If the $42.3 billion spent online this past holiday season has taught retailers anything, it’s that capturing customers—and their dollars—online is crucial.
But online is a big place. And mobile, which can seem like an entirely different universe, looms ever larger. So where to even start if you haven’t yet…started? And who should lead the charge?
The modern day merchant must have an intimate understanding of the importance of online and mobile commerce, access to a vast array of customer data, and a strategy for transforming this analytical data into winning online experiences.
In all cases, the goal is to attract and retain both new and returning customers. Whether online novices or experts, business leaders crave insight on how to accomplish this. The question is: who inside the company can embody these traits and help the CEO rule the roost? That responsibility should belong to the chief marketing officer.
A CMO should be somebody who uniquely understands marketing, merchandising, data, analytics and web design, and who can also maintain a creative, innovative organizational structure. IT tends to lean too heavily toward data for data’s sake, while Sales too often relies on revenue and relationships.
Placing the CMO in charge allows for the best of both worlds. Armed with the science of data analysis and the art of consumer engagement, the CMO is well positioned to emulate merchant princes of old and join the ranks of retail royalty. A good CMO can nurture a culture of testing, measuring and learning instead of depending on guesswork and subjectivity, as well as reach out to those on the front lines of customer interactions to figure out what those customers want. The ambitious CMO knows that their company site must be more engaging than the competitions’, as well as a place that customers trust, valuing the available products, services and information on offer. It also needs to be a reliable gateway to actions that grow sales beyond the initial purchase, such as cross-selling and upselling.
What’s the best way to make all this happen? One word: data.
Data is crucial to online retail. It comes in many different forms, the main type being the individual behaviors of current site visitors: which search term or webpage brought them over, what time of day and day of the week they’re most likely to stop by, what recent purchases they’ve already made onsite, what pages they visit and what product categories most interest them. All this pertinent info helps define what the “best content” is for each specific viewer. Other types include customer relationship management (CRM) data and social media data.
The aspiring CMO must then use this accumulated data to gain perspective on what customers want; analytical optimization and personalization tools will aid in this quest. Segmentation sifts through the data to find discrete groups of people with similar traits and/or interests, who can then be targeted and tested with relevant content based on site activity. Product recommendations and other offers are then provided based on what the various groups are most likely to purchase.
Product information tools give customers a deeper understanding of the product at hand—a 360-degree view of an article of clothing, or a close-up of various types of textured materials. User-generated content, like ratings, reviews or social media feedback, also aids and influences purchasing decisions. The savvy CMO uses all these methods to strike the delicate balance between intuition and analysis.
As the shelf life of ecommerce sites gets shorter, it becomes harder for marketers to balance the latest trends while maintaining a seamless customer experience. When constant upgrades and revamps become daily tasks, or the functionality just isn’t meeting your growth demands, it might be a sign that it’s time to replatform—or migrate your site to a more stable, streamlined infrastructure.
The bad news is that if you’re considering a replatform, it’s likely because your ecommerce site is highly complex and dynamic, with rich content, targeted merchandising, interactive customer support and advanced search capabilities. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be tricky. Here’s a checklist of six things to help ensure a smoother process.
According to Forrester Research, 39% of surveyed companies see a drop in conversion rates after replatforming, while 44% note slower load times once a new platform goes live. It’s a given that ecommerce sites will need to be further tested and tweaked after replatforming. Therefore, selling the process as a singular project with a definite end date is counterproductive. Replatforming should be treated as a long-term program that caters to the site’s goals and capabilities. Be upfront about this so stakeholders realize that a post-launch dip is part of the plan. And ensure them that you can bring things back into balance through testing and optimization.
The average delay for a replatforming program is 4.2 months; so promising a three-month turnaround is setting your company up for failure. Functionality and usability issues are common once the transition takes place, so be aware of that when devising a timeline. Companies that rush their replatforming efforts often have to spend more time dealing with unexpected snafus, unlike those who allocate enough time to get things right at the first pass. Pro tip: don’t schedule a replatform in Q3 or Q4—unless you enjoy needless holiday chaos! Instead, plan to make the shift earlier in the year (right now is actually a good time!) so any delays that arise are dealt with during the summer, and the bigger issues can get resolved before shopping season begins.
While it’s tempting to keep replatforming decisions strictly within the marketing department—perhaps under the assumption that less cooks in the kitchen will make things go faster—remember that other departments (IT, sales, executives) are bound to have their own goals for the project, each with their own key performance indicators. Having all that input and feedback is highly valuable, and crucial to a successful replatforming. Keeping everyone in the loop in a diplomatic and transparent way results in a consolidated master KPI list for the program with fair and effective prioritization.
A big replatforming no-no is trying to fix too many problems at once. New site features, design changes, cross-channel implementations, updated order management solutions…implementing all those changes at the same time will make the possibility of things going haywire even more likely. Adding excess scope at the start often leads to trimming things down later on—in other words, wasted time, money and effort. Figure out what the most important changes will be at the start, and implement those in a focused, rational manner.
Know what you need
Replatforming is not the end…only the beginning. Therefore, it’s important to have a clear idea of what tools and interdepartmental support are needed to keep things running smoothly once the transition takes place, and to make those needs clear during preliminary discussions so there’s no surprises. Any manual effort or IT hours should be estimated in advance, as well as any possible ongoing financial outlay beyond upfront costs.
Forrester notes that an astounding 63% of companies decide to re-platform based on “perceived ROI” (otherwise known as hunches), while 54% are motivated by internal company demands (also called wishful thinking). That’s a whole lot of guesswork, when what’s needed is actual customer experience testing to see what really improves matters. Any variable you can think of—site traffic, bounce rates, navigation, checkout processes, layout/design, revenue per visitor—can be tested both before and after replatforming to ensure the changes taking place will actually make a difference to the bottom line.
Gartner is predicting that by 2015, 25% of organizations will have a Chief Digital Officer (CDO) and further estimated that 20% of existing chief information officers (CIOs) have already taken on some of the responsibilities of the CDO.
So what does a CDO do?
The role of the CDO in the enterprise has gotten a great deal of attention in recent months. Perhaps because of the impact and influence that the CDO had in the Obama campaign last fall. All the tools of the trade – text analytics, social media analysis, Website personalization, community analytics, computational advertising and online testing, among other things – were used for re-elect the President of the United States.
In this new Age of the Customer (credit to Forrester for naming this one), how well a company uses the readily available information about their customer will determine how successful they are in the marketplace. Which is no small feat since most companies are not “born digital” there is a lot of work to do to get all the people, process and technology to line up.
Adapting to the Age of the Customer requires a new skill set that existing leadership teams don’t necessarily possess. At many modern companies, it’s hard to find anything that is not related to technology in some way.
Moreover, marketing has become so deeply entwined with technology. But this didn’t happen to us overnight; it’s been sneaking up on us for a while. But because technology had been so tangential to marketing management for most of our history, the organizational structure of marketing has been slow to adjust to this new technology-centric reality. But we’ve clearly reached a tipping point. To fully reap the benefits marketing must officially take ownership of its technology platforms and strategies.
I also like to think the traditional path that the CMO has taken to get into the C Suite is changing. Typically the modern day CMO takes Marketing 101 in college, gets a Masters in Marketing, works for a major brand like P&G as an entry level marketer, becomes a brand manager then rises up to eventually become the CMO. Well today’s marketers are growing up digital – they create aps, they place Facebook ads, they run some mobile ads and design augmented reality games – all before lunch! Its no wonder why the idea of a CDO has emerged – because it didn’t make sense for many organizations five years ago, it’s hard to imagine that major companies won’t be operating without one in the very near future.
So how are you preparing for this new reality?
In this new era, business models cannot be limited to what legacy IT is able to support. Instead, all business systems, including monetization platforms, must adapt to deliver the experiences customers want.
Like it or not, what Andrew McAfee predicted in 2006 in his book, Enterprise 2.0, is here, it’s happening and whether we call it “enterprise social,” or “social business” or just the biggest communications revolution since the printing press, it’s changing the way we do business in a fundamental fashion.
So I suggest the best way to prepare for this is to join me in attending the The Social-Shake-Up Conference. This is not your ordinary conference about social media. Nor is it a conference about advertising or marketing technologies. It’s meant to prepare you for changes that are occurring and give you what you need to succeed in this new era. The conference is a jam-packed two-and-a-half days from September 15-17 in Atlanta with 5 tracks ranging from Big Data, Mobile, Social Organization, Customer and Community as well as Content. I hope to see you there!
On the face of it, the idea of a rigorously testing and optimizing your ecommerce web site seems like a no-brainer.
After all, who would object to gathering hard data on exactly how customers move through your site, what happens on specific visits, and what unseen speed bumps and sticking points are hurting sales? Who wouldn’t want definitive answers to such questions?
Fact is, though, in many online marketing organizations, there is often surprisingly sharp resistance to technologies such as multivariate testing.
Sometimes, it’s simply because there’s some confusion about how multivariate testing actually works and what the benefits are. (“You’re going through all this to test the color of the ‘Buy Now” button? Really?”)
But the real problem usually is buried a little deeper. With hard testing comes the threat of upsetting or overturning some cherished beliefs, or disproving what people ‘know’ to be true. Marketing and creative teams have traditionally crafted websites around ‘established principles’ and ‘gut feel’ for what works. (What if that isn’t so? What if we’ve been dead wrong all this time?)
The IT people build the site a certain way because it’s simple and robust makes perfect sense in terms of data flow. (But what if that actually turns customers off? What if that makes shoppers bail out before buying?) The notion of actually testing ingrained practices is a bit scary. Who wants to have their worldview changed?
In other cases, there’s some reluctance to admitting there’s even a problem. “We’re getting X% conversions. That’s the industry norm. Nobody is complaining. Why bother?”
The best approach to getting buy-in for a testing strategy is to position it as less of a of a threat, and more of a way to ‘refine’ and direct the efforts of your creative, marketing and IT teams. It’s a way to out-smart, out-maneuver, out-think your competitors; it’s not a way to beat up on what we’ve been doing.
Detail the pain, document the bad
First step: point out the pain points on your site. Are visitors fleeing as soon as they arrive? Are they actually buying or just poking around? Do they buy once, and disappear forever?
To make your case, use strong graphics, charts, video clips, whatever it takes. But make sure the visuals are backed up by solid data that will speak to your audience: You bounce rate, cart abandonment rate, search engagement and average order value. Make the pain and problems clear, and the idea of a testing program will be much easier to sell.
Add up the losses
Find a way to dramatize and quantify how much money you’re losing in the current situation. Then show how much more money the company could be making if you could get hard data on exactly what’s working and what’s not working.
Bring up smart competitors, industry darlings
Peer pressure is another go-to tactic for getting reluctant executives to embrace change. Explain how other respected, successful organizations are leaping ahead by definitively testing what they’re doing. For examples, check business publications, LinkedIn, public case studies, blogs and so forth.
Nobody likes to be left behind — if stakeholders see other businesses are implementing test programs to their benefit, it’s more likely they’ll want to do the same. And if competition’s already ahead of the game, even better for you. (Although the alternative is that they’re not and you can beat them to the chase.)
Speak to IT on their terms
Your development teams may feel that site testing is unnecessary, especially if they’ve already evaluated usability and other qualitative factors. They may consider testing their domain, and not appreciate any input from the marketing department.
Address these concerns by speaking their language and giving them concrete information they can actually use in making development decisions. Don’t just have a verbal discussion — provide all those statistical facts in writing, in terminology they know and use. Point out that shifting the responsibility of site testing to marketing frees up IT time and manpower to work on other projects.
Relate it all to the brand
In a critical way, the e-commerce site is the final touch point, the ultimate ‘proof’ of the brand concept. Does the experience on the website match the brand promise? Does it reinforce and capitalize on all the branding efforts so far? Is there something we can do better? Something in our web experience that is somehow compromising our brand? Multivariate testing can quantify this very accurately.
“Just try it”
Finally, propose a trial run — a limited test, shown to a small percentage of page traffic. Be sure to track key data points like visitor stats, cost per conversion, and abandonment rates. Once the results are gathered, share them with various departments throughout the company. As more co-workers find out what’s going on, your potential support base will become even larger.
A bit of a trick question: If you had $100 to spend, would you be better off devoting that money to doubling the traffic to your site?
Or doubling your conversion rate?
Many marketers get this wrong.
Despite years of front-line, real-world experience to the contrary, more and more online marketing budgets are disproportionately aimed at driving traffic, rather than conversions.
There’s the notion that things like SEO, PPC, affiliate marketing and the like are far more important than increasing shopping cart sizes, decreasing abandonment, upselling and cross selling.
To be sure, driving traffic is a critical mission for any e-commerce site. After all, no visitors, no sales.
But at the same time, even the most brilliant SEO or affiliate strategies will be for naught if the site itself fails to entice customers to actually buy.
That’s precisely where site testing, optimization, and personalization come in. Failing to actually sell goods on the site can cost brands the effort, the dollars, and the brand equity that they devoted to attracting all that traffic.
Doubling your conversions can be dramatically more profitable than merely doubling your visitor numbers. And here’s why:
You want insight, not just raw numbers
Slice and dice your site traffic analytics all you want. But at the end of the day, they are still just numbers. What rings the cash register is actionable solutions you can use to improve your customer experience.
The first step is to employ an internal test-and-learn methodology to understand what visitors to your site are engaging with, where they’re dropping off, where their gravitating towards. (Hint: this may even differ by traffic source!)
But only through continuous A/B and multivariate testing, can you actually begin to understand your visitors and place content decisions in their hands. You can fundamentally change how your organization learns about its online traffic. In other words, nobody should be increasing traffic or making a site without a focus on improving conversions.
You want sales, not just visitors.
Yes, going to your boss and detailing how you doubled site traffic in the last quarter is a grand accomplishment! But can you really document how that increased traffic contributed to sales? Do you really know?
If you aren’t tracking conversion rates, or attempting to optimize the site in any way, boosting traffic rates is simply doesn’t matter.
Once visitors land on your site, your goal is to get them to buy (and hopefully become repeat customers). This is where testing and personalization are essential to turning traffic into sales.
Optimizing your site for content, design, offers, and copy is the only way to ensure your are taking full advantage of your site traffic. If the experience is irrelevant, frustrating or cumbersome, you might as well have not ever invited them to your site in the first place.
Better experience, more dollars
Today’s consumers are good at comparison shopping. They research, they sign up for emails, they track down deals. Which may lead you to believe that the key is to boost your traffic as much as possible.
But the reality is, if you provide a really stellar online experience, they will want to come back, again and again. Which makes the overall job simpler, and clearer.
Thanks in part to more advanced testing methods, it’s a lot easier to listen to what your visitors want (and need). Customers have become a lot more vocal even if they don’t know it. Through their clicks, page views, bounces, reviews and purchases, your online customers offer real-world feedback about their online experiences, in real-time. So pay attention to them. Make website changes and marketing decisions based on your customers, not on what your gut — or marketing budget — is telling you to.
Getting into a traffic war with your competitors is a sure-fire way to waste resources and precious attention. It’s far more effective step up your game by using testing and conversion optimization to gather data and visitor profiles that can dramatically increase actual sales and repeat visits. You may even find that segmenting your customers by where they came from can help you convert them into loyal and repeat buyers.
When it comes to their websites, major e-commerce players need to realize that only through a customized combination of multivariate testing, optimization and personalization best practices can they truly begin to tailor experiences in meaningful and profitable ways. It’s an ever-evolving practice that reaches miles beyond SEO, ad targeting and landing page optimization. But the rewards of it means a lot more return traffic, and a lot more improved conversions.
Follow the money
No matter how you define a conversion, at the end of the day, the holy grail for e-commerce marketers is to increase site sales. And the dollars are in the details, not just the volume. Focusing on conversion rates is where you’ll see not only site engagement improve, but revenue as well. Your traffic drivers might bring you more people, but conversion strategies bring you more money. No contest.
When it comes to site optimization and traffic acquisition, the best brands aren’t just surviving — they’re thriving. By focusing on the deep analytics and insights gained from testing with online customers, not just boosting traffic, not only improves the efficiency and effectiveness of their e-commerce site, but several other aspects of their businesses as well. They have a better grasp on who their customers are, how they buy, when they buy and what they buy.
In short, they can offer experiences more suited to customer needs and wants — and that is the true goal of any e-commerce business.
Marketers have been trying to capture that magic moment when a potential consumer is actually looking to interact with your brand. Back in the day, we had to rely on “inferred interests” gathered from demographics, psychographics and other data to estimate what segments might have higher than average propensity to have that interest and then broadcast various messages at them, hoping we just might hit them at the right place and at the right time.
But in the past five years things have dramatically changed. With nearly ubiquitous smartphone coverage, we finally have a way to access consumers’ mindsets at almost any time in a meaningful way. What’s more, not only can we tap into each magic moment but also consumers actually want to participate in it.
Current smartphone technology allows for nearly infinitely granular targeting based on behavior, third party data, contextual data like location, and universal sign-in profiles. All of these allow increasingly relevant interactions to follow a consumer across apps and the mobile web, all while waiting for the right moment. While interesting, however, this is not what I am talking about. This is just a refinement of existing approaches to targeting. It’s nothing new.
What I’m talking about is giving consumers control, a tool that allows them to quickly and easily learn something about a specific product or service. I’m talking using our smartphones to create intuitive gateways that bridge the real world with related digital experiences. Whether you call it Web 3.0 or the “internet of things,” this is what mobile is all about and I believe visual recognition technology will play a key role in making it happen.
Google Glasses are already showing us ways in which visual recognition and augmented reality can be combined to provide a dizzying array of overlays and information. This beta product offers an exciting peek into one vision of what might be in store for marketers and consumers alike.
Other companies like smartsy are showing a more targeted approach to visual recognition, allowing consumers to use devices they already have and apps they already use to interact with the world in specific ways. They allow consumers to snap a picture of whatever they are interested in, be it a can of Coke or a Louis Vuitton bag, with any visual recognition app on their mobile device and interact with the brand in real-time.
Both approaches have their pros and cons but they share the common goal of creating customer engagement. Ideally if you want to tap into what a consumer is doing with your brand and well as when and where they interact with it, you will want to allow them to use visual recognition in different ways. Who’s to say which will work best? Its still early days of visual recognition but I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you think it will play a role in consumers’ lives and marketers’ strategies.
Going green, online—is it worth it? The short answer is yes. Many marketers may not realize that catering specifically to this type of consumer can actually increase conversion rates, while maintaining your image as a green-friendly organization. And when applying some personalization to the mix, can also help keep your green friends very, very loyal.
Whether retail or hospitality, certain brands are continuously striving to maintain relevancy for a certain subset of eco-conscious customers—both offline and off. So, if you want your brand to be top-of-mind with the green-friendly, your website needs to follow a certain aesthetic—just like your products and physical locations.
1. Use your navigation to your advantage.
When green visitors hit your homepage, they should be able to immediate route themselves to a section that meets their eco-friendly requirements. This doesn’t mean that you have to dedicate an entire green banner on the homepage for every visitor to see. Simply highlighting and building in a green section into the navigation will get visitors up and clicking on the products they are interested in.
2. Highlight products and categories with green options.
A recent study published in the International Journal of Hospitality Management found that the level of willingness to pay a premium for green initiatives is significantly different depending on hotel type. Test out highlighting hotels that invest in green initiatives in the search results and hotel details page. By watching the results on conversions and bookings, you’ll be able to nail down who your green travelers are, and what they are looking for most.
On the flip side, retailers can easily highlight products on category pages to effectively call-out environmentally sound products. Using tricks such as a “green dot” or a “green leaf” icon identifies an eco-friendly product in an otherwise crowded page.
3. Be detailed and explanatory.
For those extra-inquisitive customers, explaining why a product or room is green is a necessary step to getting the conversion. Using “rollovers” is a great way to quickly explain what makes the product eco-friendly before the visitor clicks on it. This helps not only keep the visitor engaged on the path to purchase, but instills a level of trust with the site, since you took that extra step to keep consumers on the up and up.
4. Get (environmentally) personal.
It’s been shown when degree of environmental concern and other demographic factors remain constant, luxury and mid-priced hotel customers show, on average, a higher willingness to pay a premium for the green initiatives than economy hotel customers. On the same token, repeat visitors to your retail site who have shown interest in green products in the past, should not have to search around to find their desired products.
So how can you play that up? Personalization.
With personalization, conscious green visitors are immediately acknowledged and other visitors become aware of additional product offering—but aren’t necessary pushed for it. A technique such as behavioral targeting can help automatically syphon off non-green or unknown visitors, and promote green items, options or offers to those who are. By using a predictive, mathematical model, this allows your site to offer the right product, to the right visitor, at the right time. No matter how much merchandise you have, your customers will be targeted appropriately.
It’s important to remember that green consumers are just like everyone else out there—fickle, picky and demanding. As e-commerce marketers, it’s up to us to ensure we’re always catering to all our customers wants and needs—otherwise losing our green-friendly image is the least of our worries. It’s the customer loyalty that will be at stake.
It doesn’t take a record-breaking holiday shopping season to realize that most online shoppers are vulnerable to the advances of competing online retailers. But when it comes to a decline in return customers, blaming a lack of customer loyalty on the competition is the easy way out. Now is the perfect time to commit to tracking the number of first-time shoppers who actually come back in months to come—not to mention, those who don’t. And from there, put a plan in place for increasing customer loyalty.
There are many reasons customers will only buy from a site once. It could be that you offered them something they couldn’t get anywhere else, but didn’t give them a good reason to return when they were there. It could also be the overall usability of your site, a lack of necessary information, a poor checkout process… The list goes on. The bottom line is that they didn’t find the shopping experience memorable—and you may never see them again.
But fear not, there is a proven method for visitor retention. And it’s called personalization—aka using what you know about your online visitors to create highly individualized experiences for them. Personalization can be simple, based on one or two collected insights, or a highly complex interaction of detailed formulas and algorithms. Either way, it’s better than just ignoring tailored content altogether.
Because many marketers aren’t taking advantage of personalization techniques—or they’re doing them wrong—there is a lot of opportunity for those who are. So, instead of blaming a lack of loyalty on the aggressive competition, get ahead of competing sites using testing and personalization to avoid making these three common mistakes:
Misinformed website updates
Companies often invest tons of time and money into a complete website overhaul each year (or even every few months), only to find that the new site fares no better—or even worse—than the old. Instead of being attracted to the sparkly new changes, consumers often feel alienated by the inconsistent and constantly shifting branding. After all, if they don’t recognize you, how will they know you’re, well, you?
Even more, companies often don’t fix the actual problems; instead, they focus on the superficial elements they perceive to be the problems. Solving a problem requires first knowing what it is. Let the actions of your visitors show you what works and what doesn’t using A/B and multivariate testing. Testing your website elements and pages will not only reveal your problem areas, it will reveal where on your site you’re experience positive visitor behavior. All of this information should then go to informing minor (or major) site updates, which can lead to significant lifts in conversions. But our end goal goes beyond initial conversion—we’re focused on retention.
Neglecting mobile and tablet
It’s especially sad when a brand goes all out updating their website, but doesn’t take mobile or tablet responsiveness into consideration. There’s little point in having a gorgeous website that’s impossible to navigate on a smartphone. Consumers now expect the same look and feel across web, mobile and tablet-specific apps or sites, yet each platform has its own unique capabilities—and opportunities to learn more about your customers. This additional knowledge can then be used to personalize user experiences across channels. And vice versa.
Landing page tunnel vision
Landing page optimization is a go-to tactic for many marketers looking for a quick fix, but even the best landing pages can’t sustain customer loyalty on their own. Focusing on single pages distracts from the larger picture, which should be the 360-degree customer experience. Knowing what individual customers do, what they like, and how they prefer to engage with your brand can help accomplish this. This knowledge can come from multiple data sources, online and off.
Behavioral targeting is a form of personalization that relies on using these user actions and preferences to inform custom experiences for individual visitors as they navigate each and every page of the site—including landing pages.