Performance Index: Lessons from the fourth-quarter crucible

When it comes to seasonal cycles, most merchants acknowledge that the pivotal fourth quarter requires special focus. The latest data from the MarketLive Performance Index demonstrates that the fourth quarter is indeed a crucible. While traffic spikes and conversion rates get a boost, the ruthless mindset of the holiday shopper leaves no room for error — translating into metrics that reveal top areas for improvement in the year ahead.

Overall, the fourth-quarter and annual metrics in the Index report bring good news: merchants achieved year-over-year revenue gains of 26% for the year and 16% for the fourth quarter — beating industry standards by significant margins in both cases. Moreover, those revenue gains were achieved without resorting to race-to-the-bottom discounting, as average order size for both periods also rose year over year. The feat is especially impressive for the  fourth quarter, when merchants saw average order size rise 6.2% despite consumers’ quests for holiday shopping discounts.

MarketLive Performance Index data

But there are performance discrepancies, too. For the year, a significant increase in the add-to-cart, or engagement, rate helped boost revenue gains; once shoppers had placed items in the cart, merchants held the line on “purchase fallout,” with the conversion, abandoned cart, and abandoned checkout rates holding their gain or loss to within roughly 1% compared with 2012.

By contrast, in the fourth quarter, the boost in revenue was tied more directly to the increase in traffic; conversion and add-to-cart rates increased by almost the same percentage, and those gains were undercut by increases in both the abandoned cart rate and the abandoned checkout rate. Breaking down fourth-quarter results even more to focus on the holiday period (November 1 – Jan. 5), the gap widens further, with the both the add-to-cart and conversion rate slipping year over year, in addition to the abandoned cart rate rising.

MarketLive Performance Index holiday data

The numbers from the fourth-quarter crucible suggest one possible pivot point around which to organizing priorities: the all-important add-to-cart rate, which signals intent on the part of shoppers and whose improvement during the other quarters of the year contrasts with the holiday season, when it declined.

Prior to the add-to-cart: develop content to engage shoppers. When it comes to connecting shoppers with relevant products and content and convincing them to add items to the cart, the annual Index data shows that merchants are making marked improvement. But the holiday numbers suggest that they must redouble their efforts if they’re to compete in the battle for holiday shoppers’ engagement. Among the strategies to consider:

  • Service-centric content. As we discussed in our recent post regarding Google’s “Hummingbird” algorithm update, content that focuses on proactively addressing shoppers’ questions about products, service and pricing is more crucial than ever — and needn’t be relegated to the “about us” section. During the holiday season, when shoppers relentlessly research products and hunt for service extras, this content is even more likely to help drive sales.

  • Videos focusing on utility. Product demonstrations, installation tips, and video buying guides add significant value for shoppers, as we discussed previously in our post covering key video content. During the holidays, videos can give shoppers the reassurance they need to commit to purchasing gifts without first touching or trying them.

After the add-to-cart: eliminate roadblocks to purchase — across touchpoints. While merchants maintained a relatively steady state when it came to conversion, cart abandonment and checkout abandonment the rest of the year, the holiday season saw slippage across all three metrics — suggesting that merchants can do more to compel shoppers who’ve already added items to the cart to complete purchases, whether via the touchpoint where they started their shopping journey or not. Merchants should:

  • Use the cart for more than estimated shipping and tax. More than just a cost calculator, the shopping cart should give consumers comprehensive information to support their order, from product upsells to information about product guarantees, returns and exchanges. Free shipping promotions and loyalty club benefits should also be prominent, giving shoppers a bevy of options to successfully complete their transactions. And the ability to print and save cart items for later smooth the path to purchase from online browsing to offline buying.

  • Consider single-page checkout. While we’ve written before about how no single checkout format dominates among the largest of merchants,  prior Performance Index data suggests single-page checkout is becoming more prevalent among specialty and boutique sellers, with 75% of Index transactions taking place via one-page checkout. Furthermore, a streamlined single-page checkout can provide a viable starting point for mobile implementations, which need to be even more frictionless. Whatever the format, merchants should dive deep into their analytics to ferret out checkout problems across touchpoints and devices, and deploy A/B tests to put potential solutions through their paces.

  • Implement alternative payments. We’ve repeatedly addressed the importance of adopting alternative payments, to enable both desktop and mobile purchasing. Of course merchants should take into consideration their target audience and the prevailing standards for their category — for example, BillMeLater is more of a priority to implement for sellers of big-ticket items such as furniture or jewelry than merchants offering fast-fashion T-shirts — but in all likelihood, offering at least one alternative payment option should be a top priority for 2014.

Download the latest Performance Index report for in-depth metrics, including mobile data and KPIs by vertical, and further strategic recommendations. How do your 2013 metrics compare with the MarketLive Index benchmarks, and how are the numbers influencing your 2014 plans?

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?

Performance Index: merchants well-positioned for final holiday push

The clock is ticking down on the holiday season, and the latest data from the MarketLive Performance Index indicates that merchants are beginning their final push well-positioned to see sustained growth.

In the week of December 9, which began with “Green Monday” (the last Monday in December with at least 10 days before Christmas), Performance Index merchants saw revenue gains of almost 30%, thanks in part to a traffic increase of 23%. Conversion rose by 3.4%, and the average order size outpaced last year’s by 3.5%, again suggesting that merchants are winning sales without resorting to constant bargain-basement pricing.

Combined with the record gains achieved during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the latest strong results put merchants on track to end the season with substantial sales growth. Cumulative season-to-date revenue is 30% higher than last year, despite the shortened season, and conversion is up more than 6%, while average order size is more than 2% higher than last year.

Holiday data from the MarketLive Performance Index

For many merchants, the deadline is nigh for delivery by Christmas Eve via ground shipping — so the trick for sustaining revenue gains through the end of the season will be to encourage continue spending despite this logistical hurdle. Tactics merchants can adopt include:

Highlighting in-stock items. Merchants should flag items that are in-stock, both for online purchase and for pickup or purchase in stores — enabling shoppers to zero in on the gifts that can make it under the tree in time.

Pairing a collection of in-stock gift finds with a discount on expedited shipping provides online buyers with a compelling reason to complete their purchases immediately. For merchants with physical store outlets, enabling online browsers to view items that qualify for in-store pickup before Christmas at a location near them smooths the online-offline purchase process.

MarketLive merchant Helzberg Diamonds promotes “green truck” items that are guaranteed to arrive on time if purchased by December 23. An icon and shipping estimate are provided on the product page, with a key explaining the fulfillment classification system and displaying estimated delivery dates for each.

Guaranteed delivery promotion from Helzberg

Product page example from Helzberg

Shipping cutoffs explained, from Helzberg

Easing the last-minute store rush. Merchants with physical store locations should move links to the store locator out of the customer service section and into the spotlight. They should additionally bolster standard store-locator information with promotions of relevant online content and services. Gap’s store locator for shoppers browsing the eCommerce site on their desktop or laptop displays not only location-specific hours, but promotes the ability to reserve items online for purchase in-store, along with a curated gift guide showcasing tailored gift picks. On the mobile site, Gap’s store locator — always anchored prominently on the home page — calls out holiday hours in the “Special Hours” section.

Store locator example from Gap

Mobile store locator from Gap

Boosting e-gift card visibility. As discussed in last week’s post, merchants should promote gift card options ubiquitously, in locations that go far beyond the holiday gift guide section. And in the final week, gift cards should receive pride of place on the home page, with merchants highlighting swift delivery via email and flexibility as main selling points. And on the gift card product page, merchants should ensure that options for physical versus virtual gift cards are clearly delineated, so that shoppers wishing to purchase cards for delivery by Christmas are sure to pick the right one.  MarketLive merchant dELiA*s promotes delivery timeframes along with gift card options on its home page. The gift card product page has been updated to reiterate the cutoff dates and delineates the two separate ordering processes for physical versus virtual cards.

Gift card promotion from dELiA*s

Gift card product page from dELiA*s


What last-minute tactics are you employing to keep shoppers engaged through the end of the season?

Performance Index: Cyber Monday week sees major gains

As the short holiday season hits the halfway mark, the news is encouraging for specialty and niche merchants. According to weekly data from the MarketLive Performance Index, Cyber Monday and the week that followed continued the Thanksgiving weekend trend of increased traffic and improved performance metrics, driving overall revenues 32% higher compared with the same week last year.

Furthermore, the data suggests that even amidst heavy discounting, merchants are making strong gains. For one, while traffic for December 2 – December 9 grew by 17%, revenue grew even more substantially, suggesting that individual buyers are purchasing more than last year.  The conversion rate increased by 2.4%. Meantime, the average order size compared with last year held steady, suggesting merchants are successfully wooing shoppers without necessarily discounting steeply.

MarketLive Performance Index data

The only performance challenge merchants face is with the add-to-cart rate, which plummeted nearly a full percentage point, by more than 8%, compared with the prior week. With offers flying fast and furious, shoppers are comparison shopping and waiting for the right deal to entice them to finalize purchases. While overall the add-to-cart rate for the season is up by 11.3%, merchants should redouble their efforts to convert shoppers to buyers. Among the quick tactics to try:

Promote limited-time offers beyond the obvious spots.  Merchants should include notices about free shipping offers or price discounts in the cart, whether via a global banner or a promotional fill slot. But even before shoppers reach that milestone on the path to purchase, merchants should flag promotions and direct shoppers to relevant information. Locations to consider include:

  • The drop-down global cart. As we’ve noted previously, graphics or images in motion are more likely to capture our attention than static site content, so including promotions in this automated display stand a better chance of being seen.

  • In secondary navigation. When used, a left-hand column usually exposes the depth of products on offer, whether via  a detailed sub-category list or by using a guided-navigation-style list of attributes shoppers can access to resolve problems. But it’s also an opportunity to reiterate the latest promotion and its end date, so that shoppers can access details from wherever on the site they roam.

  • On product pages. With consumers increasingly accessing eCommerce sites via interior pages after being directed there from search engines, it’s crucial for merchants to feature deals right alongside product content.MarketLive merchant Armani Exchange highlights current discounts in red on the product page, calling out the free shipping thresholds and “deal of the week” merchandise.

Promotion example from Armani Exchange

Fine-tune triggered emails. As we’ve reported previously, nearly three-quarters of merchants don’t yet have a triggered email program in place to attempt to recapture sales after consumers leave the site.  While it’s too late to institute such a program from scratch right now, merchants with existing abandoned-cart triggered emails should consider revamping them slightly. The messages should include:

  • Plenty of product content. Merchants should incorporate more than just the image of the product the shopper left in the cart, but should take the opportunity to provide a longer product story. A comprehensive description, paired with how-to videos demonstrating usage and even a buying guide matching the product category, can win over hesitant shoppers by helping them envision how the product might fit or feel.

  • Abundant customer service links. Merchants should put contact information front and center in cart-recovery messages, with links to product guarantees and delivery timelines that help shoppers what they need.

  • Social connectors. The ability to connect to communities of followers on social outposts may help shoppers find lifestyle content that convinces them to commit to a purchase from the brand.

Clothier French Connection puts it all together in its cart abandonment email. In addition to displaying a picture of the abandoned item and the means to link directly to checkout, the message includes a sizable section describing customer service and displaying contact information. A series of links at the bottom of the message directs shoppers to connect via social media.
Abandoned cart email from French Connection

What tactics are you using to drive continued engagement through the holiday season?

Performance Index: Holiday season off to strong start

The initial results are in from the Thanksgiving and Black Friday weekend, and merchants have reason to rejoice. Data from the MarketLive Performance Index, which reports aggregate data from leading specialty merchants, shows year over year sales gains of more than 50% on both Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday, with Saturday and Sunday each earning revenue growth of more than 40%.

The increased sales were driven by double-digit growth in visits throughout the weekend that peaked with a 44% jump in traffic on Black Friday. Improvements in the add-to-cart rate, conversion rate and abandonment rate indicated that merchants have fine-tuned offerings to present relevant products and offers that spur shoppers to become buyers.

Performance Index data for Black Friday weekend

These results are especially heartening after indications that the weekend brought lean results industry-wide. The National Retail Federation estimated that overall sales in stores and online totaled $57.4 billion — a 1.7% drop compared with the organization’s 2012 estimate of $59.1 billion for the same weekend. Online, the news was brighter, with measurement firm comScore reporting revenue gains of 21% for Thanksgiving and 5% for Black Friday, when online sales topped $1 billion for the day.

The even stronger results from the MarketLIve Index suggest that small- to mid-sized merchants are winning buyers without necessarily resorting to the deep-discounting strategies adopted by leading mass merchants whose combined revenues make up the lion’s share of the industry results. By presenting shoppers with comprehensive product and lifestyle content, building a community of like-minded enthusiasts, showcasing superior customer service and encouraging repeat sales and long-term loyalty, merchants are successfully competing with Amazon and other top online destinations, even during this ultra-competitive season.

To continue outperforming the industry for the remainder of the season, merchants should:

Encourage repeat engagement. Many merchants we surveyed over the peak buying weekend had launched extended initiatives spotlighting one product or deal per day. Such campaigns not only entice shoppers to continually return to the site and potentially make additional purchases as new offers are revealed, but they also provide buzz-worthy fodder for sharing via social media. MarketLive merchant World Market launched its “24 Days of Deals” over the weekend, with a daily discount presented via an Advent-calendar type layout on the eCommerce site.

Holiday promotion from World Market

Entice social followers into deeper interaction. Social media can be an effective tool for driving new visitors to brand sites, and during this peak season, savvy merchants are capitalizing on the buzz on social outposts to encourage further engagement from followers. Among the tactics in play:

  • Sweepstakes that allow shoppers to enter daily or earn extra entries when they share products or offers with friends

  • User-generated content submissions that express the brand’s identity

  • Direct purchasing via Facebook — especially for gift cards

  • Email signup via Facebook

MarketLive merchant dELiA*s offers Facebook followers the opportunity to sign up to receive email updates without leaving the social network environment. Followers can even register using their profile information, further smoothing the signup process. By promising that subscribers will “always be the first” to learn about new products and promotions, dELiA*s appeals to social followers accustomed to receiving constant updates and being instantly in-the-know. By subscribing to email alerts, followers will receive word of brand offerings even if they happen to miss an individual post or Tweet.

Social email signup from Delia's

Stay tuned to the blog for further holiday results throughout the season. Meantime, how was your Black Friday weekend, and what tactics are seeing the most success for your brand?

Performance Index: merchants riding wave of growth into holidays

As the high-stakes holiday season kicks into overdrive, the latest data from the MarketLive Performance Index suggests merchants are well-positioned to see double-digit revenue gains.

In the third quarter, merchants saw improvement across a wide range of performance metrics. Year-over-year visits increased more than 15%, and with the add-to-cart rate and conversion rate both seeing modest gains, overall revenue rose 17%. The average order size also nudged upwards by 1.5%, suggesting merchants needn’t adopt bargain-basement pricing strategies to win new business.

Among the key findings:

Mobile sales — from both smartphones and tablets — are growing. Mobile continues to play an ever-more-crucial role in the shopping experience. More than a third of all traffic originates with smartphones or tablets, driving 17% of total revenue. While smartphone performance overall lags tablet metrics, smartphone revenue has jumped by an impressive 65% year over year to 4% of all online sales — a faster growth rate than tablet sales, which increased 39%, to 13% of the total.

Statistics from the MarketLive Performance Index

The data suggests that merchants need to account for both device types as they plan their mobile strategies for 2014. Considerations include:

  • How to “flip” to mobile-first email. By some counts, more than half of email is now read via mobile devices, which means that merchants must tailor their messaging for maximum mobile utility. Designing appropriately-sized “tap targets”, streamlining Subject: lines and ensuring video and animation elements render properly on mobile platforms should all be on the checklist.

Social’s role is small — but potentially important. There’s no denying that compared with mobile, social media affords merchants a less direct path to revenues. Index data reveals that while just 1 to 2% of traffic and revenue can be directly attributable to social media, even those small percentages represent substantial increases from the prior year. Social traffic grew 29%, while social revenue skyrocketed by 77% — suggesting that merchants deploying savvy social  strategies will increasingly reap ROI rewards. In particular, merchants should:

  • Give social followers a holiday boost. To increase potential engagement and word-of-mouth buzz, merchants should offer social shoppers the means to interact with the brand around holiday promotions — whether by running a holiday-themed contest,  offering them a sneak peek at Black Friday discounts or even giving them the opportunity to vote on what those discounts will be in the first place.

  • Entice brand “newbies.” Index data reveals that nearly three quarters of traffic to merchant eCommerce sites from social networks derives from first-time visitors, compared with the overall average of 61% first-time visitors. To engage these would-be brand enthusiasts, merchants should take pains to communicate their brand’s unique identity on social outposts. They should prominently post brand-defining product guarantees, return policies and shipping offers, and use social promotions to showcase the breadth and depth of their product offering. Lifestyle content that appeals to target audiences demonstrates the brand’s expertise, as with MarketLive merchant Stila Cosmetics, whose Pinterest profile demonstrates a passion for trend-setting fashion via boards displaying products used during New York Fashion Week and “We <3 Fashion,” a board of favorite apparel and makeup picks from around the Internet.

Social media example from Stila

Download the full Index report for industry-specific metrics and further data. What metrics will you be watching this holiday season?

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?

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?

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?

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