Online Retail Today
mobile commerce

Five Priorities To Make The Most Of Mobile Commerce In 2018

Years of predictions finally became reality this holiday season, with mobile activity playing a dominant role. To prepare for 2018, merchants should rigorously test the most popular activities on their own mobile sites, and prioritize investments accordingly.

By all counts, mobile played a central role during the peak holiday shopping period. As of December 5, mobile accounted for more than 48% of online shopping activity and nearly a third of online sales, according to Adobe. Furthermore, conversion rates for mobile had jumped 12.9% year over year, signaling that shoppers are increasingly comfortable completing transactions on their mobile devices.

This growth means mobile commerce must be considered a core component of merchants’ omnichannel commerce strategy. Just as “online shopping” is now simply “shopping,” “m-commerce” is now inextricably woven into all commerce — which means most merchants face a long list of to-dos in order to bring mobile experiences up to par.

After addressing fundamentals like mobile site speed, merchants should let shoppers’ experiences be their guide when it comes to prioritizing projects. Not only should merchants shop their own mobile sites; they should enlist others to identify potential hurdles along the mobile path to purchase. While it’s ideal to conduct formal testing with unbiased recruits in a lab where results can be painstakingly recorded, those with limited budgets can assemble an ad hoc group of testers from among colleagues, friends, and family on a range of devices who can at least screen-shot awkward mobile moments and pass them on for improvement.

 

Among the key mobile tasks to assess:

Locate products nearby using generic and branded search terms.

The majority of search engine activity occurs on mobile devices, both in terms of volume and clicks on the overwhelmingly-popular Google Shopping ads. Merchants should both hone paid-search budgets to focus on visibility for key terms, and optimize natural ranking factors for mobile.

Once searchers locate products, they should be able to access accurate inventory levels at local outlets. Close to 60% of shoppers said they planned to use “buy online, pick-up in-store” (BOPIS) options during the holidays, according to Kibo data, and 54% said local inventory information justified store visits. To connect shoppers with nearby products swiftly, local availability data should be just one or two taps away from mobile search landing pages; once shoppers select their preferred store location, subsequent browsing should reflect that choice and automatically display local inventory status.

 

Access buying guides and product reviews in-aisle.

Nearly 60% of shoppers use their smartphones to shop while inside physical store outlets, according to Retail Dive — behavior that should be supported to enable connection with relevant products. To start, merchants should offer free in-store wifi to support research and browsing and alert shoppers to its availability with signage at the entrance and in the aisles.

When it comes to specific product information, merchants should connect shoppers to relevant content via QR codes, shortcut URLs, or even image-recognition search tools that take input from camera-phone snapshots. Product reviews are key purchase drivers, with 82% of overall online shoppers saying reviews influence buying decisions, according to Kibo data. When it comes to in-store behavior specifically, 41% of shoppers who use their phones while in the aisles seek out in-depth product information, with a third accessing reviews in particular, according to technology researcher Forrester.

 

Request customer service help via social media.

Social media is an increasingly popular means for shoppers to lodge customer service queries, and given that a whopping 79% of social media activity now occurs on smartphones, according to measurement firm comScore, merchants would do well to ensure that social customer service is attuned to the needs of mobile shoppers. That means proactively inviting transitions from wall or news feed posts to private-message queues, and then incorporating click-to-call options along the way to let shoppers know they don’t need to keep pecking out questions on small-screen keyboards.

In addition to removing technical and logistical hurdles, merchants should remove barriers to problem resolution by empowering social customer service staffers to access incomplete online orders, enter payment information, and award free shipping and other discounts at their discretion.

 

Purchase products for home delivery.

The growth of mobile commerce signals that shoppers are ready to go beyond research and make purchases on mobile devices — but many retailers’ sites still deliver a clunky small-screen experience from the cart onwards, with long checkout forms that make buying a chore.

When asked what single improvement would convince them to buy on mobile devices, 19% of shoppers said faster sites would help, 15% wanted enhanced security, and 13% sought one-click ordering, according to eMarketer. To meet these expectations, merchants need to translate proven best practices for communicating security and earning trust to small screens. Streamlining checkout by offering alternative payment options can also help boost efficiency and win sales.

Once ordering is complete, merchants should offer the option to receive post-transactional messaging via text message as well as email — thereby taking advantage of a ubiquitous mobile-only medium to engage customers.

 

Apply loyalty rewards while shopping and buying on mobile.

One way to help shoppers streamline mobile purchasing is by convincing them to create an account, thereby enabling saved addresses, payment information, and more. Connecting online accounts to loyalty incentive programs can also help — that is, if shoppers can actually apply points and perks during the mobile shopping purchase process.

The good news is that integration efforts have the potential to pay off: fully 72% of holiday shoppers told Kibo they’d be willing to create an account, suggesting that merchants who promote the omnichannel benefits of doing so — and then follow through on their promises — can reap significant rewards.

 

Read about how Kibo’s omnichannel commerce platform helps merchants integrate mobile into every phase of the customer lifecycle. And tell us: what mobile features and functionality are you testing now for potential improvement in 2018?

NRF 2018

The Top 5 Reasons To Meet With Kibo at NRF 2018

The Top 5 Reasons To Meet With Kibo At NRF 2018

1. Time is Money

Get to know us and our products in about 15 minutes when you visit our booth 4145 during an Omnichannel Speed Session, no appointment necessary. Full list of mini sessions here.

 

2. We Believe In The Power Of Stores

Here at Kibo we firmly believe the store is still a valuable player in commerce but only if they are optimized with omnichannel technology. We have the technology, you have the stores, now let’s get to work.

 

3. Brands Are Back In Town

The industry is obsessing over retailing, but we want to put brands back in the spotlight. At NRF we invite you to find out how Maui Jim overcame the challenge of Buy Online Pickup In Store at an Exhibitor Big Ideas Session entitled “Omnichannel 2.0 for Brands” on Monday at 9:15am.

Exhibitor Big Ideas: Omnichannel 2.0 for brands
Monday, 1/15, 9:15-10:00 am, Big Ideas Room 3, Level 1

 

4. Your Vision Is Our Vision

Consistent brand experience is something many brands and retailers struggle with, and was one of the challenges Kibo solved for Brother Canada:

“We also wanted to convey who Brother Canada was, and what its soul is. Finding that balance of telling our story and selling was not easy to achieve, but we are very happy with the results.” – France Landreville, Sr. Director, Marketing and eCommerce, Brother Canada.  See full story here

 

5. Because Amazon Is Alive And Well

In this era of Amazon and Walmart it’s becoming more and more important to create your own competitive advantage. Do this by optimizing your teams, technology, and inventory with our technology.

Book a meeting and we will see you at booth 4145 at NRF.

holiday strategies for year round success

Holiday strategies to adopt year-round for 2018 success

The close of the holiday season brought plenty to celebrate, with sales outpacing predictions and eCommerce once again fueling overall growth with double-digit gains. But that doesn’t mean sellers can take success for granted in 2018. Rather, to remain competitive they must continue to implement the holiday strategies that showed success and focus relentlessly on the customer’s point of view — ensuring their brand experience stands out.

Holiday retail sales overall rose 4.9 percent year-over-year, the biggest increase since 2011, according to preliminary results from Mastercard SpendingPulse. The strong showing beat the National Retail Federation’s prediction of a 3.6 to 4 percent gain.

As in previous years, online commerce was the engine driving overall growth: eCommerce revenues jumped 18 percent, according to Mastercard. Mobile commerce demonstrated its worth, with fully a third of sales on Cyber Monday originating on mobile devices, according to Adobe Data. Mobile traffic and revenues spiked still higher on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, when consumers were away from their computers but still at leisure to browse and buy.

While the rising holiday tide lifted all boats, giving retailers respite from doom-and-gloom forecasts, there were clear standouts. Those who outpaced the pack went well beyond simply offering standalone eCommerce, mobile, and store “channels” to creating integrated, alluring experiences.

The principles behind the leaders’ winning strategies are worthy of consideration. As we’ve written previously, merchants of all stripes must contend with Amazon, which captured 44% of all online sales in 2017; by learning from the holiday highlights, merchants stand a better chance of differentiating their brands and earning sales in 2018. Among the principles to consider:

 

Reimagine brand offerings as experiences, not commodities.

 

Most merchants can’t afford to compete with the likes of Amazon on price alone. So to appeal to shoppers, sellers must create value in the brand experience itself — shifting the focus from a pure calculus of products, order costs, and discounts toward something more ineffable. Rich online content, customer communities, savvy apps, and immersive store environments must work in concert to create a connection with the brand that goes beyond the price tag. Personalization can further enrich the experience by delivering only the most relevant products, store events, how-to content, and recommendations.

For retailers, the experience imperative means rethinking store space to accommodate consultative sales, interactive displays, and signage and shelf tags that connect shoppers to online resources. For manufacturers, definitive and robust online content about products, apps that serve essential needs for customers, and stellar customer support can go a long way toward delivering a standout experience; popup stores within retail outlets or at key events can boost visibility in the physical world.  

Lululemon Athletica, which saw sales jump 15% year over year during the fourth quarter, has built community both via an online hub and in physical stores, where customers can not only shop for athletic apparel, but take yoga classes and get recommendations for local fitness classes to try.

 

Don’t let customers see you sweat the details.

 

Part of creating a rich brand experience means eliminating distractions and barriers, especially when it comes to purchasing and fulfillment. By easing logistics so they can essentially be taken for granted, merchants can help maintain the focus on the products and services that inspire and delight.

Of course, a seamless customer experience is the result of complex technology integrations behind the scenes. Manufacturers must quell concerns about channel conflict and ease connections with products, whether by seamlessly displaying inventory availability through retail partners, by offering “buy now” capabilities for direct-to-consumer sales, or both.

For retailers, real-time inventory visibility is by now essential. Indeed, 81% of consumers have used inventory lookup tools before visiting stores, and 80% said they’d be less likely to patronize brands that didn’t offer the capability, according to Kibo data.

And enterprise-wide inventory visibility can help merchants serve customers whose expectations for flexible, fast delivery continue to rise. During the holiday season, mass merchant Target used store outlets to fulfill some 70% of online orders, thereby leveraging its nationwide network to draw on existing inventory and deliver efficiently to customers. Target reported overall sales gains of 3.4% for November and December, with online sales growing 25% for 2017.

 

Know when to set loose the machines — and be transparent about it.

 

There’s no question that artificial intelligence is on the rise. In 2018, one in 10 purchase decisions are forecast to be mediated by intelligent agents such as Amazon’s Alexa, according to technology researcher Forrester. To compete, sellers must stay at the forefront of AI offerings, and understand the benefits and drawbacks. While attempting to replicate the complex interaction of a store associate helping a shopper — with all the intuition, body language, spoken intonation, and visual cues that entails — is a long ways off, simple AI applications can now handle the straightforward requests that comprise the bulk of customer service inquiries.

Direct-messaging chatbots can deliver store locations and hours, book in-store appointments, locate assembly instructions or how-to videos, and update delivery status for orders — thereby freeing human live chat and phone service agents to tackle the truly complex interactions that call for nuance and higher decision making. Such partitioning of labor delivers superior service to customers: chatbots can quickly handle volumes of simple requests, thereby fulfilling expectations for quick response, while in-depth human interactions for complex questions demonstrate brand know-how and commitment to service.

During the holidays, Best Buy’s chatbot delivered order status information and fulfilled other simple requests. The service identified itself as an automated response system, rather than attempting to pass itself off as a human — thereby clearly setting expectations for its capabilities. The system used verification questions to maintain privacy and security when accessing order information.

 

Which successful holiday strategies will you carry into 2018 to drive sales and loyalty?

Four Ways to Think Store First with Mobile

RWD, AMP, PWA? The ABCs of prioritizing mobile investments for 2018

As mobile investments assume primary importance in the omnichannel shopping experience, merchants must balance building rich experiences with rising consumer expectations for mobile site speed. Prioritizing which programming and design techniques will achieve the greatest benefits for the widest audience is the first step toward successful implementations in 2018.

Merchants needn’t look far to find the latest evidence of mobile’s swift and increasing dominance of the shopping experience. Some 59% of shoppers say they’re planning to make a purchase on a mobile device at some point during the current holiday season — a jump of more than 37% from just a year ago, according to Deloitte’s 2017 holiday study.

In response to consumers’ increasing mobile usage, Google has shifted its algorithm to favor sites that are optimized for mobile. A 2015 change dubbed “Mobilegeddon” began prioritizing mobile-friendly results, and the ultimate goal of a mobile-first index that assigns rank primarily based on mobile site performance and content could arrive as early as 2018.

For merchants striving to keep up with both consumer expectations and search engine algorithms, it’s been a breakneck series of developments, accompanied by a wave of innovations. Among them:

 

RWD and PWA for rich mobile experiences

Responsive Web Design (RWD), a technique which optimizes sites on the fly to render legibly across devices, helps merchants meet consumers’ expectations for rich mobile experiences that are consistent with desktop versions. By and large, merchants have moved away from maintaining separate mobile and desktop sites in favor of RWD: more than 50% of eCommerce sites are now responsive, compared with just under 18% using separate mobile URLs, according to Smashing Magazine.

A still more recent toolset, collectively known as Progressive Web Apps (PWA), enable delivery of features such as push notifications and offline browsing within the mobile web site, rather than in separate downloadable apps. And because PWAs can make use of cached content, they can boost speed. While adoption of PWAs is still far from widespread, early metrics are encouraging, with some sites reporting 50% higher conversions via PWAs versus standard mobile Web sites.

 

AMP for speed

As consumers increasingly use mobile sites, expectations for speed are on the rise. The oft-cited statistic that shoppers abandon sites taking longer than 3 seconds to load is only part of the story. Fresh data from Google found that abandonment probability rises swiftly even within that relatively short timeframe: if page load speed increases from 1 to 3 seconds, the likelihood of abandonment increases by 32%.

To meet consumers’ expectations for mobile site speed, Google has backed the development of Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMP for short. The open standard enables developers to publish stripped-down versions of pages and even have them cached on Google’s servers for lightning-fast delivery. Sites conforming to AMP code standards are now badged in search results; given that page load speed has been a ranking factor for years, the imminent switch to mobile-first indexing may give AMP-optimized sites an SEO edge.

Facebook offers its own version of accelerated pages, called Instant Articles, but so far adoption is low, at just 2% of sites, according to Smashing Magazine. By comparison, close to 1 in 10 Web sites now offer AMP versions, including a growing contingent of retailers that includes eBay.

 

Getting it right for 2018

The wide array of options for mobile investments may leave merchants struggling to prioritize projects heading into the new year. But they can achieve success if they:

  • Invest in sound code. Whichever technique merchants adopt is more likely to succeed if they possess the expertise to implement it correctly. Early instances of responsive sites featured bloated code that slowed site speed; newer PWAs rely on sound caching architecture to maintain speed and functionality.
  • Keep the focus on swift task completion. Shoppers who turn to mobile devices likely have a goal in mind rather than a desire to browse aimlessly. In Deloitte’s holiday study, for example, tasks such as checking order status, comparing prices, and finding store locations were among the top five shopping functions for mobile shoppers. Merchants should focus mobile investments on tools that make such functions efficient and fast.

 

With those precepts in mind, we recommend that merchants:

Continue investment in RWD.

A unified code base continues to offer merchants the most streamlined means to deliver rich, consistent experiences across devices. Kibo’s industry-leading eCommerce platform is designed with mobile in mind and integrates responsive design throughout merchant sites.

Prioritize focused experiments with PWAs over native apps.
PWAs that help shoppers complete key tasks within the mobile Web environment have the potential to demonstrate customer-friendly efficiency to the widest possible audience. PWA features such as push alerts have the potential to drive significant engagement via mobile devices, while offline browsing enables shoppers to have a seamless experience on the go even when connectivity is spotty.

By contrast, merchants should recognize that only a subset of brand loyalists are likely to download and routinely use native apps; while mobile consumers report using an average of 25 apps monthly, fully 77% of time spent is devoted to their top three apps, according to measurement firm comScore. And with social, messaging, and search apps dominating the top 10 in app penetration, merchants can’t count on significant usage of their app offerings.

Wait and watch AMP developments closely.

While the prospect of lightning-fast load times is enticing, AMP has generated a fair amount of skepticism. The AMP standards require a stripped-down version of pages; while it’s possible to integrate simple versions of features such as customer reviews and product recommendations, AMP requires a different set of code than for the regular mobile Web site or desktop site. So to embark on AMP, merchants must return to maintaining two versions of their Web offerings. Furthermore, tracking usage of AMP pages is complicated by Google’s AMP caching service. In effect, AMP-optimized pages act as teaser content akin to a search ad, with trackable user activity only kicking in once shoppers transition onto the merchant site.

 

For now, merchants can work to satisfy shoppers’ need for mobile speed with a focus on sound RWD and PWA development. But with the rollout of Google’s mobile-first index, they should stay abreast of how AMP will affect organic page rank, and act accordingly.

 

How are you prioritizing mobile investments for 2018 and beyond?

bopis, personalization amazons shortcomings

Amazon’s Secret Shortcomings and How to Capitalize on Them

By multiple measures, online is surpassing in-store as the growth driver for the 2017 holiday season — and Amazon is leading the way. With the online giant poised to make even greater gains in 2018, merchants must act now to heighten and promote their unique advantages.

Once again, online shopping is powering retail growth during the holiday season. eCommerce revenues represented 57.6% of the total retail sales growth for the period from Black Friday through Cyber Monday, and accounted for one in five dollars spent overall, according to Internet Retailer. Cyber Monday alone brought in close to $6.6 billion in online revenues, making it the largest eCommerce sales day to date.

Meanwhile, foot traffic retail outlets decreased by just under a percentage point on Black Friday compared with the prior year, according to ShopperTrak, and Internet Retailer estimates in-store sales growth of around 2.5% — healthy, but nowhere near the rocketing increase in online activity.

The online growth is driven by consumers who increasingly express a preference for online shopping during the holidays. Fully 50% of participants in Deloitte’s pre-season survey said they favored going online for gifts, while participants in Kibo’s holiday survey named convenience, the lack of crowds, competitive prices, and wide selection as the top reasons they preferred shopping online.

The single brand benefiting most from this changing sentiment is, not surprisingly, Amazon.com. Amazon generated more than 56% of online shopping sales over the Thanksgiving-to-Cyber-Monday period now dubbed The Cyber Five, according to Internet Retailer. Hitwise reported that on Cyber Monday itself, some 60% of all online transactions were conducted on Amazon.

As Amazon’s juggernaut plows through the season, there’s a ripple effect for merchants in the form of rising shopper expectations. Amazon’s Prime service, which offers free two-day shipping to its 90 million members (that’s a quarter of the U.S. population),  now sets the standard for delivery that’s both free and fast. The site’s more than 300 million SKUs prompt shoppers to expect that they’ll be able to find “long-tail” rarities online.

And, of course, Amazon’s practice of undercutting the competition on product pricing has led shoppers to expect online deals. Indeed, relevant discounts topped the list of expectations for eCommerce sites in the Kibo holiday survey, with 70% of respondents saying they expected to see them when shopping online.

But for many small- and mid-sized merchants, a race to the bottom when it comes to pricing is dangerous to start, as are perennial free shipping offers that erode margins. Instead, in order to take advantage of secret Amazon’s shortcomings, merchants must maintain and grow their businesses by doubling down on their unique assets, demonstrating worth through relevance and creating a valuable experience that spans touchpoints.

 

In 2018, merchants should prioritize:

BOPIS. Buy online, pickup in-store, aka BOPIS, is a retailer’s magic bullet when it comes to fast, convenient, and free online order fulfillment. In order to meet and exceed expectations, however, merchants must execute flawlessly, which means deployment and exhaustive testing of:

  • Real-time inventory visibility. More than one in two shoppers in Kibo’s holiday survey said they use online inventory information to justify a trip to the store, so that information must be accurate, especially during peak seasons when store stock is in rapid flux. Flagging items that are almost gone in stores can give shoppers extra motivation to commit to purchasing online before jumping in the car.
  • Speedy site-to-store fulfillment. Shoppers expect BOPIS to beat home-delivery orders when it comes to speed, with more than 80% saying they their items should be ready for pickup within 24 hours and 59% expecting pickup within 4 hours, according to a BOPIS study by Bell & Howell.  Merchants should meet this expectation wherever possible and promote it, flagging items available for one- or two-hour pickup on the product detail page as well as highlighting the overall speed of BOPIS service.
  • Seamless and efficient pickup execution. Merchants should invest heavily in testing post-purchase transactional messaging and in-store pickup processes to ensure BOPIS delivers on its promise. Notification messages should clearly spell out next steps for pickup, store signage should prominently point the way to pickup desks, and the counters should be adequately staffed to reduce wait times. While merchants may be tempted to place pickup counters at the back of stores in the hopes of encouraging additional purchases, delivering on the expectation of speedy pickup can foster longer-term loyalty. In fact, to make the process more efficient, merchants should even consider self-service lockers, which are rapidly being deployed for Amazon in Whole Foods locations, and holiday curbside service for BOPIS orders.

 

Real-time personalization. Creating valuable brand experiences means delivering relevance in the moment, from showcasing unique finds that match shoppers’ holiday gift lists to offering proactive suggestions based on past orders. Shoppers now expect merchants to be able take into account their past interactions with the brand when it comes to site offers and content, and while personalization has been a buzzword for years, the latest real-time individualization tools can help merchants realize the goal of providing one-to-one shopping experiences. To deliver on the promise of personalization, merchants should employ:

  • Explicit as well as implicit personalization tools. While much is made of technologies that churn through behind-the-scenes big data to power product recommendations, merchants can also deploy features that ask shoppers to volunteer information outright. By taking a page from concierge-style startups like StitchFix and Trunk Club, merchants can ask shoppers to create style profiles that can then be used to inform product recommendations, buyers’ guides, and in-store personal shopping services; or, on a smaller scale, merchants can ask shoppers interested in new products from a particular line or brand name to sign up for alerts of upcoming launches. 
  • Robust loyalty programs. Merchants are increasingly investing in customer retention, and for good reason: returning buyers comprise just a third of customers, but account for 42% of online revenues, according to Forrester Research, Inc. Merchants can use loyalty points to their advantage to encourage engagement with the brand, offering rewards for activities that enrich customer profiles as well as deliver on the promise of personalized products and services. Offering exclusive perks — such as free expedited shipping for last-minute holiday shoppers, sneak peeks at new products, dedicated VIP BOPIS pickup counters, and members-only in-store events — can extend the benefits of membership beyond product discounts, and help customers maintain ties with the brand.

 

Read how Kibo’s industry-leading fulfillment and real-time individualization solutions can help merchants not only survive, but thrive in 2018.

GivingTuesday

Doing well by doing good: Year-round lessons from #GivingTuesday

Amidst the Black Friday / Cyber Monday / “Cyber-week” frenzy, it’s easy for merchants to overlook the charitable event dubbed #GivingTuesday — but that would be a mistake. Socially-responsible brands increasingly win more of shoppers’ business, so merchants should add winning #GivingTuesday strategies to their year-round playbooks to demonstrate goodwill and earn loyal fans.

Now in its fifth year, #GivingTuesday is intended to counterbalance the Thanksgiving weekend shopping spree with a day of philanthropy celebrated on the highly-visible stage of social media. The event has caught on, with one in four Americans aware of it as of last year, according to the Harris Poll.  Donations have increased steadily: in 2016, the event drove $168 million in donations — a 44% increase from 2015 — and this year’s tally is on track to top $180 million.

Given the focus on charity rather than consumerism, it may seem counter-intuitive for merchants to participate in #GivingTuesday. And indeed, with the expansion of Black Friday and Cyber Monday into week-long promotions, many sellers have remained wholly focused on winning holiday shoppers.

But dozens of brands do take up the #GivingTuesday banner, including some of the biggest names in online commerce, such as eBay, which this year pledged to help combat hunger by donating proceeds from the sale of exclusive products and celebrity experiences. A home page promotion and global header banner reminded shoppers to contribute to the cause, which was also promoted heavily on social media.

Not only do such initiatives present an opportunity for companies to give back, but they’re savvy from a business perspective, too. Evidence is mounting that consumers are more likely to buy — and buy more — from brands connected with social causes: 60% of consumers believe doing good should be part of a brand’s core mission, according to Edelman, while Nielsen found that two-thirds of consumers overall and 72% of teenagers say they’re willing to pay more for goods from brands that support social and environmental sustainability.

Furthermore, standing up for causes can boost both acquisition and retention. Edelman found that 50% of consumers say they’ll buy or boycott a brand based on its stance on controversial issues; of those, 67% said they’d try new brands that support their beliefs, while 51% said they’d stay loyal to those brands.

While these numbers are compelling, merchants can get into trouble if they hop on a bandwagon with solely mercenary motives. Consumers believe brands are most obligated to act on issues that affect customers or employees or influence how their products are made or used, Edelman found — which means that without an authentic connection to the brand’s core identity, a charitable campaign can fall flat. While social media is an ideal medium to share successful charitable initiatives, it can also whip up a frenzied backlash for initiatives that hit the wrong notes (Pepsi, anyone?).

So merchants should select their causes carefully, and consider making appeals throughout the year — not just for feel-good effect during the holiday season. Among the winning #GivingTuesday strategies to consider retooling for year-round use:

 

Find occasions to rally around. While #GivingTuesday is a high-profile event for every kind of charity, specific causes also spotlight other days, weeks, or months for heightened awareness or community action. Merchants supporting those organizations should plan their charitable campaigns accordingly, thereby demonstrating to their core audience that the brand is authentically attuned to the causes they care about.

 

Model community involvement, not just cutting a check. Small- to mid-sized retailers without big budgets for charitable giving can demonstrate their commitment to causes by showcasing other ways to contribute — from company employees taking volunteer days together to in-store toy or food drives to organizing local fundraising events for selected charities. Such activities not only demonstrate company goodwill, but give causes a wider platform via the merchant’s audience of brand followers.

For this year’s #GivingTuesday, Kibo merchant Francesca’s sent several team members to local animal shelters near the company’s headquarters in Houston to donate supplies and food contributed by employees. The day kicked off with a Facebook Live announcement of the day’s activities, and was documented via an Instagram story that solicited responses from followers. Francesca’s demonstrated a long-term commitment to the cause — the company has been involved in animal rescue efforts since Hurricane Harvey hit months ago — and spotlighted animal welfare for the brand’s 600,000+ social media followers.

 

Encourage and reward sharing of good deeds. To go even further to shine a spotlight on community activism, merchants can use their platform to share brand followers’ own stories of volunteerism and charity. Incentivizing user-generated submissions with a donation for every entry, or with a prize drawing for a donation to the winner’s charity of choice, gives audience members further cause to share. Such initiatives both encourage followers to do good works, and give merchants heightened visibility among participants’ own friends and followers when they post hashtagged content.

Offer “one for one” purchasing. The “one for one” model pioneered by Tom’s shoes, whereby each time a product is purchased another is donated to a worthy cause, has caught on like wildfire. Sellers of everything from socks to sunglasses have launched in the past five years with the “one for one” promise built into companies’ DNA. But traditional merchants needn’t miss out on the trend: they can offer “one for one” deals  in conjunction with charitable campaigns, using limited-edition items, exclusives, or top sellers to help drive sales and donations.

On #GivingTuesday, children’s clothing manufacturer Carter’s partnered with the Pajama Program to offer a “one for one” drive, with each pajama purchase earning a donation to the organization, which delivers new pajamas and good-night stories to children in homeless shelters, foster care, and other organizations working with at-risk youth.

 

How did your brand mark #GivingTuesday, and how do you demonstrate social responsibility throughout the year?

 

grace hopper women in tech

Key Takeaways From The Grace Hopper Celebration

Written by Jennifer Sherman, Senior Vice President, Product and Strategy at Kibo

 

I had the opportunity to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration produced by AnitaB.org, the premier conference for women in tech. The conference had many different tracks, including computer systems engineering, data science, artificial intelligence, IoT/wearable technology, security and privacy, etc.  The days were filled with inspiration and insight, and these are my key takeaways from the conference:

1. Machine learning is quickly becoming required learning for computer scientists.
From the sheer volume of machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence  (AI) sessions at the conference it was clear that not only are these popular topics for discussion, but also popular topics for application as key to the evolution and education of every programmer.  The conference provided classes on theory behind the technology, applications of AI at different companies, and where the space is going in terms of advancement of core data sciences as well as technology roadmaps that are incorporating AI into their platforms.  Here at Kibo we use machine learning to propel basic personalization platforms into individualization platforms. The conference gave further proof that retailers and manufacturers place a high importance on machine learning. This aligns well with the Kibo product offering, as we are providing these capabilities for our clients to really stand out in the crowded and competitive commerce space.

2. We all need growth and development at every phase of our career. 
I participated on a panel at the Senior Women’s Symposium at the Grace Hopper Celebration.  This was an invitation only special track at the conference for women who are further along in their career than most conference attendees.  My panel focused on navigating your career, job politics, and making big changes as a more senior leader.

While many of us may be jaded when it comes to conversations about the networking imperative, the importance of a mentor, and the job fair-like atmosphere of a big conference like Grace Hopper, I was reminded that no matter our career seniority, we all seek advice, we all still want to meet more women in roles similar to ours, and we all still wonder where our next big opportunity can come from and how we can prepare for it.

One of the general session keynote speakers, Mary Spio, had evolved her career from Air Force Servicewoman to Aeronautical Engineer to AR/VR entrepreneur and CEO.  If a background in engineering can serve a person through that extreme level of career transition and transformation, then we as an industry that relies on talent need to be ready to support women and men through massive changes at all levels of seniority.  This was the first conference I’ve attended that has run this sort of track and it really served their participants well.

3. Who run the world? Girls!
GraceHopper brought together thousands of women (and a good number of men) at all stages in their lives to talk about our careers, our technologies, our lives, our work, and our support systems.  Hundreds of recruiters were on hand to reach out to the attendees. Hundreds of meetups, meetings, parties, breakouts, and sessions gave women a chance to meet, network, and build plans.  Tens of thousands of new connections were made. The spirit of connecting and supporting was contagious, and  I personally volunteered to be a community leader for a local Dallas chapter of AnitaB.org because I didn’t want that feeling to end.  Women and their supporters were organizing, collaborating, and having a great time doing it.  Technology companies were on hand to support, recruit, hire, or just meet and encourage.

Through AnitaB.org and their annual celebration at Grace Hopper, thousands of women got a taste of what it feels like to be part of the army that is women in technology and, if they are anything like me, they left exhilarated, enthusiastic, and ready to take on the world.

Buy Online Pickup In-Store, BOPIS

New Report: 25% Increase In Consumers Planning On Using BOPIS This Holiday!

Buy online pickup in-store (aka BOPIS) services have been growing steadily in popularity, and give retailers an edge when it comes to fast, free order fulfillment. In the fiercely competitive holiday environment, new Kibo research gives merchants new ways to promote the BOPIS service to maximize its usage and thereby cement their brands’ reputations for stellar service.

According to the new research presented in Kibo’s Holiday Consumer Trends Report, consumers say they’ll rely on BOPIS more than ever. Close to 60% of shoppers said they’ll select the service, an increase of more than 25% over last year. Year-round, Kibo research indicates that fully 78% of consumers have used BOPIS services in the past six months, demonstrating that store pickup services are now considered mainstream.

Evidence suggests buy online pickup in-store has a positive impact on the bottom line. For starts, more than 70% of shoppers say they made further impulse purchases when they visited stores to pick up items ordered online, according to research cited by eMarketer.

BOPIS has the added benefit of differentiating small to mid-sized retailers compared with online-only behemoths such as eBay or Amazon, which can’t compete with the niche expertise and personal service specialty retailers can offer in stores. Amazon’s launch of its own brick-and-mortar locations and acquisition of Whole Foods supermarkets are testament to the importance of physical store outlets.

During the all-important holiday season, then, it makes sense for merchants to make the most of the BOPIS services they offer. That means positioning BOPIS to address consumers’ expectations for holiday offerings and promoting it throughout the path to purchase, not just in the cart and checkout. Among the promotion options:

 

BOPIS is the default free option. Consumers’ desire for free shipping is as strong as ever, with 70% saying they expect free standard delivery during the holidays, according to the new Kibo data. And they recognize cost savings as the primary benefit of BOPIS, with 66% saying that’s why they’re likely to use it. Not only can buy online pickup in-store help meet these expectations, but it can help merchants stay competitive even if they can’t afford to offer frequent free home delivery promotions (or across-the-board free shipping) during the holidays.

Spotlight BOPIS for cart abandoners. The cart abandonment rate hovers around 60% and is likely to spike higher during the holiday season, when consumers are researching and comparing total order costs at a furious clip. To lure them back, 71% of shoppers say merchants should provide a discount, and 69% say they hope offers triggered by cart abandonment will specifically contain free shipping. Spotlighting BOPIS in abandonment emails gives merchants the means to save the sale with free fulfillment — without breaking the bank.

BOPIS helps combat last-minute crowds. When asked why they prefer to shop online, 58% of consumers in Kibo’s holiday study cited the lack of crowds and lines, and 68% said it’s more convenient than visiting stores. And more than half said they’ll use buy online pickup in-store services to help them save time in stores. To highlight this benefit when it matters most, merchants can use BOPIS to reassure last-minute shoppers who missed shipping cutoffs by highlighting the speed and efficiency of store pickup services. Whether merchants follow Walmart’s lead and position pickup stations at the front of the store or not, they can make the process smooth by clearly communicating logistics in post-purchase emails and ramping up store signage to help holiday shoppers in their last-minute dash.

Concierge BOPIS service is a loyalty club perk. Extra loyalty club rewards were second only to discounts as the top way to improve the holiday shopping experience, according to Kibo holiday study participants. Furthermore, club members are looking for perks when it comes to shipping, with 49% saying they’d expect club membership to give them access to free home delivery. Merchants can enhance BOPIS services to help satisfy these expectations: they can accord loyalty members priority BOPIS service by giving them an express lane at service counters and offering to wrap gifts for free prior to pickup. Merchants could even connect buy online pickup in-store with personal shopping services and exclusive member events, enabling loyalty club members to have gifts picked and packed while they enjoy other store attractions.

 

Download Kibo’s Holiday Consumer Trends Report for further guidance on consumers’ omnichannel expectations for the holidays, from eCommerce site functionality to shipping speed to returns.

How to Use Personalization Throughout the Customer Lifecycle

How to use personalization throughout the customer lifecycle

After years of more talk than action, merchants are now making good on prioritizing personalization — and those who have done so report robust results. But with a sizable number of merchants still struggling to justify personalization investments, it’s essential to highlight how the right technology can impact the shopping experience well beyond personalized product picks.

Consumer expectations for personalized shopping experiences are higher than ever. Overall, more than half say it’s important for merchants to recognize them across touchpoints and tailor content and offers accordingly; and when it comes to in-store service, fully 74% of shoppers expect sales associates to have access to their online profiles, according to Kibo’s Consumer Trends Report.

These stated preferences are underscored by results from merchants who’ve implemented personalization. Shoppers are rewarding increased relevance with engagement: a whopping 82% of sellers report seeing an increase in traffic of at least 25% due to personalization efforts, according to a study from consultant McKiney’s Periscope service. And when it comes to sales, 51.3% of merchants report seeing conversion rates at least 50% higher for personalized offerings versus mass promotions, and two-thirds report realizing average order values (AOV) at least 50% higher when personalization is in play, McKinsey found.

Given these strong results, it’s not surprising that two-thirds of merchants in the McKinsey study said personalization was a top priority for their organizations; on-the-ground interactions with merchants at both IRCE and our own Kibo Summit bear out the research, suggesting that personalization is at the forefront of sellers’ to-do lists.

But even with momentum gathering toward personalization, merchants still face obstacles. More than one in five still report struggling to receive buy-in from top management, McKinsey found, while 25% report difficulties in justifying new personalization investments. And even with budget approvals in hand, 41% report that the search for the right technology is slowing their personalization journey.

To both surmount the funding hurdles and put potential vendors through their paces, merchants should build out use cases and projections that integrate personalization into every stage of the customer lifecycle. As we’ve discussed previously, personalization goes well beyond product recommendations and far beyond targeting based on customer segmentation. Among the ways personalization can drive ROI in unconventional ways:

Personalized on-site search to fuel more efficient discovery.  Thanks to real-time individualization technologies, merchant sites can adapt to reflect shoppers’ priorities over the course of a single session. That includes boosting on-site search intelligence to prioritize relevant products based on clues gleaned from shoppers’ browsing patterns. For example, a shopper who browses kids’ twin bunk beds on a home goods and furnishings store and then searches for sheets might see twin sheets with popular patterns for kids displayed topmost within the results set.

Given that close to one in three site visitors use on-site search and they’re twice as likely to convert if their searches are successful, merchants should place a premium on making the tool as relevant as possible with a minimum of extra keyword inputs or clicks. 

Tools to help shoppers pick up where they left off in the consideration phase. Fully three quarters of those who’ve abandoned carts say they actually intend to return to the same site to complete purchases, according to Business Insider, making cart abandonment potentially a mere detour on the path to purchase. Merchants would do well not only to cater to cart abandoners with triggered email alerts, but to make re-entry into the site as easy as possible. Prominently positioning recently-viewed products and items left behind in shopping carts on the home page and landing pages lets shoppers resume their consideration swiftly and smoothly. Currently, just 40% of Top 100 merchants personalize product arrays on the home page for returning visitors — making such service a potential brand differentiator as well as a boon to shoppers.

Relevant how-to content to stimulate re-engagement post-purchase. Consumers who’ve just taken delivery of items are receptive to further suggestions from merchants: one in five say they want to better understand the full value of their items, and 14% seek information on related products or services, Forrester Research, Inc., found. The key is for merchants to fully comprehend the context of the purchase and to pinpoint the most relevant follow-up content and offers.

For example, a simple product recommendation engine might serve a laptop buyer recommendations for accessories such as cases and cords, but savvy personalization technology might factor in the timing of the purchase in early August plus prior purchasing patterns and display a bevvy of back-to-school deals when the shopper next visits the site, in addition to a how-to video specific to the buyer’s make and model, a link to further specs and documentation, and a spotlight on technology classes and events for students at the nearest physical store outlet.

How are you using personalization throughout the customer lifecycle beyond cross-sells and upsells to deliver better shopping experiences?

Social Media Shopping

Four Ways To Inspire On Social Media This Holiday Season

The influence of social media on commerce is now undeniable, even if the revenue attribution models remain fuzzy. During the holiday season, it’s more important than ever that merchants use their social media savvy to stand out from the crowd and engage shoppers — and it’s not too late to tweak campaigns for maximum relevance and impact.

Social media has become a popular resource for product ideas and recommendations. When asked where they turn for shopping inspiration, close to 40% of consumers chose social media — putting it ahead of individual merchant websites, marketplaces, and price comparison sites, according to research from consulting firm PwC; overall, nearly 80% of consumers globally report making a purchase influenced by social media. Overall social usage continues to spread: fully two-thirds of U.S. online consumers belong to at least one social network, making brand outposts a necessity.

During the holidays, social media can help brands differentiate themselves from the competition by showcasing authentic voices and unique, festive content to inspire gift purchases. While marketing calendars have been in place for months, social media is a responsive medium that allows merchants to tweak ad placements on the fly in response to performance and to create posts based on up-to-the-minute content needs. Merchants should take advantage of this flexibility to develop up-to-the-minute campaigns and spotlight the content most likely to resonate with shoppers. Among the strategies to try:

 

Build energy around new and noteworthy items with user-generated buzz.

By now the benefits of user-generated content are beyond dispute: shoppers who interact with reviews, endorsements, and other product content contributed by their peers are 98% more likely to convert, according to Bazaarvoice, and merchants offering user-generated content achieve revenue per visit 106% higher than sellers who don’t.

Merchants should take advantage of the credibility and word-of-mouth boost from user-generated content to spotlight new products, seasonal favorites, and exclusive items on social media. Hashtag campaigns inviting customers to share why products are ideal gift picks and contests that require participants to promote their submissions to earn votes can spread the word quickly through social networks. Invitations to popular influencers to spread the word and incentives to customers who review products can also be beneficial, though merchants should be transparent about how such content is solicited and clearly label ad and promotional content as such.

Once they have a storehouse of content, merchants should take full advantage of it by using that content across touchpoints — from email marketing campaigns to in-store signage. And they shouldn’t neglect social-to-social synchronicity; popular Instagram campaigns and stories should be cross-posted to Facebook, Pinterest, and beyond.

 

Ride the coattails of trending hashtags.

While creating brand specific campaigns to solicit contributions from customers is a great way to generate buzz among existing followers, merchants should also use social media to pique the interest of new audiences. One way to do that is to create content that capitalizes on trending memes and hashtags beyond the brand. In addition to flagging posts related to big promotional events such as #blackfriday, merchants should be on the lookout for hashtags that are of-the-moment and offer a natural tie-in to their brands. Tools such as hashtags.org and merchants’ own social listening platforms can help identify popular terms, as can watching the feeds of key influencers to see what topics are generating the most chatter.

Kibo merchant Title Nine, which sells women’s recreational apparel, scored a two-fer during the recent solar eclipse. Customers posted images of themselves marking the event in  outfits they’d purchased from Title Nine using the seller’s #MyT9 campaign, which the company used to tie in to the popular #eclipse hashtag.

 

Showcase charitable giving.

During the holidays, local and national non-profits make appeals through events such as the #givingtuesday event in early December, in the hopes of benefiting from the generosity of the season. For merchants, there’s no better time to showcase charitable efforts or community benefit programs, and social media can help such messaging reach far and wide.

Not only do charitable campaigns raise awareness and funds for worthy causes, but the brand’s reputation benefits: 60% of consumers believe doing good should be part of a brand’s core mission, according to Edelman, while Nielsen found that two-thirds of consumers overall and 72% of teenagers say they’re willing to pay more for goods from brands that support social and environmental sustainability. Social promotions that spotlight holiday giving initiatives or “buy-one, donate-one” drives are good candidates for merchants, as are campaigns inviting followers to share their own stories around a charitable theme.

 

Pitch social campaigns to Baby Boomers.

Often considered the new-fangled domain of the young, social media’s fastest-growing age demographic is actually those age 50 or older. Given that the large and affluent Baby Boomer population controls 70% of disposable income in the U.S., and given that more than 70% of those aged 69 or older have purchased online in the past three months, it makes sense for merchants to court this segment as least as diligently as they do to Millennials.

In addition to offering gift suggestions for grandchildren and adult children, merchants should spotlight holiday-centric content that emphasizes swift and convenient service. Seniors are actually less tolerant of inefficient customer service transactions than the young, Forrester Research, Inc. found, with 54% of Baby Boomers saying they’ll abandon a purchase if they can’t find a quick answer to their question — a higher percentage than Generation Z. Campaigns can focus on easy gift card purchases or quick store pickup for online orders, while retargeting campaigns should enable picking up the purchase process where shoppers last left off.

Looking for more holiday readiness tips? Read the first, second, and third blog posts in the series here. To better integrate social and brand content in 2018 across touchpoints, check out Kibo’s omnichannel commerce solution and gain access to strategy expertise during the holidays and year round.