Making shopping online more fun for people and profitable for businesses

Online Retail

Redesigning Your eCommerce Site?

 

New year 2013, new look, new horizons? If redesigning your site is on your roadmap this year to boost conversion and generate more sales, consider these examples from my latest review of Top 100 sites (top, because Internet Retailer, nominated them as such, as they seem to stand out in shoppers’ experience).

Yet, 100 is too many and chances are high that most might not apply to your site. Lucky you, as I selected 20 from that list and from my own recent online shopping as the nominees in the Golden Globes of eCommerce Design 2013, (if there were such an event), as the examples that can inspire your own team.

1) Best cart and checkout experiences 

Simple, sleek and easy checkout experience, goes to Bonobos.com and Speck.com. Both, carry minimal steps to complete a buy (3-step or 1-page), use auto-complete functionality and please shoppers with the clean UI.

  •    – with Bonobos, note the consistency in useful links and messaging throughout the checkout flow. Top features “Need help? Get a real person with a phone number”, while bottom – “feedback” only.  (They do the same in global navigation across home, search, product and cart pages with a free shipping message, account & help links, feedback and social (on/off)). Note, how it focuses us on 1 step a time, cleverly using tabs to display minimum info, while also showing the progress that indirectly motivates us to complete the process of checking out. 
cart page bonobos.com

cart page bonobos.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

  •  – with Speck, notice the integration of cart and checkout as the one page experience. I loved the way how, while I put my shipping info, the billing section autofills itself. I also enjoyed the non-intrusive suggestion box to create an account and an invitation to share the purchase joy on Facebook and other sites, or even make a video out of it. 
  • More importantly, when I return to the experience to buy again, all info is saved (besides the credit cart, of course) and there is even a secondary call to action button to reorder the same product again and again.
screenshot cart speck.com

speck.com cart and checkout

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2) Best product pages 

When we are shopping for an item, product page content, functionality and design help us make the decision to buy or keep searching 50% of the time, if we think from the ballpark traffic volume for any given site. As a key page on a site, its goal is really to showcase well the product and yet not to overwhelm the potential buyer with all the qualities it has. Though, attribution to conversion by feature might vary for each site and only AB testing and site analytics can tell you the truth, yet, its key elements remain the same: well-positioned add-to-cart area, common sense recommendations with an element of surprise if needed, ratings and reviews that speak for themselves and images or videos that visually make a point.

- TigerDirect.com made its add to cart module follow the user as he scrolls down the page. So, at every point, when you are ready you know what to do.

floating add to cart on tigerdirect.com product page

floating add to cart on tigerdirect.com product page

 

 

 

 

 

 

- Rei.com has a clever design of find in store button, which likely drives equal if not higher number of orders as its electronic neighbor, add-to-cart.

clever design of find in store call to action button

clever design of find in store call to action button

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

- Underarmour.com brings shoppers attention to key page elements with a use of yellow marker? Why not! As long as it does the job.

yellow marked key messages on product page underarmour.com

yellow marked key messages on product page underarmour.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

- Firebox.com strikes us with creativity and humor in recommendations modules.  Who can resist a laugh while seeing – “WTF” message for unique products suggested or “You gonna love these“, or “James Bond would be proud of..“.It is much easier to be that creative and spunky if you are a niche site, but it would be a challenge if you are a mass merchant with dozens of categories. Yet, you still can go creative with a voice in those messages and see to what your shoppers respond most. What language charms your customers most?

creative, humorous recommendations messages firebox.com

creative, humorous recommendations messages firebox.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

- Casa.com makes its recommendations go an extra mile and become part of the add-to-cart experience, you can add the suggested items right there with the main item – going beautifully into a cart. Way to increase AOS via smart design.

add to cart imbed of recommended items casa.com

add to cart imbed of recommended items casa.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

- Amazon.com, Chacos.com, Modcloth.com use customer images well to add to the product page experience and boost its SEO. While the first two capture those within their own image area, the third embeds customer images in reviews. Better yet, the aforementioned Firebox folks also respond to customer reviews with comments, which makes you see they care about each distinct experience (way to differentiate a small site, could be not feasible for a mega site though).

email your photo prompt, chaco.com

email your photo prompt, chaco.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

customer image imbed in reviews, modcloth.com

customer image imbed in reviews, modcloth.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

respond to reviews inline, firebox.com

respond to reviews inline, firebox.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 3) Best search pages

When search page is one of the top contributors to orders, and if backed up with a good back-end algorithm, you might want to make it hard to miss. How about making it floating and sticky? No matter how far you scroll, and especially if you have persistent scroll on, make search follow the searcher.

- Shoplet.com approaches this right from the home page. No messing around!

 

persistent, floating search, home page, shoplet.com

persistent, floating search, home page, shoplet.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

- Americanbridal.com combines the same strategy with promo messages, and boasts to have increased AOS by 24% within a year from $85 to $105.

persistent floating search bar with promo, americanbridal.com

persistent floating search bar with promo, americanbridal.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

- Macys.com integrates social into search experience with a floating sidebar. I am still deciding and if need a girlfriends’ feedback, there is a fast way to do so.

floating social shopping bar, macys.com

floating social shopping bar, macys.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

- Brookbrothers.com is smart to capture preferences discovered by shoppers via search with a “remember this” button. That is a much more scalable approach to collecting customer intelligence for personalization vs. relying on item pages interaction only to weigh in.

"remember this" - button on search, brookbrothers.com

“remember this” – button on search, brookbrothers.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

- Fab.com shines with signaling number of items left in stock in search results already vs. item page as we are used to, to prompt making a choice.

"x" items left icon on search, fab.com

“x” items left icon on search, fab.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4) Best home pages

There is no place like home page that makes it or breaks for new business impressions or re-delighting return visitors. This is the place that gives each of us (hopefully with good targeting), what we want and becomes the reason why we come back…ideally!

- Cuttingedgeknives.co.uk steals this nomination by simply telling a new shopper what it is all about with vivid imagery, and yet ready to be explored as a potential buy if you like, right there without directing to a product page. You can hoover over the main POV and see item details for each peace in the spotlight.

item info on hoover, home page, cuttingknives.com

item info on hoover, home page, cuttingknives.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

- Casa.com welcomes home, no pun intended, with an inspirational discovery and promo within an interactive POV.

inspiring, interactive discovery POV, home page, casa.com

inspiring, interactive discovery POV, home page, casa.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

- CVS.com wows with clean tabbed display of key information, playing up the rule of 4 things at a time. It does so well that clearly there is no reason for a left navigation – a “design element” from the past.

no left nav, tabs of 4, home page, cvs.com

no left nav, tabs of 4, home page, cvs.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

- Google play makes it tidy with icon segmented personalization modules, delivering similar peace and clarity when we shop in color coded retail stores for clothes – nothing is overwhelming then!

icon segmented home page, google play

icon segmented home page, google play

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

- Booksamillion.com achieves similar compactness within a home page slider, using tabs.

tabs in home page slider POV, booksamillion.com

tabs in home page slider POV, booksamillion.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

All in all, these are the sites that peaked my interest in page experience design. Hope you get inspired too and wow more shoppers on the way to buy.

View all screenshots and experiences in larger size and as one page.

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:

15 Trends of How We Prefer to Shop Today

Being part of a human nature, the way we shop continuously evolves around new tools that we create, which accelerate the way we make decisions and expand on our wired tendencies how to hunt for a good piece of game or a bush of berries if you wish. There are 15 common trends of how we prefer to shop these days that I collected from my recent readings and some educational sessions from the latest Shop.org event. Some you will definitely find typical of your current behavior and some may help you connect with your audience that you are selling to.

1. Shopping is social. Who does not love shopping? It is almost embedded into every day of our lives. If you do not shop, you definitely engage into bartering with your fellow homo sapiens or homo neanderthals (if that is your preferred social crowd). Thus, shopping is a very social experience. It does not stop being social even if you live in the mountains with goats as your only companions, as you will still have an internal evaluation dialog with your own self on which hill to drive your herd towards to.

These days, we share our “likes” with our Facebook friends, show them what we buy and require their feedback. Or we might be simply feeling exhilarated in the actual store, when we find a great item and wish to show it before we buy. I did that with my recent Ann Taylor dress, after my girlfriend approved my choice and shared my joy. In the end, I got more stuff! Coincidentally, the same Victoria Secret experience was not supported by the staff on the floor, as they strictly said: “You are not allowed to take pictures here”, when I tried to snap a picture of my precious find into my SnapTell app! I explained my innocent try to validate my purchase decision, but was rejected again with a “That is why we have catalogs!” response. “Well, I do not have your catalog right now and do not wish to see it and I cannot share it easily with my friend to decide to buy it or not”, I retorted. But, no luck, as my response was met with a blank face of a sale associate with a cold, “your-behavior-is-not-welcome-here-and-your-money-too” look.  That drove me towards a competitive store right away and followed by my immediate returns the day afterward. Embrace the evolution, VS and see how other stores make extra buck on it. Stop punishing me for shopping at your store! (A tip to the online marketers of VS: make sure your efforts of driving traffic to the stores are not killed at the time when your customers are about to part with their money by old-fashioned strategy of your sale staff. Talk to them often, or sometimes maybe?)

2. Shopping is everywhere, anywhere, even in the private restroom time. So be sure you are present online, mobile, on Google maps, on Yelp and every desktop or mobile application your customers might be using. They will not reward your absence at the point of their utmost desire to purchase if you do not show up where they are because you have a different web strategy. “Your customer will not stop if they find nothing on your establishment on Yelp and go home to research about it on their desktop.” The odds are they will spend their dollars elsewhere. Do you really want that?

3. Fast shopping is rewarded by more shopping. I mentioned Amazon Prime in my prior post (see 9), but it is still the best player that capitalizes on the core truth: the impulsive nature of buying. They made buying so fast, that it becomes as natural as breathing. It is not a process, but 1-2-3 click action of mine, as natural as my urge to buy this book right now. Another example is iPad. “It is on right away as electricity, as opposing to your common PC experience of turning it on, going to take a rest in the bathroom, coming back and logging in and going to put on some tea and coming back when it is finally on.” Make your product consumption or shopping process as fast as instant gratification and you will have my soul, my money and my all! This is how all of us think on the reptile brain level and behave accordingly.

4. People talk about their shopping, so make use of those talks. 75-85% of online shoppers read online reviews, as was the latest stat reported by Bazaarvoice folks. If your product, company or even your name is not surfacing via online conversations, I would be more hesitant to be the first one to experience “whatever-mystery-experience” other buyers might have had.  Turn your online reviews on! Follow online conversations pertaining to your products and brands. Monetize your reputation!

5. People buy based on reviews of strangers, not friends and family necessarily. We used to believe that only closer social circles would allow us to sway a buyer into our shop. As it stands today, people buy based on reviews of strangers (“wisdom of crowd”) very easily, so more support for point 4 above.

6. Negative reviews convert faster. How so? We all are unique and our preferences are so specific, that we need context to make a better comparison. If you find a good deal for a hotel, a 4 star, as an example, but see a negative review, you want to dig in and see what’s going on. You find out that the only thing that the person did not like was that at 7 am, there was no chocolate mint on his pillow, all else was superb. My bet you will book that room right away. The qualitative piece of human context in those reviews allows to decipher where you are at the multi-dimensional relativity of product experience within unique perceptions on what is great and what is bad.

7. People do not shop for just the cheapest thing. (Even if you are a mass retailer, the cheapest deal is not what everyone wants. Yes, Expedia, I am talking to you!). Most of us are very brand loyal and base our preferences on our experiences and perceptions of a product. Or similar experiences, not even connected to the product that are communicated to us via advertising that is as old as the hammer and works every time. So, make sure you learn those emotional triggers that describe and visualize how great it is to have your product in our lives and how miserable it could be if we do not have it. Only then, you will know how to promote them effectively and make us buy again and again.

8. We are 95% slaves of our habits. Do not make me leave my daily-rewarded conditioned experience and place, like Facebook. So, if we are used to spend our mornings and afternoons on Facebook, publicizing our personalized “me-celebrity” lives, please do not make us leave it. Why would I leave my comfortable, ego-stroking environment to buy? Can I buy while I am there, with all my fans, real and “not-so-real friends”? Start selling your products to my majesty where I am, that is Facebook, at least for the next year.

9. Consumers create their own experience and content, which sells better than yours! Various contests that companies have run exemplify how customers can be very innovative with producing great, engaging content. Craftsman brand lately launched the ultimate picnic contest on Facebook and had the most creative ideas generated by their customers based on this principle of crowd-sourcing. The winning option became a staple and a popular selling product.

10. Real interactions with real people do deliver vs. a pretend presence. If you are present online, make sure you engage with your customers via Twitter, Facebook or some other form/app as a human being and help them promptly if there is a problem vs. passive web screening. If there is a great contribution by your customer to promote your product that he or she has done on her own and delivered numerous sales to you, please reward them, acknowledge the same way as you would, if you were a small town baker. Do not just say: “Cool, great job!” on the Facebook wall. Do something about it as a human would. Otherwise, people do see your one-sided fake presence and eventually tune out. How would you feel if you brought $$$ to your favorite brand or store and they simply and cheaply thanked you?

11. Consumers create audience pools, followers & tribes around their consumption. Hall videos, as Mitch Joel shared in his speech, are a growing powerful trend. A 16-year girl shops and posts videos of her shopping finds. She describes her experience and the rationale behind the buy. She has million subscribers and does it religiously very frequently. Perhaps, it is not long till she gets an endorsement contract from a “faster” brand or a few of them to capitalize on the sizable audience. She might as well does it as a natural way to express herself, but what a find she could be for a smart marketer!

12. Powerful bloggers can create a havoc for your product promo or inventory management. Another story shared was about some powerful blogger that got a reference from his friend about a good travel bag (he had issues with his prior product). Well, the endorsed brand delivered so much to the relieved blogger that he created a video and a demo with love and posted it on his blog. He happened to be one of the top 150 Power bloggers and the item sold out very fast. Do you know your power bloggers?

13. Great marketing comes in simple forms. The evident success of Woot, Groupon & similar sites/apps lies in its simplicity to deliver one value a day or at a time. Could you deliver greatly on one claim vs. promising the sky and the earth? See, if you could simplify your marketing and a new business model might be very well born!

14. Checking in with you = professing their love for you = contributing to your sales. As we see with Foursquare and similar platforms, customers are willing to share their consumption stats with the whole world at times. By doing so, they profess their love for your brand.  So, reward and make them check-in for more. Starbucks does a great job “loyalising” its customers, while utilizing the same conditioning principle of a reward for a check-in as smart wife does for her husband!

15. Selling online without ecommerce. This happens when some brands really get their customers and engage very effectively with them on various channels on a daily basis without the ability to sell. They still drive them later to the stores to buy, but invest more into cultivating the brand loyalty and the urge to be on the top of their audience minds every day. Koji trucks hunt on Twitter created mass popularity for that restaurant. “If the truck can do that, you can do it too!”

That is all for this month, enough to ponder and act upon for you, a smart marketer!

Respective credits to:

|1) Shop.org 2010 Keynote with Mitch Joel, Social Commerce and Emerging Trends (that inspired this post! many thanks!); 2) Buyology, Martin Lindstrom; 3) Habit, the 95%  of behavior Marketers Ignore, Neale Martin; 4) Neuromarketing, Patrick Renvoise & Christophe Morin.|

Top 10 Business Questions to Ask While Optimizing Your Site

I find that each eCommerce site should be looked at as a unique business to its industry, audience, site design, inventory and so forth. It has so many variables that drive its sales a certain way that even a similar competitor site would be an orange to an apple comparison. Similar analogy would lie within comparing a given human being to another, even if we try to narrow them down to, let’s say: male, 30-40 year old, highly active athletes – both would have a different optimal cardio (metabolic) rate. Thus, Overstock.com and Walmart.com would enjoy different conversion rates too. Feel stuck? Puzzled and have an urge to go back and keep digging in the data? Great, but before, you do, take a pause and re-focus a few levels up.

These are 10 business questions that you might want to ask initially to get a sense on the site specifics and keep asking further while you started refining what works best for your site. They are also good indicators how well you use your data to make any actionable sense. They are the only reason why to do any data analysis for your site. Some of the answers can be pulled from your clickstream data (to the “what” and “where” and some limited ”why” questions), some you might look for via other tools (user testing, panel studies or surveys).

1. Why people buy products at your site? With so many options where to buy, your site should provide an incentive, a differentiating value proposition why to start searching or shopping there. Why should I buy from you directly vs. a distributor that might have volume discounts or one of your competitors? Tell them why via your product positioning through repeating the reason why buy here. Southwest.com does a great job with its value prop branding during the checkout process. It reminds you why you chose to go with them in the first place “1 ticket. 2 bags. zero fees” and reinforces your content at the end. You can also glance into the top converting keywords and see some customer intent.

2. What are the alternative products/or methods to buy similar products? I am a savvy shopper, due to the industry or personal choice and I might go to several sites or a comparison engine to look for stuff to make sure I get the most for my money. Having a good understanding of your competitive landscape helps to not to get obsessed about conversion metrics but get on top of how others lure shoppers in via messaging to make sure you are truly different. You can use some of the search intelligence tools to gain an idea of where else people are buying the same products and what terms they are using to find what they want.

3. What is the buying process for your audience? Each business has its own segments that behave and make decisions within their own patterns. The specifics of your audience, and reasons why they buy your products are great reminders of why you are in this business in the first place. Are you still focusing on their needs? Do those needs change or remain constant? How do they get to your site? This question should help you paint the context where your customer and your product coexist, not the actual site experience.

4. What is the buying process for each specific product/category? Shopping for a dress is so  much different than shopping for a fridge. Do you cater to the product shopping experience as it is “in nature”, using searchandising techniques that matter for each specific product or do you keep them all in general terms? Does your product page change per each category as much as it makes sense for a shopper? Path analysis report with common top 10 paths taken to conversion should aid with nuggets on what is currently happening on your site. It does not show what could make it faster or easier though! You can also segment your site traffic by tasks accomplished before conversion and see what feature/content adds value.

5. What are the external events that drive people to buy your products? If your business is season or experience driven (a wedding, a graduation), you might want to be aware of the thinking process, ideas and thoughts your audience might have, places that would be relevant to the stage and a whole bundle of other products that might trigger the purchase on your site. This is primarily important for your acquisition marketing efforts and site design (in relation to the display ads/merchandising banners). One way to gain insights is to use competitive intelligence tools (Hitwise, Compete, Google Insights) to find related search terms, top most rising searches and their demographic or geographic positions.

6. What are the typical personas for your site audience? From all of the site traffic that you get, only a few people come with the intent to buy. Moreover, a mere intent is not enough to close the sale. Here, it is all up to your magic of merchandising, available options to buy/pay with and your persuasive messaging. Some people shop comparatively, those are known as “competitive” shoppers, others rely on reviews mostly and go by “humanistic”. The third type is rather “impulsive” or “spontaneous”, followed by the fourth – a methodical persona. Now, drilling further, out of those 4 shopping behavior styles, what else can you add into the psychographic and demographic profiles specific to your markets? Segmenting your site traffic might help to see the percentages of various actions, percentage of ones that convert and the ones that do not.  Following up this exercise with a survey, can also validate the numbers.

7. How do shoppers choose one product over another on your site? What content, information piece closes the sale for your product? Is that a self-generating parts diagram or an outfit combination? A price or free shipping? Once you found it, display it prominently to encourage conversion. Some of the product “usage” data that you can pull from reviews can become a very compelling reason to buy (be that “most durable product for kids”, “best for its value”, “top seller”, or “works best with clarifying serum”) that you can display/provide as a search/navigation/narrowing down criteria. Event tracking also can add some insights on what is going on your pages. Or you can also try to walk in your shoppers’ shoes and perhaps unveil some navigational challenges with a review of top pages within the click density/site overlay report. 

8. Why do people come back to buy from your site? This is my favorite question. It does remind the # 1, but it opens more information on the experience shoppers had with your site and can shed light on your strong and weak parts. Is it a service or a one-click buy that keeps customers coming back? Or is it mostly for the cash their reward program provides that makes them tolerate your 7 step checkout process (which should not be that long in any case in 2010 at least)? Knowing the answers to those questions helps crafting compelling messaging for your offsite ads and onsite branding. It can also reveal opportunities on where/how you can expand your differentiating value or reasons why your competition cannot provide the same. And of course, if you can display some of that data, it might help methodical and competitive personas pick your product faster (“45% of people who viewed that product, bought it in relation to other 2”). In addition, visitor recency and loyalty reports that show latent conversions can help you identify the effectiveness of your online marketing campaigns. Your top 25 keywords might also give some insight on how they come about your store. Or visits to purchase ratio, days to purchase can uncover what it takes to convince people to buy on your site.  Focusing on your converting traffic only can assist you in seeing what makes them buy.

9. What will make your customers buy more/use more of your product? Another good one that might open the gate to consumption patterns of your audience that you can use as opportunities for increasing average order size. Impulse buy based on 3rd party reference, powered by reviews, efficient product description and free shipping makes Amazon Books profitable for 5 years from my own behavior. It is always the same pattern, automatic and easy that if the frequency of marketing is dialed up, makes me transact more often without much thought.

10. What makes your customers delighted to share their site experience with their friends and more? The answer to this question taps into a fountain of potential free marketing that you can dig into. Does your site make your heavy users so happy that they volunteer to spread the wealth? What are the scenarios when they would benefit more out of sharing?

Most of these questions come from marketing or business strategy framework and seem to get lost in the process when we plug in ourselves deeply into the operations data and speak in metrics terms only. These business questions should drive your metrics drilldown and up and sideways, while also painting a holistic picture of complex, but functioning organism (your site)!


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!

Fix Error Messages Or Make Them Work For You

Error messages may run havoc on your customer engagement strategy whether you are running an ecommerce site or launching online promotions. You can lose leads and sales easily if you do not account for them. You can also try to improve your site performance or promotions’ numbers if you plan for the event of errors in advance. Or you can find ways to make them work for you by closely watching their occurrence and customer behavior that follows. 

There are 3 approaches that you can take to alleviate error message/sale loss ratio for your business:

1) Make user-induced error messages based on business rules clear and self-explanatory. Even if your audience is tech savvy and mostly has a high percentage of engineering degrees, error messages stating “Generic Error 407. Must be 77888888″ can puzzle anyone. Try to explain the reason of this message in a human language and communicate it succinctly. In all events, “Your account information and password do not match our records. Please do…[whatever you want them to do]..” sounds better than a numeric code that only a math genius in “Numbers” TV show can solve. Sometimes, I think those error messages were hastily cut and pasted by programming folks versus a UI/UX professional.  No offense to either, but the saved costs on making sure your error messages are clear in your application or on your site – are basically passed to future sales onto the customer base. 

Also, consider the context in which your customers will be incurring them: their attention span, possible stage of buying process, etc. One example of this error type, is an online shopper filling out a shipping address and payment information to only find out the error at the end after submitting the ” erroneous form” and having to retype all info again. I know I would give up at that point. Thus, construct your forms and functional errors accordingly – by making them appear inline with the filling out process, or adding interactive elements when possible. Linda Bustos, has a great post on inline validation within the shopping carts. Luke Wroblewski shared his insights on the same topic on his blog and even published a book.

2) Save the sale by tracking to who your errors were exposed to and follow up with compensation. You might not only save a customer, but delight him/her with a special attention that is capable to turn them into your product/brand evangelists. This happened to me a month ago. DSW ran an online promotion “Get Lucky. Participate in a draw of XYZ and win 50% off your next purchase by visiting this promo page.”  With sheer excitement, my mouse rushed to click on the link and the error message occurred “Site is unavailable” to my utter discouragement and quickly vanishing anticipation to make a purchase. But! DSW email marketing folks appeared to have planned for this contingency. After 2 days, I got a follow up email stating” Our apologies and $10 off. How lucky can you get if the site is down?” I was pleasantly surprised as a customer! My clicking the promo was acknowledged, my shopping decision was saved as if it were in a real store. I was happy to continue shopping at DSW and share the story with my friends. So, follow the DSW example of using web analytics to track your potential errors, especially if you know the limitations of your systems. Bravo, DSW!

3) Collect free feedback from the unpredicted error messages or 404, 500 types. Sometimes, it is what it is and you might not know all possible scenarios when your site or application starts “misbehaving”. Instead of simply accepting this reality, try to add a feedback link or box to the generic error page and your customers might feel compelled to share what happened. That way you will start discovering the reasons and causes of those mishaps. You will also make your customers feel listened to, heard and valued.  And, of course, you will actually gain something from those error messages. They will pay you with feedback! 

“Mistakes, obviously, show us what needs improving. Without mistakes, how would we know what we had to work on?” -Peter McWilliams.  So, do not fret if you find a few in your current app. Look at the ways to make them work for you and be the one with “an unequalled gift…of squeezing big mistakes into small opportunities,” Henry James.

4 Drivers of Merchandising Category Pages

Category pages are like aisles in the store – are to guide us through the shopping process. They help us decide on the product to buy. While, merchandising is the way you, as a retailer, provide key information to potential buyers to take time to consider a displayed product and get it eventually. But online shopping differs from the on-site experience: your shoppers can enter at any point on any page and there is no designated entrance to guide them through.

First time online shopping (on a particular site – i.e new visitors) can also be challenging.  Remember your confusion when you go to the same brand grocery store in a new city…even in your own city, but a different store: you will spend more time trying to locate the aisles first, let alone the products you have come for!

So what are the ways to display your products effectively? There are 4 common practices that are easily observable, used mostly as a mix of all or some:

1) Navigation, as the 1st approach is focused on user experience.  Hence the main goal for you as a site manager, is to provide clues to your shoppers to locate the products, group them into sets and narrow down by various product variables. The narrowing down part is the most crucial functionality of category pages – not the amount of information on the page. My favorite sites that do a great job in helping shoppers decide are: bluenile.com with its diamond search tool, bestbuy.com with its lifestyle categories for products (that give shoppers frames of reference) and hotels.com with its star/ratings/reviews/price/location options. The trick is to make the process as efficient and fast to help us decide which one of those items to spend our hard or smart earned money on!

2) Promotional method is the 2nd driver to decide how and what products to display. You also want to make more money and display your hottest or most profitable items, don’t you? Showcasing your best selling products or seasonal “must-haves” is still customer-friendly approach. Not only it provides shoppers with shortcuts, but also shifts the inventory based on demand. The trick of this approach is not to allow promotion get ahead of navigation and allow your shoppers control their search without much “virtual car sales people ( i.e your banners or always the same prominent products”) on the way!

3) Inventory management can play out its role as the 3rd driver which products to display and how often to change them. You can sell only what you have in stock, thus there must be some automation to your online store to alert you about the “backorder situation” and possibly trade the valuable web space with an alternative product. At the minimum, your product page with an “out-of-stock item’ should suggest comparable products for the shopper to consider. Do not let them give up on you and move to another store!

4) Taking a personal touch is my favorite approach, which marks personalization technology as the 4th driver in online merchandising. How much easier and more enjoyable it is to shop on the site that learns about your preferences, taste and tailors its category/product pages accordingly? Amazon.com and Bidz.com do it with flair. So if you have a chance to add extra value to your customers’ experience with a personal shopper through product recommendations based on user search and buying behavior, sprinkled with cross-selling functionality – by all means utilize it to the fullest. Personalized product recommendations consistently increase revenue, conversion rates, average order value and impact customer loyalty significantly.

Overall, in online retail, the working formula of strong merchandising includes a mix of insights from web analytics, product seasonality, price adjustments, promotional practices for a given category/industry, and user experience considerations. And this is not an exhausted list either. Online merchandising is truly a very valuable expertise not taught in schools, or books, but experienced through actual site management and application of holistic thinking.

I only covered four methods in this post, which should only prompt you to add your own value from other information pools for your site to truly evolve your merchandising strategy into a strong working system.

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.

Getting The Most Out Of Your KPIs

It is ironic how things in life come back to you in a spiral manner sometimes. The same happened to me in relation to the KPI topic. I have explored it briefly in 2007, and today I am able to share a few more good practices that any emarketer will find effective. 

So what are the top 3 things you need to know, or rather do to make the most of your KPIs?

1) Clearly distinguish a KPI from all other metrics you collect.  Many of times, it gets confusing with all the data we pull from a web analytics tool, to what focus on, because every count brings out a unique information piece. Simultaneously, the raw data is much easier to grasp rather than the one hidden through a formula. Thus, any metric can become a part or a standalone KPI depending on your objective. You probably would think now – “Well, that’s not making it any easier to understand!”. Which is exactly the same thought that tortured me for about a week till I discovered work by Steve Jackson so generously shared with all of us in his Cult of Analytics book. I felt like Amerigo Vespucci on that day – cause I cracked (found) the definition of a KPI. His 4 attributes on p. 50 served me very well to progress further while developing new and refining the old.  “Every KPI should have the following attributes:

1) The metric has a timescale associated to it (is reported weekly, monthly, quarterly).
2) The metric has a benchmark.
3) The metric has a reason to be reported to the actor.
4) The metric has an associated action that can rectify the situation.

Most of the times it is a ratio.”  Now, that makes it much easier to set the KPI definition in stone. And though, you can still show your site performance from the user interaction through visits, clickthroughs,  add-to-cart clicks and ultimately all the way down to the placed orders, adding the ratios contributes so much color to the overall picture. If both are displayed separately – it creates more unnecessary questions, while placed together (general sequential metrics and ratios) allows for focusing on the right piece of data (a ratio KPI) while the raw data next to it, validates its accuracy.

 2) Slice and dice your KPI – aka segment it by campaigns, traffic source, etc. This advice is not new and has been declared many times to anyone who faced data analysis.  At the same time, it is also not very much followed. Similar to the exercise prescription in addition to the diet, data segmentation gets a lower follow through. But, if you do it once, you will never take data any other way! By segmenting, you are able to find trends since you put data in a context.

3) Get to know your KPIs better on all levels to learn what is normal and what is not in terms of their behavior. In this respect, you view your KPIs as predictable subjects. In the same manner as criminal investigators or psychologists observe people and get to know what behavior is normal for a given individual and what is out of the line, you can practice the same with your KPIs to get the most out of your reporting. Avinash Kaushik has a great insight on how to do just that – use the statistical tools of upper and lower controls to define the normal playfield for your data.

The only question that I am yet to resolve is – what are the best practices of calculating those controls for various KPIs and metrics? Some suggest to use 3 standard deviations to calculate controls, some make sense to use just 1 (as in Visits per Page as a Lower Limit possible). If I use 3, I will be expanding a range of behavior too wide if my data fluctuates frequently. If I use 1, it creates a too narrow field.  I hope to get the answer very soon and for now I plan to watch all three scenarios.

10 Commandments of Quality Shopping Cart and Its Checkout

When tasked with optimizing ecommerce site, many of efforts will be included in the entire project. At the same time, if we start with the main objective of the site, which is to sell, it pays off to start with laying the foundation – optimizing the shopping cart and checkout flow. So what are the basics to adhere to or run a diagnostics on?

While sifting through abundant expert advice available online, these 10 principles stuck in my mind and became a valuable framework:

1. Shopping cart as an icon - must be visible at all times to help users go smoothly throughout the shopping experience. It should provide the customers with options to make a decision at any moment they are ready, at a search page, at a product page and more.

2. Action to add to cart – must be visible too. But make sure that action will not send your customer away from the current page (be that search or other), you want them be “on the same journey”. Usually, AJAX allows that to happen. It also helps to somehow visibly note that the addition just took place and it was successful. The more the experience resembles in-store shopping the better your users’ online shopping experience.

3. Always disclose costs – as those are the key information a shopper needs throughout the evaluation process of other items to add. If not shown, you cart might trigger confusion and proclivity to be abandoned. You do not want that, do you? This one especially relates to shipping costs and tax details that might very much change the shoppers’ desire to have the item.

4. Provide control to your online shoppers, with tools for “save for later”, “wishlist”, “email a friend”, “share’ and “print” to prevent the abandonment caused by the total high price or unexpected shipping costs (# 1 reason of abandonment) or some other reason. You can even add options of color change, functionality upgrade right at that moment. It would also pay off if you enable them with multiple shipping and billing functions, email the order confirmation themselves, split the order into multiple shipment groups and on.

5. Show any loyalty programs benefits and build the relationship. Re-assure your shoppers on the future benefits they will get while buying from you. Who would ever want to leave your cart after that?

6. Make customer help obvious, prominent, and usable – if you have a “click to chat” option – make sure it works flawlessly and there is someone there to be for the customer 24/7. Show other alternatives to answer last minute questions that could be so minor, but so influential to contribute to your sale. Explain within the UI (ability to hover over as an example) the shipping charges and return policies. Be generous with service and information upfront.

7. Throughout the checkout experience, make sure your customers know at all times where they are – make sure the visual cues are consistent in the main navigation and in the checkout pages. Imagine yourself in the real store, where top signs say “Bedding” and you find yourself clearly in the “Cleaning Supplies” aisle.

8. Provide “smart” links, popups with clear messaging on free shipping, gift cards, coupons and ways to save before shoppers confirm the order. Make the online experience thrilling and enjoyable when users see that they can save and get a deal. Promotions are highly effective in driving order completion. Place those properly at various points. Make them easily visible (above the fold).  Make sure that users can also go back and change the coupon codes. Do not deactivate that option once they added one coupon and it appeared incorrect. This pet peeve of mine sent me away from the sale so many times!

9. Use conventional user-friendly icons and nomenclature – make it easy for us to shop. Do not teach us a new way of online shopping even if you have the coolest site built on the latest technology.

10. Welcome new users without getting personal upfront – if you able to fulfill the sales without registration, please do so. First time and casual shoppers will be more inclined to complete a sale if you make it fast and low commitment for them right there. You can still capture their email (openly) by communicating future incentives if the cart was abandoned.

Wish to go beyond the top 10? Check out these great publications “eCommerce Roadmap” by Palmer Web Marketing and “20 Surefire Ways to Increase Sales Using Zen Cart” by Eric Leuenberger. Both are very worthwhile reads!

Top 3 Online Marketing Channels That Influenced My Purchase Decisions This Month

Usually, I write about ideas and experiences from the 3rd party perspective, but this month was very much consumed by my own online shopping, searching and finding the basic necessities of an urban lifestyle, driven by my recent move from Seattle, WA to Dallas, TX. Thus, my only observations of what got me sold in ecommerce are derived straight from the source – my own experience as a customer. So, what drove my purchasing decisions and resulted in my smooth transition from NW to SW?

1. Retargeting (re-messaging) online display ads that appeared “miraculously” on various online destinations that I went afterwards – Facebook, Google Maps, Reader, email, news sites – kept my attention sharp on the items I wanted and got me to buy them within a week from the point of initial search to a purchase. Granted, I did abandon the cart a few times (intentionally and not), but it was followed up with  coupon discount offers in emails and re-messaging ads, thus overstock.com managed to win my business.  To get the fundamentals of its effectiveness, see my prior post -“Why Should You Care About Retargeting“.

2. Online reviews for apartments, furniture and local area services and neighborhood amenities very much influenced my choice of the zip code to live, an apartment complex to choose to shortlist and large furniture items to consider.  Shopping for something like your new place to live without visiting is almost comparable to getting married before going on a blind date. It is all good and fancy on the perfect website – the pictures are stellar, the web copy is all flattery and a price seems to be within the range. But, I still have a cold feet feeling.  So, I asked for the photos of the actual products – in this case, an apartment unit available. And, I did have to ask for those twice, because on my first request, I got the same photos I had seen on all websites where this product was shown. The lesson was to remain beware and careful. So, I went digging and searched for reviews, not just on those sites – but everywhere online. And, this is where the bits of true customer experiences started to come out, warning me about some features that I would not even think of or confirming my prior research. Thus, online reviews influenced roughly 80 % of my buys, which is pretty much close to the standard rate of online reviews reliance by US customers, according to the study (April 2009) by Opinion Research Corporation [”The survey revealed 84 percent of Americans say online customer evaluations have an influence on their decision to purchase a product or service..”].

3) Social networks – namely Facebook, allowed me to bounce back my shopping and searching questions through my friends in Seattle, who knew people in Dallas, who I trust! It always intrigues me how our social affiliations and friendships influence our purchasing behavior. But, it would be not wise not to utilize this time and experience-tested well of information.  I asked and I got my questions resolved.  Imagine of there were an app that would advise my friends on the things in Dallas I would be interested in – as a fresh local? Could some piece be triggered in Facebook settings that noticed the change from Seattle to Dallas and prompted my friends on either side to recommend new places, granted that most people enjoy giving recommendations? As we know, the core enjoyment of being social derives from those mini information trades!  Still psyched about Facebook and all it has to offer?  Then, check “Facebook Marketing Bible” by Justin Smith or a comprehensive list of “300 Social Media Marketing Case Studies” by Wendy Tarr.

In sum, I had limited time, resources and attention like any other average consumer. But, my needs were destined to be met after a through mix of intelligent personalized advertising that I did not mind (as my brain was set to pay attention to the items in demand), availability of online “usage stats and opinions, aka reviews” and referrals from my social capital.  Overall, my shopping process resembles a pretty mainstream buyer behavior pattern that is easy to utilize these days. So, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and replicate!

When Speeding Makes Money…Online

“Speeding makes money?” – you ask. It does, if you think of the value of speed when it comes to online sales. Speed sells” trend marks the entire issue of Internet Retailer this month.  Simultaneously, the speeding comes in different flavors:

1) Speed of page load – the faster it is, the less you challenge your customers. At the same time, all those social media widgets and bandwidth clogging features (video, zoom, animated content) are also demanded by savvy online shoppers.  What to do? Regardless of this double sword situation, online retailers become resourceful and find new ways to accelerate site performance by:

      a) Exploring the caching resources of their ecommerce applications (from looking into internal applications, utilizing the web browsers capabilities to store commonly used elements of the page or opting for content delivery networks to do the job).

     b) Cutting on the “extra” (from multiple Java script libraries to style sheets that can be compressed and finally to slimming the images based on their performance).

     c) Using lower cost connections when possible with a flexibility to route traffic to the best performing pipe.

2) Speed of shipping – the more options you offer and the faster you can execute on the delivery, the more chances you have to close the sale.  Even Amazon, the online giant, recently started providing same day delivery. And if this offer becomes standard, imagine its effect on bricks-and-mortar stores. The instant gratification need is very much solved by this move and more companies will emulate this strategy in the near future.  So in sum, this is illustrated by:

     a) Providing same-day delivery option (as above). Will that make you buy today and now? It surely will!

     b) Backing free shipping through automating labor intensive transactions (returns) allows to keep the order volumes high enough to afford the free delivery benefit for end-customers.

     c) Managing efficiency of shipping carriers (through various software) and choosing the most cost-effective or customer-chosen option. This is especially critical in current times, when carriers stopped providing best rates based on volume.

3) Speed of making your shoppers decide to purchase now.  In other words, using all those “accelerate” road signs that put your customers into action – online discounts, coupons, groupons and all that turn that “recession-irritated” buyer’s remorse into a savings practice! The last tactic is very much enjoyed by smaller retailers that shine in creativity when it comes to promotions run to beat the big dog. Examples of the most common ones are:

      a) 110% price guarantee (a coupon valued at 110%  of the difference if your shopper reports a lower price within 3 days).

      b) 20 to 50% off retail prices, 10% off second orders within 60 days. Stimulates come backs (loyalty)!

      c) 100% low-price guarantee plus 10% on next purchase, 90-day “hassle-free” returns.

Indeed, online coupons and groupons make it easier for us, expense-conscious consumers, get to enjoy the luxuries we used to afford effortlessly before. A great many coupon driven marketing services have been growing to cater to this trend, providing marketers with clever promotional programs to drive both volumes through the actions of end-users (by making it enticing to share the coupon to get the great rate and onboarding 5 to 10 other consumers to enjoy a product or a service, implemented through Facebook or Twitter).

Thus, all in all, speed rules the online shopping today. So go ahead and speed up your site, your delivery or the purchase decision of your customers!

The Three Whales of a Healthy eCommerce Site

What makes a site an ecommerce site? A simple functionality of selling products online? What makes one successful selling online? Those kinds of questions ran back and forth in my head all month, which brought me to come up with a simple framework. 

And though, each site is almost like an individual patient with its own case and history, in very broad terms, a fully functional and thus healthy ecommerce site is based on the three fundamentals = an optimal combination of (1) site performance (SP) (backend ecommerce platform and widgets) + (2) intuitive user experience (iUX) (to guide your users to close the desired action) + (3) live pipeline of site traffic programs (PST) (to bring those users on site, new and repeat).

So, while making an assessment of how to drive conversion rate up and make the most of it, one has to study the entire system and choose priorities based on the situation. Should we do a simple “face lift” or prep for “an open heart surgery”? – All that would be evident if we look closely at all three pillars if you will, in the actual process of their coexistence.

Every piece of this simple summation should function well to make the entire body, in our case, a site, work. Thus, favoring one over the other two can lead to imbalance and performance issues. So care and pamper each ingredient specifically and pay attention to overall combination. 

And so, you’ll ask – what are the methods of treating each pillar? Thank God and our industry fellows, there are plenty of ways to do so – my special favorite – a recent ebook by Justin Palmer – “eCommerce Roadmap” – where you will find 192 ways to optimize your site.

How Rich Media, Targeted Email, Mobile and Paid Search Fuel Ecommerce

Retailers are hurting! People are not spending as much regardless quite appealing discounts, but online business is still doing well according to Forrester report for 2009. What fuels it? Can you believe, if I say, it is good marketing, in the form of rich media ads or experiences, well-targeted email marketing, paid search and enabling mobile shopping opportunities? At the same time, it is not quite as odd as it seems – without marketing and advertising your online business might lose its running fuel and vanish. Bringing the traffic to your site is very vital and transferring it into purchasing crowd even more so. It does require more effort than before due to the normal environmental intricacies of online shopping and additional challenges of reduced spending. So what are the secrets of steady online business?

Through browsing the latest ecommerce guides, I distinguish the following factors contributing to present online success:

1) Rich media application through online shopping experience – making your product appealing to your audience. While selling online, it is critical to recreate a close to “real life” experience and rich media does just that. It allows maximum engagement opportunities (high definition demo, reading reviews while browsing, moving a picture/product, deep zooming it in/out, changing color, seeing the product in a number of suggested backgrounds (a whole outfit for apparel or a furnished bath for specialty appliances). Once you manage to deliver this optimal selection/consideration experience, enhanced with visualization tools (pictures, interactive video) at a privacy of one’s own home (where the “mall buyer’s remorse” is weakened thanks to the latter), you got your conversion, sealed by the sales transaction.  Examples of using rich media are: perfect car finder with Kelly Blue Book; Fathead.com with its popping answers to shoppers’ questions and literally bringing the product to life when images leap from video into the page; or Disney digital ad (my favorite), that truly immerses viewers into the product consumption reality (seeing a movie). And there are more of those! Check your own experience next time you browse your favorite brand or notice an ad about a product that you have already considered!

2) Targeted email that motivates buyer behavior. You might say – “Oh, that is not new!”, but I would encourage you to look closely at the best practices and keep refining your email strategy. The most successful email marketing program delivers products consumers want, when they want them. Thus, at the point of customer acquisition you should offer a number of product specific notifications and then cater only the information of interest in separate messages versus all-in-one for everybody on your list.  Plus, it helps to study the best responses for each acquired customer and test the optimal frequency, because ultimately you are building relationships.  Finally, spend some time offering the sign-up opportunities for your email programs everywhere on your site or ads.  Or to dress it up even more – provide incentives for your potential customers to sign up and keep the pipeline growing!

3) Mobile shopping becomes a competitive channel to boost sales. Putting your stores, literally into your customers’ purses and pockets can bring you a significant boost in sales. And the growing adoption of smart phones confirms the importance of this so called “fourth channel” – 95 % of all mobile traffic to m-commerce sites comes from smart phones! A shopper in a brick-and-mortar store might lure to your site to verify the prices on the spot. A busy multitasker will greatly appreciate your way of letting her order an item on the go via a text. Plus, think about the potential of texting – mobile selling without internet (especially to young consumer who grew up texting in his cradle!), when a delighted customer shares the love with friends and family (shares the info on the deals and promotions). Finally, we also have mobile applications/application stores to add to the equilibrium, which offer a richer shopping experience and an opportunity to purchase a product through the phone application itself (needed data can be drawn from a retailer’s web server). Not a bad alternative!

4) Search, search and again search  – one cannot win online only with SEO when it comes to converting the eligible traffic to sales. Search marketing has become one of the most popular tactics due to its direct measurability to sales and natural integration in the consumer shopping behavior. “Paid search is very quick and responsive, and that’s in its favor in a volatile market.” When we want something, we go online and start the search. Then, it is up to the advertisers to compete for our attention and gradually our dollars. Oh, and sometimes, you have “to flirt” with us, shoppers, when we are comparing prices! In addition, even if you are sold on investing into search – do not forget other channels. I see that some marketers falsely abandon other channels and start chasing the “hottest” paid search.  But if you think again from the buyer perspective – to make me search for you and your product – I need to become aware of it and be exposed to messages about it. Thus, it is only common sense to view your effective paid search campaigns supplemented and augmented by other marketing programs, be those display ads, product placements or social media engagement campaigns.

So, what are you waiting for? Need more convincing evidence? Read my prior post “All You Need To Know About Selling Online Today From Top 100 Online Retailers.” Or, go and implement some ideas above!

All You Need to Know About Selling Online Today from Top 100 Online Retailers

If you sell online or think of doing it, the first question you might have: “What are the best of online retailers do?”. Scouting the web for a few hours might bring you great insights. You will even save a number of favorites. Sounds a bit tedious? But, guess what – there is already a good source publication that did a comprehensive analysis for people like you and me. You will learn all you need to know about selling online today from the top 100 sites of 2009 and apply ideas shared for your site.

The recent article by Internet Retailer on America’s Best Retail Web Sites (Hot 100), provides wells of useful information for online retailers that delight its customers and sell more, segmented by the industry (apparel and accessories, books/film/music, computer/electronics, flowers/gifts/jewelry, food/drug, housewares and home, mass merchants, specialty and sporting goods). It is worthwhile to both study the article and visit those sites if you want to increase your conversions. No doubt that not all strategies shared might work for you and your customers, but at least this list will spike up your creativity.

The first four (4) strategies common for all 100 are as follows:

1) Create your own
Customization, or to be precise, personalization is well-received by the audience and goes beyond creating mini sites. You would say – well, who has the time to play with the site all day long? There are shoppers that love doing it, and there are ones that use those customized reviews or pages for their own needs. As an example, Spanish – speaking users of BestBuys.com, notably bring the printouts of other customers’ reviews to the store to make a purchase. TheKnot.com makes the whole bridal experience unique and self-well-planned!

2) Consumers have their say
Of course, social networks rule these days. “You tell me where you got that. As I want it …and I will tell a bunch of my friends and some. I might as well share about it on my Facebook or create a fan group”. People love sharing their purchase and brand preferences as well as bad customer experiences! People love extending their personality through the products they consume daily to connect more to the rest of the social circle! Use this opportunity with caution – by simply letting your customers do that – add “Share This” application on your pages – and the trick will happen! People want to know the opinions of their social network when it comes to buyer behavior. They love bragging about the best deal! Make the word-of-mouth easy for them! Reward them for the evangelism! Example – Popcuts.com, rewards its customers that buy early the tunes that become hits.

3) Beyond the site
Make the purchase feasible beyond your site – via text or other widget! American Eagles capitalizes well on the teenage seem-to-be-only-way-of-communication texting. Again, Facebook widgets and applications, YouTube widgets – all help to drive the magic of human capital. Capitalize on blogs – see what people are saying and deliver suggestions. They might outweigh all your PR efforts! Install live chats and instant-representative-call! See what happens.

4) The personal touch
This is my favorite: Borders.com allows its employees review new book arrivals and utilize their own expertise to share those. Skis.com posts videos of its employees trying on various merchandise and commenting on the experience! Imagine the possibilities! You can not only document the customer service value that your employees provide, you turn it into a personalized library and marketing material! Plus, both employees and customers enjoy it! Work and marketing benefit in-one.

The other best practices include:
a) Address a niche customer, make the design speak to a very particular audience, not all customers you can imagine. If you need, create a number of variants – you will sell more and return your web development costs very fast. “Serve your target, but serve it well!”

b) Simple is chic, and it does brings a buck. Make your audience online shopping experience easy from getting the need and desire to fulfillment. Make returns free and time-manageable, or to be correct time-feasible (45 days vs. 2 weeks). Simulate the try-on/usage experience – get the need started, visualized. Make it easy to share, save and review. Moreover, strive for a one click buy!

c) “Got 2 have it”, applies text messaging templates with merchandise codes for your customers (especially teenage or heavy users’ “tribe”). Influence the buyer behavior! Smart!

d) Visually rich, implies presenting your products in various formats, catering to diverse and ever-changing shopping experience a user might have. Use category menu, simulated try-ons, mix and match suggestions based on the browsing history. Brilliant! “Today, I know what I want and I go straight to the skirts section, tomorrow….I am just browsing and you might sell ideas if you help me see them!”

e) Use inspiring real-life imagery (related to the product, of course) to support the buying intent. Athleta did that well while illustrating that fashion and fitness go well together. Instead of using stunning models in exotic backgrounds, they used real-life women! Dah! Talking about the basics of personas and the benefits of good quality UI!

f) Connecting every day, allows you fortify relationships with your customers, keep them involved about new arrivals and deals! Do not forget to make it very personal, tailoring to their needs based on the purchase history. They left without a purchase since they had not found what they wanted! Alert them when the appropriate product arrives, win them back.

g) Online video demos go YouTube and all, provides you with an opportunity to make your audience watch it. Ok, you would argue – “But I will lose my traffic, I only want people come to my site!” Well, by loosening up controls, you can scoop more traffic from the most trafficked sites. This is what Roxy did, a site for women surfers – a niche, so underserved and unknown. By posting a video on YouTube, their site got 500,000 extra views in 48 hours.

h) Got a complex product? Educate your customers with free articles, dictionary references, and make it even customizable by expertise level (easy, hard and harder). See what Scholastic.com did! Take the stress out of buying and provide all-you-need-to-know-about-product content!

i) Power up your site search! Make it user-friendly! Try to use the same basics you use to bring traffic by your search campaigns, foresee search terms for your users – capitalize on our basic instinct to use a search bar! Dah! Moreover, segment the search outcome by low/high end options. Or segment your inventory at the minimum.

j) Speak the language of your customers, namely use the terms and “corky” copy to connect to their hearts and wallets. ThinkGeek.com did just that and made $33 million easily in 10 years.

k) Share your brand logos with your beloved customers to create personalized calendars, photos and greeting cards! That’s where your legal counsel might “irk”! But wait, remember when was the last time you really wanted to have your face on a T-shirt with your favorite “blank” product? See what MyMMs.com did.

l) Take a new look on navigation. Innovation does pay off and Overstock.com illustrates it well with its efficient site navigation. They synthesized online browsing and search experience! This is so breakthrough. If you have web design budget – replicate this valuable find within the next 6 months.

To learn more, you DO need to read the whole article! It will power your idea pool and make your online shopping experience so delightful as it did for me!

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