasting brand connections. Store associates play a crucial role in delivering one-to-one holiday shopping expertise; the call center continues to be a popular option for shoppers seeking to interact with brands; and the new front lines of customer service — live chat and social media — deserve attention as well. Wherever holiday shoppers connect with online support, expectations are sky-high for instantaneous, efficient, and relevant service; on social media, for example, the majority of consumers expect brands to respond to social service requests within an hour, according to Edison Research.

When a customer tweeted about an item being out of stock, MarketLive merchant, Wilson’s Leather responded swiftly to explain the situation and promised to keep the shopper in the loop; the tweet was posted on the retailer’s main feed so that others with the same question could see their plight addressed. The symathetic “hang in there!” humanizes the brand.

Social media service from Wilson's Leather

Download MarketLive’s latest holiday eBook for further opportunities to deliver individualized shopping experiences. What one-to-one strategies are you deploying for the holidays, and why?

Why customer service is a top priority for pre-holiday content development

Content is on the ascendancy once again, and in the runup to the 2015 holiday season merchants are devising innovative campaigns that spotlight engaging content that resonates with shoppers and spurs them to buy. While video, social and user-submitted content are all alluring, there’s another category of content that merchants should prioritize — customer service content.

Perennially overlooked and undervalued, and often relegated to the global footer, customer service content  has a significant potential impact on sales. Self-service content on brand Web sites is now the top customer service source of choice, used by 76% of consumers, topping even phone service from call center reps. With more than half of consumers saying they’ll abandon brands that don’t provide quick answers to their queries and with 77% saying valuing their time is the top way brands can deliver stellar service, it’s crucial for merchants to develop content that proactively addresses top questions about products, ordering and policies.

Not only can finding information quickly and efficiently ensure that shoppers stay on the path to purchase, but demonstrating efficient service for a first transaction is a key building block for future loyalty. Fully 73% of customers say a high-quality customer service experience is important when deciding whether to repurchase.

And prominent customer service is acutely needed on mobile devices, where shoppers must often struggle with cumbersome checkout processes and where smaller screen sizes often force merchants to background crucial product information, policies, or both.

During the holiday season, when shoppers will compare products and promotions on the go and across screens in their quest for the best value, customer service content has further potential to differentiate brands and instill trust. As merchants begin their countdown to the holidays, they should dedicate content resources to articulating their customer service policies across touchpoints. Among the key components to feature:

Plain English information featured like a top product. Customer service information is of vital importance to shoppers. Two-thirds of shoppers review merchant return policies before purchasing products, according to measurement firm comScore, while 53% said knowing the shipping cost and estimated delivery timeframe was a purchase influences, second only to a free shipping offer. Multi-channel service options are key: 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, comScore reported.

To cater to this desire for information, merchants should assign merchandising copywriters the task of crafting customer service information that’s as enticing as product descriptions. The information should be succinct and jargon-free, so that it can be promoted in a variety of locations throughout the path to purchase.

MarketLive merchant Title Nine, a women’s recreational outfitter, specializes in sports bras, and has “product-ized” its fit system and syndicated information about it across touchpoints. Not only do product pages include comprehensive fit charts, but the bottom of the home page features a guide to bra fitting, and relevant product index pages display fit tips. The brand uses social media to promote in-store events giving shoppers the opportunity to be measured by the pros.

t9_bras t9_bras_fitfest_fb

How to connect with a real person. Shoppers with questions should be able to reach live help at any point along the path to purchase – and that includes on mobile sites. Fully 41% of U.S. mobile shoppers report using mobile live chat for shopping support, ahead of text messaging and mobile social media, the E-Tailing Group found. And mobile live chat is poised to play an important role in cross-channel sales, with one in five shoppers saying they accessed mobile shopping support while in physical stores.

To support cross-touchpoint access to live help, merchants should ensure not only that customer service contact information is prominently placed on product pages, in the cart and throughout checkout; they should also layer in functionality such as click-to-call and mobile live chat for users on smartphones and tablets.

Once the content has been developed, merchants should feature it prominently by:

Creating a hub of self-help resources on the eCommerce site. Merchants should tap call center and live chat staff to develop comprehensive content to address common questions, and gather that content into a help center where shoppers can search and browse popular topics. Additionally, product or category “Q and A” sections where brand experts and customers alike weigh in give prospective buyers the opportunity to ask specific questions that might not be covered in product specs or reviews.

Developing nuggets of “micro-content” to nudge shoppers along the path to purchase. Merchants should pay attention to every snippet of verbiage they serve to shoppers – from pop-up windows containing shipping and delivery estimates to descriptions of video clips and email signup form language. Especially on mobile devices where space is at a premium, merchants must convey core information quickly and without scrolling, while providing links to further information where relevant.

Home improvement giant Lowe’s has optimized content and information design on its mobile product pages to maximize information delivery. Colorful icons help shoppers understand at a glance the delivery options available to them, while was/is pricing information and the upcoming end date for the promotional discount are also displayed.


Establishing a forward position on social media. Nearly half of social media users have relied on “social care,” according to NM Incite, and Forrester found that 37% have used Twitter specifically to seek customer service. Given shoppers’ propensity to consult social channels for brand information, merchants would do well to adopt a proactive approach and to repurpose and post their core customer service content directly to social channels.

MarketLive merchant Berkshire Blanket has posted on Facebook detailed information about care and maintenance of its bedding items – proactively addressing an important topic for those considering a purchase and wondering what the total cost of ownership is. A separate FAQs page addresses further popular topics, from shipping policies to wholesale agreements. Both pages feature “Read More” links connecting shoppers to the eCommerce site, along with sharing buttons so that followers can alert friends to the information. Links to both pages are anchored prominently in the left-hand column of the brand’s timeline.


What content are you polishing in advance of the holiday push?

Why “Christmas in July” is just the beginning of holiday optimization

Once upon a time eCommerce sites went into “lockdown” mode in September or early October and nothing fundamental changed until after the holidays. Indeed a survey by Internet Retailer magazine showed just 35% of merchants last year made changes frequently in response to consumer behavior/trends. But as “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” nearly half reported that when rare changes were made they were required to address a major issue.

In preparing for holiday this year, brands will be forced to be more responsive and dynamic to meet expanding consumer expectations for granular personalization and marketing brought on by big data, as well as for flawless, fast performance and uptime.

The concept of agile computing, a term once reserved for software development teams, now finds itself an essential piece for planning holiday. Merchants must adopt an environment of continuous improvement and encourage rapid and flexible response to change.

Not there yet? Here are some ways to appear agile without endangering basic functionality:

Feature user-driven content as a source of up to the minute info and ideas for promotions. To build synergy between its website and social media buzz Helzberg Diamonds promoted a Twitter hashtag on its homepage and featured a gallery of customer images.

helzberg-hashtag-2014-holidaySuch user-generated content is always changing, is often on the forefront of cultural trends and memes and can provide an endless supply of value-added bling to your web site. It can also help you triangulate your store’s commerce site with the brand’s social media properties providing the heat necessary for better SEO.

Build campaigns around top sellers and trending items. Use the data about most-desired items collected by user-generated content and shared wishlists to build campaigns around top sellers and trending items. Or better yet, beyond static categories or hand-merchandised gift lists, seek out advanced technology partners.

Gone are the days when integrating advanced web features required a team of dedicated internal development staff. Merchants should be on the look out for platforms and plug-ins that can automate the parsing of the myriad data into usable and dynamic marketing tools. Employ on-the-fly generation of new site pages based on your site’s popular search terms. Bloomreach’s tool parses popular search terms and dynamically generates new site content organizing pages around what customers are actually actively looking for.

Get grassroots feedback from store staff throughout season, adjust content and customer service offerings accordingly. Close the information gap. Forge pathways for store personnel and customer service staff to communicate with business, merchandising and technical teams about what they are hearing in the field. Big data notwithstanding, no one has a better pulse on what customers are experiencing in their brand interactions than the humans you have hired to guide them through the buying process. Find a way to collect and act on their recommendations.

Conversely, provide front-line staff with the all the necessary tools and training to navigate online resources and guide shoppers to purchase. Be sure to empower associates to acknowledge and reward loyal customers, facilitate smooth returns, or ameliorate bumpy customer experiences with coupons and discounts.

You don’t want social media to become the de facto disgruntled customer service forum. Don’t let yours be the brand that requires multiple emails, phone calls and a social media post to extract customer satisfaction. Note the customer frustration in the posts on Pottery Barn’s Facebook page below.

Pottery Barn Facebook Customer ServiceWhen it comes to customer service, get your yoga on. Small to medium-sized merchants have an advantage here. Think contortion.

Its easier to balance on solid ground. Evaluate the role your technical partnerships played in 2014. Take a hard look and ask these questions. Is your cloud or Web hosting and e-commerce platform provider reliable? Do they have the expertise — including mobile? Are they responsive?  Can they handle the traffic? Are they agile enough to react to customer feedback or are they resource-strapped from fall onward? Now is the time to make necessary adjustments to your team.

Can you handle mobile? Mobile is playing a dominant role in holiday shopping. Make sure your site is optimized for the small screen. This step is not optional for the holiday win. 24% of total revenues are now attributable to mobile, according to the MarketLive Performance Index.

Strive for real-time inventory across touchpoints and make live order tracking available to your entire team. Study cloud services and benefits and dynamic load handling options to ensure your site stays up during traffic spikes/big sales events. Performance (speed and uptime performance) and the ability to quickly employ updates will win the season. Investment in technology that assures site performance and stability is critical. Look for technology and merchandising automation solutions that allow for quick response to market signals.

The takeaway. Don’t wait and see what might happen, prepare well and early for commonplace failures and be nimble enough to take advantage of unforeseen opportunities. Those who invest in the right tools and technology will be able to make the most of Holiday 2015. What are your priorities?

How to focus holiday priorities (and the input to ignore)

With the Fourth of July in the rearview mirror, it’s time to realistically assess the status of new features merchants planned to roll out before the holidays, and to put the final touches on holiday campaigns. Choosing the right priorities for the remaining weeks before holiday kickoff is crucial — and too often, merchants are looking in all the wrong places for guidance.

The stakes are higher than ever when it comes to holiday sales. Online holiday sales accounted for more than 16% of all retail sales in 2014, according to the National Retail Federation. With double-digit eCommerce growth once again expected for the holidays in 2015, merchants stand to win big — or to suffer repercussions for missteps.

That’s why, when it comes to paring down the final list of holiday to-dos, we advise merchants to focus squarely on their own unique business needs, and to tune out hype and conjecture in favor of solid data. To determine which priorities are worth pursuing, merchants should:

Mine the right analytics data for guidance on site tweaks. Site usage data can be a gold mine of actionable information on what shoppers seek and where sites need further improvement to resonate. Among the data to study:

  • On-site search logs. “Zero results” logs can reveal gaps in content and discrepancies between merchant and shopper terminology. Searches for specific brand names and product types can suggest new categories to create or at least attributes to tag for guided search. And searches for customer service-related terms can suggest what service content to elevate and highlight throughout the path to purchase.
  • Mobile vs. desktop discrepancies. Comparing popular site paths, fallout analyses and product page performance reports on mobile and desktop sites can illuminate where mobile versions are falling short and need further optimization — and where it can be useful to encourage (or at least support) screen switching with features such as “save for later” or “save cart”.
  • Usage of online/offline features. Identifying where shoppers hesitate when using features such as “buy online, pick up in-store” or even registration for in-store events can help merchants smooth the transition from screen to store. And close analysis of how shoppers access content promoted within stores on mobile devices — and what actions they choose to take after viewing that content — can give merchants a more complete picture of cross-touchpoint activity.

Double down on social networks with engaged followers. While merchants should be prepared to provide responsive service via all the brand’s social outposts, they should focus their most creative holiday efforts on the networks where followers are more likely to actively respond, share and contribute their own content, versus passively scrolling past brand offerings. In addition, merchants should use their attribution model of choice to determine which networks drive the most direct revenue and consider experimenting with new “buy” buttons to further motivate purchasing.

Consult store staff for online content gaps. Amidst the chatter about beacons, facial recognition, dynamic shelf tags and other whiz-bang technology surrounding the digital store, we’re fans of old-fashioned human interaction and believe store staff are the most important asset for supporting online/offline brand interactions. Not only can store associates help shoppers navigate online resources and complete transactions, but they can gauge consumer sentiment and identify gaps in brand content, whether for products or for services such as in-store pickup or ship-to-store. Merchants should find the means to tap these valuable front-line information sources and act on their recommendations.

Invite existing customers to drive holiday promotions. For guidance on promotional strategies, merchants should look to customers themselves — whether by studying purchase patterns of loyal buyers and loyalty club members or by explicitly asking shoppers to choose which items they’d like to see featured on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, as Target did during “March Madness”. Users of the Target Cartwheel app could vote on which items to discount for the basketball tourney’s kickoff weekend.

Example of voting on a promotion from Target

And just as these sources can provide reliable guidance, there’s plenty of input that merchants should ignore. Two of the biggies:

What the competition does isn’t relevant. This advice may seem counterintuitive. On one level, it’s useful to know what other merchants in the industry are offering shoppers.  But merchants shouldn’t strive to keep up with the features another site offers without knowing whether those strategies are actually delivering results. Even if they have access to such intelligence, merchants should recognize that even within industry sectors, differences between individual brands’ audience demographics, product offerings and price points, and the number and locations of stores, among other factors, mean that a true “apples to apples” comparison simply does not apply.

That hot new social network doesn’t matter. With the ROI of even established sites like Facebook being difficult to justify for most merchants, they should be leery of jumping on the bandwagon of the latest social network just for the sake of “being there” — especially during the holidays, when consumers are likely to have heightened expectations for responsive and savvy customer service on social outposts. With the number of social networks proliferating, merchants should select social opportunities based on where their audience already gathers — or where a specific target audience can be tapped, such as for new international markets — rather than launching new outposts willy nilly.

How are you prioritizing holiday strategies, and what will you forgo?

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.


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.


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.


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.

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?