AIAIO: Our Blog

AIAIO: Our Blog

The pulse and reviews of Alexander Interactive

Posts Tagged ‘Ecommerce’

Come see us at IR Focus Design+Mobile!

What’s the most exciting thing to do in Orlando? Duh! Visiting Ai’s booth at the IR Focus Design + Mobile Conference!

We are at booth #300 — stop by, say hi, and talk about all things digital, Disney, or whatever else is on your mind.


While you’re at it, check out our founders Josh Levine and Alex Schmelkin and attend their talks on Monday. Josh gives you the rundown on the good, the bad, and the ugly in Ecommerce design and Alex teams up with Sharon Rodriguez, VP, Strategy at MetLife, to discuss the central role mobile plays in the now and future of MetLife’s consumer offerings.

Have fun, be safe, and always use the buddy system.


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 predictions

This morning I enjoyed re-reading Clifford Stoll’s 1995 Newsweek piece, Why Web Won’t Be Nirvana.  While 15 years later most of his observations on information overload and the lack of content curation abound, how delightfully wrong he was in predicting the failure of “cyberbusiness.”

Then there’s cyberbusiness. We’re promised instant catalog shopping—just point and click for great deals. We’ll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts. Stores will become obselete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month? Even if there were a trustworthy way to send money over the Internet—which there isn’t—the network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople.

It appears our industry has done a fine job addressing all of Stoll’s concerns, save for thankfully not making stores obsolete (and arguably positioning great multi-channel retailers even stronger because of their web businesses).  We certainly can point and click for great deals.  I don’t remember ordering an airline ticket in the last 10 years and not doing it online.  OpenTable can almost always snag a last minute reservation for me at the latest NYC hotspot.  While their usability leaves a great deal to be desired, web-based contract negotiation tools drive billions in global procurement.

And speaking of a “trustworthy way to send money over the Internet,” while we haven’t yet found nirvana, in 2009, $209.6 billion was spent by consumers typing credit card numbers into a white box on a website.  People trust sending their money over the Internet.

Sure, we lack nuanced salespeople in our digital world.  That saleswoman who tells me I look fabulous in that suit will never lose her job to ecommerce.  But we sure do come close to the same results.  On more than one occasion we’ve all experienced that bizarrely efficient and shockingly accurate “others who purchased” recommendation, and went for it.  Dynamic personalization is the salesperson of the future, and she’s being implemented today in almost all of our modern ecommerce work.

It sure is easy to criticize Stoll with the 20/20 vision of hindsight, and most unfair not to offer ecommerce predictions for 2011 and beyond of my own.  Stay tuned to this page in the coming weeks.


Why Redesign?

So you’re probably thinking to yourself right now, “Why Redesign?”

Gosh. Funny you should think that, because it just so happens I recently wrote a little piece on that exact subject, as a featured blogger on

Redesigning a website is a daunting task.  Budget, deadlines, resources, features, content, platform changes, brand perception, SEO implications – the list of challenges is a long one.  The potential impact website redesign has on your organization is as enormous and critical as the process.  Will conversion go up or down?  Will your new site attract more visitors or will traffic drop off?

If you want more detail on the topic, take a look at a deck from one of my presentations at Internet Retailer’s Web Design 2009 conference, Charting the Successful Redesign — A True Story About an Agency and Client Partnership. It gives a detailed account on the site redesign, specifically what led to the decision and the steps we took to execute it. It does NOT go into pancakes and the secrets behind achieving a remarkable fluffiness. Lets just make that clear from the outset.

Charting the Successful Redesign of an Independent Ecommerce Small Business — A True Story About an Agency and Client Partnership


What will Promoted Tweets mean for ecommerce?

The news that Twitter is getting into the advertising business has exciting implications for companies ready to harness real-time conversations for ecommerce activity.

Companies with products and services to sell will be able to tap into the immediacy of conversations on Twitter and provide targeted offers in real time. Frustrated with a travel booking? Post a tweet and watch as a travel agent enters your tweet stream. Bouncing around ideas on which shoes to buy? Watch an ad for Zappo’s appear at the perfect moment.

If executed well, it’s the kind of advertising that consumers might admit to enjoying. More relevant than display ads and less intrusive than mobile, Promoted Tweets–once the kinks are smoothed out–could be downright useful.

Consider: C.C. Sabathia of the New York Yankees pitches another great game and completes his no-hitter. People (including, probably, this author) are tweeting rapidly about the feat, starting in the middle innings and hitting a crescendo around the end of the game. As the volume hits its max, Steiner Sports (an Ai client) inserts ads into the chatter: “Buy Sabathia’s game-worn jersey from his no-hitter! Get details now.” Instantly thousands of people are tuned into an item that might appeal to them at the moment of its maximum appeal. It’s search marketing for conversations.

Twitter’s conversations are essential, of course, and Promoted Tweets will have to be obvious without being intrusive. With the right execution, though, they will be huge.

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SXSW ideas: turning work into play

One of the most enlightening sessions I attended at SXSW this year was Andy Baio‘s Gaming the Crowd: Turning Work into Play. I went for fun and left full of insights and ideas.

Andy’s thesis (similarly referenced by some presenters at GDC 2010) is that creating game environments can positively impact human participation and performance. From the surprising “fun” angle cited by Amazon Mechanical Turk participants to Target’s cashier scoring system, game environments bring an element of entertainment to activities that could easily be seen as mundane. A hint of competition and achievement–communal or individual–triggers a desire to operate at peak performance, strongly improving results. (Beware the leaderboard, though! Create a top-ten-users list and prepare to battle folks that game the system.)

I’ve spent considerable time the past week thinking about the potential this has in the ecommerce arena, where Ai spends the bulk of its time. How can shopping elements be crafted to encourage people to think in terms of achievement? What are the potential implications for social media outreach? How can a site include top-tens without resorting to the absolutes that discourage some participants?

I’ll be looking for examples of gaming in ecommerce in the coming weeks. Feel free to post links in the comments.

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14 of 16 people think this post adds to the discussion. Do you?

HelpfulLinks_GlobeDolls.JPGIn a presentation at Web 2.0 New York, Scott Porad of Pet Holdings talked about user-generated content (UGC) and how anybody creating content needs to be thinking about UGC’s impact.
Porad mentioned that filtering is the key to implementing successful user-generated content. Submissions on his sites are reviewed by a team of 15 or so initial “web-cultured” reviewers. Then they go into a secondary review area where site members then make the final call. One click by readers and the post goes back to the initial reviewers. Two percent of submissions are filtered out completely.
These voting mechanisms on content also act as a reward and encourage more participation when users know their submissions are appreciated.
Another notable point in Porad’s talk was the Amazon “did you find this review useful” feature. Amazon has this type of question on each review in their customer feedback section. I recently read a review on Amazon that stated:

This product will stop working after a year unless you pay them a $20 annual fee. Need more than 2GB of storage? Another 2GB costs you $10 a year. There are other products that record to your computer’s hard drive, and can even upload the captured images or video to the FTP site of your choice (most ISPs give you several GB for free). This product is just a bad idea, in my opinion.

Reading this and then seeing that 14 out of 16 people found it useful adds context to the products description and instills trust amongst customers.
This review stood out and helped me make a definite decision. User-generated content combined with good filtering adds an invaluable tool and resource to any site.


The (as yet) unstoppable Internet

Internet Retailer’s lead headline today: Web sales at Macy’s grow 29% in 2008 while total sales sink 7.7%. IR calls this “blow-out online sales growth” in an otherwise dismal year.
The ecommerce industry continues to defy macroeconomic trends. Holiday sales dipped 2.3% industrywide in 2008, but sector sales in goods like apparel and luxury items dropped as much as 30%. Meanwhile, Macy’s managed to boost its online sales by nearly a third.
Macy’s isn’t alone. Ai’s ecommerce clients managed to do decently in 2008. One multichannel client saw 37% sales growth during its busy season; another grew by a whopping 91% for the year versus calendar 2007.
What does this mean for the industry as we press deeper into 2009? We here at Alexander Interactive have some ideas, and suggestions.

  • Pressing forward. The down economy means almost every retailer is struggling this year. Budgets are tighter and staffs smaller. But the online sales channel continues to perform, which means it needs to be properly maintained as a profit center. The right balance of promotional activity and site innovation will drive traffic and keep the online sales channel strong.
  • Differentiating. This year is going to be remembered for bargain-hunting and price-slashing. How to compete? By creating a user experience that is welcoming and memorable. Repeat customers will reduce acquisition costs and maintain revenues as the economy drifts. Companies willing to invest this year are working on improved usability, better communication and smoother customer service paths–the touches that turn browsers into buyers, and customers into satisfied ones.
  • Creating opportunity. With many retailers pulling back, competition should decline this year. Affiliate and search marketing costs are going to dip. Smart companies will press forward, maintaining or increasing market share in the one channel with growth potential.

The business world is awash in bad news right now, and the Internet isn’t immune. But ecommerce is still a channel with tremendous upside potential, visible even during gloomy times. Ai is pleased to be helping smart online retailers innovate and grow. We have high hopes for the road ahead.


Don’t Forget the Batteries

I am consistently impressed with Amazon’s product 51H0TDSW1JL._SL500_AA280_.jpgrecommendations. They practically invented the technique, reaping countless dollars from my wallet by suggesting truly relevant products that I need. Today, I’m in the market for a simple AM/FM radio. The Sony ICF-S10MK2 Pocket AM/FM Radio, Silver looked great: good price, good product reviews, 2 day Amazon Prime shipping. As intrigued as ever with what else Amazon thinks I should buy, I was confronted with this set of recommendations:
Do people really buy the Sony pocket radio, a Panasonic pocket radio, AND Sony portable radio, all at the same time?! Who in this day and age possibly has need for that many watts of AM/FM radio? Perhaps the robo-merchandiser is so finely tuned to my personal shopping habits that it took the statistically probable chance that I would be unable to make a decision on one $14 radio, and instead would buy 3 for a total of $50?
The merchandising snafu notwithstanding, I still clicked Two-Day 1-Click Free. And only now did I realize what they should have offered me was AA batteries.
Side note: I was trying to find early signs of product recommendations 250px-MotorolaStarTAC.jpgat Amazon to substantiate my “practically invented the technique” claim, so I hit There’s simply no way the WayWayBack machine has it right. This can’t be amazon’s home page from 1998! They’re selling the RAZR years before it was invented. Now this was a hot Motorola phone circa 1998.
Update: the Sony arrived and AM radio does not work in my office. I guess you get what you pay for.


Encouraging late adopters

I used Netflix for the first time this week and it wowed me. I know, this would have been news 3 years ago but Netflix is now: ubiquitous with getting movies, has forced Blockbuster to rebuild its business plan, and has a second generation that features a library of streaming content. I have known that people swore by it but I thought of it as not for me.
Like me with Netflix, people are still reticent to use the internet to its fullest. They have heard the benefits of net based products–and probably know that the new way is a vast improvement–but still do it the old way.
Online retailers and online arms of brick-and-mortar retailers have to keep in mind that some people are arbitrary. There will be people that will take their sweet time, but one time will try your service.
It was a free trial that got me started and I saw for myself the benefits of Netflix. Though I have no statistics handy, it’s not a stretch to think that some people are still hesitant to try a new service without an enticement. E-tailers gave steep discounts many years ago to make it easier for people to try their first online shopping experience.
There are many reasons to avoid these steep discounts, but an introductory rate, week, free shipping, or coupon still have a way to bring people to buy online.