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AIAIO: Our Blog

The pulse and reviews of Alexander Interactive

Archive for the ‘Ecommerce’ Category

Hello Cyber Week (R.I.P. Cyber Monday)

Cyber Monday 2011 was the single biggest day of online shopping.  Ever.  And, some of our earlier predictions of sales continuing to hold strong beyond Monday have held true: the newly dubbed “Cyber Week” saw online retailers rake in $6 billion, according to comScore.  This is up 15% from the same period in 2010.

Consumers expect deals, sales, and discounts all week long.  In fact, they will expect them up until the very last day that they can get free shipping and guaranteed delivery before December 24th.  The implication for the savvy marketer is that one must no longer just focus on readying promotions for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but instead on a strategy that continues to keep a site top of mind throughout the entire holiday shopping season.

Will 2012 bring Cyber Month?

Ecommerce

Cyber Monday is a Thing of the Past

While I was sitting on the couch at my family’s house last Friday casually surfing the sales online via my iPad, I realized that I was having a lot of trouble processing what offers were “Black Friday” deals and what purchases I should wait on until the real sale kicks in. Should I buy it now and get free shipping, or wait until Cyber Monday to get it at a deeper discount? Would it be discounted? Would there be any left? After asking family members about their online holiday shopping strategies it became clear: nobody knew what to expect when it came to Cyber Monday sales.

It appears that it is intentional on the part of retailers. Rather than playing the “compete on price and discount” game with other retailers wherein they slash their margins just to steal eyeballs, they are choosing to encourage and reward their most loyal (and patient) customers with more specific offers in the days that preceded and followed Cyber Monday, as Alex highlighted this Daily Reflector article yesterday.

Even more, the walls between the physical store and the “cyber” store have evaporated for most retailers. No longer is it relevant to have separate sales in-store for “Black Friday” and online for “Cyber Monday” for the same products. Empowered with smartphones, the mobile price check has become the weapon of choice for price-conscious consumers who will often carry the Cyber Monday deals into the store to garner the same discounts on the same products by the method that’s most convenient for them. This realization Alex also discusses in AOL Daily Finance reinforces the idea that consumers see one brand across all shopping channels, forcing the physical/digital price parity that is apparent this year.

As for me, I’ll just wait and see what special tablet-only private deals I can get from my favorite stores through their iPad apps.

Ecommerce

Pew Study Highlights Growing Tablet Use

Last week BGR posted a great infographic visualizing the results of a Pew study on how tablet users are consuming their news. The findings of the research confirmed findings by Forrester, specifically that people who own tablets use them – a lot. According to the study 77% of tablet owners use their tablets daily.

The study also showed that tablet owners spend an average of 95 minutes per day on their tablets. With Apple reporting record iPad sales (over 11 million sold last quarter), these findings show that e-retailers can only expect the amount of visits from tablet-wielding consumers will continue to grow exponentially.

Some of the most interesting numbers coming out of the study centered around the use of native apps versus mobile browsers. Almost twice as many responders reported using mobile browsers as their main news source compared to apps (40% for browsers, 21% for apps), which shows the importance for having sites optimized for tablet users.

As shown in Ai’s T-Commerce Report, even the largest internet retailers are still struggling to capture this up-and-coming demographic. This report shows that while a few retail giants have capitalized on the t-commerce market with responsive designs, larger calls to action and gesture friendly interfaces (Nike is a prime example), most e-commerce giants are falling behind the curve when it comes to t-commerce. Even Amazon is showing slow adoption of t-commerce best practices in its new redesign; though their new fashion deal site, MyHabit, is highly optimized for t-commerce.

For more on how you can optimize your site for t-commerce check out Alex’s article “Make Way for T-Commerce” or download the T-Commerce Report.

Ecommerce

Amazon Redesign: A Small Step Towards T-Commerce

When it comes to e-commerce there is no bigger name than Amazon.com. So when the world’s largest online retailer recently began rolling out a redesign to a small segment of its users, there was no doubt it would make waves.

A recent Wall Street Journal report speculated that the new site foreshadows the debut of a new Amazon tablet, citing the new site’s simplified feel and larger buttons. But when it comes down to it, the redesign still falls short on some t-commerce fundamentals.

Navigation

The new homepage has a much cleaner, more modern look. The new silver navigation and heavy use of white space definitely feel more up-to-date, taking cues from the Dieter Rams/Jonathon Ive school of desaturated minimalism.  This change emphasizes elements like promo images and the count of in-cart items, but raises an interesting challenge for the strength of Amazon’s brand as the formerly omnipresent blue and orange color scheme has been relegated to near nonexistence.

The majority of the redesign efforts seem concentrated in the top navigation, which has been simplified and improved with larger buttons. The biggest improvement UX-wise comes in the form of a navigational flyout that swoops out of the “Shop by Department” button. The menu’s bold black text on a white background look great on both monitors and tablets and the grey text blends in enough to not be obtrusive. The drop-down also includes the sexiest feature of the redesign with its new images hanging out of the menu itself over the page behind it.

Another nice touch on the new navigation bar is the shopping cart button that shows products (with images) in customer’s cart upon being clicked.  This is very UX and t-commerce friendly in that it lets users peek at their cart without interrupting the shopping experience.

Site Search

One of the biggest UX changes for the site as a whole is the new search bar, which takes center stage as the focal point of the improved top navigation. For a retailer with products as varied as Amazon, making the search the primary focus is in many ways ideal for a t-commerce interface. The first thing users will notice is the new drop-down that appears when clicked/tapped, displaying daily deals with accompanying images. This is a great use of an “Easter egg” to save space on the page below.

The search functionality has room for improvement in its predictive suggestions. The selectable terms on the type ahead search drop-down are still quite small, making this feature is among the least tablet friendly aspects of the new site. Not only are the search terms too small to tap (especially if you have big fingers), but there are too many of them. On an iPad the type ahead drop-down falls underneath the on-screen keyboard. A more user-friendly solution would be to give fewer options with larger clickable areas., not unlike the daily deals drop-down.

Hero Images

The redesign’s most drastic changes are immediately below the top navigation. With the former category navigation buttons on the left consolidated to the top navigation’s drop-down menu, the page takes on a two-column layout that is very thumb-friendly for tablet users.  Everything seems clearly and intuitively divided into buttons that can be easily pressed with thumb or the other.

The main hero image has been completely changed with the new look. The old Amazon has one hero image touting the latest Kindles. The new hero area has two stacked promos with slider navigations that allow for 13 total options. While one hero may not have been enough for Amazon’s merchandisers, 13 is a bit much to digest,  resulting is a sleek and navigable but unrefined hero scheme.

T-Commerce Shortcomings

When put into portrait orientation on a tablet, the new site is just as unusable as the old design. Throughout the site a vertical format yields pages too wide to be read or navigated without zooming in, resulting in minuscule pricing values, unreadable reviews, and effectively invisible calls to action. An ideal solution would be dynamically flexing this layout to pare down some of the horizontal elements when in a portrait orientation (e.g. dropping a row of five suggested products to three).

Another t-commerce question mark hanging over the new Amazon is speed. In Ai’s testing, page load time was significantly slower on the new site. This could be a real barrier to entry for some tablet users. The new promo images are undoubtedly pretty, but taking longer to load could end up hurting the bottom line.

To be truly tablet friendly, Amazon will also need improved product pages. Seemingly untouched by the redesign, the current product pages force tablet users to squint and swipe as they poke around for buttons taking them to some of their most desired links. A product page redesign (which could be just over the horizon) could solve this by corralling cluttered text into concise links and collapsing unnecessary information out of sight.

Improving T-Commerce UX

While the new design is definitely a welcome update, it definitely not a huge improvement in terms of optimizing the site for t-commerce. The minimalistic design makes for stronger visual cues in important areas of the site, but if users need to zoom in on areas they can’t see those cues can quickly end up out of view.

For true t-commerce optimization Amazon should revisit the site’s user-interface on a tablet device. Making sure that tappable areas can accommodate larger fingers by limiting the amount of options displayed.

Using CSS3 media queries to adjust the layout of the site’s product pages and increase the tappable area within faceted navigation or mega drop-downs would also vastly improve the user experience.

Complex pages also could be reworked by moving elements around the page to match Amazon’s business and merchandising requirements by, for example, move product reviews above the fold on a tablet to emphasize user-generated content.

Truly committing to tablet UX also includes a commitment to gesture-based navigation where applicable, like giving users the ability to swipe and drag hero images to cycle through them.

The new Amazon.com is slightly more tablet friendly, but it is far from an optimal solution. The redesign is definitely a move in the right direction for t-commerce, but only a half-step.

For more on Ai’s approach to t-commerce, read Alex Schmelkin’s article “Make Way for T-Commerce”  in E-Commerce Times.

Written with contributors Ed Samour and Seth Whitton

Ecommerce

EBay Acquires Magento

Ebay today announced they are acquiring everyone’s favorite ecom platform Magento.  They already owned 49% of the platform and have announced plans to roll Magento into some new X.Commerce initiative.  This is a very smart move for EBay.  Have recently acquired GSI to offer an enterprise solution at the very top of the online retail food chain, EBay can even more effectively compete at the entry- and mid-levels of ecommerce.

We’re huge fans of Magento here at Ai, and will be watching this development closely.  On the one hand, the additional engineering resources, marketing, product stewardship, and enterprise support will be welcomed by ecom brands and developers alike.  Graduating from a 49% strategic investment to a fully-blown integrated product suite should come with the commensurate level of attention from EBay execs.

On the other hand, all too often we’ve seen thriving software platforms gobbled up by larger companies primarily with the intent of folding the acquired company’s customers into the acquirer’s existing product suite.  This may not be welcome news for us Magento devs out there that enjoy direct access to the source code of the product and significant engineering accumen and performance tuning experience on the platform.

We will certainly keep our eyes on this and report back to our friends and clients any important implications.  In the meantime, congratulations to the folks at Magento and founder Roy Rubin.

Ecommerce

Fun with Google Correlate

Google recently released Google Correlate, a fascinating tool that correlates user-supplied data sets with search terms.  From big Goog’s blog post:

Using Correlate, you can upload your own data series and see a list of search terms whose popularity best corresponds with that real world trend.

We’re data nerds here, obsessed with trends, the wisdom of the crowd, analytics, and optimization.  The possibility to find meaningful trends for our customers (and the greater good!) are too large to fathom–and can quickly give you a headache when you think about the power of correlating people’s interests around the world with trends in our own data.

So I decided to give it a try.  With a layup, as it were.  What would happen if I fed the weekly pageviews to the Ai site into the magic machine?  I know that one of the more common ways people land at our site is by searching for “alexander interactive,” but could GoogleCorrelate2000 figure this out from our pageviews?

YES.  In 1.20 seconds (much of which certainly was network latency).  I pasted 52 rows of data, and as a reminder for those reading along, didn’t tell Google what the data was.  She didn’t know I was interested in Alexander Interactive.  She gots dates and some numbers.  And here was her response:

google correlate alexander interactive

Now it’s time to have some fun with this.  Google generously allows you to use their Search By Drawing tool.  Draw a line, see what it’s correlated with.  I had to cut myself off as you could spend hours with this:

downfall of us all

We’re so taken with this tool that we are holding an internal contest for the one among us to find the most interesting, useful, or important search term trend in one of our analytics or ecommerce data sets.  The victor wins the admiration of his/her colleagues.  And free lunch at any local eatery.  Stay tuned for more on Google Correlate.

Ai

Ai and Canopy at IRCE

We are gearing up with excitement for this year’s Internet Retailer Conference and Expo. Canopy CEO (and erstwhile Ai director of strategy, and, well, yours truly) David Wertheimer will be giving his live website critiques for the fourth time, and Ai and Canopy have a large and gorgeous expo floor booth in the works.

If you’ll be attending the conference, do stop by and say hi. See you in San Diego!

Ecommerce

Cuttin’ Through the Clutta Like A Knife Through Butta

As the economy slowly pulls itself out of the recession, retailers are trying to connect with consumers in different ways.  Reuters reports that Best Buy is scaling back its trademark “big box” stores, focusing instead on “mobile” retail locations and bolstering their online presence.  However, The New York Times reported last week that many brick-and-mortar stores are back to embracing size and clutter.  While piling up the goods may be great for B&Ms, this strategy usually fails to translate in the expanding ecommerce world.

Online there exist far better strategies for engaging consumers than drowning them in a sea of digital clutter. We advise our clients to embrace simplicity, proven behavioral strategies and technology like dynamic personalization. Few if any brick-and-mortar stores can make quick, store-wide changes like what can be done online.  Digital optimization strategies allow our clients to take risks and experiment with their online offering, to adjust quickly based on real-time feedback, and then to experiment some more.

We have empowered many clients with this strategy, and it works.  For example, our de-cluttering redesign of PexSupply resulted in a 33% jump in conversions, and 45% increase in total orders.  Take a look at the difference after the break.

Business

“What’s wrong with my conversion?”

Scott Porad put up a terrific blog post last week about conversion rates and a lack of true averages.

While a global conversion rate of sorts exists–apparently, it’s 2.4% these days–benchmarking site conversion is a futile task due to the variables that impact sales.

Porad mentions Starbucks’ 99% conversion rate in his post. To expound, consider the stores in a shopping mall. Brookstone and Spencer Gifts, for example, probably have a lower conversion rate than, say, Old Navy or Radio Shack, due to the mindset of shoppers who enter (try vs. browse vs. buy vs. fix). But that doesn’t mean Brookstone has a problem. Differences in pricing, margin, and foot traffic expectations all play into the relative success of each store.

Instead of focusing on benchmarks for conversion rates, look at consistency of purchase patterns, and identify points in the browse and checkout processes where barriers can be minimized and revenues maximized. Not every site can convert like ProFlowers–and not every site has to.

Business

12 Tips on Creating a Safe Online Customer Shopping Experience

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the following Thursday are just days away… Holidays are right around the corner. We’re not looking to change the world here at Ai, but we do want to play our part in making this upcoming year a safe, secure and profitable one. That being said, have a look at an article I recently wrote which was published in the B2C Marketing Insider.

12 Tips on Creating a Safe Online Customer Shopping Experience

“84% of polled Internet shoppers don’t think that online retailers are putting enough effort into protecting customers” (Forrester Research, Inc)

The E-commerce holiday shopping season is upon us and online retailers are busy implementing new shopping features, social campaigns, analyzing their test results, and redesigning their funnels from browsing to checkout.

The experts are out in force: Focus on usability! Optimize your product page! Come up with brilliant holiday promotions! Study the shopping trends! Yeah! Yeah?

No. Don’t waste your precious and ever-dwindling time focusing solely on usability and Ui improvements. Bottom line: If you don’t have your customers‘ trust and confidence, you won’t convert–regardless of all the improvements that your testing results indicated you should make.

This holiday season, make it a priority to ensure that your site is providing your customers with the sense of safety and security they are longing for in their shopping experience. Use our tips below to ensure your customers spend their precious time deciding which product to buy from your site, rather than then if they should even buy from you at all.

Prominent Contact Information

Contact information should be prominent and in a consistent place within your header and footer so that your customer knows where to go when they have questions or encounter issues. Display both phone number and email address so that your customers can contact you in the manner of their choosing.

Privacy Policy

Include links to your privacy policy on all transactional pages. The ubiquitous footer link is a good place to start, but too often overlooked. On transactional pages, make sure you have it prominently called out in the body of the page, above the fold. Spell out pieces of your policy as needed. For example, when asking for an email address, state your email usage policy right next to the field. Best Buy says this perfectly “Best Buy does not sell, rent, or trade your personal information to third parties”. Clear, blunt and to the point. As it should be.

Don’t Hide Costs

Transparency in shipping costs and delivery times is key – especially come holiday season. Be sure to provide all of the actual costs up front, including shipping, handling, and sales tax. These can have an enormous impact on the final price. According to OneUpWeb, 95% of customers want to know the exact cost of the order before proceeding into checkout. There is no better way to put the kibosh on a potential sale than to withhold additional costs until later in funnel.

When the user can expect to receive their package is enormously important as well, especially to shoppers cutting it tight during the holiday season. Show this information as early as possible as well. This is actually a deciding factor when it comes down to those final few days. Shoppers are willing to pay a premium as long as you can provide them with the security that it will arrive on time, as promised.

Return Policy and Shopping Guarantee

Shoppers want to know what their recourse is if their item arrives and is damaged, the wrong item, or just simply not what they wanted. Be sure to clearly spell out your return policy so there won’t be any surprises later. Do you have a shopper satisfaction guarantee? Nice! Again, place this prominently above the fold, and inspire your shoppers with confidence that they can’t make a wrong or irreversible decision.

Anticipate Their Concerns

Be mindful of the various sensitive touch points throughout the purchasing process.  Address concerns before they even arise. If you expect your customers to share private and personal information with you, you need to address the reasons why you need the information at the appropriate times.

  • A “We 100% guarantee your safety” link right next to the checkout button, and in checkout header that leads to a DHTML popup with your 100% satisfaction guarantee inspires confidence and keeps the user in the funnel.
  • “We will not share your email with anyone.” next to email field lets user know you aren’t going to sell their email address.
  • “Shipping details” tied with product, in cart and checkout, makes user aware of costs and availability early and often.
  • You can always change your order later” when tied to a call-to-action removes some of the hesitation associated with doubts on whether to commit at that exact moment.
  • Don’t be afraid to invite phone calls. A sale is a sale. Including “Prefer to checkout over the phone? No Problem. Call us at…” at the top of your checkout give shoppers a sense of security even if they don’t plan on calling you.

Apply the Human Touch

Ten other sites may sell the same product, at the same discounted price, and have the same safety features in place. Differentiate yourself by emphasizing a personal touch and telling your shoppers that you completely understand their concerns. Give them that warm and fuzzy feeling that they are in good hands by hitting the emotional aspects of shopping.

Using the right tone and personality makes a difference. It is comforting for a customer to see “Please don’t hesitate to call us with any concerns or questions. Your security is our sole priority.” compared to a simple link to the Help Section. Instill confidence in your customers by speaking to them like human beings, rather than unique visitors, throughout the shopping process.

Your “About Page” and Value Proposition

Part of converting the customer is making them feel confident that they are in good hands. The ‘about page” is an often overlooked part of creating a secure shopping experience.

Are you family owned? Are you quirky? Are you a huge company that started off with two people in a garage? Do you donate a certain portion of profits to charity? Don’t let “About Us” be one paragraph of fluff about commitment to selling great products. Shoppers will see right through this. Be yourself. Shoppers have a greater sense of confidence knowing that they are at a real store run by real people.

Make a Good First Impression

Visual design has a huge impact on new customers feeling safe. Shoppers will form an opinion of your company within five seconds of seeing your home page. Want them to feel safe, and not think you are a fly-by-night outfit? Invest in design. And it doesn’t necessarily need to be award-winning, gorgeous visual experience. The site’s design need to give an instant sense of credibility and trust to visitors. Even though customers may not be entirely conscious of it, good design inspires confidence.

Performance & Stability

A slowly loading page, a site that’s down, or obscure programming error messages can raise instant doubts in the shopper’s mind. It is likely they are in comparison shopping mode, so if they were to leave one site and arrive at a site that loads slowly, or not at all, then the experience comes to a quick end. If they see errors and messages they don’t recognize, they will doubt your professionalism and whether their information is safe on your site. A solid technical implementation is as important as a great design.

Badges, Tigers and Seals Oh My

Seals of approval from TRUSTe or Better Business Bureau Online are widely recognized, but remember that a seal is only a graphic; it can be counterfeited. To be sure, make sure you link to the certifying agency’s site that profiles the merchant information. Also, avoid the Times Square approach putting eight different seals on your site. It diminishes the effectiveness. If you really feel the need to bombard 8 seals on there, all I ask is that you use the animated graphics. At least your savvy visitors can get a laugh.

Sweat the Small Stuff

Be sure your site has been thoroughly reviewed and that there are no misspellings or grammatical mistakes. They may seem tiny, but they will immediately cast your professionalism in doubt.

Security Through Social Validation

Social validation is a proven factor in influencing how people purchase products, and it’s no different when it comes to influencing why they should shop at your site for these products. Customer dialogue, reviews and interactions (regardless of what is being discussed) brings instant credibility to your site. People want to know that other people shop at your store. They want to see activity and not just take your word for it.

Now more than ever, privacy is a huge customer concern. Between Facebook privacy issues, Google ego-searching, and countless ads aggressively targeting hackers and screaming identity theft shoppers are only getting increasingly more sensitive and aware of the how, why, and when their sensitive personal information is used.

As online retailers, it is our responsibility to provide a safe and comfortable shopping environment for the customer, both online or off. The most successful businesses are able to instill confidence in their customers, and adding a relatable human touch. They develop a trusting, ongoing relationship with their customers to ensure repeat purchases and loyalty.Look folks, lets not forget – it’s the holidays! Do your customer and your bottom line a favor by letting them focus on giving rather than worrying. So you better be good for goodness sake.

Ecommerce