Planning for 2018 E-Commerce

We’re here to help you through New Year’s resolution time—today we’re going to look at three tools and trends that we see on the rise for e-commerce in 2018. If growth is on your to-do list for 2018, here are some options to help you get there.

Smart Content

What is smart content? It’s web content that is personalized to the visitor. This can be a personalization token, such as a homepage greeting that welcomes the visitor by name, or can come in the form of highlighted products based on the visitor’s browsing history.

Why is smart content important? Personalized content performs better. For example, HubSpot’s study of 93,000 calls to action revealed that personalized messages performed 42% better than non-personalized.

The goal is to make your communications feel customer-centric, rather than static and company-centric. Automation and segmentation tools make it more feasible to provide this individualized experience, and consumers are beginning to migrate toward companies providing it.

Where do you implement smart content? Everywhere. Think personalization from the top to the bottom of email. Think marketing emails based on purchase history. Even think of different main website content based on different audience groups, such as first time vs. repeat visitors.

Explainer Videos

Think about these stats on video marketing: 96% of B2B organization use some form of video in marketing and 73% report positive impact on ROI; videos on a company website make appearing on the first page of Google search results 50% more likely; and audiences are 10 times more likely to engage with video on social media. Clearly if you haven’t been using video, that needs to change in 2018.

Explainer videos in particular help create a sense of authenticity, which Millennial buyers note is central to their brand choices. A useful how-to video goes beyond a sales pitch by connecting the viewer with valuable information and with your company as a valuable resource.

Added benefits: your Google ranking is increased by content relevant to your visitors and by longer page-views, which are encouraged by video. Plus an easily-sharable video of general interest offers a new avenue for increasing your inbound links.

Streamlined Management with Comprehensive Cloud SaaS

Streamlined management and implementation of e-commerce solutions can reach new levels in 2018 with Oracle Commerce Cloud. If you’re looking to get up-to-date on e-merchandising tools, customer data management, CRM integration, or a host of other e-commerce musts, Oracle Commerce Cloud offers ease of implementation and easily updatable tools.

For example, its drag-and-drop B2C and B2B storefront tools are comprehensive, letting you manage personalized pricing, faceted search, social integrations, and promotions with out of box features. Storefronts are mobile responsive automatically. Everything is customizable and the API-first architecture simplifies integrations.

Staying competitive in 2018 will also mean taking advantage of current technology to improve data capture and management and admin integration. E-commerce firms need to create a customer experience with the personalization and consistency that buyers are coming to expect as standard. A comprehensive SaaS can be the key to not falling behind.

Reviewing Your 2017 E-Commerce Solutions

As the year is winding down, it’s a good time to review the top e-commerce trends of 2017 and consider whether your company has integrated solutions to keep you competitive. How is your company doing in these areas?

Mobile Readiness and Omni-Channel Integrations

An estimated $156 billion of revenue was earned via mobile retail in 2017, according to Stastista, and that number is only expected to grow. If your shopping experience is not mobile ready, you’ve most likely been losing sales—whether you’re a B2B or B2C retailer. It’s long past time for your company to consider users’ mobile experience and whether you are offering a consistent buyer experience across channels. Consider:

⋅  if your marketing is mobile-responsive, including advertising and email, but also campaigns such as customer loyalty programs and social commerce integrations

⋅  if your mobile site facilitates easy completion of the most common buyer browsing behavior

⋅  if users see consistent messaging, search options, and customer service across channels

Interactive Content and User-Generated Content (UCG)

The new face of buying is trending toward social and interactive content: remember that 47% of millennials say their purchasing behavior is influenced by social media, and 18.6% of 2016 U.S. shoppers made purchases via social media. Social commerce is about creating a sense of community and connection around the shopping experience. Consider:

⋅  if your company has developed any campaigns that let customers engage with content, such as a useful blog series with follow-up Q&As from readers or a micro-site that uses quizzes, tests or games to give users information tied to your company’s products or vision

⋅  if your company has solutions that offer easy-to-make interactive content such as quizzes and games

⋅  if any of your marketing campaigns promote user-generated content as a response, such as social media hashtag campaigns or photo and video submission contests

Data Analysis & Visualization

By 2017, our ability to gather customer data has become almost infinite. But it’s all just noise if your company hasn’t created a plan for analyzing that data. Consider:

⋅  if your company has identified that most relevant Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and the best sources of that data

⋅  if your company has technology that lets you combine data from various sources that can be standardized for comparison

⋅  if your company has implemented visualization tools that offer easy-to-read data comparisons and trends

Customer Service Automation

Customers expect quick responses in modern e-retail. In fact, 53% of US online adults are likely to abandon their online purchase if they can’t find a quick answer to their question according to Forrester Research. So, consider:

⋅  if your customer service anticipates customer needs, such as by sending customers informational emails based on their browsing behavior and indicated interests

⋅  if your FAQ or community support offerings are easily searchable and address major support items

⋅  if your chat bots or other automation tools are set up for human intervention when the automated services cannot handle the customer inquiry

Customer Service Gold: Email Automation for the Win

We know that customer service cannot be an afterthought when so much customer decisionmaking is affected by satisfaction levels. But we’re not all going to be able to answer customer service requests within 10 seconds via a live video support session like Amazon.

So how can smaller operations provide top-quality customer service? Find ways to anticipate your customers’ needs and focus on personal service. Use your data and automation to pinpoint customer needs and then use live staff to ensure a personal response. Remember that it’s all about that right blend of automation and human input: automated-only response systems offer only about a 10-20% resolve rate.

Today we’re going to look more closely at one option for finding this right blend of speedy and personal customer service: automated customer service emails.

Automated Email to Proactively Address Customer Needs

Use a triggered email system to infuse a connection between your customer and customer service. Try some of the following:

⋅  Welcome emails. Send a triggered email to new customers and site visitors as both a way to give and get information.

⋅  Personal welcome message that informs the customer how to get in touch. Let the customer know up front that you customer service is available to answer questions and invite them to connect. Think about offering a greeting from a particular employee, using a conversational tone, that reinforces a sense of human connection.

⋅  Ask the customer about their interests. Ask the customer what interested her in the company’s products or what particular service the customer is looking for. Use an option that permits a fast and easy response, such as asking the customer to simply select from 5 options. Then use the information to segment your customers and provide future updates and information in their areas of interest.

⋅  Triggered emails based on browsing behavior. Proactively address problems that lead to abandoned purchases with follow-up emails to certain browsing behavior. Did a customer visit certain FAQs or did they search your help database? Create a system that sends a follow-up email asking if the customer needs any additional help if they fail to complete their purchase. Consider sending specific help documents or information in response to certain triggering search inquiries. Show your customer that you want to quickly resolve their concerns.

⋅  Follow-up satisfaction emails. When your customer has interacted with customer service, you want to double-check that they are satisfied with the service they received. Send an automated email that allows a customer to quickly respond with their level of satisfaction.

⋅  Use a human follow-up for negative responses. Don’t just send a follow-up email and fail to actually follow-up. The automated post-customer-service email is not just for gathering information, but also for proactively reaching out to customers who are unsatisfied. Make sure that your system is set up to notify the right response team when a customer has outstanding concerns.

The importance of ensuring that your automated system is supported by a sufficient number of live customer service agents cannot be overstated. When using an automated email system, plan for live intervention to address the data you gather from automation. Use this combination to expand your customer service abilities, but never forget to focus on quality.

Real-Time Customer Service: Meeting Your Customers Where They Are

Customer care is a must: 66% of consumers switch brands because of poor customer service. Yet, keeping long-term customers is the key to better business, with repeat customers spending 67% more than new customers.

Today’s customer is moving fast, and wants fast and reliable resolutions when problems occur. Without “real-time” customer service, buyers are likely to abandon your product or service in favor of clearer and easier options. So how can you manage to offer high quality customer care exactly when your customer wants it?

Be There When & Where a Customer Needs Help

⋅  On Your Website. While a customer is navigating your products, make sure they have the tools to answer questions and solve problems without having to leave your site. Each extra step you ask of a customer is chance for frustration that leads to abandonment, so offer options that make the research and purchasing processes seamless.

⋅  Self-service option: FAQs. Customers often want answers that they can find quickly without having to reach out to customer service. So make sure they have that option with a well-designed FAQ section.

The best design for your FAQ section will depend on your customers and your products. If there is a small set of known frequent concerns, make the answers to those accessible without having to search an FAQ database. If there are many technical questions that recur, prioritize creating a thorough and searchable knowledge center.

Consider integrating FAQs into your product pages, to preempt customer frustration.

The key is offering an easy way to connect a customer with answers that she doesn’t have to wait for.

⋅  Live chat. Allowing your customer to ask questions of customer service should also be an option that doesn’t require the customer to leave your site. Use a chat or messenger integration that is equipped to offer automated responses to simple questions, but make sure that the chat routes easily to a human responder to go beyond the simple issues.

If you plan to offer only automated answers at certain times, make that clear to your customer. Don’t set up the wrong expectation by leading your customer to think that full live support is available when it is not.

⋅  Video chat. According to Comm100’s 2017 Benchmark report, companies using live chat saw utilization of video for service calls triple from 2015 to 2016. Think about adding value to your customer service by offering video, which feels more personal, connected and focused.

⋅  Via Social Media. Customers are more often looking to social media to interact with companies. Make sure that part of your customer service plan is responding to social media messaging and comments within reasonable periods of time.

⋅  SMS. Many buyers will need an option that is mobile and interactive, but will prefer texting to phone calls. Provide support in the form that is most comfortable to your buyer by adding SMS support to your customer care plan.

⋅  Email. Response times are key to email contact inquiries. Ensure that emails are routed quickly and answered consistently.

⋅  Make phone contact easy. Make your contact information clear and easy to navigate to, no matter where the customer is on your website. Offer multiple options, such as signing up for callbacks as well as waiting on hold.

Remember to Integrate Your Data

Avoid customer frustrations by integrated various customer contacts in your system. Each new customer service agent should have access to prior customer touchpoints, whether they are live chat, social media, emails, or phone calls.

Be Consistent

Make sure you are offering the same quality and type of service no matter where your customer is reaching out. Be clear with your customer when service will differ; for example, if emails are followed with 24-hour response times while social media response times are 48-hours make that information known.

Make sure that the information you provide across channels is consistent. One strategy to achieve consistency is to centralize all customer service types into a single group, rather than separating online customer support from phone support.

Finally, be aware of the company’s brand across channels and make sure that customer care is offered in a consistent style and voice.

Holiday & End-of-Year E-commerce Check-in

We’re in the thick of the shopping season. With retail sales highest during the holidays and with 2017 sales expected to increase 3-4% from 2016, it’s important to take stock of whether your company is maximizing the season’s potential. Here are some ideas you can still fold-in to take advantage of peak shopping!

End-of-Year Lists

Gift guides are always welcome by B2C shoppers—Everyone is wading through their lists of friends and family and everyone gets overwhelmed by the numbers of to-buys and options. Buying guides that put the best options front and center are effective because they help decrease the stress of holiday buying. Didn’t come up with a fancy gift-guide spread to start the holiday season? You can still create a quick gift guide by highlighting this season’s top-sellers, either on your site or via email.

B2B sales can focus on top-product lists too—B2B customers also benefit from end-of-year email reminders about top products. Show customers who have been considering upgrading or trying new products how well-performing those top products have been received.

Add Bonuses for Referrals

Your customers know that their friends and family are shopping right now too. What better time to encourage people to spread the word with referrals than the holidays? Even if you haven’t already planned a holiday-referral marketing campaign, there is still time to add bonuses to your existing incentive structure.

Boost Connection & Visibility with Media that Embraces the Holiday Spirit

Don’t think only about promoting your products at the end of the year. Media that focuses more generally on the season may not give customers information about a particular product, but can increase your customers’ feelings of connection to your brand and your brand’s visibility.

One of the best large-scale examples: REI’s #OptOutside campaign, for which REI retail stores closed on Black Friday but invited customers to share via social media what they did in the outdoors instead of shopping. The response was so large, the retailer is repeating the campaign this year and even The National Parks have gotten in on the hashtag.

If you haven’t already started, a large-scale campaign may have to be on the resolution list for next year. This year, make sure you’re reaching out to customers with festive wishes, add holiday elements to your website, and look for opportunities to jump into existing social media holiday chatter.

Use the Season to A/B test

You’re no doubt running a variety of campaigns this season, with multiple emails, ads, and discounts planned. This is the best time to track responses to different campaign styles. Identify a few Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and make a plan to compare your various types of holiday outreach.

Social Commerce Part IV: Putting User Chatter Front and Center with Site Vibes

After reading through Parts I, II, and III of our Social Commerce talks, you’re ready to find actionable and sustainable ways to capitalize on the positive reinforcement of social commerce. So today we’re rounding out our Social Commerce discussion by taking a look at a tech option that helps structure your existing e-commerce website to give customers that social feel.

What is Site Vibes?

Site Vibes is a drop-in technology that puts user product reviews, shares and purchases on display for all of your browsing customers. It helps create that social space that we’ve been exploring: a place where users feel they are getting recommendations and the positive feedback that helps finalize buying decisions.

Social Commerce Features Made Easy

⋅  Trending Wall—Site Vibes lets you create a space to showcase the products that are getting the most attention from other customers. This can be part of your landing page, or can appear on individual product pages.

⋅  Subcategories—Break down your products into subcategories and show the top items in the category most relevant to your user’s browsing behavior.

⋅  Trending badges—Highlight individual products by marking them as popular or top purchases.

⋅  Social integrations—Show off likes, Pins, and Tweets for your products with widgets that automatically update so that you can display up-to-date shopper preferences and buzz.

⋅  User Reviews—Make user reviews central to item detail pages to ensure that customers get that sense of user reinforcement.

How the Site Vibes Social Space Affects the Customer Journey

⋅  Creates that sense of community—Remember those social shopping sites we discussed that feel like taking a trip to the mall with your friends? Using a trending wall and placing user opinions at the center of your site helps a shopper feel connected to other shoppers. A customer gets a sense of the excitement around certain products and is affected by that momentum.

⋅  Offers useful information that furthers customer research—Reinforcement that a large number of users are satisfied with a product helps a customer who is overwhelmed by the research stage. Clearly visible “top products” give a customer easy direction when searching for products and encourages an easy transition to the purchase stage.

Site Vibes is built to drop-in to your e-commerce site and to integrate with your platform. You can customize the look and feel, and place features where you want them. It brings real-time customer chatter into the user experience, with minimal upkeep on your end. Want to find out more? Get in touch and we can help explore your social commerce options.

Social Commerce Part III: Conversation Starters

Welcome back to our Social Commerce discussion. We’ve covered the where and the when, so now it’s time for the what: what content best fits social commerce?

Content that Starts or Joins the Conversation

The fast pace of social media conversations can give a company the sense that it had better get in fast. But planning for social commerce takes time like any other ad campaign. Slow down for a second, and think about the root of what makes social commerce addictive and effective: it’s about putting users first. It’s about giving them the opportunity to interact, to give content it’s own life, and to hear from one another.

When creating your social commerce plan, think about using a mix of the following:

1.  Interactive Content—Create media that potential customers can engage with, whether it’s through comments and shares or follow-up posts inspired by your company’s content. This might be an interesting social media feed that poses engaging questions to viewers, or a useful blog series with follow-up Q&As from readers.

Large-scale campaign example: Reebok’s Be More Human site, that allows users to interact with tools like its “human score” tool and its “fitness & the brain” tool. The campaign connects users with interesting, interactive information and puts Reebok’s fitness vision at the center.

2.  Reviews and Ratings—One of the easiest ways to get people talking about your product is to make it easy to share thoughts and reviews. Customers place a lot of trust in consumer reviews and the vast majority of consumers refer to consumer reviews when making a purchase decision.

Example: Rent the Runway makes sharing reviews easy, by letting customers upload images of themselves in the store’s clothing. Those images are placed centrally in the store’s browsing feature, highlighting user opinions and content for future shoppers.

3.  User-Generated Content (UGC)—The best way to let content take on its own life? Let the users be in charge of creating it. Think about a simple hashtag that asks users to come up with a funny one-liner, or start a conversation that ask users to post creative images.

Example: Starbucks white cup decorating contest invited customers to decorate their own holiday Starbucks cup and share images via social media. This generated a ton of chatter and content that Starbucks could repurpose on various platforms.

Hopefully the vision of your social commerce plan is coming along. Come back for Part IV of our Social Commerce talks and we’ll look at software that helps you integrate a sustainable social commerce approach into your e-commerce site.

Social Commerce Part II: Conversations in the Customer Journey

In Part I of our Social Commerce discussion we looked at the types of sites that allow a company to sell and advertise online in a social setting. Today, we’re going to focus on becoming part of social conversations to affect the various stages of the customer journey.

Focusing on Peer Feedback & Reinforcement Along the Customer Journey

Social media conversations are a big part of purchasing: “47% of millennials say their purchase decisions are influenced by social media”, a shift from other generations among whom only 19% look to social media, according to Forbes. That stat confirms what we all know: every company needs a social media presence. Engaging potential buyers, however, takes more than just generating a bit of social media content.

A successful social commerce conversation accesses the benefits of peer feedback and validation at each stage of a customer’s journey. When planning media that will get customers and potential customers encouraging each other to take notice, think about how that media promotes chatter, shares, likes and positive reinforcement at each of these stages:

1.  General interest and awareness stage—Does your media lend itself to being shared or discussed broadly, not only in conversations about specific products? Think about how to offer content that customers want to share, duplicate, parody, etc. and that also ties directly to an awareness of a particular aspect of your company. Maybe the content highlights a new service or product that people haven’t been aware of, or maybe it encapsulates your brand’s mission or vision clearly enough to tie the conversation to your company.

⋅  Impulse activity—Once you’ve captured someone’s interest, be prepared to capitalize on impulse responses. Is there a way to tie the content to a quick purchase? Can purchases become part of more content/shout-outs to help create momentum and peer feedback, encouraging others to purchase?

2.  Research stage—Create media that promotes sharing useful information about what differentiates a product or service. Are there ways to get people sharing “I love x about this product”? Or can you create a funny comparison that people want to share and that will help single out your brand?

3.  Purchasing—Does your media make it easy for customers to complete purchases? Think about whether the messaging to purchase is clear and also whether links and software integrations lead a buyer to make a purchase.

4.  Purchase follow-up—Can customers easily share what makes them happy, and does your shareable content remind your previous customers why they want to come back? The key here is creating easy ways for customers to feel like they are reminding one another, rather than just relying on company remarketing.

Now that we’ve looked at where social conversations happen and when customers need engagement to promote purchasing, we’ll need to take a look at the type of content that starts and joins into customer conversations. Join us in our next post for content ideas that will make your company part of customer chatter.


Elements of E-Commerce: Social Commerce

Welcome to Thanx Media’s “Elements of E-Commerce” blog series. Follow along as we wade through the nuts and bolts of e-commerce technologies that you need to know.

What is Social Commerce?

Social commerce (short-hand: s-commerce) is e-commerce that relies on user recommendations and peer-to-peer interactions to advertise and sell products. It taps into the excitement of sharing interesting content, the trust in personal recommendations, the sense of conversation that social spaces offer, and the sense of connectedness built by trends and communities. It is “social media meets shopping” as Heidi Cohen paraphrases, but happens in more ways than you might think.

Where is Social Commerce Happening?

So does social commerce boil down to Twitter advertising? Actually, bringing the social context into shopping includes social media sites, but also goes beyond. Here are Six Types of Social Commerce:

1.  Social networks—E.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Networking sites are a staple; they include advertising, let users share company-generated content, and also promote posting by users of their own pictures, thoughts and reviews. All of these get the word out about a company’s products and services. We’ll look more closely at s-commerce in the social networking world over the next several blog posts, so check back.

2.  Peer-to-peer shopping sites—E.g. Ebay, Etsy. A sense of community; that’s what excites users about peer-to-peer sites. These sites not only connect users as sellers and shoppers, but they rely heavily on shopper feedback and reviews.

3.  Coupon & group-buying sites—E.g. Groupon, Living Social. Trusted curation is the aim of these sites; they seek to connect customers with quality new companies. For example, Living Social has a goal of “Partnering with great local businesses to cultivate and share their deep knowledge of the iconic and the hidden gems in their neighborhoods.”

4.  User curation sites—E.g. Pinterest. Browsing through what has caught other users’ eyes again capitalizes on that sense of recommendations from a community. Users create their own trends by sharing and increasing a product’s visibility.

5.  Social shopping sites—E.g. Fab, Fancy. These are curated sites that place user thoughts, likes, and reviews front and center. They are something like going to the mall with friends, but on a screen. Visuals, social chatter and friendly reinforcement encourage customers to buy.

How many ways can we connect “friends” and “shopping online”? A lot more than are listed here. The key is think about how to tap into the positive feedback that a customer gets from feeling connected. In our next post, we’ll take a closer look at how social commerce can make your company part of the conversation at each decision-making stage of the customer’s buying process. Join us again.

Customer Analytics Part IV: Journey Mapping

Now that you’ve learned where to look for customer data, thought about how to put that data in context, and ensured that your data is set up for comparison and visualization, let’s explore an actionable analysis of all that data—the customer journey map.

What is a Customer Journey Map?

A customer journey map plots the steps and touchpoints that lead a customer to using your product or service. It’s a visualization that shows the flow from the customer finding your product through the steps the customer takes to learn more, to purchase or to abandon their interaction.

The goal of a journey map is to unmask the hidden stumbling blocks that prevent an interested consumer from converting into a customer and to see what parts of their interaction run most smoothly. Looking at your company from the perspective of your customer gives you a larger picture of how your various departments are interacting and supporting your company’s goals.

Framing the Journey: How to Set Up Your Customer Journey Map

1.  Do you want to explore the whole journey or narrow your focus on a specific channel? You first need to determine if you are trying to get a broad picture, or if you want to understand, for example, how well your website is working.

⋅  Broad journey analysis—The big picture view of all of your customer touchpoints will start before the customer has ever interacted with you and will continue after she uses your product to consider referrals and repeat purchasing. This is a complex analysis with a large number of touchpoints, but it gives you the opportunity to understand how each part of your company is working toward your goals.

⋅  Specific journey—Narrowing your focus will let you dive more deeply into understanding your main channels of interaction, such as your website. In this case, you will gather detailed data on how a customer navigates the particular channel, when he needs to switch channels, or if the channel is often abandoned.

2.  How will you focus on a customer’s perspective? You next need to decide from which customer’s point of view you will map a customer journey. Then, build a persona that allows you to explore—maybe it is based on your highest value customers or you might focus on first time conversions.

3.  What information about the customer will you track?

⋅  Motivations—What is the customer looking for at a particular time in their journey? What are their goals? You want to make sure your company is engaging and giving a customer the tools she needs to meet her goal at each touchpoint.

⋅  Experience—What are the options for the customer at each touchpoint? Consider the tools you provide to a customer, and also any external options available, such as Google or competitor websites.

⋅  Itemize the links you have provided in emails, the search options on your website, the customer support options on- and offline; map out exactly what is available to your customer at each stage of interaction.

⋅  Customer thoughts and feelings—How happy is the customer with what your company has provided at each stage of her interaction?

Think about a customers’ general feelings: e.g. will they be feeling overwhelmed because they researching a complicated product? Then use your data to figure out how they feel about the service they are receiving from your company at each particular touchpoint: e.g., are you helping to alleviate the stress that makes their research overwhelming?

4.  Bring in the data—Once you’ve set up your framework and mapped the company’s services at each touchpoint (email ads and links, website tools, customer service on- and offline), look to your analytics.

Look at engagement rates and abandonment rates, and qualitative feedback including customer inquiries and survey responses, at each of the stages you identified to uncover those hidden problem areas that prevent customer satisfaction.

Journey mapping is not a simple analysis; but it is one of the best ways to combine knowledge from all of your customer data. Take a look at some example journey maps and begin planning to capture the right data to complete the picture of your customer’s journey.