Customers Expect Same Holiday Shopping Experience Online and In Store

It’s that time of year again! With the holiday season less than a month away, you and your marketing departments are already planning shopping strategies both on- and offline.

Have you considered the role smart phones, tablets and mobile apps will play in your overall sales this year? 

A study recently published by Google indicates that the lines between online and offline shopping have blurred, with little difference in customers’ (user) experience.

According to the study, shoppers intend to spend more this holiday season, and they will also be doing a lot more research on products, brands and prices. It’s interesting to note that:

  • 51% will research online, then purchase at a store location;
  • 44% will research and purchase an item online;
  • 32% will research the item online, go to the store to see the item as well, and then make the actual purchase online; and
  • 17% will check out the item at the store, and then purchase it online.

Quite often, shoppers are using one of several mobile devices to find information. Your website and/or mobile app should accommodate varied mobile devices by loading quickly, while still being informative and visually engaging.

Whether viewed from a desktop or mobile device, a strategically planned website can turn online shoppers into buyers! Here are a few tips to get ahead of your competition:

  • Communicate with your customer by considering demographics and customer feedback.
  • Go for a more creative look and feel that will function well for both mobile and desktop applications.
  • Integrate with social media sites for customer convenience, visibility and to stimulate interest in your product.
  • Make the site easy to navigate with simple check-out procedures. Offer PayPal. Include wish lists and merchandise suggestions. For security, use SSL encryption.
  • Provide rich product detail, including graphics and reviews, so shoppers have all the information they need.

A positive user experience, whether online or in-store, is essential for making the sale and having a return customer who will recommend your brand to others.

Feeling "Gilt-ii" About Buying That New Purse?

The new Gilt-ii (pronounced “guilty”) plug-in for members is a clever idea – one worth checking out.  Here is how it works and why it’s worth noting:

Using the plug-in, you add items to your cart for, let’s say, 10 minutes.  While they are in your cart, they are not directly available to other buyers.  So quantities typically run out, and some buyers are out of luck.

But during those 10 minutes while the item is in YOUR cart, you can auction it off to other buyers, right from your cart.  You can even make a premium if other buyer bid it up.

I understand the plug-in works on a few other sites, other than

For the rest of us in the ecommerce space, the idea of auctioning items in a cart during a flash sale with high demand and limited quantities offers a neat alternative to, “Sorry, all items are sold out!”

Is Your Traffic Up 160%?

I love reading about my clients in the news.  It’s especially cool when I read about their growing sales or online traffic results.

A money manager buddy of mine at Wells Fargo Securities sent me this little gem last week…

“unique visitor growth accelerated in April, to up 155% yr/yr vs. up 41.4% last month. On a 2-year trend, traffic was up 160% vs. up 53% last month.”

This is an analyst’s report on the increased online traffic results for Foot Locker in the month of April.  Foot Locker is a long time Guidance client and a true success story in the online retail market today…

B2C Loyalty for Internet Retailers: Build It and They Will Come … Back

(This is part three of a series of blog posts on Relationship Marketing)

‘If you build it, he will come.’ On the movie Fields of Dreams (Universal Studios, 1989), this line motivated Kevin Costner’s character to build a baseball field for a team of deceased ball players. In eCommerce, if you build a reliable online store, establish yourself as a trustworthy merchant, and provide a consistently outstanding shopping experience to your buyers, they will come. And will come again, and again, and again…

As with most things, first impressions are lasting impressions. The same applies to eCommerce. To ensure customer loyalty, recurrence and retention, Internet retailers and development firms like Guidance must work to ensure shoppers have a wonderful experience every time they shop, right from the first time. If you are one of them, take into account every detail of your online retail strategy, including:

  • Product Descriptions – Don’t raise customer’s expectations, only to later disappoint them. Make sure items shown as “in stock” really are, prices don’t increase throughout the transaction, and product images are enticing but not misrepresenting of how the product really looks like. Describe the product exactly as it is, and allow shoppers to write a review for it. If the information and images are accurate, you probably won’t need to worry much about users leaving negative feedback.

  • Security – Protect your site from hackers and let your customers know it is safe to buy from your store by displaying logos from your SSL and Hacker Safe certificate issuers. According to an article in this month’s issue of Internet Retailer magazine, about 12 million Internet users do not shop online for fear of entering personal or payment information on websites.
  • Customer Reach – If you are struggling to claim leadership in the US market, consider expanding your market reach to include international customers, where market leadership can almost guarantee customer recurrence. The global Internet user population grew 265% from 2000 to 2007, for a total of 1.3 billion consumers, according to Internet market research firm Miniwatts Marketing Group. More than 1 billion of them live outside the US and Canada.
  • Shipping – By all means, ensure on-time delivery for all orders. Get products out the door as fast as possible, and provide realistic shipping date expectations. If possible, offer at least one free shipping solution and allow customers to track the delivery of their shipment online. According to a Synovate survey I commissioned this past holiday season, 18% of online shoppers considered free shipping to be the most important factor when making a purchase online. Another good tip is to include a copy of your catalog, a special offer, a coupon, and/or an unexpected free gift with your shipment.
  • Returns – Have a hassle-free return policy. Restrictive policies may discourage people from returning items, but it may also discourage them from buying. Highly visible policies can engender trust, helping to boost conversion rates for online retailers. Include return instructions with your shipments and pay for return postage costs. If your company has brick-and-mortar stores, allow customers to return the items to one of them.
  • Post-Purchase Promotions – Run permission-based email marketing campaigns to promote new products, like newsletters or special offers. According to a recent report by digital marketing firm DoubleClick, 78% of consumers said they want to receive email from their favorite online merchants. Permission-based email campaigns motivate consumers to purchase. An eMarketer survey reported that 58% of US consumers liked and opened emails from companies who – in their opinion – did a good job with permission email marketing, and 53% admits that such emails affected their personal buying decisions.

Ever since the early stages of eCommerce, Internet retailers have focused on low pricing strategies to drive sales and customer recurrence. However, low prices by themselves may not be enough to win customers. Even bargain-hunters want and value good service. If pricing is your strategy for consumer loyalty, all a competitor would have to do is lower their prices to steal your clientele away. Instead of focusing on price, build an online shopping experience that customers will want to come back to, time and time again.

On my next and final blog post of this series on Relationship Marketing, I’ll be talking about the tangible benefits of a well executed customer retention program.

Retailers Wrestling With How To Use Consumer-Generated Video (Excerpt)

[This is an excerpt from Evan Schuman’s StorefrontBacktalk, by Schuman, April 18, 2008. Link to the full article at]

“It’s very unlikely to have any value at all if it doesn’t change very often” or go deep enough, said Jason Meugniot, the CEO of Guidance, another interactive company. “If that happens, the value of the brand diminishes. They’re not seen as competitive. It just discredits them and diminishes the brand over time.”

If it’s done aggressively, though, Meugniot argued, “it’s not going to seem like a commercial. It’s going to maintain that credibility. It’s also allowing potential customers to browse and make purchases that they wouldn’t otherwise make.”

Even when that means helping drive an occasional sale to a rival? “There is greater credibility in an equal playing field,” Meugniot said.

Clearly, established retailers are not at all comfortable with taking a neutral approach to video annotation. But it’s also the path of least resistance in the market. Confronted with a tidal wave of user-generated videos, should a retailer ride that wave or try to push it in a different direction? Which is likely to have the better chance for success?

Click here for the full article.

Save Price, Free Shipping is King

Of the many online retailers I’ve work with now and in the past, many of them compete squarely on price and promotional discounts. Of course they do. No surprise.

Category killers, however, know a dirty little secret: “Save perhaps price, free shipping online is king.” And many retailers take full advantage of that secret.

Some don’t. Some retailers depend heavily on the added margin shipping brings to their bottom line. And with vendors like Endless offering free overnight shipping – or better yet, $5 off overnight shipping – it’s difficult for traditional brick and mortar retailers to compete with new, highly price competitive business models.

Notwithstanding, traditional retailers had better take note. Free returns 365 days from the original purchase date and a complete disregard for shipping overhead threaten to put many of our elder retailers on notice. As they should.

Make it low priced. Get it to me fast. That’s what I want.

And so do most consumers as evidenced by a new Synovate survey I commissioned this holiday season. The survey results suggest that price (no surprise) is the most important factor when buying online. And for those consumers who rank price as most important, 41% indicate that free shipping is the second most important factor.

You can check out those stats and other relevant consumer preferences at PRWeb. You can also check out what K.C. Jones has to say about it on

For the full Guidance press release, see the post below

For now, keep it low priced, and get it to me fast!