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Three Tips To Optimize Paid Search Campaigns

Tuesday, February 4, 2014 by

Paid search is the key to acquiring new customers and staying top of mind. But knowing where to begin can be quite overwhelming, especially given the constant changes in paid search. Here are three tips that we‘ve learned at Blueport Commerce to help optimize paid search for our in-house brand, Furniture.com.

Tip #1 – Understand Key Performance Indicators

It is helpful for furniture retailers to first understand how to better measure the success of paid search campaigns through key performance indicators (KPIs). One KPI I look at frequently is the conversion rate of paid search campaigns. This helps me to understand what types of keywords led to orders and in turn where to best allocate my Pay-Per-Click (PPC) budget.

Tip #2 – Use the Keyword Planner In Google Adwords

The Keyword Planner in Google Adwords is a great tool to help you build out your keywords. You can use it to search for keyword and ad group ideas. All you have to do is enter a keyword relevant to your business and it will generate hundreds to ideas for you. One caveat is that not all the ideas will be applicable to what you’re selling, but the amount of keywords it provides makes building out your campaigns and ad groups a breeze. For furniture retailers, it can be easy to fall into the trap of having every possible keyword that covering a customer’s search. It’s a good rule of thumb to have a mix of all types of keywords, from broad-based keywords like “sofa” to more long-tail keywords like “gray 2 piece modular sofa.”

Tip # 3 – Audit Your PPC Account

It’s a good practice to audit your PPC account periodically to make sure everything is in order. Going through a checklist to make sure your account is set up for success will likely help you to catch low hanging fruit and continuously improve your account. Here are a few common things to review:

1) Account structure – Is your account structured properly? A proper account structure lays the foundation for your account, so it’s useful to check things like campaign structure and whether it still makes sense. I’ve found that for furniture retailers, it is a good idea to structure campaigns by product categories. For example, you would have a separate campaign for sofas and a different one for mattresses. This structure gives you more control over your PPC budget and allows you to allocate more budget to campaigns that are performing better.

2) Location – Are you targeting the right locations? This is an important one as it’s easy to forget to include new locations to target if your business expands. For example, if your furniture business is primarily based in the Midwest, it may make sense to target your ads in the Midwest instead of across the U.S. This way you will focus your PPC budget to reach where your target customers are located.

3) Ad scheduling – What settings do you have for time of day and day of week? Are you only showing ads at certain times? Does this still make sense for your business? While every business is different, you may not want to limit your ads to show at only certain times if you are also selling online. Unlike a brick and mortar retail store, your online store is always open and so it probably makes sense to have your ads live throughout the day/night.

Paid search is a necessary part of your marketing campaign. With these tips in your back pocket, you can be sure your paid search campaigns will bring your store’s website to the top of the ‘search’ fold.


About Blueport Commerce

Leading furniture companies work with Blueport Commerce to capture the billion dollar furniture e-commerce opportunity.  We marry our clients’ bricks-and-mortar infrastructure and expertise with our decade of online furniture experience, innovative technology, and customized marketing services. For some retailers, the Blueport e-commerce platform powers their branded omni-channel websites, driving sales online and in their stores.  For other retailers, we drive online sales through Furniture.com, our e-commerce website. For many, we do both. Learn more here. And, if you’re interested in working for Blueport, check out our e-commerce jobs on our careers page.

Data Analytics: Challenges and Opportunities in the Digital World

Saturday, August 10, 2013 by

 

News from MITX: How Care.com and Constant Contact Are Making It Work with Analytics

 

Last week, Blueport Commerce attended the MITX Summit The Science of Marketing: Using Data & Analytics for Winning. While there, we received some great insight on how to manage our data and analytics better. Here are some of the issues and solutions shared in a session by speakers from Care.com and Constant Contact, many of which are applicable to what furniture retailers can do to tackle analytics.

 

Challenges with Implementing Analytics

In the session Leveraging Data and Analytics for Your Marketing Strategy, Dave Krupinski, Co-Founder & Chief Technology Officer from Care.com and Jesse Harriott, Ph.D., Chief Analytics Officer of Constant Contact and author of Win with Advanced Business Analytics, discussed the opportunities companies have with analytics and the challenges they face. Krupinski reported from Gartner that 70-80% of business intelligence projects are not successful. He believes that these challenges are organizational, specifically around:

  1. Weak executive sponsorship
  2. Failure to align analytics priorities with corporate priorities
  3. Analysts need to balance a combination of science and business – the best are those with consulting backgrounds
  4. Weak alignment from the technology support function
  5. Lack of formal data governance
  6. Weak alignment with existing analytical resources

Six challenges can seem like a mountain of issues to overcome before an analytics function can run like a well-oiled machine. However, to ignore them doesn’t achieve the full potential that insight and wisdom around analytics can bring.

Five Stages of Analytical Companies

In addition to recognizing and overcoming the above challenges, companies need to identify and understand where they sit among the following five analytical growth stages:

  1. Analytically Impaired
  2. Localized Analytics
  3. Analytical Aspirations – centralized analytic support
  4. Analytical Company – executive sponsorship
  5. Analytical Competitor – where everything is clockwork, you have full alignment and are using analytics to drive real value for the business

Krupinksi self-admittedly noted that Care.com was only in stage three, “Analytical Aspirations” and had a lot more work to do in the space of analytics, so the company hasn’t figured it all out just yet.

Where to Start? Key Best Practices

When it comes to analytics, Harriott shared five key tenants to avoid just reporting on data, and champion the insights gleaned from it in the following ways:

  1. Establish Meaning
  2. Develop Context
  3. Be Predictive
  4. Create a Bias Toward Action (generate revenue, save costs)
  5. Enable Communication

For furniture retailers, e-commerce analytics can seem daunting, but like most businesses there’s always a starting point. For furniture retailers looking to tackle analytics and take advantage of all the available data out there, they can start in the following ways:

  1. Recognize any operational challenges impeding analytical growth
  2. Understand what analytical stage the company is in
  3. Take steps to correct challenges
  4. Use the data that’s appropriate once it’s available to create meaning, context and action

There was so much covered in the MITX Summit The Science of Marketing: Using Data & Analytics for Winning we couldn’t imagine scratching the surface in this blog post. However, MITX will be posting videos on its YouTube channel soon. In the meantime, we’re going to get back to improving our own analytics…

WHY AND HOW SHOULD I SELL FURNITURE ONLINE?

 

About Blueport Commerce

With Blueport Commerce, furniture retailers can build an integrated, branded e-commerce platform online, elevating their brands and creating an ultimate online superstore. Blueport Commerce is the only e-commerce technology and services company that localizes furniture retail online. We serve the top furniture retail chains with billions in sales interested in selling furniture online. Blueport Commerce is a full-service solution that combines a decade of experience, innovative technology and customized marketing services to meet the unique, localized needs of furniture retail chains. Learn more here. And, if you’re interested in working for Blueport, check out our e-commerce jobs on our careers page.

Bringing a Solid Content Strategy to Life – Learnings from IRCE 2013 Part II

Saturday, June 22, 2013 by

In part I of our two-part series, we learned at IRCE 2013 how PetFlow.com has innovated on Facebook with customized, cute and relevant content to drive e-commerce sales. We also learned from Ryan Ostrom, CMO of Craftsman and Head of Digital KCD (Kenmore, Craftsman, Diehard) Brands, Sears Holdings, how a solid content strategy based on relevance, reach and results is key to e-commerce success. And, as it turns out, the three tips listed below are amazingly relevant to big-ticket furniture retail.

 Tip #1: It Is About Being What People Are Interested In

Ostrom could not have said it any better that a content strategy should be “about what people are interested in.” While this seems like completely obvious advice, retailers can often lose sight of this in the execution of their content strategy. The particular issue Ostrom faced was how do you get consumers to engage with you and stay relevant when you are selling products with longer purchase cycles? For Kenmore, the average appliance purchase is every seven years, and only when something breaks. Craftsman has some of the most trusted and long-lasting tools, and Diehard is, well, die-hard. KCD created content around the human experience and lifestyle that cooking, tinkering and driving brought them. Products just happened to be involved at every stage of the purchase funnel but the focus was on life first. A good example of this strategy is Cookmore.com, an online cooking community with a combination of user and Kenmore generated recipes and videos. Members have the option to purchase Kenmore products through the community, but are primarily there to interact with other members, watch videos and get recipes and tips.

Tip #2: Content Should Maximize Reach

Ostrom created a content strategy to change the marketing paradigm across all channels and funnels to build deeper customer relationships and maximize reach – a strategy he calls DEEP (Dialogue, Engage, Educate, and Purchase).

The application of this strategy shines in the case of the Craftsman brand that features a community, complete web experience with everything you’d want to know to DIY or buy, plus email campaigns and a huge YouTube channel, offering tips for all kinds of projects. All aspects of the experience recommend and use Craftsman tools, which makes it easy to navigate and buy. A particular example was a campaign showing DIYers how to convert a simple table to a felt poker table with a mini-fridge, kegerator, and soft arm rests. This was integrated through email and with links everywhere to hit their e-commerce site and convert.

Tip #3: Own Your Content, Because It Drives RESULTS

Owning your own content goes across the purchase funnel and, according to Ostrom, it also allows for syndication and monetization. Most importantly, owning content allows for flexibility, customization and drives results. Here are the numbers:

  • Email is still a key driver – Craftsman gets a CTR of 25%
  • 99x industry average banner ad CTR
  • 4.6x industry average in-stream video ad CTR
  • 24% lift on conversion for video product pages
  • 15% lift in open rates on targeted community open rates
  • 26% lift in visits by community members during non-deal periods
  • Videos are huge:
    • 53% more likely than text pages to appear on the first page of search results and 70% of all Google search results pages
    • Video email marketing increases CTR by 96%
    • Retail shoppers who watch video online spend 2 minutes longer on site and are 64% more likely to buy
    • Best in class companies use video marketing to achieve 2x online conversion rate versus other companies

So how is does this all apply to the furniture retail industry? First, relevance, reach and results driven content needs to be tailored to work in a unique and opportunistic way for furniture e-commerce. This is because furniture retail has a similar issue to brands like Craftsman and Kenmore – shoppers are purchasing in life stages that are years apart – so furniture retailers need to innovate with content to keep their brand top of mind. New ways to market include videos, lifestyle-based marketing and analytics. Consistently compelling content from furniture retailers in this ever changing online world can drive real results. We’re looking forward to the fun changes ahead for furniture and e-commerce.

WHY AND HOW SHOULD I SELL FURNITURE ONLINE?

About Blueport Commerce

With Blueport Commerce, furniture retailers can build an integrated, branded e-commerce platform online, elevating their brands and creating an ultimate online superstore. Blueport Commerce is the e-commerce solution for the furniture industry. We serve the top furniture retail chains with billions in sales interested in selling furniture online. Blueport Commerce is a full-service solution that combines over a decade of experience, innovative technology and customized marketing services to meet the unique, localized needs of furniture retail chains. Learn more here. And, if you’re interested in working for Blueport, check out our e-commerce jobs on our careers page.

Gamification: For E-Commerce, the Game Is On

Friday, March 15, 2013 by

E-Commerce GamificationAre you the type of person who gets driven insane by incomplete tasks? Did you have to hit 100 percent completeness on your LinkedIn profile? Or collect a retailer’s loyalty points to get rewards? If so, you’ve been gamified. Gamification is the concept of using game design elements in non-game applications to make them more fun and engaging. By 2014, 70 percent of large companies will use the technique for at least one business process, per Gartner’s estimate. And e-commerce is no stranger to gamification – right now the trend is for online promotions to drive consumers to checkout, as well as steer people to social media and email sharing.

Gamification in Action: Checkout

Blueport Commerce has helped implement gamification elements for our furniture retail clients. Last year, Blueport set up an interactive Las Vegas style promo for a superstore client, which allowed users to roll dice online to receive a discount. This tied in to the in-store promotion where casinos were set up in the retailer’s selected brick and mortar locations and people were able to play roulette to get discounts.

Registered users received a link directly to the dice rolling widget via promotional email. For new users, they needed to register before they could roll the dice to get discounts. Each registered user could roll only once, and depending on their number, they would receive a $50, $100 or $200 coupon, valid on orders of $1,200 or more. Codes were then added to the registered user’s shopping cart automatically.

The Results

People found out about the game via website banners and email blasts to opted-in users. Our client banked 2,000 new registered users, and 5,000 people rolled the dice. In just over four days they experienced double digit increases in revenue during the event generated by people rolling the dice and purchasing with discounts.

Gamification is Afoot: Driving to Social & Email

Thanks to Bernie Madoff and their generally suspect nature, Ponzi schemes are generally not thought of in a positive light. However the concept of gamification worked wonders for a Blueport big-ticket e-commerce client who wanted to encourage email sharing. Blueport created a discount app, where a registered user of that retailer’s website received an email giving them a discount for a mattress. Depending on how many people the original recipient forwarded it to, that person could build up discount credits to the point where they were able to get a free mattress. The credits were only applied if the people who received the email signed up on the site. This concept has also been adapted to fit social sharing by other companies.

The principles of gamification state that humans are looking for rewards, loss aversion, status, competition and reputation, and feedback. Good gamification implementation demands that you give users motivation to do something (emotional investment, promise of reward, etc.), the ability to complete the action, and a trigger to complete the action. If e-commerce retailers can successfully create and implement gamification, the financial ROI can bring down the house.  

 

WHY AND HOW SHOULD I SELL FURNITURE ONLINE?

7 Things Blueport Learned at the MITX: What’s Next E-Commerce Summit

Friday, February 8, 2013 by

MITX E-Commerce SummitRecently, eight members of the Blueport Commerce team attended the MITX: What’s Next E-Commerce Summit (Twitter hashtag #MITXECS) to learn about the latest trends and technology in Boston-based e-commerce. Below are seven highlights we took away from this high-energy, informative and inspiring e-commerce experience.

  1. Biggest Recurring Theme: Big Data
    The phrase of the day was definitely “big data”. This was a key focus of Wayfair’s panel to kick off the event. Ben Clark, Director of Software Engineering at Wayfair, spoke to the need to structure the data post-capture and being able to create a tailored experience via tactics like clickstream tracking. By creating a record of how people interact with an e-commerce website, such as their products and interests, retailers can create a truly customized experience that is better than any canned solution. We appreciated the focus on consumer behavior pre- and post-purchase and optimized your e-commerce site for maximum revenue generation.
     
  2. Most Fascinating Technology Application: Mobile App Segmentation
    One of Blueport’s favorite quotes of the day came from SapientNitro’s Mark Berinato, Associate Creative Director, Experience Design, who said “Your customers aren’t monolithic,” referring to the need for retailers to meet their customers where they are. During the “Building the Next Wave of Great Mobile User Experiences” breakout session, various mobile experts discussed the need to create different levels of apps for different fan bases. For example, designing a full mobile app with each device getting its own platform works for a client like NASCAR, who has some of the most passionate fans on the planet. In contrast, for the casual Indianapolis 500 fan, NASCAR also commissioned a hybrid mobile app which used a combination of an app plus HTML to engaged mobile users who didn’t require the full functionality of a full mobile app. At the end of the session, the panel concluded that designing a mobile app was all about “choreographing the customer journey,” a phrase we at Blueport really loved as it speaks to the heart of the true customer e-commerce experience, not just purchase.
     
  3. Best Example of Customization in E-Commerce: Boston Fashion
    One of the most “tailored” presentations was “Boston Fashion Gets Personal with Gemvara, Blank Label, CustomMade, Bow & Drape”. All four companies cater to a more affluent and unique type of customer that wants the highest level of personalization possible in jewelry, furniture, and fashion (men’s and women’s), respectively. Blueport Commerce really enjoyed this panel for its focus on extreme personalization, loyalty tactics and high-end service. For example, Bow & Drape has photorealistic technology which allows a woman shopping for a custom-made dress to virtually “try on” the clothes on a body that mimics her measurements. Bow & Drape also has an at-home-try-on program, where muslins in up to three different sizes will be sent to potential customers, complete with seamstresses’ marks, in order to ensure the best fit possible. These “fit kits” lead to a whopping 60% conversion rate. Also impressive was Bow & Drape’s surprise post-purchase gifts to their loyal customers. We at Blueport Commerce loved the concept of learning to emotionally connect with highly selective consumers pre-purchase to establish trust, something essential for selling big-ticket items such as furniture online.
     
  4. Most Interesting Presentation: Karmaloop
    A crowd-favorite presentation was the always-entertaining Greg Selkoe, the founder of Karmaloop, a Boston-based streetwear company. In this fireside chat, Greg touched on multiple topics including the fact he hires passionate people who wear his products as his customer service representatives, knowing that it adds credibility to have people that truly care about the brand representing it. Greg also says he doesn't hire experts anymore regarding his site content because they don't know his audience the way his team does. Greg also spoke passionately against rigid Boston laws that he feels prevent Boston start-ups and businesses from thriving, and encouraged people to check out his project, Future Boston Alliance, which advocates for collective action to improve Boston laws and businesses. 
     
  5. Best Vendor Station: STaples
    Thanks to their adorable mini-cupcakes and enormous pastry spread, Staples absolutely killed it in the vendor display department. And who doesn’t love a little conference carbo-loading? Oh, and their panel in the morning on creating an omnichannel experience was delicious as well, touching upon the need for automated metrics around page speed and page performance before even thinking of rolling out new capabilities.
     
  6. Most Controversial Statement: Omnichannel
    Speaking of omnichannel, the most controversial statement of the day belonged to Steve Davis, President of Rue La La, who boldly stated his disdain for the phrase “omnichannel”, insisting that it’s overrated and what really matters is the customer experience. Steve also views traditional customer service as reactionary, while by contrast, a great concierge anticipates your needs. Rue La La is extremely focused on NPS (Net Promoter Score) as a mission-critical metric and feels strongly that customer loyalty must be earned. While we at Blueport don’t necessarily agree the need to be omnichannel is overrated, Rue La La is a great example of a truly customer-centric company that prides itself on and strives for great customer service.
     
  7. Most Engaged Tweeters
    No surprise, but MITX was full of very active social media enthusiasts. Some of our favorite tweets came from the following companies, speakers and audience members:
    @MITX
    @Selkoe
    @drkleiman
    @trishofthetrade
    @bowanddrape
    @karmaloop
    @UsefulArts
    @ScottKirsner
    @sapientnitro
    @compete
    @aubriepagano
    @gemvara
    @blanklabel
    @custommade
    @SteveHaase

Overall, the #MITXECS was a very informative, fun and engaging day that made Blueport Commerce proud to be a part of the fabric of the Boston e-commerce scene. Our hope is that big-ticket retail is an even bigger focus at the next e-commerce event.

Want to read more? Read the MITX Event Recap: Top Tweets from the 2013 "What's Next" e-Commerce Summit (#MITXECS) and listen to Greg Selkoe’s Fireside Chat on Boston.com [may require Boston.com registration].

Selling Furniture Online E-Commerce

 

How to Turn Showrooming into a Retailer's Advantage

Friday, January 11, 2013 by

Furniture Showrooming E-CommerceE-commerce sales continue to steadily rise, with year-over-year sales growth for the period from October 29 to December 25, 2012 reaching 15.2% (Retail Info Systems News). If you're a big-ticket brick and mortar retailer looking to pick up on online best practices and integrate them into their physical stores, you should be taking note very closely. With the goal of engaging customers throughout the year, not just seasonally, you can recapture the potential sales lost through showrooming. And not all retailers need to adopt the Target defense of price-matching all sources – sometimes the best defense is a good (marketing) offense!

In an interesting interview from Multichannel Merchant, Randall Stone, senior partner and director of customer experience and retail design at Lippincott, has keyed in on a few retail strategies that are being used to enhance in-store shopping experiences. Here are the ones we at Blueport Commerce, the only e-commerce technology and services company that localizes big-ticket retail online, felt most applicable to big-ticket retailers:

  1. Integrate Digital Tools Specific to the Showroom: Add digital kiosks and tablets throughout stores to allow customers to access online product information, reviews, as well as full e-commerce functionality to allow them to purchase online after getting to touch and feel the furniture. Provide customers with technology that allows them to visualize products in their everyday lives (read our coverage of augmented reality tools  here). Design a showcase experience that enables on-floor sales associates with tools (such as tablets) to see inventory levels, and allow consumers to customize any products they're interested in purchasing.
  2. Embrace Omnichannel: Retailers have a chance to better engage consumers with a browse anywhere/buy anywhere approach. Retailers should allow customers to shop whenever and wherever they please and then pick-up, or have the goods delivered – site to store, store to home, etc.  Retailers who provide an omnichannel experience will be brand leaders.
  3. Mobile Apps: Mobile apps allow consumers to shop in-store, pay painlessly with their smartphone and depart. These apps make shopping experiences quicker and easier. Oftentimes, coupons can be loaded onto the mobile app in order to incentivize shoppers to spend while in-store. In fact, in a recent survey, eMarketer found nearly two-thirds of 18- to 34-year-olds reported using their mobile phone for shopping this past holiday season, and almost half said this made their phone a faster resource for accessing information than asking a store associate.
  4. Focus on Your Consumer Year-Round: Shopping holidays are high-volume revenue days for retailers, but they don't always mean repeat business. Customer loyalty is dependent on the consistent experience consumers have in your store and online – retailers need to deliver their brand experience all year long. Retailers who concept clever ways to differentiate themselves, such as express frequent shoppers’ lines or loyalty programs, will find retail success year-round. Some stores are experimenting with pop-up stores, flash sales and/or tailored events to appeal to new prospects. Big-ticket retailers can benefit from in-store promotional events that offer a rich, multimedia and interactive experiential component to drive store traffic. Additionally, for big-ticket retailers, design services and email marketing tactics can play a key role in keeping your customers engaged year round.

With big-ticket retail, the focus is going to be inherently local, as consumers often want to touch and feel the big-ticket items they are going to purchase. By focusing on creating a cohesive brand experience from site to store, enhancing convenience and providing a superior customer experience, big-ticket retailers can turn showrooming prospects into satisfied, loyal customers.

What do you think? Join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Making Sense of Mobile Payments & More

Friday, May 4, 2012 by

As exciting a time this is for e-commerce, this is also an extraordinary time for the business of paying for goods. From Square, which converts smartphones into credit card-processors, to mobile payment regulations, there’s a lot going on in payments.

When it comes to mobile payments, do you have a pulse on customers’ needs, retailers’ goals and the big technology players? We’ve gathered a roundup of some of the hottest headlines to help you keep up with this fast-moving field:

NFCNews – Survey Shows 66% of Retailers Want Mobile POS

A new survey from Motorola Solutions shows there is increasing interest from retail, hospitality and field service industries for mobile Point of Sale (mPOS) solutions, such as NFC payments and mobile loyalty programs, as a core strategy for improving customer service. According to the survey, which was comprised of 541 retail, hospitality and field service employees from North America, UK, France and Germany, 66% of respondents are interested in mPOS, while 42% of respondents are currently piloting or starting trials within the next 36 months.

U.S. News & World Report – How Safe Are Mobile Payments?

For some consumers, paying at the checkout line becomes a lot simpler when they can forgo the plastic card and pay with their phone. Mobile payment applications like the Isis Mobile Wallet, Google Wallet, Square, and LevelUp turn your cell phone into a payment source: Just store your debit card or credit card information on the phone and scan the device at checkout. "Consumers like the convenience factor," says Sarah Jane Hughes, a commercial law professor at Indiana University. But is this new form of payment safe?

Mobile Payments Today – PayNearMe Gives Unbanked a New Mobile Payment Option

One of the problems for "cash-preferred" consumers is that some transactions, for instance, airline tickets or online purchases, require an electronic payment method. Now U.S. consumers who choose to use cash have another mobile option to make electronic payments. PayNearMe, a cash transaction network that markets to the under- and unbanked, announced its new mobile cash payment system, a product that lets those without credit or debit cards use their cash to make loan payments, pay bills or buy tickets.

Seeking Alpha – Apple: Sleeping Giant Within the Mobile Payment Industry

The mobile payment industry is still in its infancy. I believe the mobile payment industry is a multi-billion dollar, multi-year secular growth market which will have a huge impact to the bottom line of key mobile payment players. Aite Group states the volume of mobile payments will grow to over $200 billion by 2015. In 2010 mobile payment revenue was approximately $16 billion. That is an over 12-fold increase in just five years. Apple is a dominant leader in the smart phone market with over 35 million in smartphone sales last quarter alone. They have not entered the mobile payment market yet, but I expect them to arrive on the scene very soon and disrupt the current mobile payment landscape.

Wall Street Daily – Google Could “Wrapp” Up the Mobile Wallet Race for Good

Wall Street Daily readers know that point-of-sale Near-Field Communication (NFC) technology is one of my top trends to watch this year. And although a recent study by Pew Research found that the technology likely won’t be a dominant form of payment until at least 2020, that’s not stopping players from jockeying for position now. After all, whoever lays claim to the biggest share of the NFC market should have an easier go of dominating the industry as the technology gains popularity down the road.

Related posts:

Retail CIOs Should Champion Collaboration Across Departments

Friday, February 3, 2012 by
Here at Blueport, we’ve been passing around last week’s StorefrontBackTalk blog post “Should CIOs Now Surrender to Marketing?,” and it has sparked some discourse between our own marketing and technology functions. As Director of Integration, do I think CIOs should surrender to marketing? They already have!

Some don’t know it yet and some have walled themselves up in time capsules, and for both those groups, the battle has passed them by. Those CIOs who don’t know it yet lead organizations that just can’t seem to make up lost ground chasing the most profitable new technologies. Those who have walled themselves off behind pretexts of the need for conformity and centralized control have done nothing but stifle and stratify the process of business evolution critical to ongoing competitiveness. IT organizations that encourage and support peer business unit management of specialized, cost effective, outsourced applications have won the day.

When CIOs Let Go, Bigger Opportunities Result

By foregoing complete control of all that has become the technology function, the CIO also realizes benefits and reveals opportunities. No IT organization has excess resources to spend making specialized applications that compete with today’s best-in-class cloud and SaaS solutions. Spinning off responsibility for tools that cater to subject area expertise allows CIOs to focus resources against core projects where their resources thrive as opposed to working a potentially complicated solution in an unfamiliar discipline.

A Real-Life E-Commerce Example

The real opportunities result when, through a collaborative approach to enabling specialized applications, a vision develops of the next generation corporate infrastructure, an infrastructure that enables and supports snap-in specialized solutions and opens the door to the same type of quick, cost-effective solutions for all business units. Collaboration between the company’s business functions leading to a common enabling infrastructure gives the CIO the benefit of steering decisions on critical issues central to modern IT, such as compliance and security. Finally, the specialized applications researched and implemented by business units act like a research and development IT skunk works, exposing the organization to the newest technologies and solution patterns.

A real world example of this is your typical big-ticket retail e-commerce website.  Assuming the CIO chooses to develop the e-commerce solution in house, the company first needs to decide on a technology for catalog, order tunnel, fulfillment, and reporting. Then the CIO must hire a development team or train existing staff. While the staff is either hiring or training, none of them are advancing the IT organization’s other core solutions. And, as the new e-commerce team is building the website against the initial technology chosen, they are already falling behind technically. When the in-house solution finally launches, it is already underwhelming to consumers and, more often than not, the effort needs to be set aside immediately to resume work against the ever-present backlog of requests for changes to core business solutions.

All the while, the CIO could have used one of the SaaS solutions that are evolving quickly and constantly setting new user experience paradigms.

Alternately, if the CIO chooses to embrace an SaaS e-commerce solution advanced by the marketing team, the CIO’s team would have input on integration and security, as well as an easy case with management for building enhancements to core infrastructure and systems. The enhancements to the core infrastructure, quickened and focused by working against the new SaaS e-commerce solution, open the door to additional SaaS or cloud solutions as well as new technology core solutions by the in-house team. And don’t forget the finished product: SaaS solutions evolve very quickly and constantly set new user experience paradigms – customers love the new website. The next SaaS integration is very cost-effective, and the CIO is the hero. Best of all, nothing of true importance was actually surrendered to marketing.  

Next week: Marketing responds!

Related posts:

Copyright 2010, Official Blog of Blueport Commerce

HTML5 Moves to the Head of the Line for E-Commerce Web Development

Friday, November 18, 2011 by
When developing our clients’ e-commerce websites, we help drive consumers to convert by providing simple interactive widgets that complement the retailers’ catalogs. With guaranteed interoperability across operating systems and browser flavors, Flash has been the platform of choice for these types of quick projects that engage users -- so far.

With Adobe’s decision to cede the mobile widget space to HTML5, it’s time for web developers to put Flash aside as the platform of choice for quick consumer interactivity. You need to be able to deliver a consistent e-commerce site experience to consumers whether they are surfing the web from their PCs, phones or tablets. And without guaranteed Flash support in the growing mobile space, the unit developer environment cost and associated learning curve sinks Flash’s chances for a decent ROI.

HTML5, however, has a core foundation in interoperability, and the encapsulated APIs that support quick consumer widgets already have a multiyear track record. With Microsoft’s IE9 HTML5 implementation entering the field over a year ago and that implementation’s significant cooperation with the other next-gen browsers, there’s no longer an excuse to keep developing indefinitely in Flash. We plan, and advise other e-commerce web developers, to gradually mix in HTML5 projects for quick interactive widgets now, while the Flash platform support is still good.

Related posts:
Copyright 2010, Official Blog of Blueport Commerce

Square Register Lets Retailers Play with the iPad, Too

Tuesday, May 24, 2011 by
Yesterday, TechCrunch reported on the new Square Register, a replacement for cash registers that not only lets retailers accept credit card payments via iPads, but also allows the stores to communicate with customers more efficiently.

After a retailer processes a customer’s payment via Square Register, the retailer can invite the customer to download the Square Card Case, allowing the merchant to engage with customers in entirely new ways. Customers can add your “card” to this virtual wallet and access your location and contact information, their purchase history and receipts, a live menu of your daily offering and customized offers from you. Customers will also be able to use the Square Card Case to make purchases from your store within two physical blocks of the location. The customer can show up at the store, give the name to the cashier and then be charged on the back-end Square Register for the goods. It practically takes the whole payment process out of your relationship with customers.

Is iPad the Perfect Multichannel Retail Tool?

While we will certainly keep an eye on this application and how it works in real retail, we just need to say how amazed we are with the multifaceted iPad as a catalyst for retail both for merchants and consumers. The iPad is not only a tool for customers looking for great images of product and an ability to buy, share information on the fly and get feedback from their friends on all types of purchases from lunch to gadgets to big-ticket items and everything in between. It is also a tool for selling. Retailers can use iPads to show additional retail to customers, as a mobile option for checking retail and now as a replacement for cash registers and POS terminals with extraordinary customer engagement opportunities.

What can’t the iPad do? Or, more importantly, as a retailer, what else would you like the iPad to be able to do for your business?

Related posts: Copyright 2010, Official Blog of Blueport Commerce

Blueport Partner e-Dialog Honored by Econsultancy Innovator Award

Thursday, February 10, 2011 by
Congratulations to our email marketing partner e-Dialog for being honored for Innovation in Email Marketing in this year’s Econsultancy Innovation Awards for the company’s work with British Airways.  The email marketing campaign promoted the airline’s new mobile application for its loyalty club, and achieved more than 70,000 clicks and doubled download targets over the course of the marketing campaign.  Way to go, e-Dialog!


Copyright 2010, Official Blog of Blueport Commerce


Arhaus Furniture's Custom iPad App Aims to Drive Cross Channel Sales

Thursday, August 19, 2010 by
Arhaus Furniture, a high-end furniture multi channel retailer with stores in 13 states in addition to a print catalog and an e-commerce site at Arhaus.com, will soon arm their entire delivery team with an iPad application aimed at not only enhancing the product delivery experience, but also driving repeat and incremental purchases from their customer base.

The application is designed primarily for customer use: customers will be handed the iPad at the start of the delivery, which will include a welcome and thank you message from the retailer, will be able to look at different furniture setup options and even browse the entire Arhaus ecommerce catalog. Customers will also sign off on deliveries using their fingers on the touch screen and will also be able to fill out a post delivery survey on site.

While the iPad application will certainly result in efficiencies in the retailer’s fulfillment and delivery systems, what is interesting here is how the company is adding another level to their customer service experience through a true cross channel retail strategy. For example, while a customer is having a sofa delivered that they purchased at their local store, they will be able to browse the Arhaus.com ecommerce catalog through the iPad app for the matching chair they recall seeing during their shopping trip. 

No doubt that we will continue to see more and more retailers integrate these type of mobile and tablet products into their multi channel strategy to enhance their customers' retail shopping experience, be it in-store or on the go.  And as retail channels become increasingly blurred and intertwined, the importance of having consistent content and product information for your customer no matter where they are shopping will be imperative and essential to driving sales.

How are your stores or franchises integrating technologies such as the iPad into their sales or customer service process?


Copyright 2010, Official Blog of Blueport Commerce



Enabling the Socially Mobile

Sunday, August 1, 2010 by
You’ve probably seen it before – a consumer in your store snapping photos of products with their camera phone to share with friends or ask for advice and opinions. Some may even post the photo to Twitter, Facebook or another social network. Mobile social consumers are not just looking for facts to support their purchase decision – they are looking for friends (or at least other consumers) to endorse it.  The bigger the ticket, the more important this consulation becomes.

As such, the impact of social media as part of a complete cross-channel approach cannot be ignored.  Already impacting the traditional e-commerce space, the growing use of social applications through mobile devices highlights the importance for retailers to carve out a social media presence that ensures their brand is visible and accessible in this space and creating sites that are optimized for mobile viewing and sharing.

Are you seeing this trend within your stores?  How are you addressing the intersection of mobile and social commerce?


Copyright 2010, Official Blog of Blueport Commerce




The Blueport Commerce Customer Story & Multichannel Retail Software

Thursday, June 3, 2010 by
We were the first Akamai e-commerce client, more than 11 years ago. Our hosted Multichannel E-Commerce platform is more effective with partners like Akamai rounding out our offering.

 

Here is a link to a video (featuring Carl Prindle, President and CEO of Blueport Commerce) that describes well Blueport's E-Commerce applications and specifically how our long time expertise in Internet retail strategies has allowed Blueport to win clients again and again.

Watch the video >>



Copyright 2010, Official Blog of Blueport Commerce


A Big Screen for Big-Ticket: In Defense of the iPad

Monday, April 12, 2010 by
Recently while reading my morning blogs I was prompted to upgrade to the most recent iTunes version, the one that supports the iPad.

iTunes then separated out my apps, and I noticed an advertisement for the Gilt Groupe shopping application which was specifically tuned for the larger screen of the iPad. I flipped through the screen shots – and was immediately impressed. The iPad app instantly began to show its chops through bigger, sharper imagery – a clear win for big-ticket retailers, like Gilt.

In my opinion, imagery plays an ever increasing role in big-ticket retail, which is why the iPad has the potential to be a big win for this category. Since the decision process is longer for these high-priced items, consumers typically want to feel and experience the product on a richer level.  Being able to zoom in on an item on the iPad’s big, vivid screen with the pinch of your fingers means that consumers can get a clear picture of the product like never before.  They can zoom in and see the texture of a fabric or the wood grain on a table.  They can literally feel like they are in the store touching this product.  

This interaction with a product before a customer makes the sale is pivotal for building confidence in the big-ticket item they are buying, creating higher customer satisfaction and lower return rates.  Big-ticket retailers offering iPad apps will also be virtually unlimited in the visually stimulating and interactive content they can offer their consumers.

Will you be purchasing the iPad? What are your thoughts on the big-ticket e-commerce potential of this new tool?



Copyright 2010, Official Blog of Blueport Commerce


Approaching E-Commerce Applications With The Wisdom of Maturity

Monday, March 8, 2010 by

Blueport Commerce approaches technology with the wisdom of maturity.  The Blueport technology team has experience in the e-commerce space dating back to the 1990s and has experienced firsthand the full panoply of technology hype from that era and since.  With this experience we conservatively maintain loyalty to cost effective e-commerce applications while aggressively adopting proven new technologies.

Our core infrastructure is based on products from Microsoft, Adobe, HP, Cisco, F5, and Akamai.  We utilize Microsoft’s .Net software development platform and SQL Server database engine as the foundation for our proprietary e-commerce platform.   Visually engaging client side e-commerce applications are built with Adobe Flash.  We implement secure connectivity with a range of Cisco IOS products.  Our server farms are principally made up of HP servers running Microsoft Windows.  We manage demand for our client web portals with F5 load balancers.  Akamai provides us with geographic edge caching of content.  None of these technology partners were born after Y2K but all are excellent with proven staying power.

Our e-commerce platform, shared by all of our clients, represents 10 years of evolution shaped by the unique requirements of “big ticket” e-commerce - from local branding, regional product availability, regional pricing and sale events, coupons, consumer financing, variable lead times, and the CRM and CMS systems to support them.  With this library of processes and functionalities available to us, we can focus on the unique requirements of our clients rather than reinventing these complex processes or trying to repurpose an “off the shelf” e-commerce platform designed for simpler transactions.

Our custom platform can also adapt easily to partner systems.   The long service technologies making up our core have naturally evolved integration pathways with most other competitive products.  We leverage these to work freely with partner systems rooted in Oracle, IBM, and other, less well known companies.
 

Big Ticket vs. Small Ticket: <br>Why disaggregating e-commerce matters.

Friday, March 5, 2010 by

There’s no shortage of e-commerce conventional wisdom - sweeping pronouncements that online is growing at a certain rate. That one tactic works, another doesn’t.   That a multi-channel strategy is increasingly important. 

I love such analysis and opinion – back in the day, as a consultant at McKinsey, I performed and provided my fair share.    However, I will point out the need to dig deeper. What is loosely called “e-commerce” is dramatically different in its application depending on what you are selling. 

A few things to keep in mind as you digest the latest e-commerce wisdom or evaluate a vendor:
 

E-commerce expertise correlates with where money has been made to date, not where it will be made.

Well known e-commerce experts, agencies and technology companies become so because they’ve been doing it for a while and have been well paid for their work. As such, their experience tends to be in those categories that went online early and successfully, yielding enthusiastic clients and customers who could pay.

There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you are also in those categories. If not, think about whether what you are being told makes sense for your business.

One example: It’s been said that 65% of e-commerce keyword searches include a manufacture name and/or model number. Most online agencies build keyword strategies around that fact. And, it works well in those categories that have dominated e-commerce in the past.

But, say you’re a furniture retailer. 

Most of your prospective customers have no idea who manufactured the sofa they already own, much less the one they are thinking about buying.   Model number? Forget it. Conventional wisdom is out the window - how will your agency react to not being able to rely a favorite approach?
 

Beware sweeping pronouncements and general statistics. Dig for what’s happening in your market.

I’m an e-com stat addict. There are outstanding analysts out there providing the pulse of e-commerce on a regular and accurate basis. That said, it’s important to pull apart e-commerce statistics and trends to find those that apply to what you do. 

Some recent examples:

E-Commerce Growth Statistics

Pundits seem to be in general agreement that in 2009, e-commerce grew or shrank by single digit percentage points. In the face of brick and mortar declines, this is touted as strength – ecommerce holding its own despite significant economic headwinds.

All true – but there’s more to the story. Big ticket online took off in 2009. 

Big ticket (think things that cost more and can’t ship via UPS…consumer durables like furniture, appliances, flooring) is 45% of the US Retail Economy, $550B in annual retail sales.  It’s never done much online – until now.

Consumers are online and big ticket retailers are now meeting them there. Forrester reports customers feeling comfortable buying furniture and appliances online just in the last 18 months. Big ticket players Blueport works with are seeing monstrous comp increases for online sales and even bigger benefits in stores. 

If you happen to be in big ticket markets, this is an opportunity you can’t miss…but easily could, if you just look at broader online growth stats.

E-Commerce by Channel Statistics

Similarly, stats show roughly 45% of e-commerce transacted by Web-only players and catalogers (i.e. pure plays), 15% by manufacturers, and 40% by retailers.

Beneath this stat is a dramatic big ticket vs. small ticket schism in who is winning in e-commerce. 

For traditional (small ticket) e-commerce, pure plays have tremendous cost advantages. With no store costs, they can price low. Their products are well known, approaching commodity status, and the shipping is fast, cheap and risk free. In categories from books to shoes, pure plays are cleaning up.

Not so in big ticket. Here, consumers know less about the product. They want to touch and feel in a store. They look for trusted brands – not only for the product, but for the retailer who can deliver and service it. And, they are highly focused on delivery times and costs. Here, retail chains, with trusted brands, local stores and fast, cheap local delivery have the upper hand. 

Combine these advantages with the growth noted above, and it’s a good time to be going online if you’re a big ticker player. And, if you’re a retailer in these categories, there’s certainly more than 40% of the online marketplace available to you.

The Importance of Cross-Channel Commerce

There’s significant recent buzz about “multi-channel” or “cross-channel” commerce as the next big thing. We couldn’t agree more – with emphasis on the “big”.

For small ticket items, I don’t think cross channel is that important. Anyone think that opening Zappos bricks and mortar stores is on any of the whiteboards at Amazon?

Conversely, in big ticket, cross channel is critical. The key differentiating factors in big ticket online are store based. Big ticket online and offline channels must be synchronized, as consumers move between them constantly. 

This is why we’ve architected our platform to be localized. Big ticket commerce comes down to the local relationship between a consumer, a store, and the inventory in her area. If you’re in big ticket and you’re not reflecting this reality online, you’re missing the point.
 

Balance online conventional wisdom against what you know about your customers. 

Ultimately, e-commerce comes down to a combination of persuading and enabling consumers to buy, using the internet.

Here again, how your consumers do this may not be the same as in “traditional” e-commerce categories.

To grossly over simplify traditional e-commerce shopping, it comes down to finding a product and deciding you like it. After that, the assumption is that UPS takes it from there - you will have your product cheaply, quickly, and some nice brown-shirted gentleman will take it back if things go awry.

As such, most e-commerce wisdom is focused on search and merchandising, helping consumers to find and buy (maybe getting a deal).

These areas are critical (and unique) in big ticket as well, but there’s more to the story – specifically, the part of the story that UPS takes care of in traditional, small ticket e-commerce.

With a sofa or a fridge, more goes into the shopping process than features and price. Customers want to touch and feel in a store. They may want to speak to an expert. They want to know how fast they can get something, and that delivery is as cheap as it can be. They may want financing options. They want to be sure the product can be serviced, and that, worst case it can be returned.

If these are questions your consumer is likely to ask, be sure to push beyond UPS-based ecom conventional wisdom. If you’re a retailer, you’ve got some of the best possible answers to these questions – be sure your online presence takes full advantage (see localization above).

*             *             *

As consumers look to buy more products online, and e-commerce pushes beyond the simple, UPSable products that were the first wave of e-commerce, the importance of disaggregating e-commerce increases. The opportunities online have changed. E-commerce conventional wisdom soon will too.


Copyright 2010, Official Blog of Blueport Commerce


A Multichannel Retailer's Review of Outsourced E-Commerce Solutions

Friday, March 5, 2010 by
We were recently in the final year of a five-year contract with one of our existing e-commerce clients. We assumed that (like any company that's smart about its technology), they were in discussions with  other major vendors in the multichannel retail software space - Oracle, Escalate, GSI Commerce, ATG and the like. But at Blueport we knew the client had one overarching need: to simply find the best B2C ecommerce platform for large order value (AoV) purchases. That's what we call Big Ticket retail - and it's our sweet spot. How does the story end? Yes, they re-upped the contract: http://www.blueport.com/news-events/.

We earned their renewal because we are confident that our e-commerce solution is the only one that meets the needs of big-ticket multichannel retailers. Blueport Commerce has the technology, knowledge and expertise to capture the strategic opportunity for your business online.

We know the complexities of big-ticket retail and we have the answers to make it work for you. We know how this transformation impacts each aspect of your business and we'll guide your team through the process step by step.

The number of B2C e-commerce applications starting to play in the big ticket retail category continues to grow. But, since your goods are larger dollar value purchases, they are typically more complex to move around the country and generally don't fit in the standard e-commerce package or platform built for commodity items. The Blueport Commerce solution was built for retailers like you, and that's why it works.

We've made other folks lives easy — let us do the same for you.


Copyright 2010, Official Blog of Blueport Commerce