Holiday tip #6: Present out-of-stock alternatives that work

During the holidays, merchants will inevitably face situations when their eCommerce site visitors can’t buy the items they want immediately. With time-pressed shoppers seeking instant gratification, merchants need on-the-spot solutions to the “out of stock” conundrum.

The facts

Despite forecasting a 4.1% uptick in holiday retail sales overall, merchants are being cautious when it comes to inventory. According to BDO USA, 55% of merchants are stocking inventory at close to 2013 levels, and inventory levels overall are expected to rise just 1.1% — making the “out of stock” scenario a real likelihood.

The bad news is that an email notification letting shoppers know items are back in stock, while a common solution, isn’t the most popular one with consumers. Just 28% of shoppers will sign up to receive a notification when an item is restocked — but 41% will visit a competitor’s site or mobile app for immediate gratification and 21% will visit a competitor’s store, according to a study by comScore and UPS.

ComScore data on consumer responses to out of stock items

The action item

The good news is that email alerts aren’t merchants’ only option; they should deploy a range of tactics to keep shoppers who’ve clicked on out-of-stock items in the loop and engaged with their brands. To save sales, merchants should:

  • Present alternatives on the spot. Merchants should alert shoppers to other gift possibilities on the site right from the sold-out product’s page, whether via a modal window or in the cross-sell positions.
  • Promote new arrivals. Email and social media alerts highlighting new shipments of best-selling items can prompt a visit from the 40% of shoppers who say they’ll check back with a merchant’s site to see if items have been restocked.
  • Make in-store inventory access a snap. Merchants who’ve implemented in-store inventory lookup on their eCommerce sites are well-positioned to serve the 30% of shoppers who say they’ll seek items in a brand’s physical outlets if they can’t purchase online. But all merchants can make store connections easier by providing quick access to customer service via live chat and on the phone.
  • Preempt the problem with “in-stock” product categories. Especially late in the season, grouping and promoting items that are in stock and ready to ship boosts convenience for time-pressed shoppers.

Late in the 2013 season, MarketLive merchant Helzberg Diamonds showcased a “last-minute gifts” category guaranteed to be in-stock and delivered by Christmas.

2013 holiday example from Helzberg

Watch for 6 more holiday tips on the blog through Black Friday, and read up on winning strategies in MarketLive’s holiday whitepapers.

Holiday tip #5: Connect social networks to drive holiday engagement and sales

For the holiday season, some merchants are launching elaborate and extensive social campaigns, while others are keeping it simple with basic updates. But all merchants can benefit by enacting simple tactics to ensure social followers find their way to the products and content most relevant to them.

The facts

The percentage of direct sales attributable to social media remains extremely low, and engaging followers to click on items from their crowded feeds can be challenging. The latest data from the MarketLive Performance Index shows that social media still only accounts directly for 2% of traffic and 1% of sales.

At the same time, many merchants intuit that social media plays a much bigger role in influencing purchases, and consumers freely acknowledge that social media plays a part in their shopping experience. Close to one in three participants in the 2014 MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey said that they’ve made purchases as a result of social media interactions. During the holiday season, half of shoppers rank social activities as somewhat or very important to their gifting purchases.

Data on social media from the ML Consumer Shopping Survey

The action item

Whether their social media plans are grandiose or simple, and whether their social media staffing is deep or bare-bones, merchants should grab the low-hanging fruit to ensure that social media followers and visitors have access to the holiday resources they need. Social outposts should highlight:

  • Customer service resources. In addition to providing “social service”, merchants should give followers easy access to other options by listing their customer service phone number and email address prominently, and offering a link to live chat as available.
  • Gift card information and purchasing. Merchants should spotlight the availability of gift cards, which are set to generate $126 billion in sales this holiday weekend, a 9% year-over-year increase, according to CardHub.
  • Email and mobile alert signups. Followers may or may not spot a merchant update in a crowded news feed — but if they sign up for email or mobile updates, they’ll receive messages directly, boosting chances of engagement.
  • Coupon downloads for in-store access. The majority of social activity now occurs on mobile devices, and fully 55% of consumers set to look for coupons on their phones while in stores, according to the MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey.
  • Other social content. Merchants should use plugins to display Twitter and Pinterest content from within Facebook, or at least link to other social outposts.

MarketLive merchant Peruvian Connection’s interconnected Facebook page promotes a Pinterest contest, $250 drawing for those who sign up for email updates, and other social media outposts as well as featuring links to the eCommerce site.

Holiday example from Peruvian Connection

Watch for 7 more holiday tips on the blog through Black Friday, and read up on winning strategies in MarketLive’s holiday whitepapers.

Holiday tip #4: Treat on-time shipping as your top product

When it comes to earning eCommerce customer satisfaction, the basics are crucially important, starting with on-time delivery of holiday gifts. The campaign can’t begin too soon to set appropriate shipping expectations that merchants can fulfill — and thereby earn brand credibility and loyalty for 2015.

The facts

In 2013, close to a third of leading eCommerce merchants missed delivery by Dec. 24, thanks in part to a glut of last-minute shipments that caused backups at UPS and FedEx. Prominent retailers such as Barnes and Noble were put in the awkward position of emailing customers with the news that Santa would be late.

One way to avoid the possibility of blown deadlines is to move shipping cutoff dates earlier — and, in fact, the National Retail Federation reports nearly eight in ten merchants will set their cutoff dates for guaranteed delivery via standard shipping at least a week before Christmas, compared with just 73% who did so last year.

But with 78% of shoppers saying they won’t finish holiday shopping until December, according to the 2014 MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey, merchants are unlikely to cede last-minute sales to competitors by closing the door on last-minute shipments. More than half of shoppers say they’ll take advantage of Free Shipping Day promotions on Dec. 18, just four business days before Christmas, according to the survey.

The action item

Whatever shipping calendar merchants have set, they must  promote it relentlessly via every available channel, starting with concise, easy-to-scan content. They should consider a one-stop shipping resources that displays:

  • key cutoff dates, including a map if they vary by region
  • links to additional customer service resources, such as information on returns and exchanges

Also relevant to promote alongside shipping information:

  • Services such as free site-to-store delivery
  • The ability to check in-store inventory online or reserve in-store items online
  • Virtual gift cards as an 11th-hour solution

Shipping content should be promoted via social media, on mobile apps and sites, and in email.

Finally, merchants should update shipping content as cutoff dates pass, so that shoppers see only what options remain to them. In the third week of December 2013, MarketLive merchant Modell’s clearly delineated what options were still available for shoppers wanting Christmas delivery.

Modell's holiday 2013 shipping example

Watch for 8 more holiday tips on the blog through Black Friday, and read up on winning strategies in MarketLive’s holiday whitepapers.

Holiday tip #3: Reward store staff for going online (really!)

Merchants may fear “showrooming,” the practice of touching and trying products in stores and then buying elsewhere online. But there’s little they can do to prevent shoppers from whipping out their mobile devices in stores to inform their purchasing decisions — and a growing body of research shows it may actually pay off to encourage such behavior. One great way to start: store associates.

The facts

We’ve mentioned before the value of savvy in-store staff. More than half of shoppers report they’re more likely to make purchases from stores where associates are knowledgeable; at the same time, 59% of consumers believe themselves better connected to shopping information than store staff — making well-trained associates a potential brand differentiator.

The 2014 MarketLive Consumer Survey gives deeper insight into the information sought by consumers. The good news? Shoppers prioritize access to pricing and product information over technologically-tricky services such as roving checkout via tablet POS. The ability to locate and deliver products in-stock elsewhere tops the list, with information gathering rounding out the top three desired services.

Statistics from the MarketLive Consumer Survey

The action item

Merchants should brief holiday sales associates about the brand’s online resources, including:

  • Coupons and promo codes
  • In-depth product information
  • Customer reviews
  • In-store events and store-specific promotions
  • Customer service information such as ship-to-store availability and return/exchange policies

Associates should be encouraged to access this information freely during customer interactions, whether using their own mobile devices or via store computers. Finally, they should be empowered to use tools such as ship-to-store to speed delivery of items from other locations, and to arrange complimentary home shipping at their discretion.

To inspire and acknowledge staff efforts, merchants can spotlight stellar store service via online channels. MarketLive merchant Francesca’s features individual stores on the home page of the eCommerce site, giving prominence to front-line store staff and also differentiating the brand in the process.

Example from Francesca's

Watch for 9 more holiday tips on the blog through Black Friday, and read up on winning strategies in MarketLive’s holiday whitepapers.

Holiday tip #2: Tailor mobile images for lightning speed

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

The facts

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

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

The action item

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

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

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

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

Holiday tip #1: Use gift packs to maximize marketplace visibility

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.

Gift sets have long been popular holiday picks for shoppers and merchants alike. Now there’s another reason for merchants to value them: their potential to boost brand visibility on third-party marketplace sites.

The facts

Visibility through marketplaces results in exposure to new audiences. Amazon and eBay attract the lion’s share of traffic to and purchases on mobile commerce Web sites, which are poised to play a central role this holiday season. Furthermore, shoppers report Amazon plays a central role in their holiday gift purchase process — even when they go on to buy elsewhere. Two out of three shoppers report they’ll buy at least a quarter of their gifts via Amazon, according to the 2014 MarketLive/E-Tailing Group Consumer Shopper Survey; 90% say they check Amazon before making any online purchase, and even of those who buy locally, 72% still report visiting Amazon beforehand to do product research.

For all these reasons, it’s perhaps no surprise that a whopping 84% of merchants sell goods on Amazon’s marketplace, and 63% do so on eBay, according to Channel Advisor.

The action item

Gift sets are especially apt for marketplace promotion because they’re less likely to be offered by multiple sellers – and therefore give merchants a better chance of winning the coveted and prominent “buy button” or default seller status. To maximize their value, merchants should::

  • Balance catchy keywords with unique finds. More searches are conducted using popular brand or product names than for gift sets or baskets – but popular terms are also likely to draw more competition from other sellers. Merchants should anchor gift sets with popular items so as to show up in search results, but round out the selection with other items to make a unique and irresistible gift find.
  • Vary the mix depending on the marketplace. Smaller marketplace platforms, such as NewEgg.com or Sears.com, offer merchants a better chance of visibility for popular terms – allowing them to showcase hot products with fewer competitors.

In a search for popular product “Cold Plasma,” MarketLive merchant Perricone MD wins top placement and the “buy” button for its Cold Plasma Set, while other sellers nab prime position for offerings of single products in the line.

Perricone on Amazon Marketplace

Watch for 11 more holiday tips on the blog through Black Friday, and read up on winning strategies in MarketLive’s holiday whitepapers.

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

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

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

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

Shopping survey results

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

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

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

Merchants should message with absolute consistency across touchpoints on:

 

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

 

Merchants have leeway to offer by touchpoint:

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

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

Survey says: social and mobile are the keys to holiday success – webinar preview

The pivotal role social media and mobile are poised to play this holiday season — and the implications for merchants — will be a key topic discussed during tomorrow’s webinar with MarketLive CEO Ken Burke and Lauren Freeman of the E-Tailing Group.

They’ll share results of the 2014 Marketlive/E-Tailing Group Consumer Shopping Survey, with 1,000 participants sharing their views on everything from Amazon to email marketing.

While the influence of social networks on the eCommerce bottom line is subject to ongoing debate, significant proportions of shoppers in the survey reported factoring in social opinions during holiday shopping. Close to a third of participants (30%) say they’ve made purchases as a direct result of interations on social media.

The findings track earlier data from the MarketLive Performance Index showing that social’s role in purchasing, while still small, is growing at a significant rate. In the second quarter, revenues generated via social media grew close to 15% year over year, even as traffic from social media sites grew at a more modest rate of 2.49%.

The survey also revealed that a smooth mobile experience could be the top differentiator this season when it comes to driving sales growth.

Fully 56% of survey participants say they plan to spend about the same amount of money on holiday gifts this year as they did in 2013, making for an ultra-competitive season as merchants aim to win a larger share of sales despite overall flat spending. In fact, shoppers reported they planned to do less buying in every channel or location except on mobile devices, where more than a third of participants plan to shop — a 28% increase.

shoppingsurvey_channelusage2014The webinar will address:

  • Gifting trends, such as how many gifts shoppers plan to purchase, and when
  • Top barriers to gift purchasing online
  • Which social networks generate the most shopping influence
  • The top ways shoppers share product information socially
  • The mobile features users seek while shopping in-store
  • What would nudge mobile shoppers to become mobile buyers
  • How mobile impacts email marketing effectiveness
  • And more

Register now and join us tomorrow, Wednesday, Oct. 9, at 10 a.m. Pacific time. We look forward to the discussion!

 

4 invaluable resources to guide your holiday prep

Holiday preparations are well underway for most merchants. Even if holiday promotions and merchandising aren’t explicitly showcased on the eCommerce site yet, the countdown to Black Friday is definitely on, and some sites may already be on “lockdown” in terms of new features and functionality.

But even given that many merchants have moved from planning to execution mode, there are still plenty of tactics they can implement, based on the latest consumer behaviors and emerging trends. To help merchants prioritize and pick the last-minute additions that make the most sense for their brands, MarketLive is offering an array of holiday resources:

  • Register now for a webinar Thursday, Oct. 9, at 10 a.m. EDT with Lauren Freedman, president of the E-Tailing Group, who will share results from the 2014 MarketLive/E-Tailing Group Consumer Shopping Survey. The survey quizzes participants about their projected and actual holiday shopping habits, covering topics from mobile purchasing to timing of last-minute purchases.
  • Read up on rich media for the holidays in a whitepaper focusing on the ROI of video investments, with a special focus on the right video content for each stage of the holiday customer lifecycle.
  • Learn the top 10 tips for holiday success — leading tactics to implement both now and during the peak holiday season to drive sales growth and customer satisfaction.
  • Explore how to bring tried-and-true merchandising techniques to the frontiers of online commerce with Merchandising 2.0.

Finally, keep watching this blog for holiday tips, tactics and results throughout the holiday season. Happy planning!

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?