Cover Story: A How-to-Do-Everything-Great-in-2012 Guide for Cross-Channel Retailers
It’s hard to believe, but 2012 is here and in full swing. Hopefully you had a busy and productive holiday season and are now ready to jump into 2012 no-holds-barred. Before you get started, however, make sure to check out this guide. We’ve assembled a top-notch group of cross-channel retail experts to offer you their best advice for the year ahead. We’re covering everything from how to make the most of your free shipping program to email deliverability, and everything in between. And don’t forget to check out the quotes from our editorial board members in the guide's sidebar. The sage advice from these cross-channel retail veterans is priceless. Take their advice to heart and you’ll undoubtedly have the best year ever.
How to Make Your Buttons Pay
Buttons are often the main visual call to action on a landing page. The following guidelines should help you make them more effective:
Prioritize your buttons. Ideally you should have a single, clear call-to-action button on your page. If you have secondary buttons, change their color or size to something visually less interesting (e.g., make those buttons duller and smaller). If you have two side-by-side buttons, remember that the one on the right is by convention considered the default one, or the one most likely to be clicked on. You may also consider demoting some of your secondary buttons to text links.
Experiment with format. The exact format of a button matters. Experiment and test a wide range of button shape parameters to see what works best. Possible changes to a button include shape (having it be square), dimensionality (adding drop shadows and curves), color (contrasting and ideally unique on the page), visual embellishments (adding small triangles or chevrons to indicate action) and size (try radically smaller or larger versions).
Be specific and manage expectations. Buttons should accurately describe the intended action. Make sure that your buttons describe exactly what will happen when they’re pressed. For example, many e-commerce sites mistakenly put “Buy It Now!” buttons next to products when the actual action is “Add to Cart.” Similarly, don’t use “Order Now” when you really mean “Proceed to Checkout.” This causes unnecessary stress and anxiety for visitors.
Label from the perspective of your visitors. Button text should always be written from the perspective of your visitors. Address their intentions and desires. In many cases you should try to complete the thought in the mind of the visitor: “I want to … .” Examples of possible completions to this sentence include “download the whitepaper,” “start my free trial,” “get details” or “select this plan.” The formulation above is unlikely to work with commonly seen button text such as “Submit,” “Create Account” or “Reset.” — Tim Ash
How to Make Your Back-End Operations Shine
Your business has just finished the holiday shipping season. During this recession you’ve worked hard to lower expenses and improve productivity. How can you continue to make further gains? The best way to improve operational performance is to conduct an audit of your supply chain and warehouse operations. Here are five steps necessary to performing an operational assessment:
- Walk through and observe. Don’t assume you know how all operations work. Things get changed without leadership knowing the processes. It’s helpful to develop step-by-step process diagrams and flowcharts for your major processes. Managers can then review and make suggestions to improve.
- Gather and store necessary data and metrics. This data should include internal performance and cost reports, customer service and error reporting, among other things.
- Interview key staff members. Consult your entire staff to get their opinions. Your staff often knows where the pain points are and which areas need improvement.
- Do external benchmarking to look for areas of potential improvement. Use this process as a chance to compare your company’s productivity and methodology to other similar businesses.
- Seek an outside consultant to validate your processes and introduce new perspectives and solutions. Remember, you can’t improve a process you haven’t measured. This applies to productivity as well as processes.
Having pulled together your basic findings, the next step is to develop options for solving the problems that you’ve found. You generally can’t do everything all at once, so develop tangible savings and improvements. Prioritize the recommended solutions so that you’re working on those that bring the most benefit.
Here are some areas we regularly see cross-channel retailers executing on:
- Inbound and outbound shipping costs: Competitive bid frequently and renegotiate the continual upward increases in shipping.
- Management of labor: Look at simplifying processes and decreasing touches to products. How can the training of first-line supervisors be improved? How can their leadership become more effective? Can activities like put-away be staggered or shifted for different departments to make better use of their time and effort? Where can you streamline processes and reduce congestion and costs?
- Vendor compliance: Move inspection and value-added services up the supply chain. They can lower internal operations costs, eliminate bottlenecks in the warehouse, reduce inventory and eliminate problems with vendor paperwork.
- Warehouse capacity and storage: Determine how you can take the next step in applying automation and whether there’s a return on investment. — Curt Barry
How to Do Video Right
Here are five tips to help cross-channel retailers take full advantage of all the benefits video has to offer:
- Create your own videos. In a recent analysis of 7,500 videos across 25 e-commerce sites, Liveclicker found 71 percent of the top converting videos were created by the site where the product was sold. No one can describe your brand or products better than you can.
- Shorter videos sell better. As a general best practice, keep your videos short. The highest converting videos in the sample were less than 30 seconds long. Of course, all products are different and some warrant longer videos.
- Make your videos both mobile and social. Since Adobe announced last November that it would soon stop building Flash for mobile devices, it’s become more important than ever to support HTML5 video. In fact, 93 percent of a webinar audience (sample of 200) surveyed by Liveclicker in December agreed that mobile will play an even more important role in video commerce in 2012. On the social side, while humorous or emotionally charged product videos tend to get shared the most, 48 percent of all shared videos were plain vanilla product videos. Consumers sharing these videos might be more interested in soliciting real purchase advice from friends and shouldn’t be ignored.
- Use video site maps for video search engine optimization. When you submit Google video site maps, your videos become indexed by Google. This enables your video thumbnails to display in search results for video SEO purposes.
- Make videos interactive. Giving consumers the ability to buy a product, shop related products, read ratings and reviews, and click on interactive links and hotspots all within the video player itself creates an interactive shopping experience. — Justin Foster
How to Make the Most of Mobile
Of the $4 trillion worth of retail commerce transacted in the United States last year, 7 percent was done online. Interestingly, retailers seem to know everything about that 7 percent. Entire ecosystems have been built around e-commerce analytics, messaging promotion and many other categories. Retailers have access to deep analytics providing them with everything from shopping cart abandonment rates to where their customers are coming from to the trajectory they took through the site to the conversion. Until now retailers have known everything about their online sites but very little about where the other 93 percent of retail sales occur — in-store.
Mobile changes this. With more than 50 percent of Americans owning a smartphone by the beginning of 2012, cross-channel retailers need to begin to take advantage of the consumer-location knowledge mobile unlocks — the power to understand, influence and attract shoppers to their retail stores.
The need for retailers to develop a rich, unique mobile shopping experience through a branded, mobile-optimized website and rich app that enables consumers to easily and conveniently search, browse and buy while at home, on the go and in-store has been well documented over the past year. The next major strategic initiative is enabling location-based technology within a retailer’s own branded rich mobile app so it can develop a deeper relationship with consumers by engaging them in a relevant, more personal way.
Rich apps with location-aware technology not only gives retailers the opportunity to immerse the consumer in their own branded experience, but also the power to know where those consumers are in relation to their physical locations, when they enter a retail store, how long they’re there and what they do while inside. By understanding consumers’ in-store shopping behaviors, retailers can more effectively interact with them, helping to drive sales, customer loyalty and deep analytics. For 2012, cross-channel retailers should implement location-based marketing and analytics in their mobile strategy through their own branded rich mobile app to better understand and engage with consumers like never before. — Dan Lowden
How to Get Your Emails Delivered
This year will see a lot of the traditional email deliverability challenges still in place, but it will also bring actionable data to marketers that they’ve never had access to before. Here are three problems you’ll face in 2012 and the data you need to stay in front of them.
- Mind your inbox placement rates. Based on the latest Return Path research, inbox placement rates are still stuck at 81 percent — the same place they’ve been for years. Make a New Year’s resolution that you’ll increase that number in 2012. Marketers need two metrics to be successful at this: one, a traditional seed list that will give them a global view of their deliverability and, two, subscriber-level inbox data that will give them a more accurate view of how their subscriber file is performing by including personal subscriber-level metrics — e.g., those subscribers that have put you on their personal blacklist.
- Don’t be phish bait. Last year saw the first decline in spam ever, in part because fraudsters get a much higher return on investment from phishing than from sending bulk spam. Unfortunately, they’ve also found that hijacking well-known brands is the best way to phish. I don’t mean just financial companies either. Retailers and social networks are the biggest targets. Internet service providers (ISPs) are now looking closely at domains being authenticated with SPF and DKIM. Protect your inbox placement rate, brand and reputation by authenticating with both.
- Move beyond opens and clicks. With ISPs filtering email based on subscriber engagement, removing inactive addresses has never been as important. However, marketers need to move beyond just opens and clicks when devising an inactive strategy. In 2012, marketers will need to arm themselves with data like who is deleting without opening. This level of data hasn’t been available until now, and should prove to be invaluable when solving deliverability problems due to engagement. — Tom Sather
How to Be a Super Cross-Channel Merchant
Super cross-channel merchants will prioritize the following activities in 2012:
Stay curious. Be continuously learning. Pay attention to the things that are on your customers’ radar screens. Experience what they experience so you’re prepared to lead them into new innovative waters. The best cross-channel merchants immerse themselves deeply in all aspects of their product touchpoints. They’re control freaks! They’re also innately curious about the product touchpoints of their competitors. They’re observers of industries unrelated to theirs for any inspiration that may come from unusual places for product naming, design, copy, pricing or packaging.
High-tech, high touch. Super cross-channel merchants ensure there are buzzworthy product conversations occurring wherever consumers happen to be — i.e., the channel they choose to shop in. Online? Quick informative videos and provocative cross-sells. In-store? Knowledgeable salespeople who live the brand. Catalog? Targeted and emotion-evoking product hero shots accompanied by product descriptions that answer customers’ questions and motivate them to purchase.
Think Pop-Up. Every channel has its own reason for being. If merchants think of each of these as stand-alone opportunities to tell similar but different product stories, their brand will be enhanced. Think of your offering being condensed to a pop-up store, kiosk, tablet screen or email blast. What merchandising message do you want to send? What would be memorable? Brand enhancing? Meaningful to that particular target audience at that point in time?
Repurpose. A super cross-channel merchant is superefficient and supersynergistic. Every product story is created to be used in many ways. Best-sellers are leveraged strategically. Product development efforts are comingled with marketing genius at the start of the process. Nothing is ever wasted. — Andrea Syverson
How to Make Your Customers Love You
Once upon a time it was enough to keep customers satisfied. In today’s they-can-find-it-anywhere-and-maybe-even-cheaper world, satisfaction is simply not enough to keep customers reliably coming back with money and friends. You need to think beyond satisfaction if you want to build loyal, long-term customer relationships.
When customers are loyal, they help you build a robust bottom line. They buy more often, they give useful feedback, they’re less price sensitive, and they refer you to their friends and colleagues. In short, they make your life easier, helping to reduce things like marketing costs and even employee turnover. But there’s a catch: Loyalty takes focus, attention and effort to build.
What’s the difference between a satisfied customer and a loyal customer? Emotion! Loyalty is an emotional connection with the customer. It’s built on trust, confidence, security, appreciation and even affection.
Think about your favorite restaurant, catalog or coffee shop. Do you ever find yourself saying something like “I LOVE Sam’s restaurant” or “I love Isabella’s catalog” or “I love Starbucks”? Maybe you profess love for your auto mechanic, hairdresser or dentist. When you feel a company really cares about you, you care back.
Neuroscientists have literally looked inside consumers’ brains to see what happens when someone is shown a logo of a company they “love.” No surprise here, the very same area of the brain that’s activated when in love is activated when shown that logo.
That doesn’t happen when someone is “satisfied.” Want to activate the love your customers have in 2012? Think about their emotional needs, not just their practical needs. What do your customers need to feel? That they’re cared about, valued, appreciated, important, special, confident, secure, happy, delighted, warm, welcomed, engaged, invited or any combination of those. Identify their emotional needs and get everyone on board to deliver them. — JoAnna Brandi
How to Offer Free Shipping and Still Be Profitable
Consumers and carriers are squeezing online retailers. Consumers expect free shipping and carriers keep raising prices. So how do you offer free shipping and still turn a profit?
The key is to reduce your shipping costs as much as possible to minimize the cost impact of free shipping promotions. Here are several ways to do that:
- Include the U.S. Postal Service. Only shipping with FedEx and UPS? If you ship lightweight, residential packages, USPS is hard to beat. It doesn’t charge residential add-ons, delivery area surcharges, or fuel and other surcharges. USPS offers a variety of pricing options including retail, regional pricing, cubic rating and volume discounts in addition to flat-rated products. First Class parcel service and other USPS products can cost up to 70 percent less than comparable services with FedEx and UPS.
- Give your customers deferred delivery choices. Consider adding deferred residential ground shipping alternatives to your website — e.g., UPS SurePost, FedEx SmartPost, Newgistics and EquaShip. These delivery methods may add days in transit, but at significantly lower pricing than FedEx and UPS air and ground services. While the goods being purchased often dictate the shipping method — e.g., frozen steaks on dry ice must be delivered within two days — when presented with choice many online shoppers choose the low cost (or free) delivery option, even if it means a longer transit.
- Try free in-store shipping. For those online sellers with a retail presence, consider offering free shipping for pickup in-store. Not only do you avoid high-cost residential delivery charges, but you maximize cross-sell and upsell opportunities. As an added benefit, this tactic lowers the cost of returns, too.
- Charge membership dues to offset shipping costs. Amazon and other leading e-tailers offer free shipping for customers that pay an annual fee to access free deferred shipping or low cost express upgrades on eligible products. Membership programs help to not only defray shipping costs, they also enhance customer lifetime value.
- Free shipping with minimum purchase. Many companies have been successful with free shipping offers for orders over a certain value. This improves retailers’ chances of profitability by creating a floor-to-order value, often prompting shoppers to buy additional items to achieve the free shipping threshold.
- Exclude certain products and ship-to destinations. Online retailers should be careful to exclude certain products from free shipping promotions. These include low margin products, those that incur higher shipping charges due to size or weight, and orders for international and offshore customers. — Rob Martinez