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

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

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

The facts

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

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

The action item

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

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

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

Perricone on Amazon Marketplace

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

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

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

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

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

Shopping survey results

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

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

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

Merchants should message with absolute consistency across touchpoints on:


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


Merchants have leeway to offer by touchpoint:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

shoppingsurvey_channelusage2014The webinar will address:

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

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


4 invaluable resources to guide your holiday prep

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

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

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

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

Holiday first look: How to engage early shoppers — without offending them

Now that Labor Day and back-to-school promotions have come and gone, the countdown to the 2014 winter holiday season has officially begun. For merchants eager to move from planning mode to execution and results, the milestone is significant.

Indeed, research shows that the early season is a crucial time for brands to connect with consumers. More than a quarter of shoppers intended to start researching holiday gifts before Halloween last year, according to Google/Ipsos, with 69% saying they planned to shop around and 59% expressing openness to trying new brands. Not surprisingly, merchants are responding to this early receptiveness with early promotions. In a new survey from ChannelAdvisor, more than 40% of retailers said they’re starting holiday campaigns this month.

But there’s a contrasting sentiment merchants should also keep in mind: the backlash against “holiday creep,” with some consumers and media outlets protesting the appearance of holiday commercialism before Black Friday, whether on Thanksgiving Day or earlier. Even if actual spending patterns indicate that consumers go ahead and shop early despite their grumbling, merchants should remain respectful of the perception that too much promotion too early can deprive the holidays of their true magic.

So where should merchants draw the line — and how can they engage shoppers for the early-season browsing and research that leads to purchases down the road? A few suggestions:

Showcase products and content that make life easier. While shoppers may just be starting to browse and consider gifts, by now they’re likely aware of their holiday plans — whether they’re hosting a major holiday meal, having houseguests, or traveling themselves, and they may even already have a few red-letter festive dates on the calendar. Merchants should cater to these preparatory needs by stressing the convenience of crossing holiday to-dos off the list now. While this tactic is a tried-and-true approach for home and housewares brands, who can preview tools and tips for holiday feasts and hosting, other merchants can translate the message to fit their target audience. MarketLive merchant Delia’s previews the festive season with a home page promotion showcasing party dresses. Text further downpage invites shoppers to “get prepped to party.”

Early holiday example from Delia's

Encourage signups by listing holiday benefits. Merchants should step up promotions to subscribe to email alerts and follow brands on social media — and spell out the benefits to come throughout the holiday season. Consumers should know what they can expect iIn exchange for committing to follow brands, whether it’s exclusive holiday discounts, product previews or shipping offers; the latest in-store specials; or even special seasonal services such as free gift wrap. MarketLive merchant Modell’s is promoting a “Holiday All-Stars” program that encourages visitors to the brand’s Facebook page to become followers by promising them sweepstakes entries based on how frequently they like and share content.

Early holiday example from Modell's


Position layaway information prominently.  Previously we’ve discussed how best to support in-store layaway programs online. Now is the time to dust off those tactics and remind shoppers that they can secure sought-after items early and pay over time. Kmart recently launched a “Not a Christmas Commercial” — a cheeky nod to criticism the brand received last year over its early holiday advertising —  that suggests shoppers with “an event in late December you need a lot of gifts for, like maybe your entire family is having their birthday on the same day.” The YouTube video includes an embedded link to Kmart’s online layaway center, where shoppers can set up layaway online or read details of in-store policies and procedures. Layaway is allocated space in the global header navigation, ensuring shoppers can access the information at any point along the path to purchase.


Are you easing into the holidays, or have you begun full-tilt promotions? What informs the timing of your campaigns?

Christmas in July — Get your video game on

It’s mid-summer, and most consumers are far from focused on their holiday shopping.

But merchants and marketers hoping to succeed during this all-important sales season are already strategizing how to connect with their customers and best the competition.

Increasingly, those battles are playing out online, with 60 percent of all US retail sales expected to involve the Internet in some way by 2017, according to Forrester Research.

And those shoppers, from casual browsers to loyal consumers, are increasingly getting their information from and interacting with online videos.

MarketLive and partner Invodo have already teamed up to provide seamless video integration in the ML E-commerce platform. Now we’re working on an upcoming whitepaper aimed at helping merchants better understand what’s behind the explosive growth of Internet video and how they can harness it to engage customers, improve conversions and boost sales.

Industry Statistics

The statistics are compelling. Fully 90 percent of consumers watch online videos, with 65 percent of watching to completion. And those who watch videos are 1.8 times more likely to make purchases than those who don’t. That alone speaks to video’s power to engage shoppers in ways static images and text cannot.

Strategy specifics

We’ll outline Best of Breed strategies for tailoring different types of videos to different customers depending on where they are in their journey with your product.

For customers landing on the home page, for example, brand awareness videos should give visitors a general overview and sense of what the company and its products are all about.

As the customers progress toward purchase, the videos need to be tailored to their particular needs. The videos for consumers during the consideration stage are meant to guide them to the right product category, while customers on the cusp of purchase need the most detailed product-specific information.

We’ll also dive into the myriad benefits of how-to videos — which go beyond merely increasing conversions — to provide side benefits such as customer confidence, reduced returns and call center costs.

Videos in action

Learn how top retailers are using videos to engage their customers on a whole new level.

From high-end outdoor furniture retailer Brown Jordan’s polished videos detailing the craftsmanship and features of its various collections, to Cost Plus World Market’s simple but effective demonstrations of ways to tie a scarf, we’ll highlight some of the ways top retailers are making effective use of video on their sites, and beyond.

Cost Plus Instructional Scarf Videos

If done right, an effective video campaign can cross all channels, from the homepage, to mobile sites for phones and tablets, social sites like Facebook and Twitter, and in-store through apps or displays, increasing ROI.

So merchants seeking deeper engagement with their customers this holiday season and the boost to the bottom line that follows should start thinking now about ways to up their game when it comes to video commerce.

What you can do now to prevent holiday returns later

It may only be July, but e-tailers everywhere are already racking their brains for ways to minimize costly returns this holiday season.

Their angst is understandable given the staggering statistics about the impact of returns on their bottom lines. Fully one-third of all Internet sales are ultimately returned, according to a recent Wall Street Journal story.

While it’s worthwhile to spruce up the fine print to let shoppers know what your policies are should they wish to make a return, merchants should also endeavor to prevent returns altogether with product information that proactively addresses concerns and matches them with the right items, the first time around


Though video production can represent a significant investment, practical videos can contribute to the bottom line by increasing conversion and staving off returns.

Nearly 60% of consumers say they’re more confident about online purchases thanks to product videos, and 44% say they purchase more on sites that provide videos, according to research from the E-Tailing Group and MarketLive technology partner Invodo.

The E-Tailing Group study found that shoppers are most willing to spend time with videos that educate them about a particular product category, while videos that demonstrate how to use an individual product came in a close second. 55% of shoppers prefer to consult videos as part of the deep consideration process that takes place on the product page.

Consider investing in videos centered around these three essential types of video content:

Problems and solutions. Create videos centered around common shopper concerns or challenges, such as swimsuit fit for an apparel merchant or wet weather preparedness for a camper.

Buying guides. Help shoppers navigate among the choices in a particular product category with video buying guides that step them through the factors they should consider.

Product demonstrations. At the most detailed level of the purchase consideration process, videos that show how to use individual products help consumers see concretely whether the item is a fit for their needs.

High Tech Tools

Though highly effective, videos aren’t the only tools available to help retailers improve customer satisfaction.

Consider using specialized tools or apps for matching colors or allowing customers to take a virtual test-drive of your products. Though development may be daunting, cost-savings for providing them — particularly for big-ticket and/or match-required products could be worth the the effort.

Design Within Reach partnered with to offer DWR 3-D Room Planner allowing customers to create or upload floor plans and then complete rooms with details, including the vast collection of DWR furniture and accessories to get a realistic preview of how they will appear in home. 2014-7-8 15 38 18

Sherwin Williams has also developed an app called ColorSnap® which easily matches colors in images you capture with your iPhone to Sherwin-Williams paint colors.

Fit Guides and Super Specifics

The biggest cause of returns by far is size. It’s a persistent sales hurdle for apparel merchants: helping shoppers find the right fit without being able to physically try on items before purchase.

This means going beyond traditional fit charts, which list sizes and dimensions in inches in a static grid. Consider the following ideas more tailored to online customers who expect the process to be quick and convenient.

Develop an at-a-glance system. Go beyond the numbers and develop a system appropriate for your merchandise that conveys key fit information — whether garments are meant to be loose-fitting or tight or whether watches are rugged or delicate, for example.

With the web becoming increasingly visual, merchants in all industries should  find ways to allow customers to employ faceted search and communicate facet options on category and product pages 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.


Save the numbers. If you ask shoppers to supply their dimensions, save the information to their profile for future reference — a time-saving feature shoppers will appreciate — and use the data to present products that are most likely to fit, whether on the eCommerce site or in targeted email or mobile offers.

Synch sizes across brands.  If shoppers know their size in a particular brand, you can use that information to help match them to other garments. You can make this process as simple as creating an equivalency chart for shoppers to consult, or you can employ a matching technology such as TrueFit, which asks shoppers to create a profile based on a sampling of brands that fit well, plus information about body type. The portable profile lets shoppers visiting the sites of participating merchants view which items are likely to fit them well, as at the denim shop for women.

Product Q and A

Your customers are invariably going to have questions you didn’t think of adding to your Q & A lists.

Seventy-two percent of customers trust online opinions as much as they trust their own friends and family, according to Forrester. According to Forbes, ninety-two percent of consumers around the world say they trust word-of-mouth recommendations, whether from strangers or from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising.

Let shoppers pose questions and customers answer them. Integrate  your questions and answers with your review section, the bedrock of any ecommerce site, with the main stream of product information. By doing so, the information not only is more likely to be read, but more questions are likely to be spawned – thereby creating momentum.

Skincare merchant Perricone MD gives reviews and Q and A content equal weight, using a tabbed format so that shoppers can swiftly switch information streams as they conduct research.

Perricone MD

Such a presentation not only makes for interesting reading; it also solves the critical-mass problem common to product Q-and-A tools that are siloed separately from reviews.

By enabling fluid dialogue between existing customers and potential shoppers, merchants create a platform for exchanging candid information – thereby establishing the brand as a credible hub of product knowledge and increasing customers confidence in their purchasing decisions.

This stream of user-generated content that ends up benefiting everyone.

Let shoppers know they can try and buy in-store

While shopping online is convenient, sometimes customers would still prefer to visit stores to ensure they’re getting the right fit.

Jewelry merchant Helzberg Diamonds prominently offers in-store appointments to view any of their 30,000 diamonds and jewelry collections for those shoppers who just need to see before they buy. An appointment icon displayed throughout their site offers a click-and-schedule feature. They add, “We look forward to seeing you!”

Shoppers can still use web sites to browse the full product catalog to narrow down choices but try and buy where they can see and feel the merchandise in person.

What methods do you use to prevent returns. What worked? What challenges are you facing?

Get your PLAs in order now for holiday success to come

With Memorial Day in the rearview mirror, the windup to the all-important holiday shopping season has begun. Among the myriad priorities merchants are juggling, search marketing is a key component of promotional calendars and spending plans — and a relative newcomer to the array of search marketing tools is poised to take center stage: the Google Product Listing Ad.

Ever since Google converted its shopping results to a paid format in 2012, its Product Listing Ads (PLAs) have soared in popularity with both consumers and merchants. The format of product-specific images and links seems to be a winning one, with one out of every five paid search clicks going to a PLA in 2013, according to Marin Software. During the holiday season, click-through rates for PLAs soared 20.5% year over year, compared with just a 4.6 click-through rate increase for text-based search ads.

In response to this new shopping behavior, merchants are investing more than ever in PLAs. Technology researcher Forrester reports that 6% of all interactive budgets were allocated to PLAs in 2013. That investment partially explains the shift in dollars away from natural search engine optimization and toward paid search advertising, which merchants said was the #2 area for increased investment, behind email. PLAs specifically were the #3 priority for increased spending; natural SEO dropped from #1 to #5 as the increasing fragmentation of audiences and devices and algorithm changes requiring a new and nuanced approach to earning visibility rendered “SEO 1.0” techniques obsolete.

Specifically during the holidays, investment in PLAs soared 80% year over year in Q4 of 2013 compared with Q4 of 2012, according to the Adobe Digital Index. Close to a quarter of total search spend was allocated to PLAs during the holidays in 2013, according to Marin Software, and that number is forecast to jump to 33% in 2014.

The growth in activity means that cost-per-click rates are skyrocketing — forcing merchants who wish to stretch their budgets while taking advantage of the visibility and popularity of PLAs to fine-tune their strategies. Summertime, before the bidding frenzy begins, is the perfect time for merchants to:

Perfect the content of their feeds. In order to win clicks from shoppers considering a series of PLAs, merchants should develop content specific to the environment, including:

  • Images that are optimized for both dimensions and content. Merchants should follow Google’s PLA guidelines for pixel dimensions and also consider the content of the photos; shots of product collections can end up looking microscopic when rendered to thumbnail size.
  • Comprehensible text that omits abbreviations and merchant lingo. Text should also prioritize key product attributes, not the merchant’s brand name, since the lines are truncated.

Merchants would do well to consider manually assembling PLA text and images for top sellers, exclusive products and other potential holiday hits.

MarketLive merchant Party City’s PLA for Star Wars Lego party supplies features an image of a colorful collection of products that registers well at the thumbnail size. The text calls out the fact that the product is a “super party kit,” in contrast with the single-item listings from other merchants, and includes a free shipping offer.

paid listing ad from Party City

Throttle granularity just right.  Merchants should experiment with how best to combine campaigns, ad groups and product targets and set negative keywords to achieve the right level of specificity when it comes to displaying products for particular search terms. While a single All Products ad group is likely insufficient for segmenting offers and bid prices, establishing ad groups for each product can be burdensome when it comes to tracking performance and setting bid prices. All in all, merchants should group their products so they can:

  • Highlight unique offerings with tailored promotions. Merchants should structure their groups so they can apply promotions that demonstrate relevance to their target audience — an offer of a free accessory with purchase that complements the featured product, for example, or a discount on products from a particular brand manufacturer.
  • Up bids on top holiday sellers, and drop poor performers. As the season progresses, merchants need the flexibility to adjust PLA campaigns to feature the items that are driving engagement and sales, to take advantage of unexpected PR buzz, to tailor targets according to popular search terms — or to minimize spend on products not performing up to par.

Realistically assess the mobile PLA opportunity. While we’re bullish on mobile paid search in general, when it comes to PLAs, merchants should think twice. Shoppers engaging with PLAs are looking for comprehensive product details, so if merchants don’t have a robust mobile offering that includes mobile-optimized landing pages and a frictionless path to purchase, investment in mobile PLAs might be putting the cart before the horse.

How are you using PLAs now, and how will they feature in your holiday campaigns?

Performance Index: Holiday season finishes strong

The final results are in from the holiday season, and merchants in the MarketLive Performance Index fared very well indeed. Merchants achieved traffic and revenue gains of more than 15%, and average order size grew a substantial 6.1% — suggesting that deep discounting isn’t always the key to holiday sales growth.

Additionally, merchants in the Index outperformed the industry at large, which notched a 10% sales gain overall, according to measurement firm comScore. The results demonstrate that small- to mid-sized merchants held their own against the mass merchants whose revenues account for the majority of online sales overall.

Holiday sales data from MarketLive

The results also revealed potential areas of improvement for 2014. Both the add-to-cart rate and conversion rate ended the season a tenth of a percentage point lower than in 2013 after lagging in the final days before Christmas and in the first rush of post-season sales. To reverse the trend in 2014, merchants must do more to capitalize on increased traffic if they want to achieve even greater revenue growth. The 3% increase in cart abandonment further eroded the benefit of traffic gains, suggesting merchants must do more to compel shoppers to become brand customers, using whatever touchpoint they prefer.

In our upcoming 2014 trends report, we’ll examine the key initiatives that will help merchants achieve these goals. Among them:

From mobile presence to mobile competence. Our survey of eCommerce sites during the holidays revealed that many merchants have a long way to go when it comes to offering truly effective mobile touchpoints. While most brands have mobile offerings, many are rudimentary efforts that faintly echoed the marketing and merchandising campaigns of the desktop browser Web sites. Instead, regardless of the technical sophistication of their mobile offerings, merchants must customize content and products to take into account shoppers’ situational priorities and present relevant context. MarketLive merchant Armani Exchange presented mobile shoppers with a streamlined experience that included gift guides by price. Email signup was prominently integrated into the presentation so that mobile browsers could sign up to receive special holiday offers, while sharing tools enabled shoppers to post favorite items with ease.

Mobile example from Armani Exchange

Making it personal. Personalization as a concept has existed for years, but the tools now exist for merchants of all sizes to present shoppers with an experience tailored to their preferences and purchase histories and enhanced by individualized customer service. By delivering wholly unique brand interactions, merchants can set their offerings apart from mass discounters and create long-lasting customer relationships. During the holidays, brand manufacturer Carter’s followed up in-store purchases with an invitation to submit a customer review and enter to win a gift card. The message additionally gives shoppers further ways to connect with the brand via social media, and promotes gift card purchase — especially relevant for the holiday season — as well as including store information for the local outlet.

Personalized email example from Carter's

How did your holidays wrap up, and how are the results influencing your priorities for 2014?

Riding the second wave: post-season sales

While the holiday gift-buying season is wrapping up, the next shopping frenzy is just about to begin. Post-season sales and gift card redemption purchases are poised to fuel a busy leadup to the New Year — and data suggests that consumers will start this wave of spending earlier than ever.

Measurement firm comScore reported that in 2012, online sales on Christmas Day itself rose by 36% to $288 million — not a huge sum compared with billion-dollar holiday events like Black Friday, but a significant opportunity nonetheless. Overall, online sales for the first quarter have topped $50 billion for the past two years, according to comScore, signaling that merchants mustn’t let their focus lapse after the peak fourth quarter.

To kick off the post-season, merchants should:

Balance email promotions for Christmas Day. Many merchants thank shoppers for their support in a year-end email that has no commercial strings attached. But with shoppers increasingly logging on immediately after the gifts under the tree have been opened, merchants must strike a new balance with their messaging — whether by scheduling a second message to highlight the kickoff of post-season sales, or by subtly combining the two functions, as Totes-Isotoner did last year. The MarketLive merchant positioned its 50% offer as a thank-you gift to its customers.

Christmas email example from Totes

Spotlight recent favorites and exclusives on the eCommerce site. The fresh wave of shoppers visiting merchant sites is likely to include recipients of gift cards or gifts to exchange who aren’t already familiar with the brand. That’s why, in addition to crucial customer service information, merchants should spotlight popular products and brand exclusives to tantalize them into purchasing. Showcasing top gift picks from the recent holiday season, top-rated products, or trending items on social networking sites such as Pinterest demonstrates the breadth of the brand’s offering, as well as providing endorsements from other customers.

Be prepared for a social rush. Social media users rely on that channel to interact with brands for customer service: nearly half have relied on “social care,” according to NM Incite, and 30% of consumers prefer to access customer service via social media than the phone. A positive customer service experience can lead to a boost in word-of-mouth recommendations: shoppers who use social networks for customer service are three times as likely to recommend a brand after a successful interaction, according to NM Incite. So it behooves merchants to staff up for instant response during the post-season sales rush, as shoppers flock online in search of information about returns and exchanges and gift card redemption.

Merchants should even consider proactively posting customer service information on social networks, boosting efficiency and convenience. MarketLive merchant Figi’s anchors a link to customer service information at the top of its Facebook timeline page, providing users of the social network direct access to a searchable set of frequently-asked questions, along with the ability to ask a question directly online.

Facebook customer service example from Figi's

We have a lot of great content planned in 2014 — starting with a MarketLive Performance Index wrapup of holiday season sales and a look ahead at the trends set to shape online commerce in 2014. Stay tuned, and meantime, best wishes for a prosperous holiday!