Pre-empting the craze for free holiday shipping

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

Data on free shipping from comScore

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loyalty club example from Road Runner Sports

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

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

Free site to store shipping example from Ace Hardware

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

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

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

  • promoting free site-to-store delivery services.

  • offering an alternate discount or a gift with purchase.

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

Cart abandonment example from Totes

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

How to fine-tune faceted search for the holidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go beyond color with visual-cue attributes. Apparel merchants have long employed color palettes within the list of facets as a means for giving shoppers a quick way to filter the results set to display only items available in their chosen hue. But with the web becoming increasingly visual, merchants in all industries should go farther and find ways to communicate facet options with icons, shapes or sliders. Eyewear and eye care site Lenscrafters lets shoppers filter frames by face shape as well as frame shape, using icons as guides.

On-site search example from Lenscrafters

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

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

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

Faceted search example from REI

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

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

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

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

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

Holiday data from the MarketLive Performance Index

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

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

 

Holiday results: finishing strong in the final stretch

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

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

Holiday data from the MarketLive Performance Index

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

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

simonpearce_treatyourself



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

eddiebauer_stockup

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

wayfair_gifts4gifts

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

Using holiday content to build brand value

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

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

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

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

Holiday example from World Market

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

Holiday example from Moosejaw

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

Holiday example from J. Crew

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

Holiday results update: enticing researchers to buy now

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

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

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

Holiday data from the MarketLive Performance Index

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

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

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

Holiday example from Sears

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

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

Holiday example from Toys R Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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?

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