Social media watch: Go visual or go home

While merchants may grumble about the ROI of social media, most are investing in it anyway. Brands are expected to host profiles on Facebook and Twitter at a minimum, and as the array of social sites grows, merchants are sifting through the networks to find communities that appeal to their audience. But whether they’re sticking to Facebook or exploring edgier options, one theme is emerging as a social priority for 2015 and beyond: visual content.

Newer visual social networks are clearly on the rise. Both Pinterest and Instagram attracted more usage than Twitter in 2014, while by its own admission Twitter’s growth has stalled. And upstart visual blogging platform Tumblr achieved user growth of 120% in 2014, compared with just 2% for Facebook.

socialgrowthranking

In addition, the  friend-to-friend photo sharing app Snapchat is leading growth in the nascent field of mobile messaging networks that combine social features with one-on-one messaging capabilities.

 

Even when it comes to Facebook — which is still the most popular network by far, with 71% of U.S. online adults using it — visual content is rising in importance. Using Facebook’s video player to stream content can help brand visibility in news feeds on the site, and the tool’s new embed feature means that merchants can syndicate the content elsewhere. Twitter has expanded beyond the micro-video app Vine to offer longer video uploads and live video streaming thanks to acquisition of the Periscope app.

The message is clear: merchants need to invest in visual content creation for social media, or risk being left behind. Among the ways to dive in:

Establish brand pages on visual social networks. It’s time to take the leap and embrace visual social networks such as Pinterest, Instagram, and industry-specific sites like Polyvore for fashion. While launching and maintaining a new brand outpost is an investment, it’s also an invaluable tool for learning how shoppers are using these platforms to engage with and promote products and brands they like. Additionally, these sites can generate significant revenues; Polyvore, Instagram and Pinterest ranked as the top three social sites for average order value in a recent survey.

Make every post a visual post. Merchants should get creative with how they use images in social media to ensure every post achieves its full engagement potential. That means posting photos with recipes, sourcing illustrations for quizzes and polls, and translating text quotes into images that can easily be re-pinned or reposted. MarketLive merchant Learning Resources participates in the #InspirationMonday hashtag meme with quotes that are presented as colorful images, making them eye-catching as well as shareable.

lrvisual

 

Retool blogs for image-centric impact. As a corollary to the concept above, merchants should find innovative ways to incorporate images and video into blog posts — and should opt for a blog layout that moves away from listing blocks of text toward more visual presentations. Switching altogether to the visually-dominated Tumblr platform is one option, but other platforms also offer the option to apply themes or layouts that are image-centric. And merchants should ensure that blog content syndicated to other social networks or the eCommerce site retains its visual elements.

Develop video content and adapt it for native social formats. Although the utility of video has been well-documented, many merchants are hesitant to invest. But with social media video drawing heightened engagement and improved visibility, it’s crucial to develop a deep library of video content that can be adapted for individual social networks — and to incorporate video into key social content types, such as coverage of live events, behind-the-scenes peeks, and sneak previews.

Consider social video advertising — starting with YouTube. There’s a reason Facebook and Twitter are making moves into the video space: they want a share of digital ad revenues, which are forecast to grow by 30% this year. YouTube currently owns nearly 20% of those revenues, according to eMarketer, and earned more than $1 billion from digital ad sales last year. Merchants should consider augmenting their brand’s presence on the Internet’s largest video network with targeted ads, such as retargeting campaigns featuring previously-browsed items, that have high engagement potential.

Invite and promote visual contributions from shoppers. Merchants should encourage active participation with the brand by building momentum around Instagram hashtags and offering “pin it to win it”-style sweepstakes. Such contributions should be incorporated across social outposts and even on the eCommerce site itself; showcasing how shoppers interpret the brand demonstrates that merchants are authentically interested in what consumers want and are listening for feedback and inspiration.

MarketLive merchant Francesca’s offers followers the opportunity to win monthly prizes through the “#franootd” hashtag campaign and spotlights their contributions on the brand’s main Instagram page, as well as on Facebook.

franootd

Understand the legal issues behind visual content. With increased usage of user-contributed snapshots, candid video and live streaming comes a new raft of privacy and intellectual-property concerns. No sooner had Twitter’s live-streaming feature launched than it raised concerns about harassment and privacy violations. Merchants should ensure that new initiatives around image content follow best practices that include updates to their privacy policy, explicitly stating how user-submitted content might be reused and prominently featuring contest rules that are concise and easy to read. In addition, merchants should research and adhere to any existing industry standards, such as the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for online video and the Internet Advertising Bureau’s guidelines for digital video.

How are you maximizing the visual impact of social networks?

 

3 fundamental shifts merchants must make to meet customer expectations – MarketLive Summit Report

The MarketLive 2015 Summit opened Tuesday morning with a bracing challenge for attendees: stop thinking like eCommerce site owners. The morning’s keynote speakers, MarketLive founder and CEO Ken Burke and O’Reilly Media founder Tim O’Reilly, urged merchants to undertake fundamental shifts in perspective in order to continue serving shoppers with the relevant experiences that earn sales and loyalty.

Thanks to rapid technological innovation, consumers’ shopping behaviors and expectations are changing more quickly than merchants have so far been able to match, said Burke. The rapid rise of mobile has triggered demand for a new in-store experience that draws on the wealth of information available online, and in the process has laid bare inconsistencies and gaps between touchpoints. Mobile has also become the default access point for consumers to flit among a growing array of social networks; 52% of U.S. online adults use multiple social media sites, according to Pew Research.

social network data from Pew

O’Reilly described how technology is on the cusp of revolutionary change that will eliminate manual searching, browsing, and buying in favor of seamless interactions where consumption implies consent to purchase and transactions occur entirely behind the scenes. As an example of how existing modes of commerce are being upended, O’Reilly cited the driving service Uber, where riders provide payment information on signup and are automatically charged per ride, rather than having to dig in their wallets at the end of each trip. Other cutting-edge examples of frictionless commerce include Cover, which allows diners to skip waiting for the check at meal’s end, and Etup, whereby college students snap selfies to charge meals to their campus accounts.

Example of transactionless commerce - Etup

To position themselves for this new paradigm, merchants need to adopt new modes of thinking for 2015 and beyond, letting go of fundamental ecommerce tenets to make way for innovation. Among the necessary shifts:

It’s not (just) about the Web site. With two-thirds of consumers using a combination of mobile and desktop to interact with brands, and fully a third of 18-to-24-year-olds using mobile exclusively, merchants should adopt “mobile first” as their credo — not only in designing site experiences, but in how they themselves interact with brands and services online.

Moreover, by escaping the tethered web browser and exploring the unique blend of location data, social networking information and image tools mobile apps can draw on, merchants can move beyond segmentation and even personalization to deliver truly individualized commerce, said Burke. Rather than offering one-site-fits-all experiences, brands should take into account shoppers’ preferences and personal shopping histories, marrying disparate data points to deliver a wholly unique set of products and offers for each customer, Burke said.

Eliminate payments. As we’ve discussed previously, merchants should adopt alternative payments both to ease online transactions and to smooth potential offline-to-online purchases occurring in stores. But merchants should also begin mapping new modes of shopping that background transactions altogether. Automatic replenishment programs and subscription models such as the one used by O’Reilly Media (itself a MarketLive merchant) for digital books are only the beginning of the possibilities merchants should explore.

Subscription payment example from O'Reilly

They’re not customers; they’re community members. O’Reilly urged merchants to connect with consumers by identifying and serving their passions and demonstrating authentic expertise, saying that despite having a large social media following, his social contributions have at times been less effective than posts featuring lesser-known tech authors who nonetheless have an ardent following in the niches they cover.

Rather than focusing on individual social networks, brands should focus on telling the stories that resonate with their communities, and giving a platform to the voices that help tell that story. “By celebrating the people in your community, you actually create a social web,” said O’Reilly.

Sport Chalet, showcased during Summit as a MarketLive Merchant Award winner, has built a series of robust communities focused on individual sports and recreational activities, showcasing user-contributed social content, learning videos and expert profiles.

sportchalet

Watch the blog for more Summit recaps coming soon.

How to unlock video’s engagement potential

As online commerce matures and audiences grow more sophisticated, the challenge of engaging browsers and researchers so that they embark upon the path to purchase is becoming ever more acute. With the growing cacophony of social networks, close to 60% of shoppers reporting they delete email almost as quickly as it’s received, and merchants playing catch-up to consumer behavior on mobile devices, the ability to deliver a brand message that is truly arresting has become something of a holy grail.

Take the add-to-cart rate — the percentage of visits that result in items being placed in the shopping cart. Arguably, the cart plays a more important role than ever: as shoppers hop from touchpoint to touchpoint, the cart can serve as a repository for items they’ve researched and wished to access later, whether via a different device, in stores or on their computers once they get home. Data from the MarketLive Performance Index shows that the add-to-cart rate grew 1.5% year over year in Q4 2014, but still hovers below 10%, meaning that fewer than 1 in 10 shoppers are resonating with products enough even to want to save them — much less to buy them.

The main culprit behind the sluggish performance: smartphones, on which a mere 6%of shoppers added items to the cart.  And it’s not just the add-to-cart rate; pages per visit and time on site also lag on smartphones compared with the overall Index average, and the bounce rate, at 47%, is 30% higher than the overall average. These numbers are especially troubling given that smartphones are increasingly the key to mobile success, and given that mobile overall plays an increasingly crucial role in both online and offline sales.

To cut through the chatter and combat shopper ennui, merchants should take a close look at their video strategy. Since we last addressed the effectiveness of videos during the product consideration phase, more and more evidence has surfaced to demonstrate that video can be an effective engagement tool — including on mobile devices.

While the audience for brand videos is still relatively small, with around 10% of shoppers visiting pages with videos opting to view the content, that audience goes on to engage deeply and powerfully: not only do 70% of video viewers watch at least 80% of the video, but they’re 1.9 times as likely to make purchases after watching, according to video services firm and MarketLive Connect partner Invodo.

What’s more, fully a third of those video views occur on mobile devices, and mobile viewers are among the most engaged when it comes to promotional video content. Nielsen and AOL found that smartphone viewers were more likely to recall advertising content than desktop, tablet, or TV users, with 88% of smartphone users who watched ads without interruption remembering them. Even when distracted by their devices, 57% of smartphone users remembered ads, as opposed to just 23% of television viewers; when interrupted by a person, over a third of smartphone users remembered the ads, rivaling the recall of desktop computer users and trumping television by far.

In order to maximize the potential for videos to engage shoppers, merchants should:

Create and test different video content for different audiences. Rather than use a templated approach that shoehorns all their products into a single video format for shoppers across touchpoints, merchants should vary the length and content of video content — and track results religiously to tease out which combinations work best.

In general, shorter videos correlate with higher conversion rates, according to video services provider LiveClicker. (That doesn’t mean merchants should shy away from in-depth product demonstrations when they’re necessary, but they might want to experiment with multi-part tutorial rather than a single long segment.) When it comes to substance, video featured on smartphones should feature enough close-up content to render well on small screens; by contrast, finer details will be visible to desktop and laptop viewers.

Place video throughout the eCommerce site, not just on product pages. Merchants should give shoppers multiple pathways to access video content, including in content hubs where all videos are available to browse and on category pages. And like other forms of value-added content, relevant videos should be accessible via search results pages.

MarketLive merchant Brickhouse Security includes a link to its Video Center on the home page alongside blog and Q and A content, and a search for “nanny cams” brings up a featured video in addition to products.

Video promotion example from Brickhouse SecurityVideo promotion example from Brickhouse Security

 

Go native with social formats. In addition to experimenting with video content and length on their eCommerce sites, merchants should also use video content on social media — and not just by posting video links. Rather, merchants should take advantage of native social video formats, such as the micro-video Vine app for Twitter and Instagram’s mini-video feature. And with posts featuring video drawing heightened engagement from social followers,  there’s a benefit to porting over longer segments as well. Brands posting video on social platforms may even see a boost in visibility, as Facebook last fall altered its algorithm to favor video content using the Facebook player, as opposed to an external link to YouTube.

How do you plan to use video to maximize engagement in 2015?

 

Use social login to boost mobile engagement

We’ve discussed before the benefits of using social login to connect shoppers’ experiences on eCommerce sites with their social media profiles and to smooth the account creation process. Now there’s another compelling reason to bump social login up the priority list: It can be a powerful tool for enhancing the mobile shopping experience.

As outlined in our review of the latest Performance Index data and our 2015 trends outlook,  mobile commerce must remain at the forefront of merchant’s preoccupations — after all, it’s now shoppers’ primary point of contact with brands. Close to two-thirds of all minutes spent with retail brands now occur on mobile devices, according to measurement firm comScore – and for a third of millennials aged 18 to 24, mobile is the only online touchpoint used for shopping.

Given mobile’s swift ascent, and given the dismally low add-to-cart and conversion rates and high abandonment rates most brands are experiencing, merchants ought to be hungry for tools that can help boost mobile engagement and sales. Social login is well positioned to do so, because:

  • Acceptance and usage of social login is on the rise. More than half of Internet users have taken advantage of social login, and fully 88% are at least aware of the technology, according to a study by Blue research.
  • According to Merkle/RFG, the majority of social media usage now occurs on mobile devices. Shoppers are accustomed to using social tools on their phones and tablets and may be more willing to use a familiar login tool than to set up a discrete account on a merchant web site.
  • Finally, by using social login, merchants can piggyback on the innovations of leading companies such as Facebook and Google, improving their mobile experiences in the process.

As always, the devil is in the details; a poorly-executed social login implementation can cause more problems than it solves. To make the most of social login for mobile shoppers, merchants must:

Integrate completely. A quasi-integration with social media that still requires creation of a new password and even additional data entry in order to complete account registration will only frustrate shoppers. Instead, merchants should reward willingness to share social profiles with a minimalist signup process.

Additionally, merchants should connect social login with functions across the site, from wishlist creation to sharing products to saving cart contents for later reference — a crucial piece of functionality for mobile users who may want to revisit items in stores or on desktop computers.

MarketLive merchant Title Nine offers shoppers the ability to save cart contents, and enables social login that requires nothing beyond a username and password to activate.

Social login example from Title NineHeed privacy concerns. While merchants should take advantage of social login’s potential to unlock user profile information, they must also heed privacy concerns and proceed with caution. Shoppers are wary of surrendering too much information while exploring shopping’s digital frontier, with 88% saying “there are too many technologies tracking and analyzing our behavior”  and 86% saying “consumers have lost control of their privacy” — that’s 11% higher than the global average. Nearly three in four U.S. consumers say remarketing and personalized ads are “creepy”. And on mobile platforms, 42% of consumers say accessing their geographic location is an invasion of privacy.

To allay concerns about privacy, transparency should be the norm, and merchants should prioritize what data they need to track key metrics, versus “nice to have” information that might be interesting, but provide no actionable insights. Once they’ve convinced shoppers to engage as registered site users, merchants can request further information incrementally.

For further tips about social login, see MarketLive Founder and CEO Ken Burke’s recent article in Retail Online Integration titled “Why and How to Use Social Login to Win Customers.” And check out MarketLive’s recent whitepaper on analytics, “Connecting Data Points and KPIs in a Multi-Channel World,”  for further best practices on collecting mobile user information.

Are you using social login? Why or why not?

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

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

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

greenmonday_flash

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

 

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

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

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

greenmonday_socialanalysis

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

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

greenmonday_cartoonnetworkshop_social

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

greenmonday_neutrogena_social

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

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

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

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

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

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

blackfridayflash

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

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

marcjacobsbeauty_fb_dec1

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

Holiday tip #10: Elevate review content for the Black Friday blitz

When it comes to social content, nothing beats the old standby of customer reviews — especially during the holidays, when shoppers research heavily and rely on the testimonials of other buyers to inform their gifting decisions. Merchants should put reviews front and center and let shoppers’ picks guide merchandising and promotions.

The facts

Consumers report that customer reviews play an important part in the purchase consideration process. More than half of participants in the 2014 MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey reported that writing reviews was somewhat or very important, and 49% said receiving product referrals from friends via social channels influenced their spending.

Further data demonstrates just how influential review are during the holidays, on Black Friday and Cyber monday in particular. According to reviews provider Bazaarvoice, traffic to user reviews spikes during the sales extravaganza the weekend after Thanksgiving, with Black Friday and Cyber Monday in 2013 beating the November daily average review pageviews by 77% and 84%, respectively. Overall in 2013,  review pageviews for the months of November and December exceeded that of all other months by 38% and 48%, respectively.

Data about reviews from Bazaarvoice

The action item

To capitalize on consumers’ usage of and trust in customer reviews, merchants should spotlight them prominently in campaigns that draw on the latest top picks to create shopper-centric product categories. Use reviews:

    • On the eCommerce site for mobile and desktop. “Top rated” categories should be a featured component of holiday gift sections.
    • In email campaigns. Featuring five-star gifts and excerpting review text gives shoppers access to relevant, authentic product information they can trust.
    • On social media. As discussed in Monday’s tip, a Pinterest pinboard showcasing customer favorites can spur repins and purchases.  And enabling brand followers to view and contribute reviews directly from within Facebook increase the engagement power of review content, as Figi’s does with its “Ratings and Reviews” Facebook page. Both customer favorites and featured products are spotlighted, along with the most recent reviews.

holidaytip10_reviewsfigisWatch for 2 more holiday tips on the blog through Black Friday, and read up on winning strategies in MarketLive’s holiday whitepapers.

Holiday tip #9: Optimize Pinterest for peak social engagement

We’ve already discussed the steps merchants can take across all their social networks to ensure that followers find their way to relevant products and content. But when it comes to choosing which social networks deserve special focus, one stands out: Pinterest.

The facts

Facebook wins when it comes to overall users, with 71% of online adults using the network as of a year ago. But Pinterest has experienced a meteoric rise since its debut in 2011, and by several counts contends with LinkedIn for #2 social network status. Moreover, when it comes to all-important mobile engagement, 92% of all time spent on Pinterest comes from mobile users — surpassing Facebook at 68%.

Specifically when it comes to holiday shopping, consumers say that Pinterest plays a key role. Close to one in five shoppers — 18% — say that looking for gift ideas on Pinterest is “very important”, and 17% said pinning items on Pinterest is a key activity, according to the 2014 MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey.

Statistics from the MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey

The action item

Given Pinterest’s influence over gift purchasing, merchants should allocate significant resources to creating engaging pinboard content — and encouraging pins on the part of shoppers. Tactics to deploy:

  • Add “pin it” functionality to the eCommerce site — for desktop and mobile. Enable shoppers to share items to their pinboards with minimal friction.
  • On the branded Pinterest outpost, mix products with aspirational, inspirational content. Make your boards more than just a product catalog by repinning value-added content, whether from your own site or not, to draw in those who share similar interests but may not yet be familiar with the brand. Holiday tips and favorite recipes attuned to the tastes of the target audience are especially apt right now.
  • Don’t forget the video. Pinterest enables posting video directly onto pinboards, and given that video viewing is a top social and mobile activity, merchants should take advantage of that capability to the fullest extent possible.
  • When it comes to products, escape the category replication trap. Instead of simply re-posting items from the holiday gift guide to a board, merchants should mix it up with innovative categories that put customers front and center.

MarketLive merchant Design Toscano presents a variety of innovative product pinboards. “Five Star Products” showcases items that have won top ratings from customers. “DT’s Favorite Entertainment” includes video clips and other media mentions of products, while “Fan Favorites” spotlights customer-submitted pictures of products in use.

Pinterest example from Design Toscano

Watch for 3 more holiday tips on the blog through Black Friday, and read up on winning strategies in MarketLive’s holiday whitepapers.

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

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

The facts

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

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

Data on social media from the ML Consumer Shopping Survey

The action item

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

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

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

Holiday example from Peruvian Connection

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

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.