Online Retail Today
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.

commerce-on-site search personalization

6 Reasons On-Site Search Personalization Should Be A Priority

Personalization is now considered merchants’ best opportunity to differentiate their brands and compete with the Amazon juggernaut. But when prioritizing how best to implement personalization technologies, many sellers overlook a crucial component of the shopping experience: on-site search.

Shoppers increasingly expect merchants to deliver contextually-relevant experiences that take into account their past interactions with the brand. For example, personalization features were three of the top five improvements shoppers sought during the recent holiday season, Kibo found — from on-point gift picks to loyalty reward tie-ins based on past purchases. And in general, two-thirds of consumers said they were willing to share data with brands in order to receive relevant discounts and loyalty perks, with 11% saying they wanted “totally personalized experiences,” according to a study by Bazaarvoice and the CMO council.

In response, most merchants have prioritized personalization features with rich, immersive experiences in mind. Using dynamic recommendations and content personalization from the home page onwards, merchants are tailoring the browsing experience to surface serendipitous finds as well as precisely-attuned picks that address shoppers’ immediate needs.

But as important as it is to entice browsers with personalized experiences, merchants must also cater to so-called “spear fishers” — shoppers who arrive at the eCommerce site knowing what they want, and who are apt to use on-site search to locate it. Indeed, technology researcher Forrester found that fully 80% of consumers say they know, in general, what they’re looking for when they start their shopping journey.

When these searchers are well-served by eCommerce site offerings, they reward merchants with orders. If they find what they’re looking for, searchers convert at double the rate of site visitors as a whole, MOZ.com reported.

For that reason, bringing the powers of real-time personalization to the on-site search experience is a crucial priority for merchants as they move past cross-sells toward true individualized shopping. Personalized search can:

Help long-tail shoppers connect with their intended products.

Shoppers on the hunt for rare or back-catalog items can benefit from the machine learning today’s real-time personalization technologies employ. By narrowing results based on what other shoppers have searched and clicked, merchants’ search technology can surface relevant picks more quickly. Furthermore, personalized suggested search terms that appear as shoppers type can draw on their past browsing and searching history to prioritize the most likely relevant matches.

Kibo client House of Antique Hardware has an extremely specialized product catalog thousands of SKUs deep, which posed a challenge for shoppers unfamiliar with standard industry descriptors or product classifications. “Zero results” searches were all too commonplace. But by applying personalization technology, House of Antique Hardware was able to offer shoppers relevant recommendations and prioritized search results, driving a 5% lift in conversion.

 

 


Help B2B buyers stay on budget.
Business buyers who order items for their company online are often working within far narrower constraints than shoppers casting about for holiday gifts. Procurement requirements may include compatibility with existing office equipment or a defined set of brands, as well as an upper limit on the price tag — which means connecting business buyers with products that match their parameters is of utmost importance. Merchants can use personalization to key search results off stored order histories and other business rules so that buyers see only those products they’re authorized to consider.

 

Boost relevance of top results on small screens.

Mobile commerce is booming, and merchants are enhancing the mobile shopping experience accordingly. Fully half of sellers in a Forrester survey said improving mobile browsing and research functionality was of primary importance — the top priority on the mobile investment list. Given the primacy of on-site search for mobile shoppers reluctant to page through multiple screens to reach their intended target, it’s crucial to optimize the limited screen real estate to deliver the most relevant results set possible.  

 

Show shoppers on the go products that are in-stock nearby.

Merchants already integrate store inventory visibility with on-site search, typically by allowing shoppers to explicitly filter results based on local availability. But for shoppers whose past interactions indicate a preference for in-store fulfillment, merchants can streamline the process and automatically prioritize products that are available at nearby outlets.

 

Eliminate the “no results” page … or at least make it engaging.  

Misspellings happen — but they don’t need to lead to a search dead-end. By tapping into the big data that informs real-time personalization, merchants’ on-site search functionality can suggest keyword terms that will bear fruit and even return results for inexact matches based on how others searched previously. Should a query trigger the “no results found” page, displaying an assortment of product and content picks based on shoppers’ preferences increases the chance that they’ll stay engaged and eventually find the right item.

 

Position merchants for voice-driven search.

Usage is on the rise of digital personal assistants such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon Alexa. While currently most interactions are information queries (about the weather, for example), Forrester predicts that in the next five years, consumers will engage these intelligent agents in commerce-related quests — and that the agents will begin to curate and recommend items based on past interactions. Merchants who hone their on-site search capabilities now will be in a better position to compete when the time comes to optimize for this emerging shopping format.

 

Learn more about Kibo’s industry-leading real-time individualization solutions and how they can drive on-site search relevance that leads to sales.

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.

Kibo’s Marketing Minute: The Story Behind Google’s EU Fine

 

Striving to keep up with the ever-changing world of eCommerce?  Join Bryant Goodall of Kibo’s Digital Marketing team for a minute.  

In this minute, find out why Google was fined by the EU, and how to make sure you have smart digital strategy.

 

Transcript below:

Hi and welcome to Kibo’s Marketing Minute where we share digital marketing tips, trends and news from the ecommerce industry in about a minute. I’m Bryant Goodall, the Digital Marketing Manager at Kibo and here’s what’s happening.

As you’ve no doubt heard, Google’s in trouble again. A couple of months ago, the creator of the world’s most visited website, was found by the EU to be giving preferential treatment to their own Google Shopping over competitor price-comparison sites. The European Union fined Google $2.7 billion, ruling that Google’s behavior was illegal and anti-competitive. The commission responsible for the ruling gave Google 90 days to begin ranking its own shopping comparison the same way as the other sites or face additional fines.

Although this doesn’t have a specific impact outside of the EU right now, it does serve as a reminder to all online retailers that even paid solutions can share the volatility of other channels on the internet. Just imagine if Google Shopping went away right? As the online channels continue to merge, it’s certainly smart that you not go all-in on just social, paid search or just SEO. It’s a lot like building a foundation on part of the house while the other parts are sinking into the mud.

Welp, that wraps it up. Quick right? but check out more great information on the Omni Channel and let’s keep the conversation going in comment section below.

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.