Online Merchandising

Brain Studies Behind Conversion Behavior

Four weeks ago, I gave a speech at eCommerce Brazil 2012 in Sao Paulo, (which was a fun event, see a short coverage) on what drives conversion and brain studies behind this human behavior online.  I took my audience to a journey into a human brain and shared 3 principles of how to influence customer behavior through managing their attention.

These principles are universal since they are based on how our brain works and applicable to any human being and any site, well developed or evolving at any country.

In ecommerce, no matter which path brought each of us here, all we do is managing attention. Attention is indeed mental money. Yet, it is rather elusive and hard to keep. Unless, you get down the hood of human brain to understand all the magic that happens with attention, which drives our decisions.

After reviewing tons of articles and publications on how our brain works, and mapping against the behavior seen in online shopping, I funneled my findings into 3 strategies:

1) Be a magician. Control the experience of your shoppers.

We all think we are paying attention to the world around us, yet it is a delusion. We are wired to be selective with our mental currency and only focus on one mystery at a time.  We switch back and forth fast, yet only spotlighting the selected at any given moment.  This is due to the fact that our decision-making mechanism is limited in terms of space. When we are trying to make a decision, our mind works as a producer of a play, with a stage of a size of a children’s room, not a Theatro Municipal or Carnegie Hall, where the actors are the new information flowing in, and the audience is our past experience. Through that process we spotlight the play and do not see anything else that might be going on. Successful retailers help shoppers maintain the stage, reducing the number of interacting elements and making some guides implicit or automated via technology leading shoppers to buy faster…leading them to a great play finale!

Driving simplicity and helping your customer make a decision is how you control their stage, knowing that they can only spotlight a few actors – attributes, recommendations or featured selections. Sometimes, you will have to reduce features that you do not want people to use – hide elements or function to prevent usage or material properties. For example, Fab.com, while helping you become a member, asks only 1 question at a time, per screen to keep you focused on that action.  While, soap.com allows to have just 1 cart, in 6 sites.

So, think of each site page – having one explicit goal, that implicitly guides your shoppers to accomplish it or not. Remember, that no mater how much you would try to squeeze from a real estate of your page, your shoppers can only see in a spotlight or a tunnel, which is what you can help them do. There is a reason why conversion rate is higher in preset funnels. Guide their attention like a magician, where you want it to go, but be picky where.  If it is a search results page – make it super awesome for search, if it is a product page – make this act a decisive one for a great finale!  Now, it would be a perfect world if every visitor on your site came with one and only goal – to buy! Wouldn’t it?  But, that is not happening, whether it is your brain or their attention which is mental money, both could be going to other thoughts. To spring it back to action, you need to sprinkle some dopamine into the site experience!

2) Sprinkle some dopamine into the site experience.

Dopamine? What’s that? Dopamine is a chemical we generate in our brain and body that springs our thoughts and muscles in action once activated, it helps us focus or refocus! Without it, we cannot notice a potential mate and fall in love or get creative on demand. It is the oo-la-la feeling or eureka moment or a time you chuckle! Surprise, novelty, humor – do the trick! Or sometimes, simply meeting customer expectations of getting what they expect from shopping for your product and the exact way they are trained elsewhere online and wired through consistency, is enough.  Unique products, like Chicken poncho, on Etsy.com or hillarious reviews on Amazon.com or Gemvara’s weekly home page pick from customer Pinterest boards – all bring enough dopamine to bring attention back where it should be. Managing attention requires re-focus, realignment and naturally, a healthy dose of dopamine delivers just that! Variety is spice of life, and dopamine is a key ingredient of enjoyable site experience.

Once you got people in and run through your shopping process once, don’t you want them to come back for more?  To truly acquire a loyal customer who chooses to keep focused attention over and over again to your site is an art as well.  To make that customer come back for more, is done via oxytocin.

3) Pump up oxytocin into the shopping experience.

Multiple studies in social science evidence how fundamentally wired we are socially. To keep us happy and engaged for a long haul within our small village of close friends, family and coworkers is how nature designed us to be.  It is of no surprise that imprisonment, public humiliation or being ostracized are the worst stresses a human can intake and sometime not survive…The pain is similar to hunger or being physically endangered. In ecommerce, it translates into a more engaged and most converting customer, if he or she is socially tied into your site experience.  Sites, that imbed their products into their customer lives with all their needs to share and discuss, are rewarded by new growing traffic sources and more frequent purchases. Oxytocin makes it all nice, fuzzy and bubbly! It makes your once captured customer come back again and again and even bring his entire village with him. So, what are the examples? Zappos.com pumps up oxytocin by humanizing its shopping cart – “It is needy” as it says in its emails for abandoned shoppers, while Buy.com brings peoples’ stories on its home page to differentiate itself as a place you buy stuff from people not technology. People do things because of other people. Why this should be different in online shopping scenario?

Conversion is all about our ability to get attention from the potential customers, keep it focused for the right time to make a decision and keep that attention strategy alive for them to come back and repeat the action.

All brain studies are about how to influence people, which happen when we change their behavior from no action to an action.

Attention is a secret ingredient that powers that action.

Site experience is all about facilitating the right environment to bring to attention what shoppers came for, keep it focused for some time to solidify the decision and bring them back to repeat the same actions.

View the deck on slideshare.

Watch the video of the speech.

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:

The Magic of “You Might Also Like That” Feature

Recently, I have caught myself on getting very much comfortable with the feature “You Might Also Like That” on various sites. The old fashioned technique of a good sales person, transformed into the online world, is gaining momentum with both the consumers and the merchants. Though, the feature itself is probably a 5 year old, but it does take on the “must-have” and “very much expected” level with the online shopping masses. It is becoming as convenient to rely on this personalization widget as typing phone numbers into our phones and never bothering to remember the actual digits.  How else am I supposed to keep my engagement with your site, app/online store once I consumed some of your products?  Don’t you want to continue amusing me with your similar offers based on what I like?

Why should you care about “You Might Also Like That” feature?

1) It is a relevant cross-sell tool that does deliver. Coupled with the product reviews, it drove me to add one or two items to the cart. This is a very effective feature to engage heavy users of your service/product, primarily since it feeds their specific needs and tastes, sometimes at the moment of consideration. This feature adds 3 or 4 books to my shelf every time I shop on Amazon for a specific topic of interest.

2) It is a great predictor of potential bundles that you can create based on the purchase history and trends that relate a number of products. No need to look at the crystal ball, you will have all the analytics clearly telling you the purchasing behaviors.  Your customers have already done all the thinking and justifying on why it is a good mix, why not offer it to the similar buyers? User-generated cross-sell is the official name of this feature in the industry. Wet Seal does a great job on utilizing user-generated cross-sell by offering entire outfits made by its customers via social contests and fan related initiatives.

3) It allows new users to break into the product category faster. It is a perfect method to transfer them from the “just acquired “customers into the loyal users. Any customer, or a human being, for that matter, will appreciate this white glove escorting into the world of similar satisfying consumption. Plus, it is automated for you as a merchant, but appears as a personal touch to your customers (granted you have a good technology behind to deliver relevant options).

Getting the most of your “You Might Also Like That” widget can bring a myriad of creative ideas how to engage your current heavy users, attract new buyers and keep them both coming back for more!

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