It’s 2019. Accessibility and social justice are everything. As a result, ADA compliance lawsuits are being filed in record numbers, and ecommerce companies are a major target. Here’s the info you need to understand the issue and protect your online business.
ADA Compliance Crackdown
Although the U.S. Department of Justice has delayed the release of the latest federal accessibility guidelines, companies are expected to comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA. Resulting from this lack of federal guidance, users with disabilities are lawyering up against even the biggest online behemoths. Among these, Amazon, Apple, and Nike have been called out for failure to comply with Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, along with hundreds of other businesses, driving a torrent of actions.
According the the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, there were ”at least 814 federal web accessibility lawsuits filed in 2017, but an assessment of the issue by ClassAction.org shows the number of lawsuits [filed] in 2018 may far surpass that number.” In fact, in the first two months of 2018, roughly 200 different ADA lawsuits were filed against websites, at which point retail law advisory Goulston & Storris announced there was “No Relief in Sight”. While it remains unclear just how many lawsuits have been brought since last March, it is expected for this surge in suits to continue.
Why Haven’t I Heard About This?
If you haven’t been targeted yet, chances are you know someone who has. If not, the reason you haven’t heard about this is simple: The Wayfair case. The recent explosion of content on the Supreme Court’s South Dakota v. Wayfair decision incited a media frenzy that circled ecommerce’s corner of the web, from top news agencies to the smallest tech blogs. With the industry distracted by a wide-reaching tax-compliance issue —and retail giants like Nike keeping tight-lipped about their lawsuits— the compliance issue has remained largely under the radar.
In 2018, more than 13,000 suits were filed over online ADA compliance as of October, with ecommerce playing a large role. It’s not the issue alone that’s troubling, it’s the rate at which suits are being brought that’s startling. Last year, 7663 suits were arraigned in federal court, which at the time was a 16% increase over the previous year (see chartL ADA Title III Lawsuits in Federal Court: 2013-2017). With an ever increasing number of lawsuits looming on the horizon, the industry may face a 20% increase over last year for 2019. “I spoke with someone about these suits during Magento Imagine 2018. Just as the conference was ending, they received an email saying their own site had been targeted and served an ADA suit.” Adam Morris, Redstage CEO said. “Ecommerce companies should make accessibility a priority for the year ahead.”
Can My Site Be Next?
While a discriminatory class action suit could spell disaster for any company, the first step is identifying the types of companies that fall into the legal crosshairs. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, these company categories are as follows:
Businesses engaged in an industry affeciting commerce (Title I)
Businesses with 15 or more full-time employees (Title I)
Businesses operating for 20 weeks or more every year (Title I)
Businesses categorizes as “Public Accommodations” (Title III) including:
-Inns, hotels, and motels
-Restaurants and bars
-Bakeries and grocery stores
-Hardware stores or any sales/retail outlet
-Laundromats and dry cleaners
-Accountants and lawyers’ offices
-Health care providers’ offices
-Social service centers
While the ADA compliance is primarily focused on physical locations, Title III states that barring access to people with disabilities in the private sector is discrimination, which encompasses websites. With 15% of the global population living with some form of disability (41M+ Americans), and online shopping being so prevalent – think Black Friday – companies are losing business due to inaccessible websites and continuing to run the risk of being served an accessibility lawsuit.
How is Redstage Being Proactive?
Redstage recently partnered with Siteimprove, an all-in-one software that provides the insights needed to address issues relating to accessibility, as well as SEO, content quality, brand compliance, data privacy, and more.
“Our mission at Siteimprove is to make the web a better place for all, and Redstage’s level of commitment to web accessibility fits perfectly into that mission,” says Roger Fuhrman, EVP of Sales at Siteimprove. “We’re excited to help as they work toward increased accessibility on both their own and their clients’ sites.”
The Redstage team is excited about this partnership, as Siteimprove’s automated accessibility checks help identify website elements that violate WCAG 2.0 guidelines, while also organizing those issues into a prioritized list. By partnering with Siteimprove, Redstage will be able to mitigate risk for our clients while building a strong, overall accessibility strategy.
Conforming Your Site to ADA Compliance
At Redstage, we’ve already had our fair share of engagements with merchants facing ADA lawsuits. “Our clients are seeing increased pressure from legal trolls targeting them because they are not ADA compliant. The ADA compliance rules are vague at best, so companies with an ecommerce channel should have an informed partner to help them.” Redstage CEO Adam Morris explained. To mitigate this risk, Redstage is working with specialized authorities in the ADA field to give clients and readers a comprehensive ADA compliance report.
“ADA compliance contains many elements of a great UX strategy,” says Adam Piken, Redstage’s Creative Director, “Your site should be user-friendly and intuitive, allowing customers to find buttons, check out, get your phone number, or type a question into your live-chat quickly and easily.” In this way, ADA compliance is reinforcing activities ecommerce companies should already be doing.
Most importantly, ADA compliance takes considerable design alterations in most cases, so the best time to get compliant is during your next redesign or site migration. If you’ve been following along with our Magento 1 End of Life Initiative, we recommend putting ADA compliance at the top of your Magento 1 to Magento 2 migration checklist.
Get Your ADA Compliance Check Now
If you think your site is at risk of being targeted, email us and we’ll get you set up with a team of experts to help identify and eliminate potential access barriers that may impede access and usability for your users, while safeguarding your business from legal action.
Happy New Year! With 11 months of heavy-lifting ahead of you, there’s no better time to work smarter. To help, we’ve compiled this list of 5 Omnichannel Resolutions to incorporate into your 2019 ecommerce strategy. There’s a lot here, so bookmark this page and subscribe to ensure you’ll never miss a tip that will give your brand a competitive edge.
#5: Monitor & GroupKPIs for Data-Driven Decision Making
Here’s a short list of the standard KPIs that marketers, operations professionals, and Ecommerce managers use. Most, if not all of these should be familiar to you. We put them into a few separate buckets that help achieve specific goals. Our team recommends organizing them in a similar way, as each can help you create a simple report rather quickly, and each tells a very different story. Even if you have software that does this for you, putting stats in different tranches like this can help you identify key trends you can act on. Hover over KPIs for individual calculation formulas.
Customer Engagement KPIs
These KPIs allow you to see at a glance how your site is performing:
Conversion Rate (CR)
Average Order Value (AOV)
MVP/VIP AOV (AOV of your most valuable customers)
Customer Lifetime Value (CLV)
Cart Abandonment Rate
Browser Abandonment Rate
Mobile Site Traffic (Make sure you’re using this in 2019!)
Returning vs. New Visitors (includes non-converting traffic)
Returning vs. New Customers (excludes non-converting traffic)
Page Views Per Visitor
Site Uptime %
Budget Management KPIs
Here we have a short list of “must-have” budget-oriented KPIs:
Cost of Goods Sold (COGS)
Customer Acquisition Cost
Return on Ad Spend (ROAS)
Return on Investment (ROI)
Fulfillment Costs (Especially Cost of Returns)
Customer Feedback KPIs
There are additional customer-facing stats you should keep an eye on, which help identify how your customers feel about your products, service, user experience, and more. Under analysis, these metrics are helpful for determining where friction occurs in the buying process. For example:
Customer Satisfaction Score
Net Promoter Score
Customer Service Avg. Response Time
Customer Service Call Count
Customer Service Email Count
Customer Service Chat Count (for those with chatbots)
Average Customer Service Rating (if you have surveys after chats, emails or calls)
Average Customer Sentiment (with tech like YOTPO, you can gage overall review sentiment)
Google Reviews Rating (if applicable)
Yelp Reviews Rating (if applicable)
Top 10 Products
Worst 10 Products
Top 5 Service Strengths
Top 5 Service Weaknesses
Number of App ‘Superusers’ (Customers who use your app every day)
Tracking Revenue Per Visitor (RPV)
In 2018, a relatively new KPI began gaining recognition in the market. Revenue Per Visitor (RPV) has been called “the most valuable metric” for gaging online sales performance, and is especially helpful when it comes to A/B testing. To find your RPV value, multiply your conversion rate by your average order value. This gives you an estimate of how much the average customer is spending.
#4: Make A/B Testing A Habit
A/B testing is invaluable. In an age where data-driven decision making has the highest ROI, companies who make experience alterations on a whim are falling behind. Whether its email subject lines or adding a PayPal Express Checkout button, merchants should be testing these changes with sample groups before making them across the board. Do your due diligence and add A/B testing to this year’s resolutions (especially for Mobile optimization).
Mobile Checkout Testing
Throughout 2018, we tested a variety of mobile checkout enhancements, eventually culminating in the global Mobile Optimization Initiative, now open to Magento merchants everywhere. After running tests on the mobile checkout experiences of more than 20 merchants, we noted several key trends, but one stood above others: The need for merchants to A/B test constantly.
“Some of the changes we assumed would have a big boost to revenue had very little effect and vice versa. It really highlighted the value in making data-driven decisions rather than going off conventional wisdom.”Oliver Sosinsky, Redstage Solutions Engineer
Every site is different, and more importantly, every audience is different. While some tests revealed huge opportunities for brands to rake in more dollars on mobile, the same tests flatlined or even resulted in a downturn for other merchants (in a few cases). As the race to close the mobile conversion gap continues, our top piece of advice is to start designing digital experiences for mobile users specifically. Most importantly, merchants must work to understand what their mobile customers expect and how to simplify experiences to match. If you’re interested in learning more about the initiative or getting some of your own mobile experiments in motion, sign up here.
“In a world where responsive design is trying to give [customers] all the same functionality we have on desktop in mobile, there may be a divergence here where we have to start thinking about different mobile-first customer experiences.”Adam Morris, Redstage CEO
#3: Create Rich, Interactive Brand Experiences
Creating & Curating Today’s Most Resonant Brands
Traditional retail has hit rock bottom. While Sears and Toys ‘R Us are two of the best known casualties, the implications stretch to each and every physical store on the planet. Both retail giants suffered at the hands of decisions that went against their customer experience. For Sears, the decision to switch to “Everyday low prices” was the first nail in the coffin. Prior to this, the company’s coupon catalog had created buzz and drove customers into stores weekly. Without it, there was little customer experience left, especially with a rapidly decaying in-store experience.
Toy’s ‘R Us was no different. Understaffed stores became empty warehouses. Items were difficult to find in these cold depths, and staff were largely unhelpful when it came to navigating the superstores. Eventually, there was no reason customers wanted to go visit physical locations. With other toy retailers offering better prices online, it was easy for the customer base to choose alternative means. Interestingly, in a last-ditch effort to save the brand, Toys ‘R Us created an augmented reality app. With the app, customers could quickly find the products they were after, and kids could play mini games, test out toys, and go on scavenger hunts around the store, guided by an animated giraffe (the company’s mascot). Unfortunately, it was too little too late, but what are today’s resonant brands doing to keep customers engaged?
The In-Store Experience Revolution will Dominate 2019
Amid cries of 2017’s “Retail Apocalypse,” we made a series of predictions for 2018. In an article titled AR & AI: The Ecommerce Armsrace we anticipated a revolution for in-store experience technology.
Interestingly, while we were wrong about which DTC giant would debut this tech, we were right to suspect its prompt emergence in the market. In early December, Covergirl shook the global beauty sector by installing an “Experiential Makeup Playground” in its Time Square flagship store. The store uses the latest connected retail technology, including voice, IoT, and augmented reality to let customers ‘try on’ products via smart mirror “glam stations.” Expect the company’s rivals to shortly follow suit.
Brand Loyalty and the Immersive Retail Experience
Nike took a similarly immersive approach with in-store experience upgrades at its first “Nike Live” store on Melrose Ave. in L.A. As soon as shoppers enter the store, geofence technology recognizes the presence of the app on their smartphone. From there, Nike’s customer algorithm will give product recommendations based on shopper stats, style and shoe size. Among the rich, app-driven incentives, Nike will even automatically reserve a pair of shoes customers might like. When customers buy Nike products online, Nike ships them to personal smart lockers in-store that can be accessed simply with a Nike+ member pass. No friction, no waiting, no problem.
“[I]n the heart of West LA is also the first Nike Live concept store that blurs the line between digital and physical shopping. Powered by Nike digital commerce data, everything about the store is designed to work seamlessly with the Nike Plus app on shoppers’ phones.”Fast Company
The Digital “Show Room”
Both Nike and Covergirl ushered in amazing retail makeovers by leveraging customer data to solve common customer challenges. For Covergirl, the new tech helps customers try out products they might not be able to physically test anywhere else. As a second key benefit, the experience encourages customers to try on more makeup during their session than they typically would. Third, because shoppers are using AR, this doesn’t cause physical product waste like the often seen “try me” lipstick in other stores.
For Nike, a key decision to place the concept shop on Melrose Ave. arose from the fact that “one in fifty pairs of shoes sold in the area was a Nike Cortez, which was reflected in the product selection available to customers,” according to the Fast Company article mentioned above. Based on this data, Nike responded by creating a store where customers could get expedient access to the newest products (which are usually in high demand). The connected retail space also creates a better environment for millennial shoppers who hate interacting with sales staff, something the retail sector has been slow to pick up on.
Experiences like these are the future of brand loyalty. While we predict stores will become more like show-rooms in the coming years, brand experiences like these will drive customer retention & acquisition. The stage has been set for the in-store experience revolution, and the brands that can best serve customers (digitally and physically) will make it known in 2019.
With this push toward immersive brand experiences in brick-and-mortar stores, brands who lack physical locations will need every advantage to ensure a fast, frictionless, and competitive online experience.
#2: Explore and Implement Deep-Personalization
As Apparel Magazine notes, “According to SAP’s Digital Readiness Survey, 75 percent of retailers believe it is important to deliver a valuable, relevant, and personalized experience specific to the consumer. Further, more than 60 percent of retailers believe it’s important to develop context-relevant, personalized recommendations based on consumer sentiment and history.” This rapidly growing trend is why today’s omnichannel push exists. Making your products available to consumers on their favorite platforms like Facebook, Amazon, Ebay and Google is simply a deeper way of aligning brand experiences with the habits of your customer. With this frame of mind, lets explore some additional methods for creating a rich, visible, and convenient brand.
Recalibrate Your Personalization Tech in the Year Ahead
1. PPC, Email, and Remarketing
Revisiting our #4 recommended resolution for the year ahead, A/B testing isn’t limited to the checkout. Review and optimize your lead-attractors, from PPC and remarketing ads to emails, popups, and SMS. Take a good, hard look at your targeting and make sure you’re using your data to its optimal effectiveness. Test out a revitalized approach to mobile advertising. Investigate your messaging effectiveness between channels. Is the message consistent? Should it be? Have your customer expectations changed? Are customers more responsive to different messaging on different channels or devices? Would you consider creating new PPC ad groups by repurposing your best email subject lines of 2018? Analyze, experiment, evaluate, and optimize.
2. Voice Search Marketing
Comscore predicts half of all online searches (or more) will be conducted via voice by 2020. Despite more than 100 million Amazon Alexas being sold to date, voice search only accounted for a measly 0.4% of online sales in 2018. However, $2.1 billion in sales is nothing to ignore. Between 2016 and 2017, voice search went from zero to 10% of all search volume. Today, more than 20% of searches have voice-based intent. Moreover, smart speakers are predicted to penetrate more than 55% of homes by 2022, a figure that doesn’t account for digital assistants already embedded in smartphones. With millennials relying more on mobile ecommerce and a growing interest in IoT, 2019 may be the year we see another jump in voice search. It’s time for retailers to get invested as adoption continues to pick up.
Video is a marketer’s best friend. Consumers are “anywhere from 64-85% more likely to buy after watching a product video,” and in 2018 the industry began using them in more creative ways. While tutorials, product videos, and UGC have historically driven sales, merchants with content-driven commerce strategies now use video to enhance, repurpose, and revitalize content. Consider creating interview-style videos where users discuss the product with a member of your team. Host a live Q&A on twitter or facebook for popular products, new releases, or products with high views and low sales. Another option is to record video introductions to new or once-popular blog posts to grab additional clicks on social media.
Think what you might about chatbots, but visit any merchant site and they likely have one (or at least a live chat). As customer patience becomes paramount, it’s important to give customers immediate help before they bounce. Moreover, make sure you’re optimizing and changing up your automated greetings at a reasonable pace. Setting up automated conversation paths is another promising benefit of chatbots, and programming responses based on keywords can save time for your sales & support teams.
Newly released data from Adobe and Internet Retailer reinforces once again that mobile sales will continue skyrocketing. As we mentioned earlier, payment options and your checkout process in general needs to be more than simply “responsive.” Mobile customers expect frictionless experiences, and as our research shows, are more likely to buy if you offer payment options like PayPal Express Checkout, Venmo, Apple Pay and even Amazon Pay. However, while we’ve seen success across the board for stores that add the PayPal option before regular checkout, every merchant’s audience will have different preferences. Be sure to make mobile wallet testing a priority, especially before Black Friday rolls around again.
6. Shopping Apps
Shopping apps allow merchants a chance to increase brand value, customer retention, and AOV. The promise of better experiences drives app downloads, which in-turn drive sales and customer loyalty. Think of apps as the most targeted remarketing channel brands can use. The ability to send a notification to a customer is one thing, but getting access to large swaths of individualized data is a whole new world. In this way, apps are the pinnacle of personalization, allowing retailers to alert users about products they might like or share reminders about past purchases they may want to replenish soon. Deals and coupons can be shared instantly, and with the average millennial spending 5.2 hours per day on their smartphone, it’s an avenue worth trying out (The average Gen-Z user spends 5.9 hours on their smartphone per day). Customers generally like apps due to their simplified functionality and UI compared to bulky company websites, and with your brand’s logo on their phone, they’ll likely interact with you more often.
Amazon, Customer Service & Social Selling
According to the Future Shopper Report, 68% of shoppers first visit Amazon.com when searching for products. 80% of shoppers compare prices on Amazon when they’re shopping somewhere else. Why? Because Amazon offers a simple and superior shopping experience. If we dissect the ecommerce monolith, the wide variety of products, wholesale prices, and incredibly fast shipping options make it the easy choice for finding just about anything. All things considered, it’s no wonder Amazon surpassed Google for most product searches last year. That said, theres a lot retailers can learn from Amazon, and several ways to fight back.
For starters, Amazon’s rich product information and advanced search abilities make finding the right product easy. All companies from B2B to B2C can make customer lives easier by following Amazon’s model in these areas. Next, Amazon’s customer support is second to none, replacing lost or damaged items immediately, without additional cost to the consumer (shipping included). In light of this, merchants should work to create better returns policies and frictionless customer service.
Another way to combat Amazon is to succeed in both product authority and social selling. As a specialized retailer, you need to prove yourself as a thought leader to rise above the competition. Whether that means having a presence at Fashion Week, getting influencer endorsements, or simply creating compelling and informative content for your blog — you need to earn authority and respect from your users. You can achieve the same effect by reflecting your extensive industry insight in product descriptions and including niche-specific attributes.
Beating Amazon’s customer support may prove tough, so social selling is another good way to fight back. Rather than focusing on reactive customer support, refocus your sales team’s time and energy on starting conversations that earn trust and influence sales. The team at 4-Tell have some great sales enablement tools, including machine learning algorithms for site search and product recommendations. Sales teams can also build custom product boards to share with customers based on shopping habits. Personalization doesn’t get more personal than that.
#1. Prepare for the Global Omnichannel Transition
Thanks to significant buy-in from major retailers, a global omnichannel transition is now underway. In 2019, more industry titans and mid-tier merchants will progress from the planning and building phase to execution. With this comes a threat to smaller retailers who harbor strong digital backbones, now having to fight on all fronts against groups with bigger budgets. What’s more, as a growing number of B2B companies undergo their own digital and DTC transitions, a realization is coming to the fore: Every business must adopt even stronger logistics capabilities. Here’s how:
Fighting “Faster” with “Frictionless”
With Amazon’s Prime Now option, customers can receive last-minute orders within 2 hours in 50 cities across the united states. However, items available on Prime Now are limited to household goods and groceries, with only a select few grocers (aside from Whole Foods) listing their products on the platform. Since most retailers are unable to compete in terms of delivery time, the industry’s best bet is to drive convenience through pervasiveness.
Use (More) Convenient, Shoppable Channels
Ebay, Newegg, Facebook Marketplace, and Etsy are just a few of the many sites where retailers can flex their omichannel muscle. In line with this thinking, retailers need to up their ad game and start creating more enticing shoppable posts on social media. It’s not enough to have a constant stream of social content. Brands need engaging content that resonates with their audience and keeps them coming back. Take a note from Young & Reckless, the Skateboarding brand that achieved a 3x return on adspend through Instagram. By combining influencer marketing campaigns with branded and shoppable posts, they were able to broaden their audience, reach more customers, and keep their products in the spotlight by aligning with trends and celebrities their audience cares about. In fact, half of the brand’s online traffic comes from social media. That’s the value of resonance.
“Companies with omnichannel customer engagement strategies retain on average 89% of their customers, compared to customer retention rate of 33% for companies with weak omnichannel customer engagement.”Invesp
Creating a simple and frictionless return experience was also a key part of Young & Reckless’ success. When customers know you have a safe and sensible return policy (usually with no cost to them), they’re more likely to buy your product. This is all part of ecommerce consumer psychology. Millennials understand the pain of buying something online that turns out to be the wrong size. Next comes the inconvenience of contacting the return center (sometimes a lengthy process), going to the post office, paying for shipping, and sending the product back. Lastly, the customer has to buy the product all over again, only this time, they’re short a few bucks and have to wait for the delivery to arrive all over again.
Having this experience just once might be enough to make customers look elsewhere for the same product, or worse, never shop on your site again. What might seem like a small inconvenience for some is unforgivable in the minds of millennials, who expect the utmost simplicity. When this expectation isn’t met, their trust in the brand is broken. Moreover, as the most cautious customer segment, they may suspect future purchases from your store could result in the same negative experience, compelling them to avoid the risk altogether.
In 2019, retailers should do their best to offer frictionless returns. Your customers will pay you back in spades. Critically review your returns process and policies. Consider using returnable, pre-paid packaging, and if you can, aim for BOPIS options. The Buy-Online, Pick-up In Store revolution is yet another movement born from evolving ecommerce psychology. It not only relieves customer contention points like faster delivery and delivery safety, but gives “bricks-and-clicks” retailers another opportunity to engage with customers in the physical world.
We designed this rather long-winded thought piece for merchants and marketers to vastly enhance customer experiences in 2019. We hope you found some valuable strategies and new ideas to use this year, or at least began to think critically about some aspects of customer satisfaction and engagement you may have overlooked. If you think anything should be added to this article, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below! If you’re looking for a team of Ecommerce veterans to help you achieve your 2019 goals, reach out today to schedule your free project consultation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
eCommerce baked-in customer service as a standard. Perhaps early innovators recognized its importance as a differentiator from in-store retail, or maybe it came naturally. Regardless, many traditional retail giants chose to ignore it altogether. In the stories that follow, we’ll explore vast disparities in customer service driving traditional retailers toward bankruptcy while simultaneously skyrocketing eCommerce sales.
Good CX Demands Good Customer Service
Major retailers now seemingly compete with airlines, telecoms and power companies for the worst customer service. The key difference, however, is the range of alternatives. Most regions of the U.S. don’t get to pick between more than two horribly aggravating cable providers, while anyone in the world can choose Amazon over local retailer. As a result, the need for retailers to optimize their customer experiences through customer service is paramount. However, those who only recently realized this may be too late.
Jura Live! A Customer Story:
“Jura LIVE! allows customers shopping online to make live video appointments at their convenience, from the comfort of their own home. Customers can see the products in action in real time and leverage the knowledge of a sales rep. to help them make a purchasing decision. For a luxury product such as a super automatic coffee & espresso machine, this adds a significant amount of convenience to the customer’s experience while also dazzling them with high-end technology. These types of high-touch online experiences help the sites that have them dominate those without. Unfortunately, most brick & mortar stores don’t offer these experiences because they refuse to adapt.”
-Dave Gardner, Sr. Account Executive & Team Lead at Redstage
How Retail Heros Became CX Villains
Sears, JC Penney, and Toys “R” Us are known for major missteps that downgraded their in-store experiences and alienated customers. Sears simply stopped investing in its stores. Years ago, company leadership decided to introduce a poorly-managed customer loyalty program that caused much more harm than good. The “Shop Your Way” program caused extended checkout times; both for customers waiting in line behind someone signing up for rewards AND for loyalty members who facing constant discrepancies in “deal” prices at the checkout.
The Fall From Grace
When sales declined, products began to downgrade, the stores themselves fell to disarray, and customers naturally opted for other retailers like Macy’s and Home Depot. As a poorly planned remedy to decreasing sales, Sears chose to cut in-store staff in half across their locations, propelling worsening structural conditions that led to closures all over the U.S. To this day, the company continues to pump products into stores that no one will buy, without the necessary human capital to even unpack them.
A Sears Auto Story
Recenty, Redstage’s CEO Adam Morris had his own customer service blunder at Sears. He entered Sears Auto looking for a particular item, couldn’t find what he wanted, and exited the store only to discover his car had been towed. According to Morris, the towing company contracted by Sears was watching the security cameras while he was inside. Because he parked in a space for “Sears Auto Customers Only,” and hadn’t made a purchase, he wasn’t considered a customer, which allegedly gave the towing company license to tow his car.
In an attempt to get assistance from Sears, Morris spent hours on the phone with a “rude or unhelpful” customer service representatives. At the end of the ordeal, one rep told Morris to file a police report if he felt he was wronged. He had to pay to get his car back — more than the cost of the item he initially intended to buy.
Think he’ll be heading back to Sears anytime soon?
Alienating Your Audience
JC Penney’s downfall came when it decided to switch to “low everyday prices” rather than focusing on their weekly coupon deals — something that created buzz from local customers and drove them to stores. At the same time, JC Penney switched focus from inexpensive products to more upscale merchandise, further alienating their customer base. As a result, shoppers decided to shop elsewhere. For a company founded on a middle class audience and low prices, this change was a signal for lifetime shoppers to exit, with seemingly no plan in place for attracting a higher-paying target audience.
Toys “R” Us CEO David Brandon mentioned in a recent SEC filing that the toy giant’s inability to invest in customer experiences in-store accelerated the death of the company. Last fall Brandon said the company’s mounting debt caused them to lose their competitive edge “on various fronts, including with regard to general upkeep and the condition of our stores.” In addition to the “general upkeep” Brandon mentions, if you’ve walked into a Toys “R” Us outside of the holidays, you’d understand. The massive store would appear as a moonscape, cold and nearly lifeless, save one or two employees and some barely audible music. Is that the environment that makes kids and parents think of fun?
This blog post does an excellent job of describing how Toys “R” Us could have boosted their customer experience through the roof, and honestly, it was probably within reach. “Special store events could include Nerf gun battles and dress up contests. Store representatives could excel at providing toy recommendations for particular age groups and interests (ever wondered, “What the heck do a get for my 8-year-old niece for Christmas?”).” These are the customer service based experiences consumers expect in our high-touch world. With eCommerce personalizing every customer interaction, it’s no wonder retail’s value continues to diminish.
Here’s Why Retail Will Die
As we can interpret from the examples above, traditional retail’s refusal to adapt (or perhaps retail’s lack of understanding about eCommerce) will be the industry’s ultimate downfall. One-time giants like Sears are ignoring systemic issues that directly impact in-store and over-the-phone customer experiences. Customer-minded marketing, store upkeep, and customer service — once staples of the retail experience — are being outsourced, downgraded or eliminated.
How To Bring The Magic Back
In a last-ditch effort to get customer engagement, Toys “R” Us launched an AR app called “PlayChaser” to create gamified in-store experiences. There were a few issues with this, like parents who didn’t want their kids running around a massive store with their tablet — and also the fact that the company had already declared bankruptcy — but the intent was there. Toys “R” Us was ready to repent for decades of customer boredom, but it was too-little-too-late.
Retailers seeking a strong, successful revival need three things:
A unified strategy that blends digital and physical experiences while thinking realistically about in-store capabilities (like employees, upkeep, and tech).
A highly-tailored online experience that combines hardcore marketing tactics with artificial intelligence to boost customer retention & sales (watch video).
Unrelenting customer service that makes everything easier for the customer (yes, we mean everything). Understand your customers and meet their demands.
Circuit City recently announced an ambitious plan to resurrect the company with an eCommerce focus and an impressively cool omnichannel strategy. The digital retailer relaunched February 15th and is moving forward rapidly. If Circuit City can make a comeback, maybe it’s time for other retailers to get with the program.
The whole business universe, eCommerce included, is buzzing about artificial intelligence, the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior.
Unfortunately there is no exact classification of what makes a solution an artificial intelligence solution. Any computer based system that is using data to make some decisions can be labeled as an artificial intelligence solution. Artificial intelligence means many different things for many different people.
This gives almost every software vendor a license to add an artificial intelligence ‘spin’ to the description of their product. This is counterproductive. Instead of attracting new buyers this just confuses the marketplace.
So, let us help you develop a pragmatic framework for understanding and use of AI in your eCommerce strategy.
Why AI in eCommerce?
Manufacturing, information systems and services are rapidly commoditized. The next industrial revolution is fueled by a need to deliver memorable customer experiences. It’s called the experience economy.
Remember Steve Jobs and his decision to recruit John Sculley as Apple’s CEO. People were confused about the logic of hiring Pepsi-Cola’s president who has nothing to do with technology to run the pioneering computer company. At the time only Steve had the vision and understanding that it is not about computers or cola but about the experience that customers have while using the computer or while drinking cola. That passion for memorable customer experiences is what eventually made Apple into one of the most successful companies in the history of mankind.
Delivering memorable customer experiences is a business of treating the right audiences with the right experiences at the right time.
Technically speaking this is a problem with many moving parts and infinite number of permutations. Each visitor to your site can be classified through use of hundreds of attributes. Buying journeys and consideration paths are different for different audiences. And, finally the business owners can act and treat visitors with a myriad of promotions, product recommendations, messages, content or layout changes.
To illustrate the size of the customer experience problem let’s compare it with a simple chess board.
Here is how. Let’s imagine that our problem is only to create the best customer experience on eight pages of your site. Let’s further assume that each page has only 8 elements, and that we have only one variation for each element. Visually this problem can be represented as 8×8 chess board where each column is a web apge with 8 elements and where each field can only have a black or white color (white is for old and black is for a new version of an element).
The total number of permutations of how the experience chess board can look like is equal to 264.
To help you visualize the size of this number let’s assume that each number is a kernel of wheat.
This number represents a huge pile of wheat. As a matter of fact this number is so big that it represents more grains of wheat than was ever farmed on our planet since the beginning of time.
This is precisely why we should use AI in eCommerce.
A problem of this magnitued can’t be solved through brute force. Conventional A/B split testing or if-this-do-that visitor personalization may sound nice but they are grossly inadequate solutions. To remain competitive you must arm yourself with much more powerful tools that are built on the foundation of big data analytics and machine learning algorithms.
Trust, but Verify
Product recommendation solution providers have done the most to apply advanced machine learning techniques and to deliver consistent results. But not all product recommendations are equal.
If you speak to the best of breed solution providers who invested tens of millions of dollars into research and development you will hear loud complaints about newcommers who are using open source packages to mimic their solutions. Unfortunately, many eCommerce brands are choosing a vendor on the basis of feature completeness of its offering rather than on the basis of the quality of the individual solution components.
If you listen to a vendor talk you will logically think that irrespective of the type of product recommendation solution you will get good value. The only difference between two products is how much revenue lift you will materialize. When a vendor tells you that ‘visitors who engage with recommended products are 10%-15% more likely to buy’ you are inclined to believe such a statement.
There is a small problem. The statement above could be true but at the same time you might be losing money with your product recommendation solution.
Here’s how. If you read the statement above more carefully you will realize that it does not compare results of those visitors who have seen product recommendations against those who were not presented with product recommendations. This would be the most accurate measurement. Instead, each visitor is presented with product recommendations which prevents you from knowing if the same visitors who enaged with recommended products would buy if there were no product recommendations at all.
That’s why we recommend you always test and verify the impact of each of the add-on solutions to your eCommerce site.
In developing your business strategy do not view AI as a ‘silver bullet’ that will magically make your eCommerce business better. Instead, think of it as a new set of technologies that are dramatically changing the competitive landscape.
Over years the ability of your company to adapt and effectively use AI solutions will correlate with your ability to effectively compete and win in the marketplace.
The logical question is where to start and how to build a long term strategy.
We always like to be practical and recommend actions that are satisfying 20/80 rule: 20% of effort (cost) that provides 80% of benefit.
The list of such ideas includes:
Customer experience assessment: in addition to a quite common UX audit we also recommend use of visitor data to perform an experience health check (FYI: if you do not have resources or do not know how to do it we offer a free health check service)
Validate ROI of add-on applications: we see on a daily basis how brands are spending a lot of money on expasive user generated content applications, reviews, product recommendations – validate and make sure you are getting ROI from each one of them (FYI: we have advanced testing capabilites and we can assist you with this task).
Uncover persuadable audiences – a fatal flaw of conventional personalziation solutions is targeting of potential customers vs. persuadable audiences, those who will become a customer only if you do something for them.
“Since AIs lack any preconceptions regarding how things ‘should’ be done, I believe #AI will work to our advantage, ushering in a fresh age of progress that we ourselves could not possibly create alone in the same scope of time.” – Adam Morris, CEO @redstagepic.twitter.com/jXkzkd2iCx
Consider this perspective from innovator Adam Morris, CEO of Redstage Worldwide:
“For better or worse, humanity is witnessing ever-increasing evidence that AI provides profoundly better solutions to problems we as humans lack the cognitive processes to conceive. Over the past decade, what we consider ‘modern’ or ‘state-of-the-art’ UX for online shopping hasn’t changed all too drastically. Of course, we’ve experienced improvements in search, filtering, and personalization, but an eCommerce sitemap still looks remarkably similar to the sites of old. Since AIs lack any preconceptions regarding how things ‘should’ be done, I believe AI will work to our advantage, ushering in a fresh age of progress that we ourselves could not possibly create alone in the same scope of time.”
Amazon’s recent launch of their Amazon Key camera & smart lock system will allow Amazon to bring packages directly into your home… but what’s the endgame? Here’s why more than simply retailers should be worried…
To put things in context, the Amazon Key seems an imminent response to Walmart’s plan to use August Home’s smart lock system to allow Walmart personnel to deliver groceries directly to your house, even when you’re not home. The key part of Walmart’s plan, however, lies in the fact that they intend to stock your fridge for you. Something the average consumer might be weary about. Considerable worry emerged across social media when the plan was first announced, though seemingly less since Amazon Key became trending today, suggesting some customers are warming-up to the idea. But while Amazon hasn’t announced plans for grocery shipments just yet, Peter Larsen, Amazon’s Vice President of Delivery Technology, recently said to Reuters, “This is not an experiment for us. This is a core part of the Amazon shopping experience from this point forward.” So what exactly are they planning?
Moving away from Amazon Key, you may recall hearing about another Amazon project, the ecommerce giant’s first grocery store, Amazon Go. Currently setup in Seattle, the store (video below) allows shoppers to walk in, pick up their groceries, and walk out, while a range of Internet of Things devices carefully track which items are removed. The system then adds them to the customer’s cart via Amazon app and charges their account when they leave. While it’s currently only open to Amazon employees, the system is so precise that Amazon challenged their employees to try to steal anything, which appeared to be impossible… So it looks like this technology is ready for a wider testing group sometime soon. Another big news item that shook up the markets earlier this year was Amazon’s $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods. Now do you smell a connection?
While Amazon hasn’t explicitly noted their intention to stock fridges yet (and that’s a fat YET), this move seems directly poised to counter, or at least match Walmart’s intention to stock your fridge, which would have given Walmart a convenience edge in this race. As customers grow accustomed to this level of delivery service, it wouldn’t be such a stretch to say Amazon’s Prime Air drones could soon be stocking your fridge. What’s more, once these companies get into your home, maybe Amazon’s drones will be helping you try on clothes before a purchase, or open a whole new range of services like walking your dog and straightening up the place like Rosy from the Jetsons. While those things might be a stretch, at least we can agree that Amazon Key looks and acts suspiciously similar to Walmart’s smart lock concept (below).
We’ll find out soon enough what plans these ecommerce megaliths have for us. In the mean time, if you’d like some help keeping your edge in the world of ecommerce, shoot us an email today, or click on the red speech bubble in the bottom corner!