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Black Friday Countdown: 4 Critical Last-Minute Store Optimizations

Black Friday Countdown: 4 Critical Last-Minute Store Optimizations

The 2017 holiday rush was a tipping point for eCommerce optimization. Between mobile sales taking over traditional retail and other trends that took the industry by surprise, the holidays gave retailers myriad reasons to rethink digital strategy. Today, with Black Friday looming only days away, 2018 stands to be another make-or-break point for online sellers who did or didn’t adapt.

Our partners at Shoppimon put together this list of last-minute reminders for retailers prepping for the big week of sales ahead. Dive in to discover the top recommendations for managing traffic, guaranteeing uptime, and perfecting conversion optimization that just might save your store this season.

#1. Test the full sales funnel – from landing page to checkout.

Black Friday Countdown: 4 Critical Last-Minute Store Optimizations

The full sales funnel should be tested and optimized leading up to –and throughout– the holiday season. However, some key points of weakness that lead to significant business downtime are:

1. Search: 0.7% of all issues Shoppimon sees are problems with search. When search isn’t working on a website and shoppers can’t find what they’re looking for, it’s all too easy today to buy elsewhere.

2. Page Errors: Exposed error messages are surprisingly common. In fact, they’re responsible for 0.6% of all issues Shoppimon identifies. These pose a problem for several reasons. The first is that they stop the shopping process dead in its tracks. As a result, they also scare shoppers off. Not only are customer unable to complete a purchase, but after seeing an error message, they may lose all trust in the site going forward. Lastly, depending on the error, exposed messages can pose a serious security risk to a website… Ensuring these types of message don’t happen should be a top priority.

3. Error Message Text: To cover all your bases, make sure the language in your error messages is friendly and less automatic. This will let the customer know you are aware a problem is occurring, and that it may be fixed soon. “Error 506!” sounds a lot worse than “Hey there! We are experiencing a slight issue due to heavy site traffic. Check back in 15 minutes and the problem should be resolved. Happy holidays!”

4. Missing Product Images: If a shopper can’t see a product, they won’t buy it, end of story. Missing product images are surprisingly common. In fact, they make up 2.1% of all issues we spot. Understanding when this happens and fixing it before you lose a sale is a must. Monitoring your site will help keep you aware and in the know about missing product images and info.

5. Add to Cart & Checkout Errors: You are likely losing 4% or more of your total sales to issues occurring in these two key shopping stages. Issues here range from missing add to cart buttons to problems with payment providers. The average retailer will lose approximately 13% of sales to functional and performance-related website issues during the holidays. To avoid this, thoroughly test your conversion funnel and upgrade your website in advance of the seasonal surge. It can make a significant difference to your bottom line. If you’re out of time for a significant upgrade, monitoring your site closely and proactively address issues as they occur. It will have a dramatic and positive impact on your bottom line.

#2. Stress-test your site’s ability to handle increased traffic.

Black Friday Countdown: 4 Critical Last-Minute Store Optimizations

Under enough stress, every system will fail. Stress-testing your website before the holidays is a great way to find out if additional traffic could be your downfall. Leading up to Black Friday, we recommend you do both of the following:

1. Load Testing: making sure that your site can handle a given number of users/requests consecutively and concurrently.

2. Completing A True Stress Test:
 load the site to the point that it crashes to see how that crash is handled by your software (and potentially, your team).

When a site is overloaded, if a server is properly configured, it should be able to handle the benchmarked number of consecutive or concurrent requests, after which requests will be queued. If you then pass the benchmark for you queuing, requests should time out, rather than the site itself going down completely.

If your server does crash, splitting the load across other third party solutions like CDNs will help in the long run, so the servers don’t need to handle each and every request. However, if you need a last minute fix you can quickly tune the configuration of your servers to change the amount of memory they use. You may also be able to manage the number of requests they handle (assuming your code has been built to allows this).

#3. Be prepared to scale-up on the fly (and know how to). 

The first thing an eCommerce manager should do is simply talk to their team. Understand what is already in place and what it would take to scale-up their web and database servers if needed. In an ideal situation, when a website is on a cloud platform, you should have deployment automation that allows you to quickly spawn more servers (which should only take a couple of minutes to complete). This does however require that automation is already in place to allow you to do this, and that the code was written in a way to support the expansion to additional hardware. And this is true not only of web servers, but database servers as well.

In a typical eCommerce setup, the biggest bottleneck is the database, which also tends to be the hardest to scale in an emergency situation. With limited time  to prepare before Black Friday and Cybyer Monday, your top priority should be to check if your database hardware can scale if necessary. This is critical. If the situation arises where the database needs to be scaled and it wasn’t prepped in advance, it will usually result in significant downtime for the full site.

Going deeper into the issue, Redstage CEO Adam Morris states, “…when downtime occurs, or things do go wrong during the holidays, the effect of those issues is compounded because you’ve probably expanded your customer service team to make up for higher demand, as well as increased marketing budgets to attract more holiday spending. So when things go wrong, those marketing dollars are lost, and [customer] support may suddenly be relegated to  a more junior team with less experience and a lower quality of service.” (Check out more insights on holiday emergency management from Adam Morris here on Shoppimon’s blog).

#4. Find problems before your customers do.

Black Friday Countdown: 4 Critical Last-Minute Store Optimizations

At Shoppimon, we see retailers monitoring their websites in a multitude of different ways; From manual checks conducted by different team members, to using completely automated systems like Shoppimon, and everything in between. Unfortunately, many of the systems require resource-heavy investments, not just for setup, but also to understand them and react to the data they generate.

While we know that monitoring automation is key for any business at scale, it’s important that a team’s resources spend as little time as possible on the monitoring itself. Instead, team members should be free to spend their time making a website or application better, fixing bugs, and creating a great customer experience.

Luckily, Shoppimon supports script-free and integration-free automated setup, which takes minutes. The solution also automates issue prioritization and notification, so users get critical information when it’s most needed, but never bothers them when it’s not.

These benefits have made a huge difference for our customers leading up to the holiday season. We’ve seen brands successfully roll out new updates and upgrades just before the sales surge, and also helped them identify better ways to plan for next year.

Each year we see the biggest challenges and successes of major brands in the eCommerce Industry. Last year, in our Online Store Health & Usability Index (OSHU Index), we saw brands like Birchbox, Dollar Shave Club and Saatva excel during the holiday season, with consistently faster load times and fewer issues both leading up to and during the holidays. However, we saw other retailers, like One King’s Lane, that experienced significant downtime during Cyber Monday, really struggle. The difference relies on your ability to react.

Final Thoughts:

Monitoring your online store for bugs and the ability to react quickly will determine the winners and losers for 2018. Testing is paramount (especially if you had issues last year), which means diving into your funnels, your site, and being prepared to tackle anything that needs fixing, fast. However, without a monitoring solution in place, you might not notice significant issues on your site causing lost revenue every minute. Do your due diligence and walk through each stage of the customer journey to make sure your holiday haul will be a happy one. Let us know what you think of these tips in the comments below, and enjoy the holidays!

For more insights on last-minute holiday strategies, check out this post from our partners at Brightpearl on omnichannel & backoffice prep!

Black Friday Countdown: 8 Omnichannel & Back Office Final Touches

Black Friday Countdown: 8 Omnichannel & Back Office Final Touches

Sellers wait anxiously as distant bells chime through the chilly air. Less than a week remains until Black Friday, and projections are looking good. Despite the ghost of retail’s past taking down giants this year, U.S. retailers are positioned for a “Trillion Dollar Christmas” in 2018 (eMarketer).

In line with holiday tradition, Redstage and our partners have an early gift for online merchants. Together, we’re launching this last-minute holiday prep series to ease your seasonal anxieties. The geniuses at Brightpearl combined this year’s top trends and strategies to create the ultimate holiday guide for omnichannel and back office prep.

Use this post as your last-chance optimization guide so you can sleep soundly and avoid the dread of feeling there’s one last thing you forgot. Here’s 8 critical areas you need to master to survive this year’s holiday rush:

#1 Understand your omnichannel buyer journeys

#1 Understand your omnichannel buyer journeys

To truly tackle omnichannel retail this holiday season, there are a few steps you need to take. The first is to understand your omnichannel customer and the path they take to get to your ecommerce website or brick and mortar store, so that you can ensure you’re on the channels they use the most.

Nicole from Retail Minded has identified the following omnichannel buyer journeys. Which do you focus on?

1. The Omnichannel Savvy Customer:

○ The journey: Visits store > Connects on Facebook > Buys online via mobile
○○ This customer typically spends 10% more when shopping online

2. The Last-Minute Buyer

○ The journey: Searches online via mobile > Buys online via tablet or desktop.
○○ 75% of last-minute buyers rate shipping costs as the most important buying factor.

3. The Researcher

○ The journey: Searches online > Visits multiple stores > Continues researching online > Buys from one of the original stores
○○ It’s said that over 92% of online consumers don’t intend to buy during their first visit.

4. The Impulse Shopper

○ The journey: Visits store > Buys in store almost immediately.
○○ 5 in 6 Americans admit to impulse buying.

5. The Feel-Good Buyer

○ The journey: Scrolls through social media > Buys online or in store.
○○ 45% of digital buyers worldwide say reading reviews, comments and feedback on social media influence their shopping behavior.

#2: Gain a strong presence on your customers’ most used channels

Black Friday Countdown: Omnichannel & Back Office Final Touches

Today’s digital age means connecting with customers has never been easier. As the above buyer journeys show, the majority of shoppers experience multiple touchpoints before buying. It’s important to show your presence across a number of channels and offer a consistent customer journey throughout (based on what you know about your own customers).

The following channels are a guide to show you what you need to consider adopting within your business:

  • Ecommerce
  • Brick and mortar
  • Social media
  • Online marketing
  • Email marketing
  • Special events
  • Mobile
  • Location based marketing
  • Loyalty programs
  • Text message marketing & live chat

Know which popular channels your customers are most frequently fulfilling their orders, so that you know where to concentrate your marketing and inventory planning.” – Anthony Payne, VP of Global Marketing, Brightpearl

#3: Use omnichannel fulfillment as a differentiator

Black Friday Countdown: 6 Omnichannel & Back Office Final Touches

Getting omnichannel fulfillment right can have a huge payoff but it can be one of the most difficult areas to implement without the right technology. This is because it requires inventory to be tracked across all physical locations and sales channels.

Some key examples of how omnichannel fulfillment can be used as a differentiator this holiday season are listed below. Which are you taking advantage of this season?

  • Click and collect: The option for a customer to purchase online and pick up in store. By offering this service, you can expect an immediate uplift in revenue based on impulse purchases made in store when picking up items.
  • Ship from store/endless aisle: The ability to offer products not available at the location the customer originally visited. This helps avoid losing a customer if a product is out of stock at a particular location.
  • Online store inventory availability: The ability to lookup inventory at a given store online. This is important as it’s said that 33% of millennials (today’s most influential spenders) won’t visit a store if online inventory availability isn’t published.

#4: Clean up your inventory data

Black Friday Countdown: 6 Omnichannel & Back Office Final Touches

No one likes the idea of disappointing a customer due to inaccurate inventory availability, and especially not when that item was intended as a gift for someone else. Therefore, ahead of the holiday season, you should always endeavor to do a complete inventory count in your warehouse, ensuring inventory is correct across your back office and sales channels.

Furthermore, it’s also important that you know (and have recorded) your true landed costs as well. The holiday season is driven by discounts, promotions, and flash sale days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, so getting a clear gauge on your true landed cost of products (e.g. the associated freight, duty, tax, and storage expenses) ahead of time is essential for making business decisions on pricing and for final supplier selections.

#5: Analyze your sales and inventory data

Black Friday Countdown: 6 Omnichannel & Back Office Final Touches

From knowing what items your customers love the most to knowing where you should be stocking your products, last year’s data is this year’s sales gold mine. At the very least, you should use your back office data and reports to analyze the following (and act on your findings) ahead of the holiday season rush. Check the box if you’re using your data for the following:

  • Best selling products: Stock them again if possible or look for similar alternatives
  • Top performing channels, stores and locations: Ensure you’re fully stocked up on your best channels
  • Most loyal customers (MVPs): Send offers and discounts to lure them back to your website or store
  • Stock-outs: Consider ordering more inventory or implement a process that ensures reorders are fast
  • Returned inventory reports: Ensure you know why inventory is being returned; you may need to add more detailed product descriptions, change suppliers or improve packaging
  • Time to ship: Consider the use of automation bots to speed up your time to ship and avoid unnecessary fulfillment delays
  • Warehousing inefficiencies: Implement barcode scanning in the warehouse to power up your staff and reduce cases of human error
  • Checking for business-wide integration

 

It’s not too late to ensure your different departments are all talking to each other where relevant. We suggest you focus on the following as a priority. What tech are you using to keep teams informed, in the loop, and up to speed?

  • CRM + Marketing: Ensures order confirmation emails, discounts, offers and other marketing messages can all be personalized, which increases their ability to convert.
  • Ecommerce + Shipping: Customers want to be able to track their orders all the way to their door, which means shipment notifications must contain tracking references. This is where easy to use back office shipping integrations like ShipStation or Shiptheory become your new best friends.
  • Inventory + Ecommerce: Avoid stock-outs and disappointing customers by ensuring your inventory levels can be automatically updated across all your sales channels whenever an item is brought into stock, shipped or returned.
  • Inventory + Accounting: With holiday season discounts and sales taking place, knowing your true margins is essential. With each inventory update, you should ensure your accounting is updated automatically… after all, who wants to be updating their accounts manually during the holiday season rush?

#6: Automate your workflows

If you already have a back office system that allows for automated workflows, then you should definitely make use of it as best you can. When setting up automation bots, it’s recommended that you map out your current workflows first in a tool like Lucidchart. This allows you to identify where bottlenecks can be removed by automation software.

Make sure your operating systems don’t need any final touches and any special workflows are all set up before the holiday season because as you get closer and closer to the big day, your order volume and site traffic will just continue to increase. Fast and Frictionless experience is key for all your busy customers. Both before and after the holidays.” – Justin Press, VP of Global Customer Success, Brightpearl

 

#7: Make sure you’re ready for the inevitable holiday season returns

Black Friday Countdown: 6 Omnichannel & Back Office Final Touches

It’s estimated that 28% of holiday gifts bought last year were returned at a value of $90 billion. We all know that returns are inevitable after the drama of the holiday season, but you should be putting in steps now to ensure you’re able to ride the returns tsunami like a surfing pro.

Here are a few actionable steps for you to take as a starting point:

  • Assess your current ability to handle holiday season returns
  • We’ve recently created a self-assessment that enables you to assess your current returns processes. You’ll also gain actionable advice along the way for what needs to be improved. Check it out here.
  • Understand your return rates and reasons for return
  • Analyze your returned inventory reports from last year to identify common themes for why items were returned. Do you need to source a new supplier to improve quality? Should you stop stocking a certain item altogether? Does your packaging need to be improved? Try to isolate the problem and prevent it from happening again this year.
  • Give customers what they want

 

Everything that happens in exceptional events (such as when items need to be returned) is where your customers will measure the service they receive from you and whether they want to shop with you again, so it’s important to understand what your customers want (and expect) from your returns process. A survey sponsored by shipping technology leader Endicia revealed these insights about American shoppers:

  • 51% want free return shipping
  • 36% want an easy and convenient shipping process
  • 12% want a swift refund or credit
  • 89% say they’ll shop again at an online store after a positive returns process
  • 62% want a returns label in the package
  • 61% want an easy to print returns label

 

#8: Identify your “serial returners”

Recent data suggests there is a rise in “serial returners.” These customers are identified as those who purposefully buy more items with the intention of returning some. By flagging this type of customer within your CRM software, you can ensure they don’t receive certain marketing promotions or discounts as they are already likely to inflate your return rates. Check out Brightpearl’s Returns Readiness Guide to assess whether or not you’re ready to face the returns tsunami this season.

 


Author Bio: Justine Cross is the Content Marketing Executive at Brightpearl – a cloud-based back office solution for retailers and wholesalers. Brightpearl allows you to provide a truly omnichannel experience for your customers, whilst unifying all of your sales channels, inventory, accounting, CRM, suppliers, fulfillment, warehouse management, reporting and POS in one single automated system.
3 Little-Known Holiday Payment Hacks for Mobile eCommerce

3 Little-Known Holiday Payment Hacks for Mobile eCommerce

Costly Mistakes & Recent Findings

Counted among our 5 Most Costly Ecommerce Mistakes of 2017, payment method optimization is a must. Over the past year, we’ve seen a big push towards Apple Pay, PayPal Express, and even Venmo becoming “must-have” holiday payment methods for online stores. The reason? Customers that can click-and-go are more likely to convert.

With this in mind, we recommend reviewing what ways your site can keep gift-giving second-guessing to a minimum. In our mobile conversion optimization report, we found a few simple tweaks to reduce checkout abandonment and increase the likelihood of customers converting. If you don’t have time to review the full report, here’s our 3-minute breakdown as our gift to you.

Holiday Payment Hack #1. Zip-Code-First

On almost every site, the checkout form is the same, always starting with the customer’s first name. Sure, the name, phone, and email address areas might auto-fill based on browser settings, but location information isn’t always part of the one-click equation. Working with one of our clients, we found that a simple re-stacking of the typical model can cause checkout disruption to the tune of a 4.6% conversion rate lift (across all devices). Placing the zip-code first triggers browsers to auto-populate the country, city, and state data, making your checkout faster. In our report, we found that this simple change can yield conversion increases of 1.48% for desktop, 8.14% for smartphones, and a whopping 18% increase for tablets. Put this on your holiday upgrade wish list.

#2. The Card-Detecting Checkout

card-detecting-checkout-by-Redstage

As the second test in our study, Redstage’s developers created a credit card checkout form that automatically detects the type of card entered based on the first 4 card numbers. I know, I know, you have that already, but what you don’t have is a checkout form that uses this data to automatically adjust your checkout form into the layout of the customer’s credit card. Different cards have their numbers, expiration, and even security codes in different areas, making the typical credit card form a little lacking in the CX department. Imagine a new customer with their card in one hand and their phone or tablet in the other. Now imagine them fumbling as they try to figure out how to enter their info… don’t let this be an opportunity for them to abandon the sale. Our smart bit of code automatically matches the form to the card in-hand, making it easier to fill out. Remember, the less friction, the better.

It might seem like a negligible CX change at first, but for phones and tablets, this smart checkout option drove a 3.7% and 6.1% conversion rate lift, respectively. The test didn’t add so much for traditional online checkout, only increasing desktop conversions by 0.4%… but every little bit counts right? How much extra joy would these numbers add to your holiday return?

#3. The Big One: PayPal-First

For the third and final portion of this 3-step study, Redstage analyzed what happens when we place a “PayPal Express Checkout” button above the traditional “proceed to checkout” button on the product page… The results were astounding. This change led to a 10.3% decrease in checkout abandonment across devices. That’s right. Simply putting the PayPal checkout option first on the page led to a 8.7% decrease in abandons on desktop, 11.2% less abandonment on smartphones, and shockingly, a 30.7% decrease in abandonment on tablets.

Final Thoughts

With so many payment options out there, it’s easy for the simplest conversion enhancements to go overlooked. Remember, it’s not just how customers can pay, it’s “how quickly” customers can pay. Want to get these holiday payment upgrades and more for free? Join round 2 of our conversion study now! Sign up here to see if you qualify for this round, and don’t forget to subscribe to receive the results of our next conversion report 2 weeks before anyone else!

4 Strategies to Take B2B Email Marketing to the Next Level

4 Strategies to Take B2B Email Marketing to the Next Level

4 strategies to take B2B ecommerce email marketing to the next level

A well curated eCommerce email list can provide your online store with recurring revenue and provide you with a strong competitive advantage. Realizing that value, however, is highly dependent on how you use it, and a variety of factors that can make or break your bottom line. In 2016, the average open rate across industries was 25% of recipients. If you can reach that number or improve upon it, you’ll see incredible benefits. But how can you get there?

Email marketers employ many useful strategies, such as email verifier tools, list segmentation, performance tracking, and critical CX details Redstage covered in last week’s webinar with dotmailer (video). However, there are four specific types of eCommerce emails that can lead to high conversion rates and drive repeat customers. Implementing each of these is a low-cost investment that, when done correctly, can lead to an extremely high return. 

1. Ecommerce Email Up-Selling & Cross-Selling

These types of emails are among the most lucrative in the world of eCommerce email marketing. This becomes clear when you compare the average 25% open rate to the 61.7% seen in post-purchase emails. These can be sent out in a variety of ways, but the following are two of the most common:

  • Follow-up with receipt: include a discount or exclusive offer with post-order receipt or other custom transactional emails, incentivizing repeat purchases and customer referrals.
  • Follow-up with similar items: when a customer purchases an item in a given category or collection, you can send a follow-up email promoting related items (think of Amazon’s “frequently bought together” up-sell strategy).

2. Loyalty Programming

Building a relationship with your customer is extremely important to the long-term value of that customer, and email marketing is a great way to overcome this issue. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • “We’ve Missed You”: If a customer hasn’t returned to your store in a while, send them an email that includes a promo code and an easy way to opt out of future communications.
  • Personalized Life Events: Many businesses collect information about customers in order to provide them with personalized service. Consider sending a birthday email, along with a discount eligible for that week or month.
  • Restocking: If your business sells replenishables (like air filters, motor oil, and engine belts), launching automated emails at certain intervals can help keep your brand top of mind when supplies need to be replenished. How long does it take your average customer to go through a gallon of cleaning liquid?

3. Incentives and Promotions

Letting your customers know about a sale or limited-time offer is a tried and true method for driving traffic. Whether you’re offering holiday deals, announcing a new product line, or sharing an exclusive offer, customers are much more likely to be interested if they’re getting a unique product or price. These kinds of emails become critical for B2B buyers, who are always looking for easier ways to find the best product and price. Promotional campaigns like these are often extremely successful. In fact, according to Coteries Lab, “44% of people who received targeted emails acknowledged buying at least one item because of promotional message.” Emails advertising a discounted price have a conversion rate of over 1%, and a 9.68% click-to-conversion rate

4. Win-Back Campaigns for Abandoned Carts

Customers will often be interested in an item, add it to their cart, and then fail to complete the purchase. This lost revenue can be reclaimed simply by reaching out through abandoned cart emails. Something as simple as “Hey, you forgot!” or “Check out now for 5% off your entire order!” can help turn abandoned carts into solid sales. As you might expect, these are among the most efficient emails in terms of conversion, especially when combined with discounts.

While email marketing platforms can help you target any segment of your customer base, these are some of the most common ways marketers use email to reach out. Each option offers a great starting point for strong B2B eCommerce email marketing campaigns. These four methods can have a quick, significant effect on your overall sales. Having trouble with your email marketing? Need a recommendation on what platform is best for you? Ask the experts at Redstage!

 

About Our Guest Author:


Headshot_Rae_Steinbach

Rae is a graduate of Tufts University with a combined International Relations and Chinese degree. After spending time living and working abroad in China, she returned to NYC to pursue her career and continue curating quality content. Rae is passionate about travel, food, and writing, of course.

Instagram Tips: How to Boost Your eCommerce Sales

Instagram Tips: How to Boost Your eCommerce Sales

Tips on How to Boost Your eCommerce Sales via Instagram

Instagram eCommerce

The past decade brought many changes into the world of eCommerce, and one of the most prominent is certainly the key role social media now plays. It’s where companies promote their products and interact with potential customers, raise their brand awareness, and increase conversion rates. While Facebook is still the number one social media platform, Instagram has experienced enormous growth in the past two years and continues to grow every day, transforming it into a more-than-ideal tool for eCommerce businesses to expand their reach and get their names out.

As is the case with all other sites, you first have to learn a thing or two about how it all functions and what the users’ expectations are, but once you’ve learned the ropes, you can reap great benefits. Here are some useful tips on how to boost your sales using Instagram.

First steps

If you haven’t switched to a business account yet, you should do it right now. This feature presents numerous opportunities for large and small businesses alike. Not only does the biz account give potential customers a one-click “contact us” button, it also grants access to various analytics tools that will offer valuable insights into your engagement rate, impressions and your followers. This way, you’ll be able to track what’s working and what’s not, and change your approaches accordingly. You can also easily (paid)promote any posts you like, which has shown to work rather effectively for eCommerce businesses.

Get people to your store

When it comes to promoting your products, the problem with Instagram is that you still can’t put clickable links in your photo descriptions. In the past, retailers got around this issue by adding a link to their online store in the profile description; however, in doing this, customers are directed to your homepage (rather than a specific product page) where they may need to spend considerable time to find the product they saw on your Instagram.

However, new solutions have been developed to overcome this issue. One of Instagram’s newest features gives businesses the ability to tag products within posts. When clicked, the tags lead customers directly to the product page of your site so they can shop seamlessly. This feature is already available in many countries; all you need to do is get verified as an eCommerce account by Instagram (video), and soon, expect your online shop visits to skyrocket. If for any reason you can’t take advantage of this feature, there are similar alternatives that can make your feed shoppable.

Keep the quality high

Tips on How to Boost Your eCommerce Sales via Instagram

If the content you post isn’t high quality, the sum of your efforts will be in vain. Instagram is a visual-oriented platform. As a result, you must put great care into the content you post. Make sure your photos match the standard resolution (1080 x 1080) to prevent compromising photo quality.

When it comes to showcasing your products, you should mix up high-quality flat-lay images, single product close-ups and photos/videos showing your products in use – focus on providing ample variety in the content you post. At the same time, also make sure your feed is neat and appealing. It’s suggested that retailers turn to professional photographers for best results. In addition, you should never exclusively post pictures of your products – hard selling is never an effective method. Rather, you should think about using branded imagery to showcase your brand.

Moreover, the key to building an effective social media channel is consistency. If you’re not posting consistently, your followers will get bored and leave, and you’ll wonder why you’re not seeing a return. For this purpose, scheduling applications come in handy. You can prepare your posts weeks in advance and schedule them to go live whenever you like. To decide what time you should post at, take into consideration your target audience’s time zones as well as general habits. Use your analytics to determine your optimal time to post, and try a variety of hashtags to boost your post reach.

Take advantage of hashtags

Tips on How to Boost Your eCommerce Sales via Instagram
While it’s always better to outsource keyword research for your eCommerce website to an SEO agency, you can easily find the most effective hashtags to use on Instagram yourself. Take advantage of websites that keep track of each day’s most popular hashtags, and use them will multiply your posts’ visibility. In addition, learn what hashtags your competitors use, as this is a cheap but effective way to fight competition.

Be aware that you can use up to 30 hashtags in a post and you can either put them in the description or the comment section. Mix up your hashtags from time to time to prevent Instagram from misidentifying your posts as spam. It’s also useful to create a specific hashtag that only your business will use, which will help users browse your products on Instagram easily.

Be approachable

Tips on How to Boost Your eCommerce Sales via Instagram

The main goal of any Instagram endeavor is generating engagement. The more engagement you can create, the more your account will grow, leading to a bigger reach, more brand exposure, and an increase in sales. Of course, the most important thing of all is that you are present. This means that it’s not enough just to schedule your posts and check on your Instagram once a week. You should be interacting with your audience every day in order to create a friendly and approachable image that will benefit your brand. Like and reply to comments under your posts, answer questions and be professional when it comes to resolving conflicts.

You can also take your interaction to the next level with a couple of methods that many businesses employ nowadays. First of all, you can write your photo descriptions in such a way that encourages commenting (for example: asking a question or encouraging people to tag their friends). Moreover, you should also track product pictures posted by your customers.

User-generated content is insanely powerful for attracting new customers, as people viewing your product for the first time are more likely to trust their friends and family than a business they’ve never bought from (think of it as digital word-of-mouth). Don’t forget to like and re-post some UGC content from time to time, just make sure you ask the customers permission to use their likeness first. This will show your customers that you care and they will be more likely to shop from you in the future as well. When you find this content, you can quickly add it to your company’s Instagram Story, generating double the content off a single post. Think about how you can build user engagement by running photo contests and adding “Who wore it best?” to your company’s Instagram Story… there’s a lot of potential there.

More promotion

Stylishdubaians_instagram_account

To further promote your brand, one very effective method is reaching out to influencers. Some charge more than others for promotions, while others will swap shout-outs or mentions in return for your page doing the same. Another way to score placement on an influencer’s feed is by giving them some free merch to try out.

Send them some of your products and their followers will be made aware of your existence. The most important thing to pay attention to here is that you choose your influencers wisely – they have to be related to your niche so that their followers are more likely to be interested in your product.

Remember, everyone loves free stuff, not just influencers. Try to organize giveaways when you reach follower milestones like 10K, 50K, 100K followers, etc. Just make sure you comply with all the rules of hosting such events. You can also reward your followers by occasionally sharing discount codes to some of your products – this is a surefire way to convert more leads and show your top followers you care!

Final Thoughts

As you can see, the opportunities Instagram provides for eCommerce businesses are numerous. If used properly, they can give a massive boost to your sales. However, Instagram is just one of the many platforms you can use. For example, websites such as Pinterest can also give a boost to your eCommerce sales, but of course, different rules will apply there. That’s why it’s important that you get informed about the basics before you jump into it.

Guest Author Bio:

David Koller is a passionate blogger and copywriter for Media Gurus, mainly interested in SEO and Digital Marketing.

AI and Big Data in the Future of Customer Loyalty Programs

AI and Big Data in the Future of Customer Loyalty Programs

AI and Big Data in the Future of Customer Loyalty Programs

A sustainable firm needs loyalty customers – this is undeniable. Over the last century, retailers have been using reward programs as an effective tool to gain more repeat customers, and from this, build customer loyalty. However, the fourth industrial revolution is coming and the perspective on loyalty programs is consequently different. Marketers and business doers today realize the importance of AI and Big Data in determining repeat buying behavior. Hence, to take advantage of high technology in loyalty programs catches online retailers’ attention and requires a lot of intellectual and financial investment.

2018 will be the year of AI and Big Data

AI and Big Data in the Future of Customer Loyalty Programs

Customer loyalty programs should be perceived as a campaign designed to build and preserve interaction between clients and brands, not just to increase revenues. From this new standpoint, apart from investing in a powerful reward program, customer experience and satisfaction will become an increasing concern for businesses. There should be additional methods to form higher customer retention, which requires the application of technology, especially artificial intelligence (AI) and Big Data. Interestingly, 2018 may be the year which marks an outburst of AI in general and AI application in customer loyalty programs. This is represented through the figure of NewVantage Partners’ annual executive survey conducted within Fortune 1000 corporations which shows that a very large proportion, 97.2%, of these organizations are investing in AI and Big Data even though the levels of investment is being kept low. Also, according to the BPR Consulting research in 2017, nearly half of retailers would utilize AI to improve CX, and 55% would plan to focus on increasing customer loyalty within the next 3 years. In addition, according to Accenture, customers today tend to be enticed by programs or deals which are tailor-made for their personal needs, as they favor personalized rewards and specialized care. This, as far as I’m concerned, cannot be done without AI-based tools. These facts raise a big question to marketers: How to deploy AI in building customer loyalty programs in future?  

What is AI?

There are quite a lot of arguments among experts about the term AI, also known as Artificial Intelligence. In 1956, John McCarthy explained AI as science and its application to making machines, especially computer programs, which are considered smart. These intelligent machines are able to perform some tasks as a human being would. To clarify, they are able to recognize speech, learn, make plans and solve problems in the way a human does. In this early stage of AI development, people both doubt and fear its potential power in the future. However, for a marketer or an e-retailer, there is no choice but to accept and prepare for its upcoming presence in every single aspect of business.

Artificial Intelligence is no longer a foreign concept to most people nowadays, especially in e-commerce. Customers are now used to receiving personalized emails, being greeted by their names and being offered customized services. According to Chiefmarketer, buyers are, in fact, totally okay with their personal information being collected and analyzed, at an appropriate and considerable level, to get better discounts, more precise recommendations and more personalized services. Such services are what shopping doers are expecting from online retailers without any awareness of what AI is. However, we marketers have to start keeping a close eye on it from now on.

What is Big Data?

The term Big data refers to data sets which are extremely large, so large that traditional methods of data processing are unable to handle them.  We usually get Big data when collecting information from sources such as videos, audio, social channels, log files, websites and networks which are literally created in real time.  Big data can be used to help computers analyze patterns, trends and associations which are often related to human behaviors and interaction. Big data contains information which used to be left untouchable, and by analyzing this data, we are able to make better and faster decisions.

How AI and Big Data can contribute to customer loyalty programs

AI and Big Data in the Future of Customer Loyalty Programs

Tailor-made customer experience

Buyers are becoming more difficult about what they purchase and how they are served in your online stores. Most importantly, customers’ expectations of the personalization in products and services increase as the customer-centric culture is spread among big companies like Amazon. From this, I know that the one-size-fits-all era has ended, that mass-production is no more than an old-fashioned trend and that free-size jeans are being replaced by personally-designed ones on the shelves.

Big Data powered AI systems have made a big step in analyzing and understanding customers’ needs. Now, you are able to collect necessary information and track customers’ purchasing history, shopping behaviors and preferences. Based on these ‘big data’, AI learns and makes a decision to timely offer buyers a personal touch, tailor-made products and personalized services.

Not only is this about sales or conversion rates but also customer loyalty. By deploying AI, customers really get that attention which they crave for today. They know that their problems are heard and solved personally. Also, they get extra benefits when shopping at the store. This is a major factor to retain buyers in this digital era – the era of global shopping just with a few clicks, also the era of commitment and loyalty being difficult to gain.

Even better experience

Bombfell deploys AI to help their stylists pick individually suitable outfits for their customers can be a simple example for the era of personalized services. With AI, user experience in an online store is optimized at the highest level. Customers, thanks to this, find themselves cared for and feel important.

Not only can they have products customized for individual’s needs like at Bombfell, buyers can be welcomed in the store like the way it is at bricks and mortars. Customers are greeted and called by their first names. Their voices and faces are recognized by AI and, thanks to this, all information about their purchasing history or shopping habits is remembered, like the way a shopping assistant in your favorite local store recognizes you. She knows that you love discounts, you often go shopping on weekends and are willing to pay a lot for trendy shoes. And, on a Saturday morning, she speaks to you in a friendly voice: “Hey we’ve just released a limited model of trainers and, because I know you’d love them, I’ve kept them for you with 10% off. Thank me later!”

Besides all that, AI will develop to the level that customers can comfortably communicate with online stores through chatbots. Hence, the response time will be sped up to tick-tocks. Algorithms are developed to enable machines to think like human beings and even to understand customers’ emotions in order to perform appropriate actions. Not only solving problems quickly, AI also helps to replicate a human-like communication atmosphere.

Customer satisfaction and personalized experience combined with tailor-made services are the key points in showing buyers that they are highly appreciated by the brand and consequently in laying a great foundation for building customers’ trust. This is the fundamental of cultivating customer loyalty.

Challenges for brands

Questions about safety and privacy

As mentioned above, customers are willing to share their data for a better price, customized services or more convenience. However, worries about privacy and information security are still very much real, and they form a barrier between customers and brands in building trust. Shoppers, on one hand, understand that their data is collected and love the benefits coming from it. On the other hand, they question about the level at which their personal information is exploited and how it is used. Is their data safe when AI is that powerful? Are e-retailers able to protect them from frauds and identity theft when cybercrime is increasing?

To win customers’ trust is a big challenge that e-commerce websites are facing in building customer loyalty. Personally, I will definitely leave an online store which gives me doubts about security. For example, as a travel lover, I used to make a room reservation online on a well-known hotel booking site; however, one day, I was warned that this website leaked customers’ confidential information including credit card number, CVC and expiration date. Even though there was no frauds or misuse of the data recorded, I decided not to give this brand any second chance.

So make sure you provide your customers an optimized security solution, and more importantly, make a big commitment to providing the highest level of customers’ safety and privacy. They need to feel peace of mind by knowing that their data has always been and will only be used  to improve their shopping experience and to give them personalized offers.

Technical issues

AI and Big Data in the Future of Customer Loyalty Programs

Big data is actually not difficult to be collected, yet it is hard to be captured, organized and analyzed. Different sources of data are always ready to be deployed but remain unused due to lack of structure and technical know-how.

The biggest challenge here is how to, through AI, really understand data and to have an overview of it while too much information comes from various sources such as invoices, emails, social media and CRM. Also, how to turn big data into patterns, trends or associations which are useful for marketing activities and customer insights in real time is extremely important.

Just like other actual personal relationships, that customer loyalty is built on trust, the consistency of high-quality services to buyers and unchanged commitment form a long-lasting relationship. That e-retailers are considering applying AI in building customer loyalty shows their dedication to it in spite of many difficulties.

Final words

The development of AI and Big data, in recent years, has given online retailers both opportunities and challenges. In the next decade, digital stores will be equipped more optimized tools based on AI, and through this, they are empowered to strengthen customer relationship and enhance customer retention. This is a technology competition and I believe that the one who wins the game will also win the customer’s heart.

 


Guest Author’s Bio:

Summer-100Summer reads and writes blogs about marketing and e-commerce. She’s especially interested in solutions which help merchants improve their customers’ shopping experience and increase customer engagement for Magento 2. “One of the best ways to enhance user experience on an online store is to provide a better Layered Navigation” says Summer.