Not right now.

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.

Making Omnichannel Shopping for Furniture a Reality

Saturday, December 28, 2013 by

It’s been a record breaking holiday shopping season so far. E-commerce came out on top with mobile shopping reaching new heights. But probably the most touted buzzword for the 2013 Holiday shopping season, omnichannel, has retailers racing to create a consistent experience across all shopping channels. And they should—omnichannel shoppers are more likely to spend compared to those shopping through one channel. Not to mention, 84% of shoppers note that the most important aspect of an omnichannel strategy is a consistent customer experience across all channels. In the realm of furniture where omnichannel consistency is more important than ever, Blueport has a groundbreaking solution.

Quite simply, for most furniture shoppers, stores still play a critical role in the shopping process. Computers, tablets and smartphones are often used to research, find deals and even make a purchase. Introducing Store-Sync, part of Blueport’s comprehensive online furniture platform, where omnichannel is not just a buzzword but a reality in the furniture shopping experience. Store-Sync is a revolutionary new technology for retail, which, for the first time, champions the role that in-store shopping provides and bridges online convenience automatically. This in turn, drives both in-store and online traffic.

Store-Sync is the easiest way to shop for furniture ever, marrying local stores and sales staff with the online convenience today’s busy shoppers expect.

Watch the latest video on Store-Sync to learn what all the buzz is about. 

WHY AND HOW SHOULD I SELL FURNITURE ONLINE?

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.

There’s Something In The Water At Furniture.com

Saturday, November 30, 2013 by

There’s a saying in Brooklyn, New York that Brooklyn bagels are the best because of their water. Well there is definitely something in the water here at Blueport Commerce. No, we don’t have better bagels. But we do have a vision for the future of Furniture e-commerce.  

Blueport Commerce has recently re-branded our in-house brand, Furniture.com. You may be thinking to yourself, “this is fantastic!” or, “hm, I didn’t even notice” or your feelings are somewhere in between. For us, it is a monumental step to greater things - A gateway to better serve our customers and how we will ratchet up the opportunity for selling furniture online in a big way. Intrigued yet? Here’s why you should be:

Tapping Into The Potential Of A Category-Killer URL

For years we’ve recognized the potential Furniture.com has as a domain and have invested a lot of time and effort in realizing that potential. The Furniture.com re-branding effort is only the beginning of the road to success, coming on the cusp of what is sure to be a promising season for e-commerce. We hope our new brand helps customers say to themselves “This is a place where I want to shop.”  Our customer is and will always be our focus, and it’s up to us to deliver on the promise of providing an exemplary experience for buying furniture online, unlike any retailer now and in the future.

Creating A Brand That Serves Our Customers Even Better

Now that we have a new brand to stand behind, we’re focusing our efforts on the entire site experience for our customers – this may mean simple changes to our checkout process to implementing new tools like augmented reality or completely reinventing the experience of shopping for furniture online. We want our customers to not only consider shopping with us, but love going to our website and buying the great products we sell.

(Really) Seizing The Opportunity To Sell Furniture Online

For large furniture retailers, Blueport Commerce offers something unique. We not only provide a full e-commerce solution, but also own and operate Furniture.com to give furniture retailers an opportunity to drive incremental sales online. We bring our experience and technology unique to furniture to create a targeted customer experience online. Our ability to tie-in our platform with even the oldest inventory systems allows for a seamless integration and an omnichannel customer experience. Retailers, in turn, bring their assets to bear in fulfillment. And, for our clients with branded sites on our platform, the stores are an integral part of doing business online. We love show-rooming for that reason. 

While our new brand is a monumental step, we’ve barely scratched the surface of what selling furniture online can offer. But the combination of our recent efforts and efforts over time will make the difference, so keep a close eye on us. With a little blood, sweat, tears, a solid model, and of course the water, you can be sure we will seize the billion dollar opportunity furniture e-commerce presents.


 

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.

Five Proven Guidelines For Creating A Successful Online Customer Experience

Saturday, November 23, 2013 by

This post is featured as a special contributing blog post for the MITX November e-Commerce Blog Series

Despite the evolving nature of commerce, there is one thing for all retailers that holds true—the importance of customer care. Study after study shows that high quality customer care is a critical factor in consumer’s decision to shop with a retailer. On Furniture.com, powered by Blueport Commerce, we quickly realized the need for a powerful and progressive customer care department to not only increase consumer satisfaction, but also our bottom line. This is especially critical because Furniture.com is an online-only retailer who lacks the arm of in-store sales support. Here are some best practices we’ve found to bring us success and happy customers:



1) Your Customer Care Department Is Only As Strong As Your Team

Building a successful call center is not an easy task. Sure it is easy to answer a call, but think about the ups and downs of customer service that can be trying on even the best customer care teams. As manager of the customer care department at Blueport Commerce and managing customer care for Furniture.com, I am only as good as the team I have engaging with customers on a daily basis. Fostering a cohesive, collaborative environment is essential to keeping spirits and motivation strong so we consistently deliver on the expert care we promise our customers.

2) In An Online World, Customer Care Must Be Proactive, Not Reactive

Online-only retailers miss out on the incremental sales that come from in-store sales efforts. In turn, we are constantly searching for progressive ways to engage our customers and keep them coming back. Our representatives are empowered to not only serve customer issues, but also to drive sales, which has proven to be a successful means for generating incremental revenue. 

3) One Form Of Communication Does Not Fit All

Not all customers are the same. And with so many methods of communicating these days, one form of communication might satisfy one customer and irritate another. We aim to give each of our customers a positive experience, no matter their preferred mode of communication. Which is why having expert communication skills on the phone is just as important as crafting a superb email and responding swiftly on live chat to capture all types of audiences. Our website is a huge communication tool, where we continue to optimize our site design to direct customers to the communication channel they prefer, whether it is finding tips and tricks through the our Pursuit of Home blog, or a more personal connection through the phone or live chat.

4) Creating A “White-Glove” Experience

Working in big-ticket retail, reviving abandoned carts is critically important. There are multiple marketing tools available that aid in this process, such as retargeting and trigger email campaigns. On the side of customer care, we have taken multiple measures to create a “white-glove experience”, particularly for some of our viable cart abandoners. This carefully crafted experience helps makes our brand appear more personal for some of our key customers, despite the impersonal nature of online shopping. As a result, we not only helped to close several abandoned sales, but also let our customers know that we are there for them throughout every step of the sales process.  

5) Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is And Keep Track Of Your Progress

At Furniture.com, we continuously strive to improve every touch point we have with customers. Looking back on call and email data has helped us improve response times and increase the value of touch points to ensure a positive and seamless experience for each and every customer. 
 

It is easy to say you are a customer-centric, but what really makes a difference is the execution. At Furniture.com, we’ve come to learn that following these best practices, such as providing proactive, top of the line service through multiple communications channels, help make that vision a reality for our customers. And as a result, we are not only seeing increased satisfaction, but also increased sales.

WHY AND HOW SHOULD I SELL FURNITURE ONLINE?

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.

Face Shopping Cart Abandonment Head-On (Part Two)

Saturday, October 19, 2013 by
Last week, we discussed some tips on optimizing your checkout process to help avoid customers from dropping off mid-checkout. While these tips will get you started, shopping cart abandonment is inevitable. In fact, SeeWhy found that among first time visitors to a website, only 0.25% will actually complete a purchase on that first visit. Before you lose all hope, we will show you how to turn this negative into a positive. 
 
 
JUST BECAUSE A CUSTOMER ABANDONS YOU, DOES NOT MEAN YOU SHOULD ABANDON THEM
 
Last week we mentioned 75% of abandoners have some intent to purchase. This is an important statistic for what you do after the cart abandonment takes place. Merchants often make the mistake of assuming the majority of cart abandoners put items in their cart with little intention to actually purchase. Don’t make the same mistake and miss out on the opportunity of bringing potential customers back. 
 
Email recovery campaigns are a great way to remind cart abandoners to come back and finish their purchase. But before you get started, make sure you consider timing and personalization for more effective campaigns.
 
  • Target customers within 24 hours of when they were shopping on your site to maximize effectiveness while the product is still fresh in their mind. 
  • Personalize your email campaigns and include images of the product, that way your customer won’t mistake the email for another promo email they receive daily in their inbox. 
  • Because price was likely a factor for them dropping off, consider adding a promotion or free shipping coupon to sweeten the deal.
REMIND THEM OF WHAT THEY ARE MISSING
 
Retargeting or remarketing is an effective form of online advertising that can help reengage users who not only started a purchase, but also those who previously visited the site. So when a customer is browsing a web page, they will see an ad with your logo on it and be reminded of the purchase they missed out on. For an even more effective retargeting campaign, dynamic retargeting shows real time images of products in the ads that consumers previously engaged with on a web page. 
 
  • Be sure to keep retargeting ads fresh by changing the ad and offer on a consistent basis to increase likelihood that customers will click through at least one of those ads. Some retargeting providers will allow you to generate images of similar products in addition to the products the viewer considered purchasing. This will not only refresh the ad, but also might lead the customer to finding new items they did not consider before. 
Shopping cart abandonment is a reality all merchants face. But by implementing these key tactics we discussed in part one and two – setting cost expectations, speeding up the checkout process, and following up with abandoners—you can help optimize the process and turn this negative into a positive.
 

WHY AND HOW SHOULD I SELL FURNITURE ONLINE?

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.

Face Shopping Cart Abandonment Head-On (Part One)

Saturday, October 12, 2013 by
Since the dawn of internet retail, shopping cart abandonment has been a major challenge for merchants. Despite advancements made in the ease of shopping online, retailers are still seeing up to a 75% drop off shopping cart orders. We at Blueport Commerce assume that statistic becomes inflated with big-ticket purchases, due to the extended path to purchase customers take compared to that of less expensive items. But as consumers become accustomed to purchasing larger items online, it is increasingly important for furniture retailers to approach this problem head-on.

In part one of our two part series, we are going to discuss key tips to optimize your checkout process and decrease the chance of customers abandoning their shopping cart. (Be sure to tune in next week for tips on how to bring customers back post-abandonment.)
 
According to ConversionXL about 75% of abandoners do have some intent to purchase prior to abandonment. Which means that for a majority of these shoppers, something throughout the checkout process hinders them from following through. 
 
 
AVOID THE ELEMENT OF SURPRISE 
 

According to Statista, the number one reason why customers abandon their shopping cart is unexpected costs. Imagine you are a first-time customer browsing for a new couch. You find a couch that meets your style, quality and functional needs. While the price is slightly over budget, you think its overall value is strong enough to move forward with the purchase. That is until you are about to check out and see the total jump from just outside your budget to way out of the ballpark with the inclusion of taxes and delivery fees. Not to mention, it is going to take up to six weeks to receive the couch you've now fallen in love with. And, unless you REALLY want to break the bank, you’ll likely decide to hold off on your purchase to shop around and see if the couch will be less expensive if purchased through another retailer or on sale at a later time. 

Reasons for consumers to drop out of an online purchase in 2012
You will find more statistics at Statista

While we can’t necessarily control the experience for all big-ticket e-commerce, and delivery presents its own unique challenges online, setting expectations and showing all fees up front is critically important to ease customers’ purchase decision.

  • Consider testing your pricing and promotional strategy to include delivery fees with discounted products or little or no delivery fees with an increased price. Remember, this pricing strategy needs to align with your retail store, unless you’re running an online-only promotion.  
  • Offer customers easy-to-read and thorough product descriptions. Avoid leaving them with lingering questions that might lead to hesitation.
  • Customer reviews are a proven way to increase consumer confidence in purchase decisions.
CHECKOUT SHOULD BE A SPRINT, NOT A MARATHON 
 

The checkout process should be the easiest part of your customer’s day. The longer it takes for your customer to check out, the more time you are giving them to change their mind on a purchase.

  • Decrease the amount of confusion and time it takes to check out and by providing clear and concise instructions throughout the process.
  • Consider including a progress bar that shows them each step they are at and how much longer they have to go.
  • Allow for auto-fill capabilities in forms to decrease the annoyance of pesky, invasive registration forms.
  • Minimize the amount of times a person needs to bounce in and out of the checkout process. For example, if you have a promotion going on, be sure the promotion code is highlighted clearly on the page so the customer does not have to leave the page to find the code.
Blueport Commerce clients can take advantage of our platform that provides a localized solution that integrates with store inventory so customers shopping online see products available at their local retail stores. This means that customers can get their products faster and at a more reasonable delivery price from their local store or warehouse, if speed is the number one priority.
 
Setting cost expectations and speeding up the checkout process can help avoid cart abandonment, but even with these actions, abandonment is inevitable. But don’t worry, we have some tactics next week to turn this negative into a positive. Don’t miss part two of this two-part series, where we will discuss some tactics to help turn cart abandonment into another step in the purchase funnel.
 

WHY AND HOW SHOULD I SELL FURNITURE ONLINE?

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.

 

Instagram: Tips for the Furniture Retailer

Saturday, October 5, 2013 by

With 150 million users worldwide, brands are racing to Instagram to generate content and secure awareness with a new audience set. But as with most social media channels, some marketers express concern with the inability to directly correlate time invested to increased sales. Despite these concerns, we at Blueport Commerce think Instagram is not only worth the investment, but when done right can help put furniture brands at the forefront of consumer perceptions. It’s a way to not only increase your brand awareness, but also a way to merchandise and promote your products in a fun and interesting way. 

Instagram is Visual
 
Unlike other social media channels, Instagram is a photo and video sharing platform only. At Blueport, we’ve found that 40% of the population respond better to visuals compared to text, and also that visuals are also processed 60,000 times faster than text. This means that Instagram content has a greater chance of being seen by viewers compared to posts on Facebook or Twitter. This is key for furniture retailers since posting photos daily on Instagram will give followers a daily reminder of your brand, so you can be sure the next time they look to invest in furniture, your commerce website or storefront will be top-of-mind.
 
Define a Strategy: Find Out What Works and Optimize
 
Just like the rest of your social channels, Instagram should have a brand strategy so you can get the most out of your efforts and properly measure your success. Here are a few tips and tricks that you can use on Instagram:
  1. Make it personal. Since Instagram is visual, use it to connect with your customers on a more personal level. For example, give them an “inside look” into your brand. Post images of new products before they are released, share behind-the-scenes photos from a furniture shoot, or show the staff and office culture. These types of posts will help create a strong connection with your followers and generate customer affinity for your brand.

TIP: J.Crew has done a great job of making a personal connection with their customers on Instagram by posting images of designers at work, style inspiration, and behind-the-scenes photos from catalog shoots.

  1. Give customers an ‘in-store’ view of your products. Optimize your merchandising efforts and show quality details to aid your customers in the online furniture shopping experience. Use Instagram to highlight the quality of your products by posting up close images of your products that show off detail and design. This will help earn consumer trust in the quality of your products.

TIP: Invest in a high-quality camera to emphasize the details of your products. The better the image the more likely you will gain consumer trust in your products and you as a furniture provider.

  1. Don’t forget to #hashtag. Hashtags are a great way to increase engagement. Since many users utilize Instagram for discovery purposes, you will increase users coming across your post (and brand) by adding popular, and relevant, hashtags. You can also use promotion-specific hashtag campaigns to help drive visitors to your commerce website, which can help increase consideration and conversion.
TIP: Take the next step in customer engagement by starting your own user-generated hashtag campaign. Invite followers to post their own images of home designs or your products they've incorporated into their homes and ask them to post with the hashtag. Then feature some of the best user-generated content on your account. For inspiration, check out HGTV’s “Love Home” campaign, in which fans share images of their home with the #lovehome and #hgtv hashtags.
 

  1. Always Measure. Make sure you’re measuring user interactions with your content to optimize your Instagram account. While Instagram is still working out ways to provide analytics and measurement, Statigram provides a great alternative, giving you data on your photos and user responses. Statigram will show you which photos are the most engaging, which filters that received the most likes/comments, and how to optimize your hashtag use. You can then apply these efforts to other metrics you are tracking for brand awareness, merchandising and promotion. 

Furniture Retailers take note: innovation is key to any successful endeavor in social media.  As more and more brands join Instagram, it is becoming critical for retailers to get creative with campaigns and content to increase conversation around your brand, promote your products and drive customer engagement. 

 
Now stop reading, sign up for Instagram, and start posting!
 

WHY AND HOW SHOULD I SELL FURNITURE ONLINE?

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.

Preparing For Peak? Lessons From Forrester’s The State of Retailing Online 2013: Marketing and Merchandising

Saturday, September 21, 2013 by

Blueport E-Commerce Forrester Report Retail

Though it’s been almost a year since my tenure at Forrester, I am in no shortage of excitement upon release of each new e-commerce publication.  And recently, Forrester released one of my favorite reports of the year - its State of Online Retailing 2013: Marketing and Merchandising report.  We found the report useful in helping to identify strategies for the year ahead, but Forrester’s findings are not just relevant to annual planning, but also help us stay focused on the top priorities for the upcoming furniture Peak season (November through January).  Blueport discusses these findings and suggestions for furniture retailers.

Stay Focused On Top Marketing Revenue Drivers  

Paid search and email rank (#1, and #2, respectively) as the highest marketing drivers in 2013, in contrast to natural search in previous years. In fact, natural search now ranks #5 on marketing investment growth for retailers. Given Google’s search algorithm changes, natural search has proved to be no longer as cost effective for web marketers.

Our suggestions:

  • Review your paid search strategy and determine if you’re investing enough to drive more incremental traffic to your site. If you don’t have a paid search strategy, get one.  Natural search no longer stands up to Google’s algorithm.
  • Research Google’s Product Listing Ads platform.  While Google PLA has had initial success with major experienced web retailers (Google PLA commands an average of 6% of marketing budgets), its long-term success remains yet to be seen.   
  • Increase email optimization through segmentation and personalization. 

Invest In Traditional Interactive Marketing Tactics For Mobile

Mobile is giving retailers a reason to increase stock in email, and rightfully so.  Mobile traffic has doubled since 2012, and mobile email accounts for 40% of open rates.  Retailers should continue to invest in mobile through email and search, but should stay away from more risky tactics such as mobile specific promotions, QR/bar codes, and location-based advertising. 

Our suggestions:

  • Create a mobile strategy, but don’t buy into the hype.  Given the increase in mobile spend, ensure your email efforts are optimized for all channels, especially mobile. And, make sure your website is optimized for mobile to begin with, because chances are your customers are already going to your website at home and through their smartphones and tablets, even if you aren’t yet selling your furniture online. 
  • It goes without saying that the mobile space is ever-changing, so keep tabs on this space in order to ensure you continue to stay relevant to your customers.

Take Advantage Of Cross-Channel Marketing To Drive Customers To Their Channel Of Preference  

Not surprisingly, most omnichannel retailers will only be upping the ante when it comes to spend on omnichannel priorities. But, what does that mean for those of us that are just entering the web retail world, and how can we leverage this for Peak and beyond? 

Our suggestions:

  • Control the message.  Omnichannel is just another extension of how retailers want to engage with a brand.  Make omnichannel come to life with segmentation of and personalization for customers. Additionally, many retailers are optimizing campaigns by device.  The shopper who prefers Pinterest may be interested in a different offer than the shopper who relies on email. 
  • Create consistency across all channels.  As customers touch different channels, it’s important to create a consistent experience across all online and offline channels. The shopper who came into your store yesterday, may be the shopper who converts online tomorrow. 
  • Test new ways of merchandising.  Traditional catalog merchandising is still a relevant reality for many retailers, but optimizing product presentation can only enhance customer engagement. 

As we look forward to Peak season for furniture, Forrester’s The State of Retailing Online 2013: Marketing and Merchandising provides us with valuable insights, now and in the year to come.
I myself can’t wait for the next report.

WHY AND HOW SHOULD I SELL FURNITURE ONLINE?

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.

Ready, Set, Shop! E-Commerce Retailers Rev Their Engines for the Holiday Season

Saturday, September 7, 2013 by

Think prepping for the winter holidays in springtime is crazy? Think again. According to a Shop.org survey, half of the respondents admitted to having planned for the holidays since April or May. As e-commerce retailers well know, it’s not unusual to invest maximum effort into November and December, as just a few combined days of sales for those peak holidays, especially when stores are closed (Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Christmas and Boxing Day), can often rival sales for an entire week in off-peak seasons. So what are the hot holiday trends for 2013? Blueport Commerce unwraps some of 2013’s hottest e-commerce trends, and how they can be applied to furniture retailers.
 

Mobile Is Calling. Are You Answering?

In the 2013 Shop.org Pre-Holiday Retailer Survey, over half of retailers surveyed said that a mobile-optimized website is one of their most important investments this year. As mobile phone and tablet usage for research and purchase start to rise, furniture retailers need to think about how to capture the mobile consumer (Blueport agrees! See why here and here). Mobile commerce over the 2012 holiday season grew exponentially, with visits to m-commerce websites up 109 percent year-over-year, page views up by 116 percent, conversions up 30 percent, and sales up by a crazy 171 percent. Blueport recommends that retailers ensure that their site renders well on mobile, offers up a store finder in order to drive traffic to brick and mortar locations, and recognizes that when consumers are in stores, mobile phones are used primarily for research – so accurate pricing and feature displays are key.

Product Pages Get a Facelift

How are e-commerce retailers prepping for the holiday on site? Well, according to Shop.org, 51 percent are cross-selling on product pages, displaying customer ratings and reviews (42 percent), and adding suggested items (34 percent). At Blueport Commerce, we encourage cross-selling and upselling as a natural extension of furniture shopping – consumers are most interested in style and are often willing to be led along a journey of exploration, envisioning how a particular piece of furniture will look in a room, but also enhanced by other pieces of furniture and home décor. Presenting product pages accordingly to optimize cross-selling and upselling is key to this journey.

Our clients have found success with customer ratings and reviews – in fact, online consumer reviews are the second most trusted source of brand information and messaging, with 70 percent of global consumers surveyed online indicating they trust messages on this platform, an increase of 15 percent in four years. Additionally, customer ratings and reviews allow furniture retailers to be made aware of potential issues with product quality and customer service, escalating this information to buyers, manufacturers and customer service supervisors, enabling them to respond directly to consumers.

Email, Email, Email

Some of the most successful furniture e-commerce retailers attribute a strong percentage of their revenue generation efforts directly to email. Some quick tips for the holidays from Practical Ecommerce include:

  • Ensure you haven’t left any email addresses behind: Go through past campaigns, lists, and databases to make sure you aren’t missing any subscribers that may have been segmented and forgotten.
  • Test your triggers: An abandoned cart email series that fails to trigger can destroy sales during the crucial holiday season.
  • Reward purchasers: Offer repeat buyers segmented offers and thank new customers with an offer for a subsequent purchase.
  • Put a promotional email calendar in place: Even if it has to change last-minute, at least there’s a structure in place to make adjustments.

As an e-commerce provider, Blueport understands the value of the holiday season as a revenue generating engine for our furniture retailers. Setting the foundation for holiday success involves preparation and planning to maximize holiday conversions. ‘Tis the season…even in September!

WHY AND HOW SHOULD I SELL FURNITURE ONLINE?

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.

Key Insights From Akamai’s The State of the Internet 1st Quarter, 2013 Report

Saturday, August 31, 2013 by

In a recent report on the State of the Internet, Akamai Technologies, Inc. provides data gathered through its Akamai Intelligent Platform on security, internet and broadband adoption and mobile connectivity. While the report covers data across the world, Blueport focuses on the areas most important to its furniture retailers in the United States and Canada.

Security

Attack traffic is still a threat for businesses, with China remaining the top source of observed attack traffic with 34% of Q1 ’13 traffic. Indonesia followed China as a new entrant to attack traffic with 21% in Q1 ’13, up from 0.7% in Q4 ’12, potentially indicating aggressive botnet activity. In general, all other companies in the top 10 saw nominal declines in attack traffic, including the United States, Turkey and Russia.

The types of attacks are important to note as much as traffic volume. The most targeted port remains port 445 used by Microsoft DS, representing 23% of Q1 ’13 traffic and accounts for 70 times as much traffic as the second most targeted port (135) in Romania. Attack traffic to port 445 is followed by port 80 and 443 used by WWW (HTTP) and SSL (HTTPS) respectively.

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks reported by Akamai customers are most prevalent among enterprise customers, most principally financial companies and commerce customers, especially in retail. There were 208 total DDoS attacks reported in Q1 ’13, a 4% increase since Q4 ’12. Despite a slight increase in attack traffic, those targeting the commerce sector remained relatively stable in comparison with 2012. “Account Checker” attacks targeting e-commerce sites also maintain a threat of attempted account takeover behavior for a number of merchants resulting from reuse of credentials obtained from other sites. Retailers can and should continue to take steps in combating attacks on traffic, DDoS and “Account Checkers,” and stay ahead of new types of attacks and data to remain protected.

Internet and Broadband Adoption

Over 733 million unique IPv4 addresses from 243 unique countries and regions were measured on the Akamai Intelligent Platform. Akamai also believes it sees over one billion web users. The number of available IPv4 addresses continues to decline into 2013 as Regional Internet Registries continue to allocate and assign blocks of IPv4 address space to organizations within their respective territories. The United States remains in the lead with nearly 150 million IPv4 addresses, followed by China, representing just over 110 million.  IPv6 adoption is also growing, albeit a bit more slowly.

Internet connectivity and connection speeds continue to be strong on average in the United States. Vermont remained the fastest state, at 12.7 Mbps, with a quarterly increase of 18%. Average peak connection speeds are highest in the District of Columbia representing 47.2 Mbps, or a 9.4% quarter over quarter change, up 37% since Q1 ’12.  Broadband connectivity is also growing in adoption, with New Hampshire leading with 48% of traffic above 10Mbps.

Canada remains in close second behind the United States in average Mbps, with 7.8 Mbps on average, compared to 8.6 Mbps on average in the US. The percentage of change quarter over quarter is slightly higher in Canada, with 7.8% change over 7.4% in the US. The United States collectively experienced 36.6 peak in Mbps traffic followed by 34.2 Mbps in Canada. While broadband adoption will continue to increase, retailers should note the decrease in IPv4 addresses and planning for a contingency for IPv6 adoption.

Mobile Connectivity

In Q1 ’13, average connection speeds on surveyed mobile network providers ranged from a high of 8.6 Mbps down to a low of 0.4 Mbps. These numbers collectively included usage not only from smartphones but also laptops, tablets and other devices that connect to the internet through mobile networks. Average peak connection speeds ranged from 45.6 Mbps down to 2.8 Mbps. Globally, Russia leads the charge in highest peak connection speeds and average Mbps. In addition, retailers take note: mobile data traffic increased 19% between Q4 ’12 and Q1 ’13, according to Ericsson.

In addition, the largest percentage of requests came from Android Webkit (41-44%) ahead of Apple Mobile Safari (30-38%). Mobile is expected to continue to increase both in usage and performance, and retailers should pay attention to its ever increasing prominence and its opportunities for e-commerce.

Stay tuned for the next quarterly State of the Internet Report from Akamai Technologies, Inc. 

WHY AND HOW SHOULD I SELL FURNITURE ONLINE?

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.

 

Furniture Retailers, Time to Go Back to School

Saturday, August 17, 2013 by


In the world of retail, “Back to School” is a well-known phenomenon, typically commencing in mid-July, and continuing through early September, attracting attention from parents and students alike, whether for pre-school or graduate school. Items generally associated with this time-based trend are pencils, notebooks, laptops, backpacks and clothing. However, furniture retailers should be prepared to learn their lessons from this rite of passage: 94% of back to school shoppers are influenced by promotions, and total back to school and back to college spending in the US is expected to reach $72.5 billion this year.

Anticipated Spending Trends for 2013 Back to School Shopping

The tone of most current articles about back to school spending in the US focus on the fact that almost every category will see a decrease in spending, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). The average American family will spend nearly 8% less this school season than they did in 2012, per an NRF survey of 5,635 consumers in early July, spending an average total of $635, compared to last year’s $689. The lone exception? Dorm and apartment furnishings, where a 4% spending increase is anticipated. The most respondents in the survey's history, 17.2%, will shop at home furnishings or home decor stores (up from 16.4% vs. last year). So how can furniture retailers capitalize on this predicted increased store and web traffic?

Back to School Shopping Trends Google

The Early Research Phenomenon

According to the Google/Ipsos MediaCT Back To School Market Research Study (July 2013), the internet is the number one resource for back-to-school shoppers to research, with 62% of shoppers going online to look at items. Compared to in-store (52%), mobile (34%), and TV (33%), the internet is a stronger research tool and price comparison engine. And within mobile, 66% of shoppers will use their mobile phone to locate a nearby retailer, 64% will compare prices and 43% will search store item availability. Point taken: a mobile site is no longer a nice-to-have, but a must for all furniture retailers.

And when does this research start? Well, 43% begin their research by mid-July, and 65% begin purchasing by mid-August. And with 65% of shoppers influenced by “Back to School” sales, the time to start promoting has already come.

Tips to Capture the “Back to School” Market in Furniture

Blueport Commerce and Furniture.com are no strangers to taking advantage of “Back to School.” Check out these tips below to capture the “Back to School” market in furniture:

Smaller Means Bigger Sales: Feature furniture such as cocktail tables, futons, bar stools, home accents and twin-sized beds. Dorm rooms and college apartments are notoriously small, and large sectionals and entire living room sets aren’t practical. Think about pieces that are light, can be transported easily and fit in tight spaces.

Multiple Items, Lower Ticket Prices: Merchandise your site around lower-priced items. Very rarely are college students looking for high-end, top-quality pieces – in fact, they are more likely to buy items they know may only last a few years. Deciding to feature lower-priced items provide value buys for students.

Keep Kids Top of Mind: Run a seasonal sale on kids’ furniture. Oftentimes, parents are already conditioned to spend money on back to school items like backpacks, notebooks and tablets – so why not entice them to think about a new bunk bed set or kids’ bedroom?

At the end of the day, the average US family will spend $634 on school-age children and $836 on back-to-college students this year. With store and website traffic to furniture retailers increasing, be sure to optimize your selection to seize this timely influx of revenue.

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.

Achieving an Ideal Customer Experience Is Like the Stanley Cup of Retail

Saturday, July 6, 2013 by

Back in the day, retailers only had to focus on getting shoppers into their stores. Now, people are shopping online, in store, and everywhere in between. They demand (whether they know it or not) their own experience to convince them to buy retailers’ products. Retailers must innovate and optimize the customer experience in order to drive business growth. Some succeed and many others don’t quite get there. Here’s what we’ve found enables our furniture retailers to get close to the Stanley Cup of retail customer experience.

Customer Service Is the Ultimate Power Play

Customer service in the current retail age is not just about ensuring a call center is staffed 24/7 for phone inquiries. The combination of technology innovation in e-commerce and consumer behavior dictates that customer service be all about the ability for customers to call, email, chat, interact on social media and beyond, all at a moment’s notice. One slip in the supply chain of customer service can cause catastrophic results for a retailer and impact consumer brand loyalty. Social plays a large factor in customer reputation as well. It’s hard work, but the right strategies to turn a detractor to a promoter in social can make a big difference in the bottom line. UPS has their own Twitter handle, @UPShelp just to handle customer support, concerning questions on tracking numbers, delivery dates, lost packages and all things related to shipping. To avoid any privacy issues, UPS responds using the direct message feature and an email address just for Twitter users, twitter@ups.com. Furniture retailers can take advantage of the opportunities that technology and social media can provide when it comes to optimizing the customer experience.

 

A Team Approach to Outreach: The Absence of Channel

More than ever before, consumers are shopping across multiple channels: online, in store, social, and mobile. The Pew Research Center found that 46% of smartphone owners used their device to look up reviews while shopping in store. Retailers must ensure that their experience delivered to the customer is consistent and relevant. Therefore, activities and data should be integrated under one umbrella, rather than across multiple channels. Often, strategies are defined by a channel, i.e. “we need a mobile strategy” rather than a channel agnostic approach. To that end, store to online integration is a key part of this omnichannel approach, allowing shoppers to get what they need whether they are in your store or shopping online, such as pick-up centers or digital kiosks, or the ease of cart integration both online and off. We focus on the omnichannel frequently when it comes to our furniture retailers, allowing customers to shop easily online and in store.

Global Readiness

Because e-commerce has a much broader reach than any store, the potential for global sales can be realized in a matter of months.  Retailers must be prepared to do business in global markets and build their e-commerce systems to scale at a global level with simplicity and cost efficiency. This includes the areas of language, currency, tax and regional requirements like trade compliance. Furniture retailers take note: while store locations may only expand domestically, opportunities lie in the years ahead for furniture e-commerce abroad, particularly in Europe, so having a solid global readiness strategy is imperative to taking a slice of the GDP long term.

Implementing an ideal customer experience can be daunting, but with the right attention to strategy, service, and scalability, retailers can gain a competitive and financial edge. 

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.

Best Buy – Taking Steps Toward Reclaiming Their Name

Saturday, June 8, 2013 by

Best Buy has been much maligned in the press – considered to be an example of a stagnant and backwards-thinking retailer. Recently Moody’s changed their rating on Best Buy to be ‘negative’ from ‘developing’. As a big-ticket electronics and appliances retailer, Blueport has watched Best Buy, a former heavyweight contender in the big-ticket market, attempt to battle increased competition from online retailers and discount stores. We are seeing some smart signs of life from Best Buy as it lives up to its name and turns its focus to where furniture retailers are discovering real ROI: e-commerce.

What Best Buy Did Wrong

Quite simply, Best Buy didn’t invest in e-commerce technology. In the words of president and CEO Hubert Joly, “We’ve historically underinvested in the online channel.” Brick and mortar money-saving tactics employed by Best Buy at a store level were just not enough and have included closing stores, cutting costs and investing in training its employees. Despite these measures, domestic same-store sales were down 1.1% year-over-year; excluding the extra week in last year’s first quarter, same-store sales were flat. Because Best Buy includes online sales in the same-store calculation it means that physical stores open at least a year sold less in Q1 than the same period a year earlier, even after discounting the extra week.

What Best Buy Is Doing Right

As part of the “Renew Blue” effort for BestBuy.com, Best Buy turned its attention to the web and integrating the online with their stores. Blueport’s own furniture retailers, a vertical that was previously thought to have no ability to sell online, have found success by integrating their local physical stores with their online stores.

Online Improvements: Search, Mobile, and Services

Best Buy CEO Joly knows that SEO optimization initiatives are Best Buy’s top priority. 80% of Best Buy’s customers are researching product online before going to the store and using the first page of search results to aid in their decision of where to buy. For Best Buy, and in Blueport’s eyes, showrooming is starting online.

In Q2, Best Buy is going to improve its 10-year-old site search engine with one that will provide more personalized search results. Also on the docket? A “consistent customer experience across mobile, tablet, and PC devices including common navigation and product information.”  Another initiative will allow customers to add services from Geek Squad to a shopping cart online.

Blueport supports all of these initiatives, as it’s important that sites rank well in organic search so that people can find your website, and, additionally, that once they’re on the site they find the products they are looking for. Additionally, it’s crucial that the website renders consistently across all devices as mobile can often be the first place a customer goes to price compare.

Price Matching and Ship From Stores

What else is Best Buy doing? Price Matching and a soft roll out of ship from stores. Specifically:

  • Best Buy introduced last fall a policy of matching prices at major online and store rivals, including Amazon.
  • As a beta test, Best Buy will begin shipping web orders from 50 stores, similar to Wal-Mart’s policy. If the ROI is there, Best Buy will roll out the program nationally. Currently, Best Buy loses 2-4% of its orders because the site shows the item out of stock at the e-commerce distribution centers, although 80% of the time the product is available in a Best Buy store.  

Steps in the Right Direction

At the end of the day, only time will tell if Best Buy can live up to its name or succumb to savvy online competitors (RIP Circuit City). Blueport’s furniture retailers can learn a thing or two from the smart decisions Best Buy is making to help customers select them first for large purchases like electronics and appliances, which are not unlike how customers research furniture. With its “Renew Blue” tactics, optimizing the online e-commerce opportunities while integrating with the omnichannel, Best Buy still has a large undertaking in order to ensure the company’s success.

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.

5 Key Features Top E-Commerce Websites Share

Saturday, May 11, 2013 by

 

Not every e-commerce company can be as financially lucrative or dominant as eBay, Amazon or Zappos. Yet there are great lessons to be learned from the principles that these brands adhere to in order to increase conversion, customer satisfaction, and ultimately, repeat purchases. Blueport Commerce examines the five most important features that these e-commerce industry leaders share, and how furniture retailers can reap the rewards.

1. Anytime, Anywhere Accessibility

“You are not a desktop brand. You are not a mobile brand. You need to be accessible from anywhere,” says Dave Surgan, Manager of Digital Communications at Morpheus Media. Truer words aren’t often spoken: an e-commerce website is no longer viewed just from the comfort of a large desktop monitor – in fact, with furniture showrooming increasing, half of US shoppers rely on phones for in-store research. As a result, testing should be done to ensure that your e-commerce website renders well on all possible browsers and operating systems on desktops, laptops, tablets and mobile devices. Otherwise, you can kiss a stellar conversion rate goodbye.

2. Intuitive Navigation

Simple and useful website navigation is essential for e-commerce sites, as consumers need to browse among different furniture categories and products quickly through a navigation system that’s intuitive. E-commerce giant Amazon, which has an endless assortment of merchandise, favors a left vertical navigation menu, which allows them to include more links than a horizontal navigation menu would permit. This is most typical for e-commerce retailers, which allows for product categories and sub-categories. However, some online furniture retailers may prefer to adopt a horizontal navigation menu, which is more attuned to how people read, and works better for those with less inventory and product categories.

3. Prominent Search Box

Having a very visible search box is mission critical to an e-commerce site. The ability to search is of paramount importance because many online buyers have a specific piece of furniture for which they are actively searching. A search box aids in helping a customer locate a particular item and navigating the entire site. The most successful search boxes in online stores are in very prominent positions, at the top of the page in the layout, enticing the user to search the site for the pieces of furniture they most desire.

4. Responsive Customer Service

Time and time again the value of listening to the voice of the customer has been proven. In fact, of people that received good customer service, 72% of internet users share that experience with friends or family, 40% share it with coworkers in person, 32% share it with the company that provided the service and 30% share it on social media. Email, phone and live chat are all key channels used by e-commerce retailers to communicate with customers, and a timely and polite responsiveness is crucial. Zappos grew into a $1B company by 2009 largely based on their culture of customer satisfaction – nothing to sneeze at!

5. Cohesive Omnichannel Experience

Both consistent messaging and look and feel are critical to all brands. “Brands that are doing it right have a consistent look and feel across all consumer touch points,” says Janine Silvera, a marketing and media strategist. Ensure that your brick and mortar stores’ marketing aligns with your online stores’ e-commerce presence – email promotions can work to drive online revenue, as well as traffic to physical stores, and email capture in store can help grow a furniture retailers’ mailing list. Or you can reward in-store traffic with gift cards that can be redeemed online – as long as you keep the traffic flowing in both directions, you’re setting your furniture business up for success!

By keeping these five critical features of e-commerce sites top of mind, furniture retailers are poised to reap the rewards of the estimated untapped $1B opportunity that exists for selling furniture online.

WHY AND HOW SHOULD I SELL FURNITURE ONLINE?

 

 

Three Disruptive Payment Trends: Emerging Methods to Pay for Furniture Online

Friday, April 12, 2013 by

E-Commerce Digital WalletsAccording to a recent report from Forrester Research, 2013 will be a trendsetting year for consumer payments. Blueport Commerce examines how furniture retailers can take advantage and the implications of three key trends: innovative versus existing payment options, the digital wallet battle for supremacy, and alternative financial services for underserved customers.

Emerging Payment Models Will Disrupt Existing Payment Structures Among Merchants

Forrester predicts that emerging payment models are expected to disrupt traditional payment economics. For example, “merchants have a growing set of payment options that do not adhere to the traditional interchange or processing fee model.” A handful of these new options could come at a lower cost than old-school payment options and at a bigger ROI for both consumers and retailers. The new emerging payment technologies include mobile digital wallets and startups offering free or low cost payment processing. Furthermore, Forrester states that merchants will reset their expectations for lower costs and greater value from incumbent payment service providers.

Customers Require Differentiation Among Digital Wallets

Forrester’s second trend involves the need for digital wallet providers to stand out from the crowd. In January 2013, Juniper Research predicted that more than 1 billion mobile phone users will have used their mobile devices for banking purposes by the end of 2017, compared to just over 590 million this year. This forecast represents around 15 percent of the mobile subscriber base.

And as digital wallet wars continue (players include Square, PayPal, Google Wallet, Isis, and MasterPass, among others), the contenders who truly solve a user pain point, especially through mobile, will emerge on top. For example, MasterPass simply requires consumers to download an app, and scan the barcode, which adds their product to a shopping cart. At checkout, the consumer just taps the “BUY WITH MasterPass” button on the touchscreen. Soon enough, gone will be the days of waiting in line, carrying multiple credit cards, and consumers are in control of how and when they pay.

Emerging Alternative Financial Services Will Help the Underserved Consumers

The third trend Forrester sees is that emerging alternative financial services will appeal to a broad base of consumers. More plentiful payment options for e-commerce retailers start to become attractive to a set base of underserved consumers who might be “unbanked, underbanked and debanked.” Merchants who look to create fast and simple conversion of cash for digital payments will be able to appeal to other sectors of the population, and compete head-to-head with checking accounts and debit cards.

Advantages for Furniture Retailers: In Store & Online

Brick and mortar furniture retailers can take advantage of offering new payment methods to satisfy their customers’ needs for speed and ease – taking the pain out of “waiting in line” and paying automatically with the click of a button. The convenience of these new payment methods to the online channel is that they help integrate omnichannel store to online efforts and offer a competitive difference among other online retailers. The combination of providing easy and fast ways for customers to shop, whether in store or online, can positively impact conversion.

In addition, for e-commerce furniture retailers these emerging payment options offer an enhanced level of security. Sensitive information, like a MasterCard through MasterPass, is stored online through smartphones, tablets or desktops, eliminating concerns about physical card security, complete with fraud checking and other online security methods. By taking security concerns out of the equation, “We want to let consumers choose their own device, and we’ve built the platform to enable that,” says Ed Olebe, SVP & group head at MasterCard Worldwide.

So no matter what payment method is offered – emerging trends in consumer payments are here to stay and furniture merchants and consumers alike can take advantage of innovative payment methods.

WHY AND HOW SHOULD I SELL FURNITURE ONLINE?

E-Commerce Hardware: Host vs. Managed

Friday, January 25, 2013 by

E-Commerce Hardware Data Center

Did you enjoy your New Year’s Eve holiday by spending time with your family? Our big-ticket retail clients did, because they weren’t worried about whether their websites would be live during their blowout New Year’s inventory clearance sales. One of the most critical decisions you’ll ever make as a big-ticket retailer looking to transition to e-commerce is whether to host your own website, or to use a managed solution. Blueport Commerce examines the pros and cons of hosting your e-commerce website yourself, or outsourcing it to a managed solution provider.

In-House Hosting Gives You Total Control – And Sole Responsibility

The benefits of an on-premise e-commerce hardware solution include increased control, budget flexibility, owning the source code and being able to make changes at any pace you desire. Because you are hosting the e-commerce hardware yourself, you are able to exert more control over your e-commerce website, and iterate at any time. And at first glance, hosting yourself will allow for lower initial costs.

That said the drawbacks of an on premise e-commerce solution are that as your business grows, the complexities and hidden costs start to multiply. Hosting your own e-commerce hardware means you need a fully trained technical staff to maintain it, servers to keep the website up and running, licenses for all of the hardware and software associated with the website, a budget to stay compliant with federal rules and regulations, and money to stay current with threat assessments. Inevitably, the maintenance, constant availability and security needs of hosting a first-class e-commerce site become something few companies can afford to handle internally, from a resource, bandwidth and cost perspective. You will spend more time, money and effort trying to manage all the disparate puzzle pieces than you would by working with a managed solution provider.

Managed Solution Means Manageable Cost

Blueport Commerce, the only e-commerce technology and services company that localizes big-ticket retail online, embodies the benefits of a managed e-commerce solution. With a managed e-commerce hardware solution, you’re free to focus on what you do best: selling big-ticket items, instead of worrying about keeping a website running at optimal performance. And because you’re not staffing up when you use a managed solution, your overall costs are actually lower – and those savings can be used to grow the business. Additionally, managed solutions like Blueport Commerce have key partnerships and alliances with vendors that allow for enterprise-grade equipment to be purchased at a cost-savings that is then passed on to the client. Blueport’s business partnerships with established best-in-class technology partners like Cisco, Microsoft, Akamai, Dell and F5 include Tier 1/Priority Support, with dedicated local reps and faster response times when needed.

Because Blueport Commerce is an all-in-one managed e-commerce solution, our clients have all of the formerly disparate puzzle pieces already assembled for them – allowing Blueport and our clients to collaboratively focus on customizing their website for optimal return on investment. By figuring out the best way for each particular client to do business online, Blueport Commerce’s managed e-commerce solution sets each client up for success and allows for the one item you can’t really put a price on: peace of mind.

Selling Furniture Online E-Commerce

Furniture Shopping: Major Differences Revealed Between Generations

Friday, January 18, 2013 by

Furniture Shopping Online GenerationalFor big-ticket furniture retailers, it’s important to know who is shopping, where, why and how selling furniture online is part of the equation. This week, we at Blueport Commerce are going to give you insights into all of this, drawing on data from a recent Furniture Today and Apartment Therapy study.

The unlikely pair partnered to complete a 1,600-respondent survey on where, why and how different generations shop for furniture. For this survey, Generation Y includes people age 18-36, Generation X includes ages 37-47 and Baby Boomers are 48-66 years old. While you can read the complete study in Furniture Today’s print publication, we provide some of the highlights and our expert insights.

Where People Are Shopping

It’s rare that in a survey, 100% of one group answers a question the same way, however 100% of Generation X and Y respondents answered that they “frequently shop” at lifestyle furniture stores. These stores are defined as retailers that carry furniture and home accents at full price, such as Ikea, Pottery Barn, West Elm, Restoration Hardware, and Crate & Barrel. Baby Boomers’ preferred furniture shopping source is also lifestyle furniture stores, with 69% saying they regularly shop for furniture there. Ikea is the most popular brand, with 44% of Generation Y and 36% of Generation X saying they regularly shop at Ikea.

Traditional furniture stores, where furniture is the store’s total business or single-largest category, were the next most popular shopping destination for many, but with significant generational differences. Half of Baby Boomers commonly shop at traditional furniture stores, but this number drops to 33% for Gen X and only 23% for Gen Y.

Lagging far behind was the  classic department store (defined as full-line operations carrying a variety of merchandise such as Macy’s, JC Penney and Sears), with less than 10% of any generation shopping there regularly.

Why People Shop at These Stores

We believe consumers of all ages respond well to lifestyle furniture stores because they promote a complete experience. Their showrooms and catalogs tend to focus on the feelings and emotions that the furniture and highly stylized rooms provoke, allowing less visual buyers to benefit from product placement and suggestions. They make the entire furniture decision and purchase process more enjoyable for their customers. Many lifestyle furniture stores also sell a wide range of affordable accessories – letting the aspirational shopper get a taste of the brand without committing to a big-ticket purchase.

Shoppers who liked traditional stores cited the quality product and variety as their reasons for shopping there, as well as being locally owned and having top-notch customer service. Comments such as "the store's customer service and free delivery are great" and "I like to support local, small businesses” are typical reasons as to why shoppers preferred to do business with a traditional store.

Blueport Commerce isn’t surprised by these findings, as the advantage of localized big-ticket retail e-commerce is being able to close the gap between brick-and-mortar showrooms and online shopping. Consumers enjoy the experience of the stores and being able to touch and feel the furniture, while reaping the benefits of easy browsing, knowledgeable furniture sales staff and streamlined checkout.

How Furniture E-Commerce Fits In

One of the biggest surprises in this survey is how “online” was a top choice for furniture shopping across all age groups: 39% of Generation Y, 36% of Generation X and 27% of Baby Boomers regularly shop for furniture on the Internet. Why? Because online shopping is “easy” and “a great resource with a wide range of choices.”

It’s encouraging that each generation is more and more comfortable with shopping online for furniture. The increased comfort level is resulting in a significant likelihood to purchase as well. When asked if they’d be comfortable buying a sofa without sitting on it first, 24% of Generation X, 18% of Generation Y and even 15% of Baby Boomers said they would.

As the only localized big-ticket e-commerce solution company, Blueport Commerce has embraced the trend of the growing number of people who are ready and willing to purchase big-ticket items online. By offering consumers more of a lifestyle furniture shopping experience online – for example, using more complete room images and suggesting accent pieces such as lighting and rugs when looking at larger items – retailers can benefit from increased browsing and conversions online.

Additionally, an e-commerce store can offer a targeted experience to consumers, increasing the likelihood of closing a sale. Targeting consumers by generation, for example, makes sense: members of Generation Y may live in smaller-sized apartments and condos, so furniture specifically selected for them, as opposed to Generation X or Baby Boomers in larger homes, can make all the difference. With 46% of respondents claiming they continuously shop for new furniture, providing an engaging online experience could be one of the best investments any furniture store could make.

Furniture 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.

Bringing E-Commerce Success to Big-Ticket

Friday, December 21, 2012 by

Blueport Commerce Bob Howland big-ticket retail e-commerceBlueport Commerce’s Bob Howland shares his retail e-commerce experience and why he thinks big-ticket retail is the next big thing.

What sparked your interest in e-commerce?

I think e-commerce is all about being customer-centric. In many ways, I felt pre-wired to e-commerce even before I was specifically engaged in e-commerce roles. All of my experiences in the past – whether driving customer segmentation at AMEX, competitive differentiation at GE, or brand management at J&J – were about engaging customers how they want, where they want, and when they want. The focus on end-to-end customer experience was the same across these roles and translated well to e-commerce. 

What led you to GSI?

At Vanguard in the late ‘90s, I led a charge to move the mutual fund giant from being an inbound call center to embracing the internet as a way to educate and engage retail investors. Vanguard became one of the first investment firms to enable transactions online, which was transformational for the business and the industry.  

I was enamored by how the internet transformed customer-centricity, as well as the huge branding implications for businesses. I wanted to find a company that was completely focused on the digital space with a branding and commerce focus. GSI Commerce was a natural fit as a high growth company that served as an end-to-end e-commerce provider for leading retailers. 

How did you help GSI grow to a $1B+ company? 

My expertise is centered on optimizing businesses and the customer experience. At GSI, I saw a significant opportunity to grow our current clients’ businesses as well as expand our offerings to become a more valuable partner to our clients. 

The initial successes were two-fold: 

  1. First, we developed our digital marketing services capabilities. Our retail partners were already strong in offline marketing, such as weekly flyers to drive in-store traffic. So, GSI focused on the areas they needed help – online marketing – to drive dramatic increases in site traffic and overall sales.
     
  2. Second, we focused on the omnichannel experience. A company’s website is often the hub for their brand. It’s always accessible and available whenever the consumer wants to touch the brand, and gets far more visibility than any other marketing vehicle (often more than ALL other marketing vehicles combined). Helping retailers fully maximize the web, not simply as their online store, but more broadly as an omnichannel tool brought huge dividends to our clients. 

Ultimately, companies such as GSI and Blueport live and breathe e-commerce every day, just as retailers do with their core store businesses. The value that we provide to our clients is the ability to bring the omnichannel opportunity to life and develop a roadmap for maximizing the opportunity. I’ve seen this approach succeed time and time again whether it is apparel, home décor, electronics, or food. Big-ticket retail has a huge opportunity to replicate this success.

Why Blueport and big-ticket?

I was looking for the right opportunity to engage with an organization, but had specific criteria for the business model fit and long-term vision. Furniture is the last $1B+ e-commerce opportunity left. And, for good reason. It’s hard to sell furniture online and drive the type of customer experience that has become standard to online retail shopping. Why? The biggest difference is the end-to-end experience and the many challenges around delivery of big-ticket items, such as sofas into homes. I think Blueport has the will, experience, and technology platform to work with our clients to create a positive and remarkable end-to-end customer experience for furniture, as Zappos did for shoes. This is the vision that Blueport and its client base share, and why I ultimately came on board.

What is it going to take for big-ticket to achieve success in e-commerce?

Consumer demand and technology proliferation leave no choice but for furniture retailers to adopt an omnichannel presence. But, that’s not all – we need to understand the need to provide an exceptional end-to-end customer experience. At Blueport, our mission is to help big-ticket retailers drive exceptional omnichannel experiences in order to optimize both online and offline sales. We want retail partners who believe in delivering these “wow” experiences and the incredible untapped growth opportunity embedded within them. 

Buying Cars Online: Big-Ticket Retail Accelerates

Friday, October 26, 2012 by

Big-Ticket Retail Buy Cars Online E-CommerceIn the mid-1990s, it was inconceivable that people would want to buy shoes online. Yet in 1999, Zappos was born, became a giant in the e-commerce industry and now brings in a cool $1 billion in revenue just 13 years later. Blueport Commerce saw a similar opportunity in 2001 around selling big-ticket items online such as furniture and appliances, and launched the industry's only e-commerce technology and services company that localizes big-ticket retail online. With higher price points and slower buying cycles, big-ticket retail can take longer to reap rewards. However when a world-renowned company like BMW decides to sell cars online, it makes us feel like we're onto something big.

On June 13 in London, Ian Robertson, head of global sales at BMW, spoke with Bloomberg about online retailing and sales strategy for the new BMW i electric car. Two topics Robertson touched on are particularly relevant to big-ticket retail: pricing for big-ticket items and channel optimization.

Pricing for Big-Ticket Retail

Ian Robertson revealed that BMW will be selling the new electric icars over the internet, in addition to their traditional physical dealerships around the world. "It's clear in my mind that the actual experience that a customer has with a dealer, with a point of sale, is still the backbone of what we're going to do."

When asked if the price of the cars would be discounted online, Robertson responded, "Absolutely not. We have a very clear policy – our dealers ultimately will do the deals for vehicles. What we are not going to do is have different channels offering different price points. Our dealers are responsible for this around the world - this is not new, this is our normal business."

Although deep discounting has come to be associated with e-commerce, for example in the world of online marketplaces such as Amazon, BMW recognizes that price-slashing is not an effective technique for big-ticket retail. Or, in the words of Robertson, "This is not something that people are likely to just look on the internet...and say 'yes, that's for me....this is expensive product, and in many cases, is the most expensive product people buy. And that experience of the product, both in the physical sense and the driving sense, is a fundamental part of that actual decision."

With this insight, it is clear BMW agrees with Blueport's assessment that having two disparate buying channels, with physical stores and a branded e-commerce website competing with each other on price, is not a model for success. Blueport firmly believes that BMW is on the right track by keeping the dealers in control of setting the prices of the cars and the website being a connected and cohesive channel for optimized buying. Blueport frequently advises our big-ticket retail clients to think of their e-commerce website as a branded hub, while also being a tool to help their showrooms compete in local markets. By keeping prices consistent, bi-directional web and physical traffic allows for greater lead generation, as well as increased sales.

From Channel Conflict to Omnichannel Optimization

On the topic of potential channel conflict, between traditional dealers and online stores, Robertson stated, "It's no secret today that a very large percentage of all the customers that buy BMW have done research on the internet so when they arrive at a dealership they've almost made their decision. And we want to actually make sure that the customers have the option to do whatever they so desire."

"The worldwide dealer body remains the backbone of what we're doing with all the products for BMW....the actual availability to experience the car, to sit behind the wheel, to drive it, is a very important part. But we will have multichannel approaches which will be useable for the i products and, in time, other products as well."

Robertson mentioned the dealers in this equation as the equivalent of local heroes, with higher knowledge than any website could provide, able to interface in real time with the customer as needed and close the deal with their rapport and experience. This sets up the online and physical stores to combine for greater total sales, appealing to consumers who do internet research before arriving at a dealership, as well as those willing to pull the trigger without setting foot in a physical showroom.

Like BMW, Blueport recognizes the need for brick-and-mortar stores to work in harmony with an e-commerce presence. Blueport long ago realized that physical stores were the heart and soul of the big-ticket retail experience, with the online stores acting as an additional channel that allowed for both research, comparison shopping and added purchasing convenience. By coordinating both prices and discounting online and offline, the stores benefit from increased foot traffic of people who have researched online, but want to touch and feel the furniture or appliances in store. The web benefits from being available as a channel for people who are confident in their internet research and are ready to buy immediately, without needing to travel to a physical location or talk to a salesperson. And while it may be awhile before all cars are available online for immediate purchase, it's nice to see a world leader in the automotive industry like BMW taking that step into big-ticket e-commerce retail. 

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