Online Retail Today
personal customer service

How to Balance Personal Customer Service and Automation for Maximum Impact

Personal customer service is a crucial brand differentiator, but the growing use of automated tools poses new challenges as well as promising new benefits. Heading into the crucial holiday season, sellers should redouble their efforts to provide customer service that is seamless and authentic.

Good customer service doesn’t just benefit brand reputation; it can have a tangible effect on the bottom line. Consumers are willing to pay a premium of 16% on goods and services enhanced by great customer experiences, according to firm PwC.

As companies boost investment in personalization and artificial intelligence (AI) to deliver on these expectations, the arena of personal customer service has seen new tools proliferate. Chat bots, automated SMS messaging, robots patrolling store aisles, and more all promise to enhance live customer service.

The danger is that a patchwork of technologies can deliver an inconsistent series of interactions for shoppers, creating experiences that are memorable for the wrong reasons. And consumers still value live, in-person service; 83% of consumers said interacting with real people will only become more important as technology improves, PwC found.

This preference, combined with the push for greater data privacy and transparency, signals that merchants should roll out automation efforts carefully, and promote the personal touch widely. To do so:

1) Strictly define use cases for automation — and be transparent.

Some 80% of routine information lookups can be handled by AI. But shoppers react negatively to machines masquerading as humans; so AI-driven tools should be explicitly identified as such, which helps set expectations for purely informational interactions. Complex queries should be transferred to live human help, and the handoff should be clearly communicated.

2) Train staff to leverage digital assets.

Whether in-store or online, shoppers equate good customer service with the ability to locate items quickly, a survey from the ICSC found. Staff on the sales floor and in the call center need to be able to tap inventory across the company and access customer profiles to make the most relevant recommendations; then present the most efficient fulfillment options.

3) Offer the human touch as a loyalty perk.

Style consultations and dedicated personal customer service lines that grant easy access to one-on-one experiences are essential. They can be positioned as value-added benefits to loyalty club members and other VIPs.

How is your business combining automated and personal service to meet consumers’ expectations?

store experience

Millennials want to visit stores. Really! 5 ways to improve store experience

Millennial stereotypes suggest they do everything on their phones, but in truth they still favor stores as much as other generations – if merchants provide the right store experience.

Some 82% of Millennials prefer shopping in-store, according to data from Accenture. The top reason? Like every generation, Millennials say only stores offer the chance to try items before purchasing them, Deloitte found.

The Millennial difference kicks in once they’ve inspected products in person, when they exercise their options as connected consumers. Some 56% place orders online after a store visit, according to research from Euclid. At the same time, some 48% of Millennials say they’re prone to making impulse purchases without prior research – more than Baby Boomers or Gen X, a survey from Bronto found. To cater to these dual online/offline sensibilities, stores should provide:

1) Product test drive capabilities.

Just seeing and touching items on the shelves isn’t enough. Retailers should do their utmost to deliver immersive “test drive” experiences that empower shoppers to put gear and electronics through their paces and to move around in apparel and footwear, not just appraise looks in an unflattering mirror.

2) Pop-up shops.

Temporary stores within stores that showcase a particular brand or even a seasonal theme are popular with Millennials, with two-thirds saying they’re likely to visit a pop-up store, Euclid found. Pop-ups fulfill Millennial expectations for novel store experiences, and 30% say associated discount offers are a draw as well.

3) Fast, free in-store wifi as the basis for mobile enhancements.

More than two-thirds of Millennials expect retailers to assist their in-store research habits with support for mobile technology, Bronto found, so merchants should offer a strong wifi signal. That connection can form the basis for innovative store experiences such as augmented-reality store navigation to personalized picks, smart shelf labels that connect to online resources, and quick mobile checkout.

4) Knowledgeable store associates.

More than a quarter of Millennials say they’re likely to enjoy interacting with store associates, and 11% say interactions with store staff strongly influence buying decisions. This is more than double the percentage of Gen X buyers who feel the same way, Euclid found. Shoppers should be able to summon store staff via their phones, and associates should be empowered to consult online resources and order histories.

5) Flawless BOPIS execution.

Millennials are more likely than their older counterparts to use Buy Online, Pickup In-Store, aka BOPIS; 47% say they use the service more than 40% of the time, according to Euclid. Merchants need to support seamless and efficient BOPIS shopping, starting with accurate inventory visibility online, which 89% of Millennials said influences store visits, Accenture found. Once in stores, the pickup process should be as efficient as possible; solutions include merchants vetting signage and adequate staff pickup and return counters.

How are you providing an immersive store experience for your customers? Learn more with Kibo.

increase foot traffic

 5 Ways for Retailers to Increase Foot Traffic  

With store closures skyrocketing in recent years, the retail sector is poised to lose over 100 million square feet of space in 2018. This equates to roughly 3,400 expected store closures stemming from what were once thought to be stable big-box chains, like Toys R Us, Sears, and Sam’s. These closures are a harrowing reminder that consumer expectations are always changing. Household names like JC Penney, Bebe, Radio Shack, Sports Authority, Cabela’s, Payless, Macy’s, and countless others are experiencing the pain striking the retail industry.

The traditional retail landscape has no doubt changed partly due to the global eCommerce industry, which is expected to grow to $3.4 trillion by 2019. Some retailers and brands may feel this is a threat to stores, but we see it as an opportunity.  With changing customer preferences there must be a change in tactics. Consider these five unconventional tips to increase foot traffic to your stores:

  1. Buy Online Pick Up In Store (BOPIS)
    A sure-fire way to increase foot traffic is through BOPIS. It is the perfect example of marrying eCommerce with traditional retail in stores. BOPIS gives customers greater control and convenience when purchasing their items.  Additionally, when BOPIS customers come to pick-up, our research has found that these customers make another purchase at least 40% of the time. The retailer who can flawlessly implement flexible fulfillment options will win the day. But a word to the wise: In order for customers to continue to use BOPIS over and over again, the entire experience needs to be easy and streamlined. It’s always a good idea to check in with in-store operations and get feedback from your customers.
  2. Local Inventory Availability  
    Simply put: if the consumer can’t see on the website that what they want is on the store shelf, they won’t risk a trip to the store. As stated above, customer expectations are changing, and our latest research found that 64% of customers expect to be able to view local product availability prior to visiting the store. Additionally, 81% of consumers said they have looked up inventory on a retailer’s website before visiting the store and 80% are less inclined to visit a store if a website does not provide current product availabilityThis is an enormous set of people who will make their purchase locations based on whether it’s obvious their desired item is available. Consumers have greater choice between individual retailers and will make decisions in their self-interest. Local inventory availability is a giant flag to customers that you have the items they need, right now. The visibility provided by a robust order management system is sure to address this. Find out everything you need to know about order management in this eBook, The Ultimate Guide to Order Management.
  3. Personalized Promotions  
    Retailers have the responsibility of using their online real estate to drive sales, and each pixel on your customers’ screens can be used to better serve them and your stores. Offering in-store promotions, even through email, will help build brand loyalty and invite customers to experience your stores.Customers are moving toward a distaste in generalized targeting, and a real thirst for personalized promotions. Kibo’s patented machine learning engine combines layers of algorithms with the online data hub to create a composite framework that delivers more meaningful results. With advanced individualization and a store-centric call to action, customers will find themselves in your store more frequently than if you were using a typical mailer.
  4. Transform Stores Into Experience Centers
    If the traditional retail store is failing on its own, then something must change. In addition to working hand in hand with eCommerce, a great way to increase foot traffic is to transform your stores into experience centers. It’s easy to look to popular beauty retailers as good examples of stores-as-experience-centers. In another example, some stores are implementing interactive dressing rooms with smart mirrors. Even Amazon has chosen this path, with their physical bookstores providing one of the most coveted experiences of their online shop: product reviews.And don’t forget about the power of the store associate. If the store associate is equipped with knowledge about a product, if only simply on a tablet, it makes in-store purchasing that much easier for the consumer. Drive brand loyalty and foot traffic by providing a consistent, unique, and fulfilling shopping experience.
  5. Go Mobile
    Go where your customers are: on their phones. Sticky sites build loyalty and raise your conversion rates. Any time spent on your site that creates a positive experience will surely capture attention, one of our most precious commodities. Customers are frequently on their phones because they are on the go. If your website isn’t optimized for mobile, no matter if you have BOPIS and local inventory visibility, if the customer can’t see that on their mobile phone then they simply won’t use it.Increase in-store foot traffic by increasing convenience via mobile websites. If a parent waiting to pick up their kid from soccer practice can easily use your website to get a question answered, even something as small as hours of operation, then they are much more likely to make a stop at your store before heading home instead of skipping you all together. Forrester’s annual retailer survey ranked mobile at the top of the list of strategic priorities for the fourth year in a row. This blog has 4 ideas about how to think about stores with mobile.

 

The retail space is certainly changing, and  companies must take a more nimble, calculated approach to promoting and selling their products. Those keeping up are the ones who place high priority on the complete unified omnichannel experience. Don’t give up on stores, just use them differently. How have you increased foot traffic?

retailers digital transformation

Retailers: It’s Not An Apocalypse, But An Evolutionary Event

What’s really going on in retail? Bankruptcies and store closures splash across front pages, while at the same time Amazon and Walmart make headlines with their latest and greatest innovations. To determine what is really going on in retail, a recent retail technology study produced by Retail Info Systems with research partner Gartner and sponsored by Kibo, received results from 90 retailers on the following:

  • annual sales volume,
  • primary business model,
  • top obstacles over the next 18 months,
  • top technology driven strategies over the next 18 months,
  • stage of their organization’s digital transformation, and more.

It was found that 77% of retailers did not achieve the average gain recorded for the overall industry in 2017. They either went backwards, stayed the same, or registered a sub-par increase.

Despite this finding, it was concluded that no, retail is not going extinct, but instead is experiencing an evolutionary event. The study encourages retailers to jump on the big opportunities and strong headwinds accelerating the pace of unified commerce and digital transformation.

From the study, “Amazon is not the asteroid that struck planet retail. Competitive pressures from disruptive, pure-play e-commerce players and new physical retailing models are causing radical changes to antiquated business models, driving down prices and driving up costs. Retailers are rightfully concerned about how to accomplish the herculean task of transforming a traditional, multichannel retailer into a digitally enabled provider of unified retail commerce.

To combat market share erosion and take advantage of the opportunities offered by digital transformation, multichannel retailers need to recognize that their extensive network of stores can be part of an effective, unified commerce strategy. Expanding unified commerce initiatives takes the number one spot on our list of top technology strategies pursued over the next 18 months.”

The top four technology driven strategies over the next 18 months are:

  1. Expanding unified commerce (omnichannel) initiatives 54%
  2. Leveraging social media engagement 54%
  3. Increasing customer engagement 51%
  4. Developing personalized marketing capabilities 47%

More and more we see the need to focus on the customer experience. This focus is represented in all three strategies above, as retailers aim to connect with consumers wherever they may be.

 

To learn more from this report download it now.

upgrade technology stack to saas solutions

Why SaaS Is The Right Answer To Upgrade Your Commerce Technology Platform

We are all reading the headlines of the retail apocalypse and it is causing retailers and branded manufacturers to rethink their digital and in-store strategies.  A significant portion of these strategic plans involve modernizing the omnichannel technology stack.

 

If you are one of these merchants looking to upgrade your eCommerce software, order management system, in-store associate platform, personalization engine, or some other commerce software solution, you should be looking at multi-tenant, software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions to help provide a sustainable competitive advantage.

 

However, many organizations still struggle making the case for cloud technology due to legacy internal processes, IT’s perception of on-premise solutions providing more control, and assumptions that in-house proprietary solutions are more cost-effective.  Below are a few examples to illustrate the advantages of multi-tenant SaaS over on-premise software as it pertains to the commerce industry.

 

Speed of Innovation

 

With traditional on-premise solutions, organizations typically must wait for IT to install updates or upgrades, which can cause lengthy delays for business users, and not to mention the additional software or implementation fees from the vendor.  These hurdles create a situation where business users are not enabled with the latest and greatest capabilities, features, and tools that can help them drive revenue for their respective organizations.

 

Alternatively, SaaS solutions typically include continuous updates, upgrades, and software releases as part of the annual subscription.  Rollout of new features can happen automatically, enabling business users with the most current capabilities to fuel innovation.

 

In a commerce world dominated by Amazon, it is imperative that organizations empower their business users to stay ahead of consumer expectations to the best of their ability — and multi-tenant SaaS is one such way.

 

Total Cost of Ownership

 

On the surface, software owned and managed internally by your organization might seem like it could have a better cost structure.  Why not? You get to control when you upgrade, what to upgrade, and which internal resources get to do the work — all of which are assumed to be cost-efficient.  What these assumptions do not include are hardware costs, training fees, customization support fees, integration complexity, and most importantly, opportunity cost.  When you do the math, SaaS options more often than not have a lower total cost of ownership (TCO) when all factors are considered. Business users get what they want and IT can focus on more strategic projects versus low-value maintenance and upgrade projects.

 

Extensibility and Unique Brand Experiences

 

A common misconception is that on-premise applications provide more opportunities to create unique brand experiences because they allow for customization.  What most do not realize is that these customizations can cause significant challenges down the line when it comes time to update or upgrade — especially when one considers brittle integrations to a myriad of commerce systems.

 

Modern SaaS platforms are developed with an API-first architecture with built-in extensibility layers to allow development of unique experiences on top of the multi-tenant platform, without breaking the integration or update path.  This provides the best of both worlds — marketers and merchandisers can ensure customers are delivered unique brand experiences and IT is comfortable updates and upgrades from the vendor will not break their integrations and put critical selling channels in jeopardy of going “lines down.”  

 

Predictability

 

Commerce is currently going through some major transformations, causing significant chaos and pressures on retailers and branded manufacturers.  Lack of predictability has the potential to derail strategic omnichannel initiatives like your buy online pickup in-store (BOPIS) program or your ship-from-store fulfillment plans.  

 

When organizations move to SaaS solutions, they get an inherent level of predictability with costs, uptime, software updates and upgrades, and scalability that allows the entire organization to focus on moving forward — and not on the technology.  Having predictability in the current state of commerce can enable the focus required for some merchants to exceed their growth expectations.

 

Multi-Tenant SaaS for the Win

 

As your organization looks to have a success and growth year in 2018, investing in multi-tenant SaaS solutions will be at the top of the list as an enabler for achieving those goals. While each organization has to look at their specific needs, when compared side-by-side SaaS commerce solutions will typically have more business benefits over on-premise solutions — allowing you to grow faster than your competitors in this ever-changing and competitive world of commerce.

To see the ROI of SaaS, download a copy of our Total Economic Impact Report and put some real numbers behind the benefits of SaaS.

consumer trends report, ecommerce success

New Survey Data Reveals the Unique Assets to Leverage for eCommerce Success

Proliferating touchpoints and the meteoric rise of online-only merchants have forced the retail industry into a race to the bottom. But the 2018 Kibo Consumer Trends Survey suggests that the tide is turning, and retailers and branded manufacturers can differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace by showcasing their most unique assets.

As we’ve discussed previously, competition has been fierce to offer the lowest prices, the steepest discounts, and the fastest free shipping — often to the detriment of small- to mid-sized merchants whose lower order volume can’t make up losses in margins. Furthermore, the dominance of mass merchants has steepened the challenge when it comes to attracting shoppers in the first place: when asked what sources they use to research potential purchases, 69% of participants said they turned to search engines — the top pick — while 61% said they used Amazon.com. Visiting a retailer’s Web site trailed the Amazon option by some 10 percentage points, while just 38% of shoppers said they researched on branded manufacturer Web sites.

On the other hand, the survey also suggested that shoppers hunger for experiences richer and more personal than what mass merchants can deliver. Indeed, while 61% of survey participants named price as the top factor influencing purchase decisions, indicating that it’s still their primary consideration, that percentage is down by more than 12.8% year over year.

By contrast, the importance of the shopping experience doubled, and the percentage of participants naming the variety and speed of fulfillment options as deciding factors grew by 1.3x and 3x, respectively. Furthermore, shoppers are less brand-conscious than previously, with the percentage seeking out products and merchants by brand name dropping — a finding that holds out hope to sellers when it comes to winning over new customers.

Purchase Factor

In short, in a world where sales and discounts are ubiquitous year-round, shoppers are increasingly cognizant of what sets merchants apart — and are willing to explore the possibilities with sellers who are new to them. To win them over:

 

Branded manufacturers should showcase deep content.
Whether or not they have a specific brand in mind, the Kibo survey found that shoppers primarily turn to retailers, both online and offline, to make purchases. But the availability of deep content, including inventory information, can counteract this tendency and encourage direct connection with branded manufacturers.

Indeed, more than half of survey respondents said they expect extensive content on branded manufacturer Web sites, suggesting that product images, videos, detailed specifications, comparison guides, and other consideration tools are all apt investments. More than 61% said they expect to see product reviews on manufacturer Web sites, a finding that reflects an overall preoccupation with authentic recommendations and ratings from shoppers, which a whopping 91% of survey participants have consulted in the past six months.

Another type of product information is also key for branded manufacturers: where and how to order products, and how many are available. Inventory access and availability are crucial: more than half of survey participants said they expect a manufacturer to have items in-stock, while 45% believe they’ll find a greater variety of products available, and 40% believe manufacturers will have more items than retailers. Similarly, a third of respondents said that a greater array of potential fulfillment options is a reason to seek out a branded manufacturer Web sites — suggesting that manufacturers need to implement accurate inventory visibility for items not only within their own direct-shipping operations, but for partner retail outlets as well.

 

Retailers should view stores as valuable assets — not relics.
The recent news about Toys “R” Us notwithstanding, headlines about the end of stores couldn’t be further from the truth. The Kibo survey found that shoppers increasingly recognize and value physical outlets not only as fulfillment depots that can offer a viable alternative to free home delivery, but also as valuable resources offering one-to-one assistance.

Buy Online, Pickup In-Store (BOPIS) is now considered a mainstream offering, with 67% of survey participants having used it in the past six months. Furthermore, shoppers widely recognize that BOPIS offers not only free order fulfillment, but also a degree of flexibility and control not available via home delivery.

Indeed, the ability to inspect items in the store before taking them home was the BOPIS benefit whose importance grew the most year over year — suggesting that stores’ tactile experiences are important brand assets. Substantiating this finding is shoppers’ increasing willingness to engage store associates for assistance finding items; 57% of survey respondents said they’ve done so, an 18.75% increase from 2017. More than two-thirds of respondents said they expected those associates to have access to their order histories, suggesting expectations are high for knowledgeable interactions that draw on shoppers’ past interactions across touchpoints.

On the other end of the spectrum, stores also hold appeal for high-efficiency shoppers. Not only is a dedicated BOPIS pickup counter perceived as a potential time saver, but curbside service is increasingly popular, with 13% of respondents reporting having used it — a jump of nearly 86% compared with last year. Similarly, half of survey participants have taken advantage of store associates’ “line busting” capabilities via mobile point-of-sale — and the percentage doubled of those who’d used the service more than seven times in six months, suggesting its appeal and adoption are growing.

 

Download the complete survey for many more data points on topics ranging from personalization to loyalty discounts to live chat usage. How are you maximizing your unique assets to survive and thrive in 2018?

Retailology: How Not to Run Your Omnichannel Commerce Strategy Like March Madness

March Madness is one my favorite times of the year. There is something about unpredictable outcomes, the emotion of winning or losing, the challenge of picking the right teams in your bracket, and the anticipation of the next Cinderella team that simply gets me excited.

Millions of people will be filling out their brackets with a variety of strategies – best mascot, most unique school name, or best jersey color – all in hope of having winning results. While strategies centered on hope and luck may work for March Madness, a winning omnichannel commerce strategy should be centered around creating seamless consumer experiences across every buyer touchpoint.

Organizations who are looking to thrive in the era of Amazon should look to incorporate these 5 elements into their omnichannel commerce strategy:

 

Unified commerce platform

 

A unified commerce platform is one of the essential elements for delivering true omnichannel experiences. It starts by having a front-end eCommerce website that ties a back-end order management system to provide order routing and processing, flexible inventory sourcing optimization, customer-driven fulfillment, and consistent and personalized customer experiences.

By utilizing integrated software that enables seamless, customer-centric omnichannel experiences that drive more traffic to your website and more foot traffic into stores you reap the benefits of customer loyalty and growth that far exceed that of traditional retail solutions today. Merchants who are able to connect channels to blend digital and in-store touchpoints into one seamless customer experience will be the winners of tomorrow – and it starts with a unified commerce platform.

 

Scalable and extensible eCommerce

 

At the core of any omnichannel commerce strategy is modern eCommerce software. With online sales growth outpacing in-store sales, choosing the right enterprise-class eCommerce software is imperative for long-term sustainability. The ideal solution will be built on a truly SaaS foundation to provide continuous, non-disruptive upgrades and reduce your total cost of ownership (TCO). Modern ecommerce software is designed to enable business users to launch new promotions, create landing pages, or publish new content-without burdening IT resources.

A winning solution should provide extensibility with an API-first architecture to allow your organization to drive customized experiences without breaking the upgrade path – allowing you to integrate with best-of-breed third-party applications, such as product reviews, social engagement, payment, or loyalty programs.

 

Enable omnichannel fulfillment

 

One of the biggest drivers for converting an online sale is flexible, consumer driven fulfillment. This means providing the consumer with their choice of fulfillment option – whether that is based on lowest price, proximity of inventory, time to delivery, or convenience. Forward thinking retailers and merchants leverage a modern order management software to drive a variety of fulfillment options, such as buy online, pick-up in store (BOPIS), ship from store, ship to store, store-to-store transfer, vendor drop ship, or even return to store.

By leveraging a distributed order management architecture, merchants are able to connect inventory across their ecosystem to their customers in real-time – enabling flexible and convenient delivery of purchases. An order management software that has the appropriate integrations enables the merchant to save costs, provide faster delivery, and expand online product mix by leverage inventory in stores – all proven to increase digital sales and brand loyalty amongst consumers.

 

Personalized Experiences

 

Personalized experiences have been on the top of investment list for many merchants for several years. There are several ways a merchant can use personalization throughout the customer lifecycle, but the key is to drive 1:1, individualized experiences that are relevant to the customer.

By investing in personalization software, merchants can drive personalized experiences across each customer across any touchpoint – including website, mobile apps, in-store, email campaigns, and even customer service. The key is to leverage a solution that is based on predictive, big data technology to drive content based on the consumer’s interaction in real-time. An ideal software package will also empower your merchandising teams with the tools required to optimize the omnichannel commerce experience, such as category sorting, recommendations, real-time previews, and simple to use user interface (UI).

 

Mobile First Design

 

We live in an instant gratification world where every consumer has a point of sale system attached to their hip at almost every waking hour – the smartphone. This means that mobile commerce must be at the center of any successful omnichannel commerce strategy. Whether you are creating a native mobile app or simply a mobile responsive website experience – the key is to have a seamless experience across device types.

While this might not come at a surprise, the effort and resources many merchants spend on creating superb mobile experiences can be sub-optimal. Merchants must invest in technology that enables them to build once and deploy everywhere. Retail has become extremely competitive, and those who are able to shift their organizations to think “mobile first” will be at a significant advantage over their peers.

 

March Madness is incredibly unpredictable and most leave their bracket strategies to chance; however your omnichannel commerce strategy should not be left to luck and merchants must look to be proactive and implement the necessary solutions to win a competitive landscape.

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?

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.