The Future of Retail Has Never Been Brighter (Thoughts from eTail West 2017)

As February came to a close and March began, some of the smartest people in retail converged on Palm Springs, California like it was some sort of e-commerce Coachella festival. As they do every year around this time, these leaders in retail got together to share a combination of insights and recommendations as to the current state of digital commerce, while thousands more of their peers listened in to hear the latest in what’s happening in this world.

Still, as anyone who’s been in “e-commerce” knows, eTail is about more than just selling things online. It has to be. As e-commerce has evolved over the past two decades its grown from an outlier and change agent to become a key component of how we shop and interact with brands. It’s past mobile commerce, multichannel and even omnichannel. Instead, now with its big brother, Brick and Mortar, it’s become just part of how we consumers buy stuff.

But is it even more than that? If this year’s eTail West conference was any indication, the answer is an absolute YES.
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VR, AR and the Inherent Challenge to Promoting What Must Be Experienced

This past holiday season, one of the hottest tech trends I saw being promoted on TV was Samsung’s swing at VR: their Gear VR headset. The commercials were on pretty constantly (at least on the programming I watched) … but there was one big problem with them. There’s no way to really show the VR experience in an ad.

It’s a challenge both Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) marketers are going to have to figure out how to surmount in order to get the kind of widespread adoption the technologies need to survive. But with all our ways of marketing, pretty much none of them can get across what the actual experience is. Sure, you could write an article “explaining it” in words or you could show a picture or video of what the person might be seeing on-screen … but I just don’t see how those are going to get the job done.
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No, You Don't Need an App

Mobile Strategy: No, You Don’t Need an App

With the iPhone released nearly 10 years ago, mobile web and apps have been around for quite a while now. Still, the question continues to come up: Do I need an app?

The short answer? No.

The long answer? It depends on what you’re trying to do.

As mobile started to take off and the world was enamored with the new app economy, the immediate rush of thinking was to either build an app or miss out on mobile. The question most people didn’t ask was this: What will an app accomplish that my website won’t?
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Twitter Tip

Twitter Tip: Don’t Auto DM New Followers

It’s tempting, right? The idea of sending an auto DM to your new followers on Twitter?

Don’t give in. Resist the urge.

Don’t be annoying.

I follow a lot of people on Twitter and every day I’m probably following another 50-100 new people. Some days even more. I do it because they’re talking about topics that are interesting to me, or they’re on curated lists identifying them as people who are active in the discussion topics I like.

I LOVE following new people. Especially people who partake in conversation (as opposed to just spewing out promotional links).

What I don’t love – what no one loves – is being sent a generic message the second a connection is made.
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Hey Retailers: Get Your “In-Store Pickup” Act Together

If shopping this holiday season has taught me one thing, it’s this: Omnichannel is still a complete mess.

Let’s not even get into the headaches I continue to encounter where retail stores and their online counterparts run completely separate and non-interchangeable promotions. (Yes, I’m looking at you Banana Republic.)

I’m talking the parts where multichannel retailers are actually promoting their supposed ability to make online and offline work together in a flawless symbiotic relationship: In-Store Pickup (aka buy online, pick up in-store).

Over the past few weeks I’ve utilized in-store pickup three times, and every one of those times was pretty much a disaster. Yes, I should have learned by now … but I try to be hopeful.

One of those experiences was at a Best Buy store. The other two were at Target … but the issues have been similar at most places I’ve shopped.
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Speed Matters: Speed Up WordPress With These 3 Plugins

Speed matters. Especially when it comes to your website.

Even if your site isn’t a top e-commerce destination, if it’s something you actually want people to interact with you had better make it as fast as you can.

Need proof? KissMetrics has put together some great statistics on just how important page speed is.

For example, did you know that 40% of users will abandon a site that takes more than 3 seconds to load? Or that a 1 second delay in page load can result in a 7% drop in conversion rate?
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Amazon’s Trying a Fascinating Price Display Change

Earlier today I was over on Amazon, doing my daily obsessive check to see if anyone’s written any new reviews of any of my short stories or novels (I’m a writer on the side) and I noticed something pretty fascinating. The change is subtle, but it’s definitely there. Also I’m not sure if it’s a test or an a full-fledged rollout … but as minor as it may appear, Amazon has made a major change to how they are displaying product prices in search results.
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The Post-Purchase Experience Matters Just as Much (or More) as Your Sales Funnel

I just finished up a few days in Austin with a group of other digital marketing executives at the GDS Digital CMO Summit, and as is usually the case after a few days immersed in discussions with other experts in the field, my head is overflowing with ideas. The one biggest takeaway from this conference though is that I really think marketers are starting to understand just what is meant by “experience” marketing.

For a while there, as the catch-phrase was starting to gain ground, it looked like there was a chance that experience marketing was going to veer off course and turn a bit more into a form of “gimmick” or “entertainment” marketing – but from the presentations and conversations this week in Austin it’s clear to me that many marketing executives are truly understanding the value focusing on the experience can bring to increasing brand value and loyalty.

This is why I was thrilled to see that a lot of the focus here wasn’t on prospecting or advertising, but instead on providing customers with a great experience throughout their lifetime. In my opinion, this is one of the most important things we can be focusing on as marketers today. As much as strategies and measurement have been traditionally built around KPIs like visits and conversion rates to determine what is an “effective” campaign, I think it’s much more important to focus on providing customers with a great experience throughout their lifetime engagement with our brands.

What this means is that understanding of customers, their behaviors, motivations and values is an area where we should be putting more of our focus as we continue to grow brands. Customers are more and more looking for engagement, truthfulness and brands that share a common sense of priorities with them. This, above all, means that it is key for us to be able to empathize with our customers and build out experiences as suited to them and their needs as we can.

Of course this all starts with getting the right message in front of the right people at the right time – and then providing a streamlined discovery, shopping and checkout experience – but it doesn’t end there. For too long the focus has been on closing that sale – getting that conversion. I propose that once you’ve done this, you’ve only just started.

As marketers, we need to concern ourselves with what happens after that sale just as much, if not more so, than what happens before. How are customers using the product? How can we help them realize more value from their purchase? What was the goal they were trying to achieve when they finally decided to buy from you, and how can you help ensure they reach that goal? If a customer is having a positive experience, how do we encourage them to share their experience with others and become an advocate? If a customer is having a bad experience, well then why is that happening, how can you fix it, and how can you make it not happen again?

We live in a connected marketplace where we are no longer the sole owners of our brand and message. Running some ads to drive people to your store to buy stuff just doesn’t cut it anymore (and I’d argue it never did – it just was “good enough” for some brands when customers couldn’t really demand more).

To succeed in today’s world, we need to connect with our customers in meaningful ways – and that means we need to understand them at all stages of their relationship with our brands. As we build those relationships and we continue to strengthen those bonds, build trust, and help our customers achieve success, we can build loyalty.

I’ve heard some people say lately that customers are no longer loyal to brands. That’s plain wrong. They’re no longer loyal to brands they had no choice about. Now that we can be mobile and agile in our relationships, we, as consumers are able to forge new loyalties and relationships. When we as marketers learn to connect with and understand our customers (empathize with them) loyalty is attainable.

Remember, in a world with so many choices, it may seem easy to jump ship at any time – and that’s definitely the case. But with all the different alternatives and decisions out there, customers also don’t want to be continually switching what they buy and from who. There’s decision paralysis out there too – and once you’ve build a meaningful relationship between customer and brand, there’s little reason for them to go elsewhere. They have more important things to worry about.

Totals and Subtotals in Baskets May Just Waste Space

A few weeks ago I tweeted that I was going to try what I considered to be possibly a “crazy” site design / usability test. In fact, the idea at the time seemed so crazy that at first I limited it to a very small amount of customers, as it was such a departure from norms that I didn’t know what to expect.

I’ve long argued that the whole idea of our classic concept of digital shopping carts on web sites is a very backward way of shopping – especially in the art of increasing average order value. The whole concept of giving people a running total of how much they are spending just seems to run counter to encouraging continued shopping.

Imagine that if when you were shopping at Target you got a continual update on your cart showing you how much you were spending. You’d likely keep a much closer eye on it, and work harder to stay within your budget, and let that continually increasing total ticker start to limit your buying behavior. If every time you threw a new thing in the your cart you received an update on just how much all that stuff was going to cost, you’d probably end up with less in the cart. Instead, since our physical carts don’t have digital price displays on them, we tend to shop in physical stores with the intent to buy what we want to buy, maybe keeping a rough running total in our heads, but mostly we just get what we want to get – then maybe at checkout we’ll put an item or two back once we see that subtotal start to go higher and higher.

Could we increase average order value by not continually showcasing an increasing $ total every time someone adds an item to their cart?

So, the theory behind my test was that by employing the same tactics we could increase average order value by simply not continually updating and showcasing the order total as people shop, but instead leave all calculations of totals until late in checkout – where people have already become so invested in the purchase that cart abandonment will be minimally affected (and still allow people to edit their cart at that time, without having to restart checkout).

The test for this was simple, in our shopping cart I just hid all sections that display totals and subtotals and only left the line item prices in place. Yes, people could still add up their totals in their heads, but there wasn’t a continually growing order total value to scare people into stopping their shopping. We ran the test for a few weeks, and the results … the results showed that it made absolutely no difference to buying behavior.

That’s right, the big area on the page devoted to displaying all the calculations for totals made absolutely no difference in buying behavior. One possibility for this could be that my theory isn’t valid, and that order totals (especially for our low ticket items) really don’t affect how people purchase – they just buy what they want when they want it and aren’t turned off by increased basket sizes. What was clear though was that for the most part this section of the basket mostly just took up extra space – but even with the side-effect of moving the “proceed to checkout” button higher on the page (it’s normally below our subtotals), there was no effect.

In the end we stayed with things how they are, as we hadn’t tested what happens when there is an active promotion that requires a minimum purchase threshold to get a discount – that’s the one instance where we could see it actually having importance.

We’re considering additional tests to see what happens when you pull focus away from price and put it much more on the product. A new test is being thrown around of not even displaying price on product display pages (all of our products cost about the same, and we aren’t competitive on price since we sell a premium product) – but that one is going to be a bit harder to sell internally. Another followup being considered is a version of the basket without totals and subtotals, as we previously tested, but also hiding the individual line item prices.

… think of all the time and resources that could have been potentially put toward projects that actually do matter in the customer experience …

In the end the most surprising part of this test though was that it really had no impact at all. It’s in instances like this that I’m most often reminded that just because something is always done a certain way doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s doing any good. Why do we show subtotals in our baskets? Mostly because it’s standard to do it and we don’t really think about it. But if it really doesn’t matter at all, think of all the time and resources that could have been potentially put toward projects that actually do matter in the customer experience, instead of building out potentially complex calculations for a place where they serve little to no value.