For most Internet retailers, the Web is a matter
of life and death for their businesses and
their livelihoods. Despite strong growth and
generous revenue projections, many online
merchants find themselves in a state of
emergency – pained by the challenges of
meeting the rapidly changing and complex expectations
of users, as well as the ever-increasing
sophistication of today’s technology.
Because every Internet retailer has at one time or another suffered
from at least one of the most common ailments, addressing and
correcting these issues before they inflict too much harm is the
only way to put a digital storefront back on the path to recovery.
While e-commerce continues to outpace traditional retail sales,
the drive towards “everything digital” is accelerating merchants’
involvement and investment — which creates a far more competitive
online business climate than ever before.
As a result, the entire definition of e-commerce is changing
at a faster pace than many can keep.
Pretty much everyone is selling something on the ’Net, but it
is not always a physical product. Information publishers, service
providers and even software providers can be categorized
as Internet retailers, and there are solution vendors of all types
positioning themselves to support merchants’ growth in a positive
For example, e-commerce service provider Avangate is used
by thousands of software and software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies
hoping to build their audience and accelerate business
revenue. The company, which was recently selected as one of
the 2012 Red Herring Top 100 Most Innovative in Europe, is
showing that while old models of distribution and marketing
were effective, the seller and buyer markets today are ready for
significant disruption. And it is disruption that they are undeniably
E-Commerce STAT WATCH
According to the Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce, U.S.
retail e-commerce sales for the first quarter of 2012 (adjusted for seasonal
variation but not for price change) was $53.2 billion (wsm.co/LSzU7d) —
an increase of 3.1 percent from the fourth quarter of 2011. And it gets better:
the Q1 2012 results increased 15 percent from Q1 2011.
Merchants readily adopt any program or platform they can
to correct the ills of their digital business performance, whether
they are fleeting or formidable. If there’s a better way, merchants
will find and use it — often before those in other verticals. But
from behavioral-based advertising to triggered email, and nearly
everything in between, being familiar with the most common
ailments first will prevent a deadly epidemic later.
The broader community of Web professionals and digital
media workers is quickly realizing that many important lessons
can be learned from the design, development, marketing and
advertising practices of the savviest Internet retailers. In the end,
however, it is the specific ailments which determine the triage
that is to be immediately applied, as well as the treatments that
are to be put into place throughout the recovery process.
The symptoms for all e-commerce ailments, of course, are detected
through poor performance — low brand interaction rates
on social media sites or high abandonment rates in the shopping
cart, for instance. But there are a variety of approaches that can
cure even the most serious conditions facing today’s merchants.
So, what are the most common ailments for e-commerce
merchants and how can they be corrected? Let’s open up the patient
High Shopping Cart Abandonment
According to Forrester, 7 out of 10 online shopping
carts are abandoned before a sale is ever
completed — and many expect that percentage
to rise as consumers become more comfortable
seeking out additional information such as reviews/
ratings and prices of the competition. Does
it need to be this way?
Numerous methods and practices exist to
combat the plague of shopping cart abandonment, including reducing steps in the checkout process, supporting
guest checkout (no forced signup) or highlighting trust and reliability
indicators such as security badges and privacy policies. But
one small change in particular can result in substantial gains —
opting for a persistent or perpetual shopping cart that will,
order in the cart for when they return to your site.
The Gift of Giving
If there’s one thing the Web still can’t do, it’s replicate the act of gift-giving when the
recipient is thousands of miles away. But that hasn’t stopped people from trying.
One new tool to do just that is Sociagram, from the team behind Lets Gift It. Sociagram
takes the concept of allowing customers to ship gifts beyond simply printing
text on packing slips, instead giving them a platform to record a personalized video
to go along with it. E-commerce companies can present said videos in a branded
player that is already mobile device-ready. Currently in private beta, Sociagram is
expected to see general availability in the coming months.
As an online shopper, imagine how frustrating it would be
to return to a site several hours or days later, only to find the cart
empty and having to repeat the product search process from the
beginning. Even a small change in the length of cookie duration
can do wonders for reducing abandonment rates.
While some shoppers will in fact return, and their experiences
will be improved by your having kept the orders in their
cart, others simply will not return. It’s a fact of e-commerce life
— or is it? One of the most popular trends today is leveraging
what is known about the behaviors and buying habits of users
and using that information to your advantage to encourage their
repeat visits and eventual purchases.
The Real Time Offers solution from behavioral commerce
platform provider Steelhouse, for example, enables merchants
to target shoppers mid-interaction based on their buying behaviors.
The solution provides merchants with live data that can
instantly link specific offers to individual shoppers based on their
For example, a free shipping promotion would be displayed
to a customer that is likely to abandon their shopping cart, or a
coupon could be presented to a shopper that typically only buys
when there is a discount. Additionally, this solution not only
helps with shopping cart abandonment and average order values,
but can also be leveraged to upsell customers, create flash
or secret sales, encourage visitors to join a mailing list or loyalty
program, launch seasonal sales or announce new products.
Low Interaction/Low Repeat Visit
Enough resources are expended already in the acquisition of
buyers — so why stop once a customer has been acquired? It
would be a systemic failure if merchants did not pay as much,
if not more, attention to the customers they’ve spent resources
on to bring to their retail Web properties. There’s nothing
more disheartening than to see a large
community with perpetually low interaction.
Merchants, therefore, need to take
the lead by writing a prescription for
their users that encourages repeat or
return visits. How can this be accomplished?
Through triggered email.
For many Internet retailers, email
marketing can be a tough pill to swallow.
They are often drawn more towards
social media, or paid advertising
and the remarketing that can occur in
that channel. Some e-commerce merchants, however, consider
email to be a wonder drug of sorts for reviving their floundering
retail Web businesses.
Email service provider Listrak client SmileyCookie.com, for
example, implemented a triggered email campaign that provided
a formal welcome campaign and fostered interaction and increased
sales while reducing shopping cart abandonment. Visitors
encountered a modal acquisition pop-up offer to receive 10
percent off their orders if they opted-in to receive emails.
When they subscribed, they received a welcome email containing
a coupon that was valid for two weeks. But if no order
was placed within six days, a second email was sent reminding
them of the offer. SmileyCookie also used Listrak’s Shopping
Cart Abandonment solution that initiates a three-message series
of emails offering varying levels of discount.
The end result? A 15-percent increase in online sales as a result
of the increased interaction.
It is nearly impossible for shoppers to purchase if they don’t
return. But even with all the advanced behavioral remarketing
that is available, the best cure might just be the one that reinforces
a sense of community between the shopper and the brand,
and rewards the user for their participation. Welcome to the retail
E-commerce coupon and “offer marketing” platform Fanplayr,
for example, recently brought its gamification technology
to Magento, which is now part of eBay’s X.Commerce
ecosystem. Magento merchants can add the Fanplayr widget
to their stores and engage consumers socially with games
that provide multi-variable coupons and offers as a reward
The Fanplayr widgets can be deployed pretty much anywhere
— not just a Magento shopping cart — including Facebook
brand pages, email, mobile websites and even within
advertising. The extension offers real-time performance insights
into the coupons/offers being used by merchants, and also provides
social graph (and Facebook Connect) integration.
Anemic Social Presence and Social Sharing
E-commerce merchants who fail to wholly embrace social media
risk not only community stagnation (low group interaction), but they may also prevent themselves from acquiring a few more
buyers along the way. Social media, however, remains a mystery
to many Internet retailers, but that need not be the case as there
are a variety of technology solutions that can heal any anemic
Social sign-on solutions might just be the optimal antidote
to this common ailment. With billions of users ready and willing
to engage retail businesses in a social relationship, providing
website (and community) access to those prospective buyers via
their social network credentials is not only increasingly common,
but has also proven to be an effective means of improving
any number of ills associated with low performance.
3dcart, for example, recently released a Facebook Connect
integration that enables shoppers to sign in using their
Facebook accounts from the “My Account” and “Checkout”
pages. Using the system enables shoppers to bypass creating
on-site IDs and passwords, and in so doing provides merchants
with immediate access to information related to their
behavior and interests.
Social sign-on is by no means new, but it is effective and is
gaining traction in the e-commerce landscape. Back in April
2011, social recommendation platform ShopSocially released
its social commerce suite for online retailers and announced
partnerships with some notable names such as Sephora, Cafe-
Press, Zales and Rawlings Gear. The solution aims to turn
shoppers into brand ambassadors and generate traffic through
Low Average Order Value
It’s common for merchants to make sales, but the best merchants
are able to drive more revenue from their existing customers
than their competitors. If your digital retail presence does not
offer up suggestions on additional products, merchandising
along the way, the bottom line will suffer because of the lower average
Fortunately, there are numerous technologies available to
halt the deadly disease of low average order value. Consider the
use of recommendation engines, for example.
It makes sense for merchants to make the most out of
every interaction with a customer, but there is indeed a balance
that must be achieved. Too much or too little doesn’t
bode well. The solution is recommendation engines — the ecommerce
applications that suggest additional products to
buyers, ones that supplement, complement or are required for
the first one to function. Most of the top-tier shopping carts
available today provide merchants with ways to designate related
products but, on the whole, adoption of these features remains
Another option is the use of optimized product search. If it’s
agreed that the buying cycle is long or complex, then it’s necessary
to both accelerate and simplify that process. One way to do
that is by making sure the product search functionality is customer-
Often, product search is seen by merchants as just another
to-do item on the long list of improvements to be made to a digital
retail presence. The reality is that the better the site search,
the better the sitewide experience is for shoppers.
And more satisfied shoppers, as you might imagine, buy
more product. Much like recommendation engines, site search
is often bundled within the online retail solution, but standalone
providers include SLI-Systems, Nextopia and SearchSpring.
High Support Costs
Constantly being bombarded with questions and complaints
is akin to a digital headache, which no virtual aspirin will cure
if the products are just plain bad. Some products and services,
however, demand that users have access to a greater depth
Sometimes, the lines of communication between merchants
and their customers need to be as easy to access as possible, and
many consumers like to be able to interface directly with a real
person. A lot of times, the customer’s concern can be alleviated
with a small dose of live chat, and solution provider BoldChat
(now a product of LogMeIn) offers features geared towards those
“proactive chatters” who want to target site visitors and take the
initiative to invite them to open a dialogue. With four different
service offerings, merchants can find the solution that best meets
their consumers’ needs.
On the Road to E-Commerce Recovery
There is no one single cure to the pains you may be suffering as
an e-commerce merchant. Fortunately, there are numerous software
solutions and marketing tactics that can accelerate your
success and provide a better experience for online shoppers.
Live well and your e-commerce presence will prosper.
No catalog? No problem.
Merchants can leverage prestimedia to create a digital
and interactive product catalog. This platform offers three
solutions, which each come with various features, such
as SEO tools, multi-language functionality, printing options,
analytics, social sharing and product highlighting, as
well as shopping cart and wish list capabilities. Merchants
can also create animated pages and integrate their catalogs
within their Facebook pages if desired. The
Nanobook solution comes with essential features, while
the e.print solution is fully customizable and includes a
search engine. Lastly, the Premiumbook solution offers
merchants the most features, including slideshow functionality
and the ability to include rich media into catalogs,
such as videos, sound and 3D animations.