Mcommerce

5 Trends in eCommerce Marketing in 2011 from Top Retailers US

Three weeks ago on March 15, 2012, I gave a speech at eCommerce Search and Sales event in Sao Paulo on trendsetters in eCommerce marketing in the US and Europe.

Over the last year, I observed through my research from 3rd party industry publications, sessions attended at various search marketing events and personal experience what leading retailers do. I singled out 5 key patterns, which cover natural search, conversion optimization and leveraging new traffic sources or emerging shopping channels. Most US retailers that enjoy steady growth do:

  1. Grow organic search visibility, to enjoy free traffic
  2. Reduce noise and steps pre-checkout, to boost conversion
  3. Tap into impulse buys of “on the go” last minute markets, to leverage emerging shopping situations and trends to bring new sources of traffic or to expand shopping experience for loyal customers (multi-channel)
  4. Tap into discovery buys to capture leisure, commute shoppers
  5. Cater to local needs, but deliver by local means, while expanding global coverage, yet capturing one country at a time.

I am going to expand on each strategy, the rationale behind it and implementation examples (download the deck to follow the takeaways.)

1. Grow organic search visibility

It is a no brainer what good SEO can do for your bottom line, at times at a fraction of cost of paid search. Natural search if done right and from the beginning is there for you to perform consistently and will not run out due to budget overspend. For new, small, upcoming merchants, natural search helps to level the field while competing with big guys. And for large retailers it can provide tons of savings and healthy ROIs and a potential for world domination in search rankings.

It is no wonder that smart retailers, big or small enjoy healthy shares of traffic from natural search. And when, I say healthy, I mean more than 25 % of total traffic. And when I think about organic search, I think of Google as a real estate broker for marketing of your goods & services free of charge as long as it is of value. For good value, you get customers or share of traffic, for sloppy job you get nothing. Natural search is free traffic, but you still have to work for it, especially in lieu of ongoing algo updates. Just for the last 12 months, only Google had about 11 Pandas, 1 freshness major update and many more, while for last month of March, it went through 50 search quality changes! A load full of stuff to consider! Yet, those changes are opportunities to spot, not mere changes to deal with.

To do be present in search engines effectively and even diversify your traffic sources, trendsetters leverage new emerging and current evolving opportunities: rich snippets, universal search, integrating social behavior into site experience, producing fresh, unique content that is worth a share, or a pin or a tweet and making site mobile friendly, all of those are key drivers of micro conversions, which ultimately result in more buys.

Rich snippets are an amazing way to increase click through rates by drawing attention to your listing. It is a low hanging fruit too. Google and Bing support product, prices, events, persons, and recipes.

  • For example, Best Buy implemented rich snippets mid last year and enjoyed 30 % CTR from Google within the a few weeks. Others, as shared at SMX 2012 in San Jose, implemented rel=author & rel= publisher tags, and enjoyed 5-10 % traffic lift within the first 2 weeks, while aggregating 15-30 % total. Though, rich snippets are not a novel idea, not everyone in ecommerce leverages them.
  • For universal and blended search, Advance Auto Parts comes to mind with its videos (product and how-to’s) on product pages, YouTube, Facebook, beautiful video map, as it enjoyed increased conversions for product pages, especially for 1st time visitors, and extended its reach & sound sharing engagement of how-to-videos. I am sure these efforts considerably reduced their costs per leads. You can even scale it up to enterprise level with video publishing platforms available in the market.
  • Or a small retailer, Oyster.com launched its business with SEO and quality content as key ingredients of its product strategy. It has a solid site architecture, quality, original, engaging content, creative copy and great linking & social media integration. Just look at their traffic, which is 50 % free. Brilliant!
  • Fab.com, though behind the subscription site, has a beautiful integration of social into the experience, incentivizing its customers to share and get cash within 2 clicks as simple and as smooth as part of the shopping experience. No wonder, Fab.com enjoys 61 % traffic from Facebook vs. 6 % from Google. It also leverages well its blogs, and has lots of viral links. 40 % are actively engaged with their favorite brands via Facebook and say they are actively shopping on the social network. Bing also favors twitter links and authority signals quite a bit in its algorithm, so tweeting links up, makes a difference.

Differentiating your current content through rich snippets on SERPs, leveraging universal search & making your content worth sharing or part of social discovery allows capturing more traffic into the store. While, making your site SEO friendly and focusing on fundamentals can potentially double your total traffic within a few months; going the advanced route in resonance with algo changes from SEs might bring opportunities to dial up the effectiveness of other traffic sources: direct, social and mobile and even boost your other demand generation initiatives.

2. Reduce noise and steps pre-checkout

Once you got all that traffic to your pages, you want to waste no time to get them buy. Reducing noise and steps pre-checkout is the second best practice that distinguishes top performers and results in more orders.

The speed and simplicity of how you go about your funnels makes a difference. The less steps you have, before the checkout and within, the more captured traffic is to be converted. So remove extra steps, pages and clicks.

When shoppers landed on your pages, chances are very likely they know what they want to buy and now dealing with “which” one to choose dilemma. Your job to reduce the steps & thinking process for this part and provide enough information upfront as needed.

As needed is key here, that you will want to test, while “as much as possible” can overwhelm people and even concern search engines. Studies have been done that proved too many choices thrown at the customer slow the decision making process.

Some SEOs in the industry, also claimed that reducing the number of search results/product options might boost search results pages quality in terms of traffic and visibility.

  • Evo.com found that customers have to compare products while still in search for a perfect item, hence high abandonment of shopping carts. So they added a compare tool and color swatches right in the search result pages, which both increased conversions and sales.
  • Shopstyle.com, a lead generation site, converts people within 2 clicks on their category and search results pages. Implementation via the vertical slider is awesome from the user experience and friendly for SEO. It also addresses well pagination and duplicate content issue. Moreover, it has no product pages. You convert through the quick-look hoover. Love it.

Simplicity drives the highest profits. It also delivers joy while shopping. Polish your funnels, check if you have too much info and too many links, and streamline those as well for bots so that they do not waist time either. Go many times through your funnels to understand how much time it takes to buy. The less time users and bots spend on your pages, the more cash your estore generates, working like a money making machine.

3. Tap into impulse buys of “on the go” markets

Once you have customers flying through your funnels and placing orders or sharing deals on your site, don’t you wish to have them literally fly and shop at the same time?

With 49 % of all smartphone users researching and actually buying on smartphones, going mobile is necessary not to lose even the sales of loyal customers. It is also a great channel for new users and opportunity to steal competitor traffic:

  • 51% more likely to purchase from a retailer when it was mobile friendly,
  • 40% would visit a competitor’s site instead due to a disappointing mobile experience.

Yet, smart retailers study even deeper what mobile shopping can be all about. Travel category sites dominate mobile. 85 % of frequent flyers use smartphones and adopt mobile shopping, per Internet Retailer.

Mobile shopping loves travel. It thrives on the conditions occurring in travel situations; we might have to make last minute reservations, change of plans, experience airplane delays.

Mobile also syncs well with a spontaneous shopper, who happens to get free time or wanting something right there and now, thus playing up on the instant gratification we all are used to.

And, lastly, retailers that have been active in this channel early on, also saw some synergies among the channels, or marketing initiatives.

It is also noted that email coupled with mobile works like magic. It triggers the attention of shoppers on the go to act on the impulse to take care of that. A beautiful pairing.

  • Hotels.com, which I am a good customer of, doubled their mobile bookings in 2011. They also tapped into the specific segment that only shops last minute on the go. So, now, they feature deals that are exclusively available on mobile app in situations when minutes matter. Last week I was in New York, and got plenty of emails, 4-5 on last minute deals during my stay, just in case. Noteworthy, if we look at the email marketing effectiveness for Hotels.com on Compete, we can confirm the high growth rates from 71% up to 255%, and stellar performance in driving traffic.
  • Last minute booking is highly desirable and growing segment, in such a way that entire app businesses is showing up. Example, here with HotelsTonight, providing deals on that given night only and yet, you still get a deal. Isn’t that great, you are stuck in a city and do not want to pay high rates at the hotel you stayed in or go wherever the airline that messed up sent you? You have a place where offers bid for your business right here, right now.
  • Fandango, a movie reseller site, benefited from a single feature on its app, “Go Now” that allows to make a decision to watch a movie within mins if you happen to have an urge and the time, nearby.

Mobile and last minute offers exemplify the reality that lots online shoppers became very savvy in finding deals, comparing prices and will not settle for less. Mobile, plus instant consumption also reflect the reality of on the go lifestyle. So, if you keep waiting on how far those trends go, without engaging today, you will potentially miss on a new kind of a shopper or even lose a bunch of loyal customers that happen to add mobile to their options to shop for your brand.

4. Tap into discovery buys

Discovery buys are usually the opposite experience with users, shopping in a cozy place vs. on the go. They are also not planned, known; yet if you can engage the user fully in the experience and provide proper tools and merchandising, you can cash in and draw a significant share of all purchases.

Discovery buys emerge in situations when customers cannot engage into searching for the right item as it might be new to them or hard to do, like shopping for art. Or they have to defer the process of buying it, given its high price tag. Or they simply have no time, but have a general idea what would be best and would act on it if matched per expectations.

Tapping into discovery buys requires creativity and it allows finding new ways to shop for your audience, discovery buys can lead to marginal adds-ons to sales.  Some retailers already doing that by exploring curated merchandizing, also known as breaking their inventory into collections, themes, or make me a match site features, and also exploring coach commerce, or tablet shopping, with about 63 % of US retailers planning site redesigns to benefit from the trend, as eMarketer claims.

  • Art.com launched “Inspire my discovery” and “Find my image” visual search feature, and noticed that customers that use those, spend 2X more and convert 75 % faster.
  • Wine.com gets 6 % of all traffic from iPad and enjoyed increased spends from tablet shopper and even 20 % of revenue on the last day of Xmas.

Other retailers start paying attention to a common 50 % share of iPad in relation to all mobile traffic, a growth worth cultivating.

Tapping into discovery shopping experience is an ongoing trend, with ample room for creativity from the user experience and art of merchandising. Tablet shoppers are enthusiastic and happy about shopping.  With the number of tablet owners expected to skyrocket over the next few years, these shoppers are among the most important market segments to merchandize for.

5. Cater to local needs, deliver by local means

In a situation when you conquered your home base and ready to cast a wider net at international markets, you better be ready to spend lots on infrastructure to build it for each country. That is what top retailers from US do when they have their sights on shoppers of Europe.  You have to be an early entrant there to succeed. You also have to look deeper, segment by country.

There are specific needs and conditions for each country that must be met to be relevant there. Trendsetters focus on a hot category around a very specific niche and take over, or win over one country at a time, building custom marketing, merchandising, and fulfillment.  They also understand that the time and investment needed to build trust and break adoption barriers, because the payoff eventually will be much bigger due to the 1st comer benefit.

  • I was in Toronto, Canada in February and was amazed how condensed the city is and how many people are in the downtown. No one drives in the city and it gets rather crowded, there are thousands of great restaurants, you do not need to cook. I could live with that! Yet, it is perfect for grocery delivery business or restaurant delivery, Justeat.ca. UK, especially, London is also displaying the same conditions. In fact, Tesco, a UK retailer already dominates that hot category and is expanding it to Eastern Europe.
  • Easter Lauder also targets by country, yet providing global inventory, yet it still markets differently and is honoring country specific payment options to foster adoption.

In the past, some retailers tried to scale and approached Europe as one whole market, quickly learning that only country specific segmentation; country specific demand and shopping preference by category will work with all that fragmented infrastructure. And once you are in and accepted, you are there to rip the benefits of expansion.

So, to do effective eCommerce marketing, you can leverage natural search, new traffic sources and new shopping behavior trends & conditions by:

1. Investing into content production of items, worthy sharing every day

2. Reducing noise, barriers to buy

3. Feeding impulse buys, convert the always connected shopper: on the go, coach, in transit

4. Tapping into discovery buys, make your shoppers a match in heaven

5. If expanding markets (segments, countries), thinking and delivering local (as Romans do).

The list of strategies identified is not exhaustive; yet, some retailers only focus on 1-2 and make a difference. Imagine if you get all five strategies on the roadmap within your team!

Bonus:

Top 5 Evolved Online Behaviors & Consumer Appealing Internet Experiences

Do internet technologies shape our behavior or our online patterns allow for their emergence? Similar to chicken-and-egg argument (which was recently resolved), there are new developments in how companies interact with customers or how our web habits and all the accumulated data reform they way we do things. The top 5 evolving trends worth noting and expanding on are as follows:

1) Companies integrate social networks more aggressively and transparently into the user shopping cycle or online behavior. Today, it is pretty much expected, not shocking to social savvy online audience to have the ability to integrate with their favorite brands online.

Ex.A: Amazon recently launched its product reviews feature with Facebook, providing a new social shopping experience that allows people see what their friends are looking for, buying, wishlisting and indulging into. That makes us all so much more connected and closer to each other! If that functionality catches on, it can truly change how we associate with each other, in regards to how fast we can screen each other in and out, or get to know as social human beings. It also has a potential to enrich our relationships since all that info will be available and easily accessible.

Ex.B: SimplyHired similarly showcases job leads with LinkedIn/Twitter/Facebook connections on its pages  (which is visualized via the UI) to help its users to succeed with their job search and prompt them reach out to the people they already know. That site feature makes it easy for us to accomplish our tasks, get what we are searching for. If the A was “social shopping”, B would be “social sourcing”?

Ex.C: Groupon encourages us to buy in groups and share the benefits of discounted pricing, gently conditioning us to be always aware of “collective bargain hunting” and capitalizing on our natural tendency to share rewards with special folks in our lives. So many intrinsic benefits are interwoven into the experience!

2) Loyalty programs and applications grow in popularity with rewards focused on users sharing publicly/checking in into the stores and services, broadcasting those “visits” to their social networks of friends and contacts. Game element is also very much a must and present there. It works perfectly to keep the interest alive for a while, which is also backed up with tangible rewards and providing users the ability to feel important, accepted and happily justified about their purchases.

Ex. A: Popularity of Foursquare, Gowalla, Brightkite, Loopt and similar applications exemplify this trend. On the marketers’ side, imagine the possibilities of growing LTV of each person with all that available data! It is a win-win situation for both marketers and consumers.

3) Most web products provide a simplified multi-network status update, catering to the newly evolved need or “common behavior” of an average person to check in online in various places. So even if the application engages you on the company specific content, this standalone feature develops a closer “bond” and provides you with another reason to engage.

Ex. A: Hot Potato now trains us openly into sharing our statuses beyond consumed services and attended events. It allows us being more social and expressive within our micro worlds in real time!  Here, we are experiencing exponential social engagement that definitely transcends our physical reality of engaging with only a limited number of folks at a time.

Ex. B: Yahoo! email allows users to respond to status comments via email. No need to login to Facebook now.

Ex. C: Seismic web, more of a professional application, now allows to manage multiple Twitter, Facebook and + accounts in one spot. It could very much spread into the adoption by consumers of a specific kind, i.e social media heavy users with multiple identities or roles.

4) Nearly all types of businesses now offer mobile versions of engaging with the brand or consuming their products: a growing mobile-ization of anything that was desktop access or print only before.

Ex. A: Digital couponing and mobile scanning are taking off.

Ex. B: Mobile web and apps are becoming a traditional, a given channel for many stores, sites, networks.

Ex. C: Sending postcards goes mobile too with an element of game with SwingVine (a Seattle start-up! Yay for the city!).

5) Companies empower its customers and prospects with a choice to have control on what to be served, personalize preferred content/advertising; or engage with its users on a more interactive, personal level, i.e. one-to-one marketing.

Ex. A: Our all times favorite Old Spice campaign actively engaged its audience with personalized videos and tweets. It did have two other success variables: hard to resist all-muscle body (sex appeal) and clever humorous creative! But, clearly, the biggest contributor to its success was the interactive element that allowed its audience to experience being personally addressed within the campaign. Customers and prospects now could become part of the campaign, not through the contest of touting the product, but through being in the spotlight, with a personal attention from the brand!

Ex. B: Shopping cart saver application, Olark, utilized on some ecommerce sites, catches its shoppers right when they are about to abort/not complete the purchase with the live person (via IM widget) that simply offers to provide human help! All that is based on the data tracked throughout the checkout process that also becomes useful to the other side of the IM to deliver personalized service when your converting customers need it!

Ex. C: Integration of clickstream analytics into the CRM tool, which also automates the creation of lead profiles, will surely scare off some of us. On the other side, how much more easily could we transfer our leads and prospects into the customers based on already “expressed” interest. From the potential customer perspective, how pleasant would it be to get approached by the company which seems to be capable to sense your emerging needs?

Ex. D: Groupon also lately launched the functionality to choose your deals of the day content based on your interests, which will definitely skyrocket its conversion based on all the relevancy and condition us, users to consume our favorite products more often and sometimes in a good company!

How fascinating, isn’t it?

Top 10 Things You Should Know About Mobile Marketing

The industry is buzzing about mobile again; your team is open to try the new channel. And you are wondering if it is worthwhile “to go mobile or not to go”. However, before you embark on a mobile marketing journey, here are top 10 things you should check against to make a better decision whether to add a mobile campaign to your marketing mix or develop a mobile app store.

 1. Is your audience mobile-savvy?  Does your customer actually use mobile beyond making phone calls? Does your research support the fact that your customers interact with any other brands, using their phones? If your audience is there, and savvy enough to have access to mobile web and is used to some opt-in interaction, you have a first pass checkmark. Alternatively, if your customer is also open to education in this area and does have mobile phones with data plans in possession most of the time; you can still have a chance of introducing this method of engagement.

 2.  What is the context/potential use case scenario for your customers to want to consume information or make a buy via mobile?  You know your customers and how they interact with your product (or might interact if it is new), when they buy and how they arrive at those purchasing decisions. Is mobile a good way to speed up their buyer cycle? Can your customer make a decision based on very limited information at that point while on the go? This is a very important step that has to do with a mobile user experience that differs from the desktop due to limitations of the small screen and the amount of information that can be communicated and perhaps customer’s ability to engage with the device using only one hand, while doing something else (telecommuting and drinking coffee, holding a bag and moving elsewhere, sitting in the wait room and so on). Also, considering that people’s behavior on mobile web is different from the desktop: no one is spending hours searching and surfing (as there is not a whole a lot to see and not so much fun clicking on and on). When it comes to mobile, people are at the “buy point” already and they need the info now and ability to make a transaction preferably within 1 or 2 clicks. This, in its turn, makes mobile the perfect channel to interact with the existing customers!

3. What is the value you can provide to your customers? You cannot simply throw your message at your customers. Mobile is a very personal channel as your audience is virtually available to you most of the time. People carry their phones and devices everywhere and accessible to them at times when other channels like desktop/web is out of the picture. And any message that you decide to communicate to your audience, must be within the context of mobile device and your product usage. It must be either of each:

a) location-based (it provides an address and a phone number to your business);
b) time-sensitive information (a new item in stock arrived that a customer was waiting for, or a limited duration sale is up);
c) making life/usage of your product/service easier information (ability for your customers to check-in into the flight while in route to the airport);
d) financial incentive (a free latte on Mondays);
e) affiliation/community/social popularity aspect (ability for your customers to share their product experience with like-minded people and being part of a bigger circle);
f) or at last, deliver some entertainment value (to kill the time on a commute, in line).

4. What are the legal implications, conditions that I should be aware of?  The U.S. CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 very much applies to sending unsolicited messages to people’s phones. This also logically leads to point 5 below. Other precautions include all other familiar suspects: copyright, trademark, right of publicity and privacy, misleading advertising, cases of what is “free” and “disclosed only in fine print.” Plus, all network carriers are very protective of their customers and have full control over the livelihood of your campaigns.

5. You cannot buy mobile phone lists and start marketing. Particularly, due to the anti spam law above and the issue of privacy. Thus, you will have to build those from scratch and invite your customers to participate via other channels, gradually but surely.

6. You will have no benchmarks. Mobile marketing is still emerging and only a few players already tasted its benefits and pitfalls. In addition, there are a lot of variables to make those benchmarks comparable if they were to exist (a.k.a variations in industry, consumer behavior, devices, networks).

7. You must integrate your mobile advertising or commerce into other channels for it to succeed. Yes, you need to promote this new channel and tell your customers about this option elsewhere: on the web, on your social networking apps, your billboards, TV, online videos, etc.

8. How to be seen/presented on mobile web? If you are a brand manufacturer, or a local small-business you might think of mobile site creation to represent your products, which implies deciding on whether and/how to build your mobile site, how to name it, or re-use (miniaturize) your current site. If you are an online merchant, you might think of creating an application for the most popular smart phones (iPhone and Android, for at least today’s date). Plenty of decisions here, since no matter where you go, the experience might not be the same for all users due to differences in how various devices and carriers render the code. 

9. Mobile search experience is different from the desktop. Mostly due to differences in what users choose to use to do the search: the pre-installed carrier cataloged pages or mobile search tools from Google and Yahoo. Even, if your audience decides to use Google, the results displayed are not the same and as controlled as the ones on the desktop. Different SEO and SEM strategies apply here.  More coverage on mobile SEO can be found here.

10. What is the right mobile marketing/commerce tool to use? The new channel comes with a pleasant assortment of tools that you can consider: voice, text, mobile search, mobile widget (entertainment, commerce, information or social network-based). The process of choosing the best or a mix of those requires a closer look at pros and cons of each kind. Once you discover what works for your product, do not forget to integrate your mobile marketing into other channels to start enjoy its benefits!

Craving more mobile? Check the insights from Kim Dushinski on her mobile marketing blog; she even has a handbook on that to expand on all the 10 points in extensive detail and more. Or review some of the best practices shared by Cindi Krum in her freshly released mobile marketing book (I got my copy today!). Also, if you are more inclined to consume the latest developments in mobile anything from the technical perspective, there is mobiForge for that too!

M-Commerce Gains Momentum

Mobile shopping has yet a long way to go to become mainstream, but mobile programs gain momentum fast to make Internet retailers pay close attention to their influence on ecommerce. Ongoing gradual customer adoption of mobile phones into everyday life has touched consumer behavior in a number of ways that are to be watched and utilized by online merchants. Some of the scenarios might not directly involve making a purchase through the phone or convert online after using a phone. Nonetheless, “the mobile state of the situation” has a significant impact on the buyer decision-making process or conversion life cycle.

According to Retrevo’s survey,

- 55 % of US mobile phone users (within 18-24 age group), 52 %  (within 25-34), 36 %  (within 35-44) and 17 %  (aged 45 and up) used a mobile phone to research products, compare prices and deals or find retailers. 

- Moreover, the majority found this experience rather positive and enjoyable: 59 % searched for deals, found them and got the best price; 46 % found the use of mobile making shopping easier and much more fun; 18 % did not find any deals, but will try again and only 8 % of those found it useless.

Thus, having an m-site for a major brand manufacturer that sells online and offline or even a web-only retailer, becomes a competitive advantage. Consider the following scenarios recently observed by buyer behavior experts:

1. Shoppers, while in brick-n-mortar stores access ratings and reviews more often through their phones to get a closer look at the item in consideration. 80 % of shoppers, according to Shop.org, use product reviews to make decisions and looking for them on sites. Those, with Internet access on their smart phones, will be/are looking for the same info too, so why not conveniently make those available in a phone friendly format?  Simultaneously, for those who already purchased your products for the first time and currently are resolving their post-purchase dissonance, why not deliver the-sought-after confirmation (reviews in mobile form through search text/hybrid ads for example) to reassure the decision and thus invest into your customer retention efforts?

2. Shoppers, while in stores or away somewhere still pondering on the item of potential purchase, use their time and a mobile device in hand to conduct product research through texting using a text message service RetrevoQ that spits out the needed info in a text message, why not build this mobile program in addition to an m-site or in lieu of it at the moment?

3. Shoppers, while in the brick-n-mortar store access your site again to check on prices and deals, and supposedly you know that they researched the item on your site before (through your web analytics data/customer cookie capture if login is required for example) - why not follow up with a text message right there again with some enticing offer?

4. Shoppers, while in stores, take pictures of products of interest and conduct their search on mobile devices right on the spot. Why not offer this visual search functionality on your site, make sure it is integrated with visual search app, etc. to capture the demand?

How much does an m-site cost? It depends, but generally it falls within 10-50K ballpark, depending on the vendor. Personally, I would choose a specialized company due to the complexity of the space and rather frequent technical innovations to ensure a fair bet that it can actually deliver revenue-generating solution today vs. tomorrow.

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