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?

MarketLive Performance Index: Holiday sales growth accelerates, with help from social (yes, social!)

With the holiday shopping season entering the home stretch, merchants are on track to achieve solid sales growth. While much media hand-wringing ensued following smaller-than-anticipated increases in revenue on Thanksgiving weekend, results from the MarketLive Performance Index show that once off the starting block, merchants are seeing increased sales growth rates as the season progresses.

For the week that included “Green Monday,” Dec. 8, MarketLive merchants achieved a year-over-year revenue growth rate of 11.5% — especially impressive given that visits grew just 8.6%. With the conversion rate trailing last year’s by more than 5% and abandonment up 6.7%, the revenue growth is likely thanks to merchants holding the line on pricing — and, indeed, average order size for the week was up 4.6% year over year.


Combined totals for the season to date follow the same trend, with revenue up 9.4% on increased visits of 13.5% and average order values averaging 4.1% higher than last year.


The increased average order size is especially impressive given the continuing downward price pressure exerted by the largest online mass merchants. The growth in average order value demonstrates that MarketLive merchants are presenting unique finds, relevant promotions for their target audience and stellar service that trump bargain-basement pricing.

In this light, the potential value of social media becomes clear, as it connects merchants with an audience predisposed to be receptive to their products and offers. Although overall, the percentage of visits and revenue directly attributable to social media remains small, a select group of MarketLive merchants have capitalized on the opportunity social media affords to drive a significant percentage of sales and visits from social networking sites.

For the season to date, the merchants with the 15 highest sales figures attributed to social media achieved average social media revenue gains of 212.31% and average social traffic gains of 210.12% year over year — significantly higher than the Index as a whole, which saw gains of 135.7% for social revenue and 113.1% for social traffic. Some individual sites among the top 15 are seeing more than 20% of their traffic and 10% of their revenues originating from social media.


To maximize social impact in the remaining days of the holiday season — and in the year to come — merchants should:

Display an array of targeted discounts. Merchants can avoid decimating their margins by judiciously targeting discounts to focus on top gift categories, and then promote them socially using imagery that displays the full array of possibilities on offer. MarketLive merchant The Cartoon Network Shop employed this strategy for its extended Cyber Monday sale, offering an array of discounts on top items that were promoted via its Facebook page with a large image showing an assortment of products.


Showcase social recommendations. Social media is a rich source of word-of-mouth recommendations, and merchants should capitalize on them by boosting visibility of endorsements and reviews. Developing last-minute campaigns focusing on top-reviewed products is one way to go, but merchants should also boost visibility within social media itself using the “share”, “retweet” and other like functions. MarketLive merchant Neutrogena actively retweets posts featuring product recommendations. Not all of them are gift-related — such as a post from BeautyBlitz promoting the opportunity to win makeup removal wipes, which “every girl needs … near her bed,” the post points out, especially during the busy holiday social season. Also retweeted by Neutrogena: mentions in major media outlets such as InStyle, whose feature on celebrity gift picks lends authority to the brand.


Watch for our final wrapup of holiday results after the New Year, along with 2015 trendwatching and more.

MarketLive Performance Index: Mobile sales zoom as holiday season peaks

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Performance Index: Cyber Monday gains cap successful holiday kickoff weekend

The results are in for the final salvo of the 2014 Thanksgiving weekend and the results confirm that merchants are off to a strong start — even as consumers appeared to experience promotion fatigue, slowing Cyber Monday revenue gains.

Merchants in the MarketLive Performance Index achieved year-over-year sales growth of 7.3% for CyberMonday, driven by an increase in traffic of more than 20% and an increase in average order value of more than 4%. Mobile saw especially strong revenue gains, with sales from mobile devices up 141%.

Both comScore and Adobe reported double-digit eCommerce revenue gains for CyberMonday — but, tellingly, Adobe separated results for the industry’s top 25 retailers, who each generated more than $30 million on Cyber Monday alone, from smaller merchants generating $2 million or less that day. Adobe’s data found that the mega-merchants achieved 25% growth on Cyber Monday, while the smaller merchants saw 5% year-over-year sales gains.

That widening gulf presents a unique challenge for small- to mid-sized merchants. Not only must they contend with the deep discounting strategies of the online mass merchants who are dominating market share, but they must also find ways to stand out among the torrent of promotions offered by those retailers, whose reach is often deep and wide.

One approach is to manifest brand identity consistently across touchpoints by presenting products and offers that resonate deeply with the target audience. Among the ways to do so:

  • Offer discounts that support brand identity. Small-to-mid-sized merchants can’t match the deep discounting strategies of mass merchants — so instead, they should use discounts as a means to demonstrate their knowledge of the needs and priorities of their target audience. That can mean offering free shipping or a discount on a particular category of products, or gift-with-purchase incentives that strike a chord.
  • Put the spotlight on exclusive products. 43% of shoppers say they’d pay full price for a holiday gift that perfectly matches the recipient, and 37% say they’d pay full price for hard-to-find items, according to the 2014 MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey. Merchants should emphasize unique finds and exclusive sets.
  • Roll out the customer service red carpet. Merchants should strive to provide personal service on a level the big mass merchants can’t match — and to market their customer service offerings as they would a valuable product. MarketLive merchant Title Nine heightens customer service visibility on the all-important shopping cart page with an invitation to engage in live chat and a concise description of the brand’s product guarantee.

cybermonday_brandbuildserviceFor more Cyber Monday and Thanksgiving weekend details, read the full MarketLive press release. And stay tuned for further holiday results next week.

Performance Index: MarketLive merchants see strong Black Friday gains, with mobile leading the way

The numbers are in for Black Friday weekend, and amidst slumping overall sales eCommerce has once again proved a bright spot. Merchants in the MarketLive Performance Index achieved year-over-year revenue gains of 16.2% during the four-day Thanksgiving weekend.

That performance trumps the flat online sales growth reported by the National Retail Federation and the 9.48% gain reported by IBM. At the same time, the growth rate for Thanksgiving and Black Friday was slower than in previous years, suggesting that shoppers visiting MarketLive merchant sites weren’t immune to promotions fatigue — or perhaps they expect the near-constant drumbeat of specials to continue, and are holding out for even better deals.

“We coached our customers and cautioned the industry that pre-empting Black Friday with early discounts is not healthy,” said Ken Burke, MarketLive founder and CEO. “This year saw an unprecedented number of retailers ‘jumping the gun’ on holiday sales and discounts which drove pre-Thanksgiving sales.”

Mobile sales jumped by more than 50%, with close to 30% of revenues originating from a mobile device. MarketLive merchants saw fully half of their visits coming from mobile devices, raising the prospect of shoppers on the go using their devices purely for research versus purchasing, and thereby causing key metrics to slump. Cart abandonment rates did, indeed, increase over the holiday weekend compared with 2013. But conversion rates and average order size held steady or increased, suggesting that merchants have improved their mobile experiences to meet the increased potential for sales.


The Index and industry results demonstrate that merchants will have to work hard for the remainder of the season if their offers are to stand from the crowd of promotions. Among the tactics to consider:

  • Go for quality vs. quantity with email. As we discussed in one of our recent holiday tips, merchants should aim for maximum relevance when designing email campaigns, and should avoid sending multiple emails per day unless deals really are changing that rapidly. One merchant who shall remain nameless sent five nearly-identical Cyber Monday messages all containing the same content, with only the Subject: line changing — a sure-fire way to irritate consumers and guarantee that future messages will be summarily dismissed.
  • Use social to up visibility of promotions — and monitor their reception. Merchants should go beyond a single status-update post to Facebook and Twitter and find innovative ways to showcase deals via social media. MarketLive merchant Marc Jacobs Beauty promoted its “Blaquer Friday” deals across a range of social networking sites, including Google Plus and Instagram, and even devised a hashtag to increase visibility. And it’s important not to “set it and forget it” when it comes to sharing promotions socially. When a follower complained that exclusive gift packs were sold out by the Saturday after Thanksgiving, a  Marc Jacobs Beauty representative responded within an hour to reassure followers that inventory was still available.


For more, view the official MarketLive Black Friday press release. And watch for Cyber Monday results and analysis coming momentarily, with weekly updates to continue through Christmas.