But specialty merchants have some distinct advantages when compared with the mega-merchant — and one of them is the capacity to forge strong ties with shoppers through a brand community.
In tomorrow’s webinar, we’ll examine key strategies for building community — and not just via social networks.
The latter proposition seems tricky given limited screen real estate, so the series of examples detailing how to integrate customer service links were particularly helpful. Share Now:As the eCommerce market matures, more and more leading brands are selling online internationally. But the path to international revenues is strewn with significant hurdles, from site experience basics such as translating copy and converting currency to logistical hurdles such as shipping restrictions and import duties, to subtler issues of understanding local markets and cultures. But the challenges shouldn’t dissuade merchants from sizing up global opportunities and finding ways to serve brand enthusiasts wherever they reside. Even merchants who go on to invest more significantly in overseas markets can piggyback off marketplace services, as Perricone MD does in Japan. Usage of international-logistics vendors such as BorderFree has grown more than 50% from 2010 to 2012, according to Forrester; such services can help ease the transition into international operations, and are well worth considering. Merchants should also explore allowing shoppers to set their destination earlier on the path to purchase with global elements or promotions that invite interaction. Crucially, the report analyzed the length of the customer journey as well as the variety of touchpoints, and found that in retail, fully 50% of revenues are generated by purchases made over more than one day of interactions.
The data suggests that merchants need to rethink their messaging and strike a balance between enticing shoppers to buy immediately and building the long-term brand connection that pays off in the longer term.
Share Now:Merchants looking for new ways to optimize their sites for better placement in organic search results listings are accustomed to focusing on content, and specifically on the substance of the text and images on their sites’ pages. As presenter Richard Chavez of PM Digital outlined in his SEO presentation at the recent MarketLive Summit, merchants can now tag discrete pieces of content within a given page, making those snippets easier for search engines to parse, recognize and display within search results listings. While the prospect of retagging their sites may give merchants pause, adopting structured data should be a top SEO priority.
Share Now:Setting priorities is always a top challenge for merchants, what with the whirlwind pace of change in the world of online commerce combined with the need to abide by limited budgets.
While it’s possible to interpret this data to suggest that mobile as a whole is overblown as a priority, the fact remains that shoppers do expect to engage with brands via their tablets and phones — so merchants must develop mobile-friendly outposts to meet that demand. Because Amazon warehouses so many disparate product categories, the brand is largely impersonal; there’s little opportunity for its customers to unite around a common lifestyle or passion. While social networking sites provide broad exposure and the opportunity to entice new shoppers to follow brands, brand followers tend to be passive; just 6% of social network users actively engage the brands they follow, according to marketer ComBlu.
One increasingly popular way to marry community and commerce is to use tools available from social networking sites to integrate consumers’ social networking data with the shopping experience. Merchants should tap their deep knowledge of the customer lifestyle to find unique ways to build community around specific activities and passions.
There are plenty of ways to glean whether brands are attracting international interest, from analytics data to customer service inquiries to social media interactions. Merchants can take advantage of Amazon and eBay’s extensive regional marketplaces to establish a foothold, even using their fulfillment services to help negotiate international shipping and tariff hurdles.
The beauty manufacturer has launched a Japanese Web site that includes information about the brand, customer testimonials, and product information; the “buy” buttons take shoppers to Amazon’s Japanese marketplace to complete their orders, which are fulfilled by Amazon. However they do it, merchants incorporating international shipping should test and re-test checkout flow to streamline as much as possible for both domestic and international audiences.
At a minimum, let shoppers set their shipping destination from within the cart as well as in checkout — and integrate international destinations into estimated tax and shipping calculators so shoppers can derive the total order cost up front, regardless of their location, as ThinkGeek does on its shopping cart page.

Merchants should proactively address international shippers’ questions about topics specific to overseas delivery, such as how taxes and duties are applied and how returns can be processed, in addition to common concerns such as delivery speed and costs.
So it’s helpful to see new data from Google that shows just how important it is to maintain well-rounded, cohesive messaging. Not only that, but a whopping two-thirds of revenues are generated by purchases that take place after more than one interaction — and the average order value for purchases rises as shoppers have more interactions with a brand. Merchants should find ways to go beyond posting promo codes and product links to create a truly participatory experience for brand followers that leads inexorably to purchasing.
But another aspect of that content is increasingly important — the structure of the information, as presented in the back-end code of the page. Elements such as videos, the average rating for a product, the price, and search-engine friendly descriptions can all be called out by these specialized tags. Sites implementing structured markup can see a 30% increase in traffic from organic search engine results, according to content management system provider Webnodes, while GoodRelations claims search result listings using structured markup achieve 30% higher click-through rates than unmodified listings. And check out Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool, which displays what structured markup is detected on pages, and Data Highlighter, which enables tagging of page content without recoding. Thankfully, attendees of last week’s MarketLive Summit received significant help with focusing their to-do lists, thanks to industry expert Sucharita Mulpuru, principal eCommerce analyst at technology researcher Forrester.
While major merchants are promoting same-day delivery in some regions, Mulpuru noted that even they can’t offer coast-to-coast coverage — and that consumers overwhelmingly opt for “free” over “fast” when it comes to shipping. Associates should be trained to help shoppers find and buy items online that are out of stock on store shelves. Mulpuru noted that merchants offering the ability to shop online and pick up items in stores have a steep hurdle to surmount, as inventory must be available in the location a shopper selects; by contrast, enabling local stores to fulfill online orders speeds delivery and gives merchants the option of tapping inventory from multiple nearby outlets to get the job done. Delivering physical store receipts via email gives merchants the opportunity to tie together online and offline shopper activity via the shoppers’ email address. Mulpuru shared deep-dive analytics on mobile shopping behavior showing that while traffic from smartphones and tablets is growing exponentially, most interactions are shallow and brief.
And the positive spin on Mulpuru’s data is that even merchants with modest mobile budgets can compete for mobile spending dollars, if they cover the crucial basics we’ve often described — a mobile-friendly shopping experience that incorporates long-standing eCommerce best practices and an easy mobile payment process chief among them. Using the phenomenon of dynamic pricing as a starting point, Mulpuru led Summit attendees through a fascinating discussion of how the legal underpinnings of commerce have shifted in favor of manufacturers, giving them increasing power to determine how and at what cost their goods are sold — a trend that may well give Amazon and other mega-merchants pause in their race to sell products at the lowest price point. Brand manufacturers can compete online for direct-to-consumer sales — and have a distinct advantage in that they are the original experts about their products.
Whether individual items made or offered exclusively through their brand or product combinations found nowhere else, unique offerings should be highlighted on retailer sites, giving shoppers incentive to act.Mass merchant Kohl’s spotlights exclusive products by designer Derek Lam in the women’s category, noting that the collection is “Limited Edition. By contrast, branded community experiences provide a platform for committed brand advocates to shine, and for customers to contribute meaningful input on products and promotions.
Taking advantage of these tools gives merchants a means to create a community hybrid that incorporates the best of both worlds – the critical mass represented on Facebook and other social sites combined with the ownership control of their own eCommerce sites. That community can take many forms, from customer reviews that spawn in-depth discussions to mobile apps that encourage members to engage with the brand, as Nike’s Nike Plus running community tools do. Burke argues that while part of the challenge is inherent to the small-screen format, merchants can and should rise to the challenge by streamlining the checkout process and earning customer trust.
And then, once target audiences have been identified, merchants have options other than establishing full-bore international eCommerce sites. Before launching a new country-specific Web site or considering whether to open foreign fulfillment centers, merchants can iron out other logistics of international trade by shipping internationally from the U.S. Saks Fifth Avenue provides extensive international shipping information, including a FAQ and country-by-country delivery timeframes.

The interactive report “The Customer Journey to Online Purchase” parsed transactions from more than 35,000 sites using Google Analytics to demonstrate how a mix of influences convert shoppers to buyers.
Compared with the average order value of a purchase made after one transaction, purchases made after about 10 interactions are 50% higher, and the average order value keeps rising (although incrementally) from there. American Eagle devised a months-long contest that spawned content across touchpoints and encouraged product browsing. The number of product-specific properties grew from eight to 25, and the number of offer-specific properties allowing merchants to tag price and discount information grew from 10 to 27, according to Search Engine Land.
Among the unsponsored listings for “Cole Haan ballet flats”, the video from Zappos and the rating summary from Bloomingdales are more eye-catching than the top two results from the manufacturer and Amazon. On a smartphone, REI’s individual store location listing, which is tagged with structured location markup, consumes most of the screen, with not only a map, but store hours and a click-to-call icon integrated into the display. For that reason, it’s a top priority for multi-channel brands, Mulpuru said, with more than 40% of merchants in a recent survey saying they’ve implemented it or plan to do so within two years.
Mulpuru urged merchants to stop obsessing about dynamic pricing and put the focus on products and brands that couldn’t be commoditized — that is, the unique offering that makes their brand a fit for their target audience. Manufacturer sites should reflect that advantage by giving shoppers encyclopedic product information in a variety of formats.
Amazon is the biggest of the mega-brands attracting the lion’s share of online sales revenues, even as the number of small- and mid-sized merchants continues to grow.
Shoppers on the Macy’s site can poll their network of Facebook friends about which products to buy — giving the shopper a recommendation from trusted friends as well as introducing the shopper’s friends to products on the Macy’s site.
Runners download an app that tracks their runs via GPS and enables sharing with the main community site, where the fastest times for popular runs are spotlighted via “leaderboards”. Online commerce revenues in China alone are set to top $200 billion, Forrester predicts — more than all of Europe’s countries combined. This option is already popular with merchants of all sizes; nearly 60% of merchants in the Internet Retailer Top 500 and more than 45% of merchants in the Second 500 already offer some form of international shipping.
Such promotions can drive signups for email or mobile alerts on daily deal products and spur increased engagement with products on the Web site as shoppers are exposed to an array of fresh products. The listings for Bloomingdales and Nordstrom incorporate custom descriptions that are both concise enough to be displayed in their entirety and catchy enough to encourage further engagement. Macy’s invites shoppers opting for an e-receipt to sign up for email updates at the same time, then follows up with a welcome email tailored to the physical location, including a discount with an in-store redemption option. Bedding manufacturer Cuddledown provides numerous buying guides, videos and other shopping tools, including a step-by-step guide to selecting the right pillow and a video showing how the pillows are made. By contrast, small- to mid-sized merchants who focus on a particular product category or audience have the opportunity to provide their customers a platform for meaningful interaction and a shopping experience that connects them with other like-minded consumers.
To encourage still further engagement across brand touchpoints, merchants should layer in longer-term messaging, using secondary positions in email promotions and on landing pages to encourage shoppers to keep coming back even if the featured discount doesn’t spor them to buy. A “pillow picker” interactive tool steps shoppers through the process and matches them with individual products. Victoria’s Secret’s email promotion featuring a one-day sale on bikinis uses a secondary banner position to promote dollar-off discounts not tied to a particular product category, thereby appealing to shoppers not on the hunt for swimwear.

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