Using holiday content to build brand value

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

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

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

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

Holiday example from World Market

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

Holiday example from Moosejaw

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

Holiday example from J. Crew

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

Holiday results update: enticing researchers to buy now

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

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

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

Holiday data from the MarketLive Performance Index

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

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

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

Holiday example from Sears

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

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

Holiday example from Toys R Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Holiday results update: spending continues apace

Like most merchants, we’re tracking holiday performance closely, and so far, the data continues to show strong growth. As the season heads into its frenzied final weeks, merchants in the MarketLive Performance Index have earned double-digit revenue gains for this week and the season as a whole.

Year-over-year weekly results show revenue up 18.9%,while visits soared by almost 26%. Conversion and engagement slipped by less a percentage point, while average order size increased nominally. Cart abandonment crept upwards by 2.2% as shoppers intensify gift-buying research, leaving behind items in the cart as they hop from site to site.

Combined results for first two weeks of the holiday season show even stronger gains. Total revenue is up almost 38% compared with 2011, driving by an increase in conversion rates of 4.8% and engagement rates of 4.5%.

Holiday data from the MarketLive Performance Index

As the final week begins before on-time delivery options begin to narrow, merchants are pulling out all the stops to offer shoppers an array of gifting options. As we reported earlier, it’s not just the mega-merchants offering bargain-basement prices who are seeing gains; brands that communicate value are winning big with promotions of unique products and stellar service as well as attractive pricing.

When merchants do offer discounts, they should make the most of them by communicating them consistently along the path to purchase — not just at checkout. This tactic not only motivates shoppers to buy, but it takes the guesswork out of price calculations as they add items to the cart.

eBags offers a “Happy Hour” promotion of 30% off and free shipping over a threshold to email subscribers. The offer expires at 11 p.m., roughly 14 hours after it was sent — giving shoppers ample incentive to shop and purchase immediately, tapping into the “daily deal” mentality, and helping eBags avoid the sinkhole of offering constant and ever-deeper discounts.

Holiday example from eBags

Once email recipients click on the promotion, the deal is reinforced throughout the eCommerce site with a global banner which dynamically displays the offer (as opposed to non-subscribers, who see a lower discount offer).

Holiday example from eBags

On the product page, the price has been dynamically calculated to include the discount, which is called out in the text above the “Add to Cart” button. The item qualifies for the free shipping discount, which is also flagged prominently.Holiday example from eBags

Finally, in the shopping cart, the discount is again displayed and the “final price” is highlighted.

Holiday example from eBags

How are you making the most of holiday discounts?

Early results indicate a blockbuster holiday

The results are in from the first big selling events of the holiday season, and it appears that online sales are set to exceed expectations. Industry-wide, measurement firm comScore reported a whopping 32% increase in year-over-year sales on Thanksgiving Day, a 23% jump on Black Friday, and 17% on Cyber Monday. IBM’s Holiday Benchmark reports show even stronger results: Thanksgiving online sales grew by 17.4%, Black Friday sales increased 20.7%, and Cyber Monday revenues jumped 30.3%.

Perhaps even more heartening, data from the MarketLive Performance Index shows that those gains aren’t just confined to the biggest mega-merchants on the Web — far from it. Index merchants achieved gains even greater than the industry at large, with 59% reporting better results for Cyber Monday than the comScore 17% increase, and more than one in three reporting larger gains than the IBM 30% mark.

Holiday data from the MarketLive Index

A deeper dive into the metrics shows that Index merchants scored increases in conversion and engagement while holding the line on cart abandonment. Furthermore, merchants managed to achieve these gains without sacrificing on the altar of deep discounts: overall order size held steady, increasing a full 14% on Thanksgiving Day and averaging 2% for the holiday weekend overall.

The results indicate that merchants who continue to match shoppers with relevant products and meet expectations for superior service stand to finish the year with blockbuster success. To communicate their brand’s unique value proposition and capitalize on early success, merchants should tweak their final campaigns of the year to emphasize:

A variety of products — including gift cards. Merchants should move beyond standard gift-guide categories such as “for him” or “gifts under $50” and offer items tailored to the lifestyle of their target audience. One item that’s of universal appeal: gift cards, which are sought by two-thirds of gift recipients, according to Shop.org. MarketLive merchant Perricone MD’s gift guide features a selection of beauty products aimed at distinct audiences, from a travel kit to a “best of Perricone” set that includes top sellers. Gift cards are prominently featured among the array, well above the fold.

Holiday example from Perricone MD

Make key customer service information accessible everywhere. Merchants should prominently position links to delivery and returns information, product guarantees, physical store location hours and customer service chat links and phone numbers — not only throughout the eCommerce site, but on the mobile site and social outposts, to boot. MarketLive merchant Sport Chalet features a prominent “no sale is ever final” promise on its home page, and gives shoppers further opportunity to connect with customer service in a comprehensive “Holiday Information” banner in its global footer, including store hours, a gift card promotion, and links to holiday guides as well as information on returns and exchanges.

Holiday example from Sport Chalet

Holiday example from Sport Chalet

How has your holiday season been so far? What tactics will you pursue through the rest of the season?

Cyber Monday last-minute tips: 3 ways to stand out on the biggest shopping day of the year

A week from now, merchants will be in the midst of the holiday shopping fray. Black Friday and the Thanksgiving weekend will be behind them, and dawning will be Cyber Monday — likely to be the largest online shopping day of the year. In 2011, Cyber Monday accounted for $1.25 billion in online sales —  a whopping 50% more than Black Friday, and 20% more than the two days of the Thanksgiving weekend combined, according to measurement firm comScore.

With shopping activity forecast to peak on Cyber Monday again this year, merchants will be vying to demonstrate how their brands uniquely deliver value — which thankfully doesn’t necessarily equate to rock-bottom prices. Participants in the 2012 MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey placed value ahead of product price when it came to factors that would influence purchase; in fact, more than a third of participants said they would pay full price for unique items that are perfect for gift recipients and hard-to-find products.

Of course tried-and-true methods such as free shipping offers are important; in fact,  free shipping remains the number one sought-after promotion, according to the MarketLive survey. But with most merchants now jumping on the free shipping bandwagon, it’s essential to find new ways to make brands truly stand out from the crowd. To communicate value and maximize sales for CyberMonday, merchants should showcase the breadth and depth of their unique offerings and do so seamlessly across touchpoints to entice shoppers wherever they connect with the brand. Merchants should tweak CyberMonday plans to:

Expose a variety of products and price points. To entice shoppers to engage with the brand, merchants should display multiple products that appeal to a range of core constituencies. Gift guides, home page displays, email marketing and social media merchandising can all be adapted to showcase variety and uniqueness. Last year, plus-size clothier Ulla Popken used its home page to display “the 25 bestsellers of Christmas” on CyberMonday, putting its most popular items front and center while simultaneously demonstrating to shoppers that a variety of products lay in store within the site.
Holiday example from Ulla Popken

Amp up social exposure both ways. To express the unique value of the brand, merchants should mine social content from existing customers and brand followers. Showcasing top-rated or top-liked items not not only gives shoppers descriptions of products penned by customers like them; it gives the brand a credibility boost by creating an authentic grassroots voice.  Last year Harry & David showcased top-rated items tailored to email subscribers’ geographic area — adding an extra layer of relevance to their messaging. One reviewer noted that selecting the product “takes the stress out of finding that perfect gift” — demonstrating the convenience of buying through the site and enumerating a top reason consumers do holiday shopping online.

Holiday example from Harry and David

Just as they mine social media for merchandising fodder, merchants should also extend their shopping experiences onto social networks, making it easy for brand followers to access featured products and offers. Merchants should consider adding Pinterest pinboards featuring Cyber Monday deals and a Facebook page highlighting top products, with deep links into the eCommerce site if Facebook commerce isn’t enabled. In 2010, Lowe’s featured “sneak peeks” for Black Friday for followers who liked the brand’s Facebook page — giving them exclusive access and generating excitement about the event.

Holiday example from Lowe's



Put the emphasis on gifting service. Merchants can distinguish themselves by proactively addressing shopper concerns when it comes to holiday gift shopping online. In its pre-holiday survey, Shop.org found that top purchase considerations for consumers included items such as guaranteed on-time delivery and free returns. Merchants who consistently message product guarantees, delivery timelines and shipping costs, return policies and the availability of gifting tools such as wish lists, saved address books and gift wrap can go a long way toward earning shoppers’ trust — and thereby winning the sale. In addition, merchants should prominently promote physical and online gift cards, including policies for redemption online and in-store; Shop.org found that they’re what two-thirds of shoppers would most like to receive. L. L. Bean’s promotion last year put the emphasis on service; touting “five ways L. L. Bean makes holiday shopping easier,” the email message highlighted the company’s product guarantee, its policy of free shipping with no minimum, and “easy shopping” using the eCommerce site’s gift guide.

Holiday example from L.L. Bean

How are you creating a unique value proposition for Cyber Monday and the rest of the holiday season?

Black Friday last-minute tips:balancing early birds, “buy now” and “buy later”

It’s hard to believe, but the holiday season’s first official red-letter day — Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving — is only a week away. Originally marking the kickoff of the holiday shopping season, Black Friday now merely represents the point at which seasonal messaging goes into hyperdrive for most merchants.

While forecasts project another blockbuster year for holiday sales growth, 54% of consumers report they’re planning to spend about the same as they did last year, according to the 2012 MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey, which means holiday sales gains will be hard-won. No longer the highest revenue earner of the year — that honor goes to Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving — Black Friday is nonetheless important as a harbinger for holiday sales performance. And since this year promises to bring a tough battle for shoppers’ attention and dollars, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Of course, most merchants are already executing long-laid plans for winning holiday sales. But now that the clamor of seasonal promotions is actually underway, merchants should reexamine their campaigns and adapt as necessary to ensure their brand’s offerings are heard amidst the noise. Specifically, to kick off the season successfully, merchants should:

Begin Black Friday on Thanksgiving day — or sooner. Two out of five shoppers had already begun their gift purchasing in late October, according to Shop.org, and merchants have responded with pre-Black Friday deals. Amazon.com kicked off its “Countdown to Black Friday” November 1; Newegg.com is featuring deals all month with its “Black November” promotion. And next week, many major retailers, from Kmart to Kohls, will be open on Thanksgiving Day itself, sometimes beginning in the evening for a full 24 hours of hectic shopping.

At this point, online retailers not already offering pre-Black Friday deals should begin messaging their plans for the big event, stepping up marketing that:

  • Spells out hours and sets expectations for both online and offline shopping. Merchants should let shoppers know in advance customer service staffing hours for Thanksgiving week, including Thanksgiving Day, and merchants with physical store locations should prominently list store hours on the eCommerce site, social media outlets and in email campaigns.
  • Supports seamless online/in-store experiences. With shoppers researching deals on the computer before heading to stores, merchants should focus attention on connector points such as the store locator and any in-store pickup services they offer. This key Information should be available via mobile devices, which serve to bridge touchpoints for shoppers on the hunt for Black Friday bargains.
  • Previews the upcoming deals. Give shoppers who’ve subscribed to email alerts or who follow the brand on social networks a sneak peak at upcoming sale items. And consider letting loyal customers have a first crack at purchasing Black Friday specials before everyone else early next week.

Last year, Target sent an email the Monday before Thanksgiving previewing sale items and showcasing its gift guide, organized by price. The email also prominently messaged the fact that stores would not be open Thanksgiving Day.

2011 Black Friday example from Target

Promote sought-after items to boost commitment now … While shoppers are likely to crowd stores and begin browsing online as soon as doors open on Thanksgiving night, there will be plenty of holdouts, too, especially because this year’s calendar affords them an extra week between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey found that while more than a third of shoppers began their gift buying in September, fully 70% don’t anticipate finishing their gift lists until December. And online, shoppers can be tempted to wait and see if deals get better and if free shipping, the most popular online promotion, will be offered to suit their needs. To motivate these noncommittal browsers, merchants should put the spotlight on exclusives and hard-to-obtain items. To encourage purchasing on Black Friday itself, promote items that are unlikely to be available earlier in the season — from hot toys and electronics to exclusive items. Beauty merchant Sephora encouraged Black Friday spending with exclusive items priced competitively and available in limited quantities.

Black Friday example from Sephora

… and use daily deals to keep them coming back for more. With Black Friday kicking off a series of red-letter shopping days, merchants should use it as an opportunity to set expectations for more great deals to come. One way to do so, while also encouraging immediate purchases, is to adopt a “daily deal” strategy, showcasing a single item or discount each day throughout the Thanksgiving weekend and beyond. Such offers are popular with shoppers, 59% of whom used daily deal coupon sites such as Groupon or flash sale sites such as RueLaLa for holiday shopping last year, according to PriceGrabber.

To compete with those sites, and give shoppers plenty of reasons to buy now and keep returning later, merchants should devise a series of discounts and promote them prominently across touchpoints — from the eCommerce site to social media. Last year, the Gap promoted daily deals each day of the Thanksgiving weekend, in addition to its 60% discount. Specials included price cuts on popular items in-store and online and additional percent savings.

2011 Black Friday and Thanksgiving weekend example from Gap

2011 Black Friday and Thanksgiving weekend example from Gap

How do you plan to maximize the Black Friday opportunity?

4 ways to promote in-store layaway online

Since the economic downturn, many merchants have re-instituted layaway programs, whereby shoppers can reserve and set aside items, and pay for them in installments over a set time period. Layaway is especially popular for the holidays: not only can consumers pay for gift purchases over time, but by participating in layaway programs they can stake their claim on sought-after toys and electronics that may be out of stock later in the season.

Merchants not only benefit from the revenues generated by layaway items, but layaway helps them gauge interest in popular items, thereby enabling better inventory control, according to the Wall Street Journal. Additionally, layaway programs can generate additional impulse purchases when participants place their orders, make payments or pick up their items.

For many merchants, layaway programs are managed entirely in physical stores. But because a brand’s online touchpoints are vital information sources even for in-store shoppers, it’s key to support layaway programs extensively with online content. Merchants with layaway programs for the holidays should act now to launch  a comprehensive page with layaway program information. Provide a concise but thorough description of the layaway program, including any fees, the required percentage or amount for a down payment, and the payment schedule. Toys R Us promotes its in-store program with a bold, colorful page touting “layaway … the easy way,” with a no signup fees and the ability to use layaway for any toys, including electronics. The page links to full program details as well as the store locator so shoppers can connect with physical locations where they can put items on layaway.

Layaway page example from Toys R Us

Merchants should link to the information prominently and promote layaway from:

On-site search. Shoppers entering the term “layaway” in the on-site search box should be directed to information about the program, as on the Walmart site, where a notice at the top of the page lets shoppers know they’ve been automatically redirected rather than shown matching products.

Layaway page example from Walmart

Store locator tools. Shoppers using the store locator — whether on the main eCommerce site or via mobile device — should be able to view at a glance which outlets offer layaway, such as on the TJ Maxx site, where locations offering layaway are flagged with a hanger icon.

Layaway example from TJ Maxx

Product pages. Even if shoppers can’t purchase on layaway via their computers or mobile devices, they may still want to know if they have the layaway option in-stores, so display an icon or flag letting them know which items qualify. Text on Kmart product pages designates which items can be bought using “layaway — the easy way to pay, “ and links to a calculator showing the payment schedule for the product in question.Kmart does allow for online layaway management — but the calculator would be just as useful for in-store programs; the information helps budget-conscious shoppers plan their payments. Kmart provides a printable version for shoppers who choose to visit physical stores to reserve layaway items.

Layaway example from Kmart

Social networks. Share layaway information with deal-conscious brand followers on social networking sites. On Facebook, build custom content about the layaway program and encourage browsing and buying with a link to qualifying products, as Walmart does on its page. A link to the layaway information receives top billing on its main Timeline page, and the information page encourages shoppers to “start browsing” with a link to the eCommerce site.

Layaway example from Walmart

Layaway example from Walmart

In addition to promoting in-store layaway for this year’s holiday season, merchants should begin planning for the future — when online integration of layaway is likely to become an expected norm. Like Kmart, sister brand Sears offers a complete layaway management tool that incorporates FAQs, payment calculators, and the ability to shop layaway-qualified items by department, as well as the ability to make payments. Such tools, while representing a significant investment, offer online shoppers the same access to the convenience and selection of a layaway program. Since convenience is a top reason shoppers choose to purchase online during the holidays, according to the 2012 MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey, merchants who allocate resources to this tool are likely to earn loyalty and sales.

Layaway example from Sears

Do you offer layaway? If so, how are you supporting it online this holiday season — and how will you do so in the future?

A quick fix to boost holiday mobile engagement

One of the surprising results of the 2012 MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey was the strong showing forecast for mobile in the holiday season to come. By now, heavy mobile researching is to be expected, but the survey revealed that a large percentage of consumers plan to go beyond browsing to use their devices to transact purchases. Specifically:

  • One in five survey participants plan to make purchases on their mobile devices during the holiday season
  • 43% said they would use their mobile devices to redeem coupons in-store
  • 82% said they would use retail apps to make purchases

With such potential for direct contribution to the bottom line, mobile offerings deserve prominent promotion. But often, the only mention of mobile on the flagship eCommerce site is a small link in the footer — or, worse, there’s none at all. With the holiday season right around the corner, merchants should act immediately to highlight whatever mobile offerings they have — using all the touchpoints to cross-promote their services. Specifically, merchants should:

Go big with details on the eCommerce site. On the flagship eCommerce site designed for viewing on desktops or browsers, devote a page or more to mobile offerings, detailing what’s available through text-message alerts, the mobile Web and on custom apps. Toys R Us features a page detailing its three mobile apps, with links to download each, along with its mobile Web site. With the heading “Buy and browse from anywhere!” the page emphasizes convenience, calling out the ability to scan item barcodes for registries and research and to access “quick on-the-go shopping”. The left-hand column invites browsers to sign up for text-message alerts by emphasizing “the hottest deals and savings” and allows subscribers to select which categories of alerts they’d like to receive.

Mobile promotion example by Toys R Us

Additionally, merchants should consider linking to mobile information from a promotion on the home page and/or in the global header, as MarketLive merchant Perricone MD did when launching its new iPhone app. The home page promotion promises “instant access” to health advice.

Mobile promotion example from Perricone MD

Alert email subscribers to new ways to shop. Email subscribers are already familiar with the brand and may already even be customers — but that doesn’t mean they don’t have any interest in shopping via mobile device as well as on the traditional Web site. Message them with a promotional offer exclusive to mobile shoppers, as MarketLive merchant Armani Exchange did with this message promising $20 off mobile orders of $100 or more. After the campaign, the mobile site saw a three-fold increase in conversions.

Mobile promotion example from Armani Exchange

Reach mobile-primed shoppers via social networks. Fully 80% of smartphone owners visit social networking sites, and more than half of them do so daily, according to data from Google and Ipsos. Merchants should engage this audience of mobile enthusiasts by promoting their offerings on social outposts, emphasizing the ability to access exclusive and up-to-the-minute content. Victoria’s Secret promotes its apps and mobile alerts service on a “Get Connected” page linked prominently from its main Facebook Timeline.

Mobile promotion example from Victoria's Secret

How are you promoting your mobile services across touchpoints?

Webinar recap: Offer value to win holiday sales

Our head’s still spinning from all the great information delivered during last week’s webinar on the 2012 MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey. The survey covered a bevy of topics, from how shoppers plan to use mobile devices during the holidays to top discounting strategies for winning sales.

One key standout was the impact of Amazon.com. While most merchants are well aware of the online behemoth’s presence, it was eye-opening to see the numbers in black and white:  more than half of consumers planned to make at least a quarter of their purchases on Amazon — a 62% increase compared with last year — while nearly one in three plan to use the site for more than half of their holiday gifting.

Data from the MarketLive Consumer Survey 2012

Luckily, the webinar also offered an array of solid strategies for merchants to convince shoppers to purchase on their sites instead. The key? Communicating value — a concept that goes beyond prices to include service, brand reputation and uniqueness of products. Value topped the list of product and price factors that influence purchases, with 87% of survey participants saying it’s important — just ahead of product price alone, which 85% of participants said was a priority. Merchants who make the most of that value advantage will thrive, said presenter Lauren Freeman of the E-Tailing Group. Just a few of the tactics the survey identified for communicating brand value:

Reliability. Merchants whose products are in-stock and guaranteed for holiday delivery win points, the survey found, with 82% and 74% of shoppers saying they’re important, respectively. Delivery and shipping cutoff dates also scored high, with 66% of consumers saying they’re important. In addition to communicating in-stock status on the product page, merchants can easily build brand value by creating a clear guide to holiday shipping deadlines and promoting it prominently throughout the site, as  Sundance Catalog did last year with a home-page callout of delivery cutoff dates.

Holiday example from Sundance

Customer service. Unlike Amazon, small and mid-sized merchants can deliver exceptional personalized service — and according to the survey, consumers acknowledge the importance of customer assistance. The availability of a variety of contact options is key, from an 800 number to “click-to-chat” functionality, as is 24/7 access, which was rated important by 65% of participants.

Data from the 2012 MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey

While not every merchant can offer assistance in every form around the clock, it’s crucial to prominently feature the customer service options that are available — not only on the “contact us” page, but in the global header and on individual product pages, as housewares merchant Cuddledown does with an “Ask an Expert” tab that details contact information and hours.
Customer service example from Cuddledown

Expertly-curated gifts. Nearly half of survey participants, 45%, said the availability of recommendations or reviews was a reason they shopped online — up significantly from 2011, when just over a third of shoppers rated the information important. To create brand value, merchants can go beyond offering customer reviews and feature individual picks from staff members or resident experts in their gift guides. Not only does the brand’s credibility receive a boost by giving shoppers a glimpse of the knowledgeable people who work behind the scenes; a well-crafted gift guide serves as a reminder of the brand’s authoritative good taste and selection of relevant products — a different experience than Amazon’s mega-store mentality.

The Container Store spotlighted its on-staff experts in an email campaign last year with the Subject: line “Trust our employees to pick great gifts.” The message content touted “what our employees would buy” and linked to a selection of gift picks for each featured staff member.

Example of staff picks from the Container Store

There’s more survey data to share in upcoming posts — but meantime, what are you doing to communicate the value of your brand during the holiday season?

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