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Store Operations Get a Digital Facelift: Survey Results from Retail TouchPoints and Sprint

Saturday, September 14, 2013 by

Think stores are a thing of the past? Think again, because stores are just getting digitally smarter. According to the Retail TouchPoints / Sprint 2013 Store Operations Survey, some retailers are embracing technology to suit shopper demand.

Blueport examines data on how budgets and pricing are impacted by technology, the role mobile plays around in-store operations and how other technologies, such as in-store Wi-Fi, inventory and payment options are positively affected by the increase of all things digital. We’ll also share three tips for how furniture retailers can stay ahead of the digital game.

It’s All About The Money
Retail TouchPoints found that 67.6 percent of retailers are increasing their store operations, and 56.9 percent are increasing their investment in mobile technology. What does this mean exactly? Retailers who value the in-store experience are using technology to drive sales and enhance the shopping experience.

Pricing consistency plays a factor by the simple facts that shoppers can easily price-compare products in store, online and on their smartphone. And 46.1 percent of retailers surveyed say that they are offering consistent pricing across all channels, which helps them take advantage of the showrooming experience.

Furniture Retail Tip 1: Take a close look at your numbers to determine where you can allocate mobile or other technology in your stores, and further integrate your offerings both online and offline. This helps offer convenience for your shoppers while giving them time to go to your store.


Mobile Is So Hot Right Now
Mobile has clear advantages to retailers who adopt it. Specifically:

  • Retailers are increasingly arming store associates with mobile devices (44.1%)
  • 56% of these employees are using corporate smartphones and 50% are using corporate tablets
  • Product availability (71%) and product information (66.1%) are the most-used functions by store employees on in-store mobile devices
  • mPOS is not yet fully adopted, but those that do are seeing results. Only 33.3% of respondents have it today, but Moosejaw saw 72% of its transactions being completed on mobile devices

Furniture Retail Tip 2: Take control of showrooming by enabling your store associates with smartphones and tablets. While shoppers may not only browse your store, making it easier for them to shop with the use of technology is a sure way for them to remember your positive shopping experience.

Digital Lends A Helping Hand
Other digital technologies, such as in-store Wi-Fi, channel integration and location-agnostic store credit are three other areas where retailers can use technology to their advantage.

  1. Wi-Fi: 37.3% of retailers have implemented Wi-Fi for their shoppers. A survey by JiWire cautioned that 79.5% of shoppers said that the availability of in-store Wi-Fi determines where they shop – either definitely or somewhat.
  2. In-Store/Online Integration: Most retailers (67.8%) are offering some kind of buy in-store / return to another, and buy online / pick-up in-store (41.2%). Kmart has started to make inroads with its reserve online, pay and pick up in-store option.
  3. Location-Agnostic Store Credit. 33.3% give the store credit for online sales picked up in-store.  

Did you know? Blueport offers the option for shoppers to sync their items into their cart and purchase from anywhere (online, mobile, in-store).

Furniture Retail Tip 3: Examine what additional digital tools will suit your business best; look for ways to implement Wi-Fi; Determine the role mobile plays in payments, returns and credits in the future.

For most furniture retailers, the showroom is an integral part of doing business. Improving store operations and sales by taking advantage of the digital opportunities available is critically important for business success going forward. We couldn’t be more excited about what’s ahead!

 

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.

The Next Level

Saturday, August 24, 2013 by

 

Flying back from a C-level client roundtable, I was struck by how far we’ve come. We’ve worked with this top retailer for eight years. The camaraderie, energy and enthusiasm around the table yesterday were as palpable as when we first dreamed of enabling e-commerce for their brand.  What’s different is the mutual feeling that we’re jointly taking it to the next level.

One of the luxuries afforded by a transaction like ours last summer is capacity. Not just the resources to grow, but the time and space to think about how we do so, and the ability to execute what we think up.  

When you’re bootstrapping, tactical decisions rule the day. In startup mode, most every decision is about an immediate next step. Strategy is an occasional luxury, at best*. But with resources, there’s time and a reason for strategy – you can implement it. 

Since our deal we’ve reexamined every aspect of our strategy, and made some meaningful changes to how and why we do business. We’re ready for the next level, and our clients are excited about the possibilities as the internet is finally beginning to transform their industry as it has every other.

The Opportunity Hasn’t Changed

Furniture online is still in its infancy, one of the last categories to go online in a meaningful way. It’s an $80B category that’s only 4% penetrated online as consumers await a “wow” experience that makes furniture shopping meaningfully easier and better. 

Unlike other categories, furniture retailers are uniquely able to deliver that wow experience, if they have the right technology. It’s one of the few categories where incumbent brick and mortar players can and do win.

Blueport’s role—to help furniture retailers win—hasn’t changed.  But, how we do so has been re-envisioned through the strategic lens of a decade of experience, newly honed and focused. 

The Blueport Roadmap – Beyond the Buzzword

Blueport powers the websites of leading furniture retailers. This isn’t new, but we have the increased clarity and capacity to make our clients’ websites the cohesive web-store journey that can transform a retailer’s shopping experience.  

Omnichannel has all the trappings of a retail buzzword, but to us, it means more. In furniture, showrooms and salespeople are a hugely valuable part of the shopping experience. Our technology platform is built to amplify that value, not bypass it and we see its potential across all categories where showrooms still matter.

As an example, on a Blueport omnichannel website like the new vcf.com, shoppers can visit a store and work with a salesperson to put aside merchandise in a portable shopping cart.  After they’ve shopped around or checked with their spouse, they can complete their order on their phone, tablet or desktop, without having to go back to the store. Conversely, a shopper can start an order online, send it to the store, then stop by the store to touch and feel only the merchandise they are interested in and quickly complete their sale.

It’s a revolutionary strategy and a patent pending system that’s unheard of in any category, much less in furniture. Moreover, it reaffirms that in furniture, showrooms and salespeople play a real role in the sales process while maintaining the same level of engagement and compensation. Not only do we amplify the value of the showroom, we make the store experience better, rather than trying to replace it. And, it’s already driving stunning results for our clients.

Killing it in the Category with Furniture.com

The Zappos moment in Furniture has yet to happen, but we now have the components to spark this moment through our long-dormant, category killer URL Furniture.com.

We’ve spent a great deal of time with online furniture shoppers recently, through market research and even more valuably, visiting them in their homes. We’ve developed a deep understanding on how they view furniture, the personal, aspirational nature of this purchase, and how stores and online play a role.

What’s striking is how ill-suited a typical e-commerce model is in meeting their needs. Said simply, furniture shoppers are looking for the exact opposite of the typical “endless aisle”, third-party delivery experience that typifies most e-commerce. 

We’ve assembled the best retailers in the business, marshaling their ability to source and deliver product. We’re reinventing every aspect of the Furniture.com shopping experience. Together, we’ll finally deliver the end to end “wow” that will create a meaningful online brand in this category. It won’t look like typical e-commerce, but will finally unlock what furniture e-commerce should be. 

It’s a lot of work to do, for sure, but we and our clients are as excited about this aspect of our business as we are our groundbreaking omnichannel platform strategy.  It's a powerful combination for seizing the enormous opportunity in furniture online.

*        *        *

A year after our deal, we’ve gotten a ton done – it’s been as frenetic a 12 months as I can remember. We and our clients have close to 300% sales growth to show for it. 

More importantly, we’ve had the space, capacity, reason and ability to think meaningfully about what’s next. Yesterday was a good reminder of how fortunate we are, and how powerful a combination likeminded, talented partners, a massive opportunity and time to think can be.

 

 

 

* One of my favorite startup CEO’s, in a none-too-subtle dig at my McKinsey background, said “Strategy, to me, is what I think about when I’m on the crapper.” Crass, yes, but she had a point.

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 on E-Commerce from Forrester’s The State of Retailing Online 2013

Friday, March 8, 2013 by

Blueport E-Commerce Forrester Report RetailBuy something online last year? You weren’t alone. According to The State of Retailing Online 2013: Key Metrics and Initiatives by Sucharita Mulpuru of Forrester Research, overall growth for web retailers from 2011 to 2012 was 28%. We at Blueport Commerce are thrilled about the continuing trend of increasing e-commerce activity. Statistics from this report we found particularly salient include:

The Explosion of Mobile

Currently Forrester’s mobile forecast shows less than 5% of e-commerce sales coming from phones. However, of the retailers surveyed, smartphone year-on-year growth hit 129%, and tablet year-on-year growth hit 178%. And while the actual sales may not be there yet, as many consumers use their mobile devices to browse while in stores, mobile has a net positive impact on retailers’ conversion rates, as 36% reported that mobile sales and traffic aided their company’s overall web conversion rate.

Blueport’s takeaway: Retailers should be prepared to optimize for mobile and tablet traffic in order to improve conversion rates, both on the web and on mobile. 

The Need for Speed: Optimization

Retailers mentioned their top priorities in 2013 are improving their site’s conversion rates and redesigning their site experience, optimizing their site’s performance. The three top investment areas cited by retailers for long-term growth are site optimization (e.g. website redesign), mobile optimization and international growth (27%), with products and fulfillment to international markets, as well as localization and translation. Under the large category of site optimization, checkout and a responsive design framework were two sub-areas cited as needing improvement in 2013.

Blueport’s takeaway: Optimization boils down to a simple concept: what levers you can pull to make it as easy as possible for browsers to pull the trigger to become buyers. The need to reach consumers where they want and how they want is critical, and retailers should focus on ensuring all consumers’ browsing and buying needs are met with optimized site and mobile experiences.

The Exorbitant Cost of Marketing

Forrester previously found that web marketing usually consumes about 10% of a web retailer’s expenses. However, that figure is only increasing due to greater competition as email marketing continues to become harder to differentiate, SEO and SEM costs are skyrocketing, social media sites are now experimenting with paid models and there are additional costs associated with mobile marketing. Investment in the effort of organic SEO optimization is worthwhile given the ROI – it isn’t as exorbitantly expensive as Pay Per Click (PPC), and, done right, it can increase conversions. Additionally, the benefits of organic SEO last longer than PPC, whose impact goes away the second you cut off the funding.  

Retailers surveyed also noted that IT investments were the most critical for continued revenue in 2013. Adding to their IT resources and improving core site performance were listed as top priorities, at the expense of social media, whose monetization effects haven’t yet been proven.

Blueport’s takeaway: Focus on the levers that will truly push your margin. Since SEO can account for up to 40% of traffic, maximizing low-cost alternatives like organic search are high impact/low cost.

Shipping as an Opportunity, Not a Pain Point

Same-day delivery and broad reach of fulfillment like Amazon’s was all the hype of in 2012, but other than the big players, few retailers are focused on their fulfillment or post-transaction experiences. Forrester recommends retailers follow the path of companies who focus on fulfillment as a differentiator: tactics such as shopper loyalty programs, expedited delivery programs, shipping clubs and store fulfillment.  

Blueport’s takeaway: The key here for furniture retailers is not just focusing on the front end but also on the back end operations. In essence, while many retailers are focused on website redesign and optimization, the back end operational part of the site is virtually ignored. Furniture retailers have the opportunity to offer not only varying delivery options, but also the chance to rethink shipping pricing models overall. By implementing a truly localized omnichannel experience, furniture retailers who allow customers to choose between various delivery options are better set for success.

WHY AND HOW SHOULD I SELL FURNITURE ONLINE?

Border Gateway Protocol: What It Is and What It Means for E-Commerce

Friday, February 22, 2013 by

E-Commerce Website TrafficWhat Is BGP?
Ever wonder how traffic flow on the internet is routed so efficiently? Blueport Commerce is proud to announce that as of March 2013 we will be live with Border Gateway Protocol. BGP is a protocol that makes core routing decisions on the internet. With a table of IP networks, or "prefixes", which designate network reach-ability among autonomous systems (AS), BGP essentially regulates traffic flow on the internet based on real-time information. This makes it similar to a GPS in a car which will route the driver to the roads with the least traffic. For businesses, the benefit is that they can now optimize bandwidth and maximize redundancy – it leverages the full power of BGP while keeping a company like Blueport vendor-agnostic. For big-ticket e-commerce retailers like Blueport’s clients, it ensures that their website traffic is routed most effectively so that customers can browse and buy from anywhere, on any device, at any time.

What Is “Peering”?
As a protocol, BGP is similar to how http in URLs is a protocol, where the http tells your browser where to point to load a certain website. It defines the best syntaxes to navigate. BGP allows for “peering” – or letting a company like Blueport Commerce partner with an ISP such as Cogent or Lightower. Blueport gives out our AS numbers and the IPs we own to our peering partners, which tells customers how to reach us. In return, our peering partners Cogent and Lightower tell us their data and the IPs accessing us from each way. Other peering partners can be added at any time, maximizing the efficiency of internet traffic on our clients’ e-commerce websites.

What Are the Benefits of BGP?
The benefits of moving to Border Gateway Protocol are redundancy and staying ahead of the curve. With BGP, Blueport is connecting our clients to the internet in the most efficient way possible. Think of it as having two cell phones in case one loses battery power or is misplaced. Or the equivalent of having regular electricity in your home, but also a generator in case a downed tree crashes a power line near your house. You’ll stay connected, even if disaster strikes. For big-ticket e-commerce retailers, it ensures that their customers are always able to reach their website, even during high-traffic periods such as Black Friday or Cyber Monday.

What’s the Current Process?
ARIN, the American Registry for Internet Numbers, gives out IP addresses (which can be thought of as “internet zip codes”), as well as AS numbers. In order to become live with BGP, Blueport submitted the paperwork necessary to get our AS number and public IPs. This allows us to partner with ISPs such as Cogent, Lightower, RCN, AT&T and Comcast.

The older system of IP addresses used by most companies now is called IPV4. These are traditional IP addresses (such as 10.3.45.34). The new form is IPV6, which consists of 4 letters and number combinations and colons (such as A4B4:A3B3:A2B2:A1B1). Blueport is currently migrating from IPV4 to IPV6 and the process should be completed by the end of Q3.

What Are Other Forward-Thinking Companies Doing?
Forward-thinking companies like Akamai, GoDaddy, Facebook and Google have started supporting both IPV4 and IPV6 IP addresses. This allows them to stay ahead of the curve – the reason for the distribution of IPV6’s is that eventually IPV4’s will run out. By taking this step, Blueport Commerce is proving we are ready now for the eventual transition from IPV4 to IPV6.

At the end of the day, the success of an e-commerce website is rooted in the idea of 24x7 availability. By moving to Border Gateway Protocol, Blueport ensures that all of our clients and their customers will be able to transact from any location, at any time, in the most optimal way possible.

 

Selling Furniture Online E-Commerce

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. 

E-Commerce Retailers Rejoice: Thanksgiving Day & Black Friday 2012 Break Records

Friday, November 30, 2012 by

E-Commerce Retailers Black Friday Thanksgiving Day SalesEven if the Grinch was an e-commerce retailer, he'd be forced to smile after the close of a landmark 2012 Thanksgiving holiday weekend. By all accounts, from Thanksgiving Thursday to Black Friday to Cyber Monday and everything in between, 2012 was a wildly successful holiday e-retailing period. And retailers have a lot for which to be thankful.

As the only e-commerce platform, technology and services company that localizes big-ticket retail online, Blueport Commerce breaks down the Thanksgiving 2012 holiday numbers to uncover trends and insights relevant to big-ticket retailers in a two-part series. Part one looks at Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday; Cyber Monday will be covered in part two.

Numbers are courtesy of IBM's Black Friday Report 2012; comScore’s Black Friday Billion: Kick-Off to Brick-and-Mortar Shopping Season Surges Past $1 Billion in E-Commerce Spending for the First Time; ITProPortal’s Black Friday 2012 Results: $1bn Milestone Hit as Online Spending Soars, But Cyber Monday Nets Even More; Internet Retailer’s E-Commerce Sales Rise 17.4% on Thanksgiving Day; SearchEngineWatch’s Black Friday E-Commerce Sales Set $1 Billion Record, 2012 Holiday Online Sales Strong; and The Retail Email Blog’s More Retailers Sent Email on Thanksgiving Than Black Friday.

Thanksgiving Day

  • Strong Gains Overall: Thanksgiving Day saw strong gains on the e-commerce front, with a 32 percent year-over-year increase in online spending bringing the total for that holiday to $633 million (SearchEngineWatch).
  • Promotional Email Frenzy: On Thanksgiving, more than 83% of major online retailers sent their subscribers at least one promotional email, setting an all-time record for the day. In 2011, 75% of retailers sent their subscribers email on Thanksgiving; in 2010, 60% did; and in 2009, just 45% did (Retail Email Blog).
  • Record-Shattering Web Traffic: Visits to retail web sites broke records, with Akamai Technologies Inc. reporting a peak of 7.63 million page views per minute from North American consumers to the websites of its retail clients at 8:55 p.m. Eastern Time on Thanksgiving Day (Internet Retailer).

Blueport's tip: It's never too early to start promoting discounts or special offers. Don't feel limited to just Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions. And don’t think furniture has no place in these sales – it’s about more than just gifts. Even if people are buying for themselves, early awareness of deep discounts is critical to drive big-ticket online purchases. And US Thanksgiving has started to be recognized (at least for e-commerce) in Canada, with Blueport client Leon’s of Canada experiencing a traffic surge, with a visitor increase of 360% from US Thanksgiving Day 2011.This proves that Thanksgiving is now recognized outside of the US as a major e-commerce event.

Black Friday

While Black Friday traditionally conjures up images of overly caffeinated shoppers bundled up in multiple layers of clothes, camping out overnight at their favorite retail stores the night before stores open, an increasing number of consumers prefer to do all of their Black Friday shopping online. According to comScore, Black Friday saw over $1 billion in e-commerce sales for the first time ever, and a 26 percent increase versus Black Friday 2011.

“Despite the frenzy of media coverage surrounding the importance of Black Friday in the brick-and-mortar world, we continue to see this shopping day become more and more prominent in the e-commerce channel – particularly among those who prefer to avoid crowds at the stores,” said comScore chairman, Gian Fulgoni. “With Black Friday online sales up 26 percent and surpassing $1 billion for the first time, coupled with early reports indicating that Black Friday sales in retail stores were down 1.8 percent, we can now confidently call it a multi-channel marketing phenomenon.”

  • Social Sales: Shoppers referred from Social Networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube generated .34 percent of all online sales on Black Friday, a decrease of more than 35 percent from 2011 (IBM).
  • Mobile & Tablet Shopping: Mobile purchases (including tablet) soared with 24 percent of consumers using a mobile device to visit a retailer's site, up from 14.3 percent in 2011. Mobile sales exceeded 16 percent, up from 9.8 percent in 2011. The iPad not only dominated the tablet shoppers with 88.3% of share, it reached nearly 10 percent of all online shopping (IBM).
  • Multiscreen Shopping: Consumers shopped in store, online and on mobile devices simultaneously to get the best bargains. Of the people already in a physical store, 58 percent of these consumers used smartphones compared to 41 percent who used tablets to surf for bargains while in-store on Black Friday (IBM).
  • Brick-and-Mortar Sales Down: As the internet rises, in-store sales were down 1.8 per cent despite slightly improved year-on-year foot traffic amounting to 308 million visits to bricks-and-mortar retail outlets (ShopperTrak via ITProPortal).

Blueport Black Friday tip: The lack of influence of social media is surprising; particularly that it was down from 2011. While we encourage our retailers to keep an active social media presence, it's important to always link to either appropriate sale items or the homepage, allowing viewers to see upcoming promotions. And Black Friday certainly proves the importance of having a mobile-optimized website, if not a mobile app in addition, to encourage active shoppers to engage with your brand and, most importantly, transact.

Blueport client TheRoomPlace had its highest traffic of the year on Black Friday, doubling their traffic from four weeks prior. And Black Friday even hit Canada, with Leon’s increasing their visitors 33% from Black Friday 2011, proving that Black Friday is now recognized outside of the US.  

Blueport Commerce and our clients are thrilled with the increase in e-commerce purchases of the 2012 Thanksgiving holiday season. While Thanksgiving and Black Friday have traditionally been thought of as in-store retail events, this year’s online spending numbers prove that more and more consumers are moving to an e-commerce model for the convenience, discounts, and promotions.

Let us know – did you see improvements – or disappointments – during these two days?

Part two of this series next week will examine Cyber Monday 2012’s numbers and trends.

Canadian E-Commerce: Consumers Are Ready to Buy, But Where Are the Retailers?

Friday, November 2, 2012 by

Canadian e-Commerce Canadians Shop Online

Did you know Canadians lead the world in online engagement, with users spending an average of 45 hours online a month? Consumers in Canada are heavily engaged in social media channels, as well as online search and banking. In 2010, 8 out of 10 Canadian households (79%) had access to the internet, and over one-half of connected households used more than one type of device to go online.

Yet in contrast, Canada's internet economy is expected to grow by 7.4% a year through 2016, better than the country's overall GDP, but still lagging many global peers. And shockingly, only 1% of retail expenditures in Canada are from online transactions, compared to 8% in the United States. Compared to similarly connected nations, eMarketer notes that product assortment, payment paths and the number of online operators still lag in Canada’s e-commerce ecosystem.

So with all of these connected Canadians, one would think the consumer demand for e-commerce is there, yet the retailers aren’t. Why the disconnect? Blueport Commerce, the only e-commerce technology and services company that localizes big-ticket retail online, examines some of the reasons for e-commerce’s failure to thrive in Canada.

Lack of Government Support

The federal government could do a lot more to create incentives for the internet economy to take off, said Tawfik Hammoud, partner and managing director at BCG who worked with Google on a study on Canadian e-commerce. Hammoud points to the governments of South Korea and Australia as examples of countries that worked to get e-commerce up and running.

“Canada needs a bit of a shot in the arm to get its e-economy growing going forward and if we don't do that we'll probably lose even more in terms of the ranking,” said Hammoud.

Canadian businesses are investing 40% less in information and communications technologies, or about $2,400 less per worker, than American businesses, according to Canadian Business. This means potential vendors struggle to justify the expense of building out a channel and lack the tools to overcome the challenges.

Selection, Payment & Technology Options Lag Behind

Canada is currently lacking the large presence of small online retailers that the US has. Although 71% of small businesses purchase products online, only 18% actually sell products online. And in order for a consumer to get the selection they want, they are often forced to shop for products from other countries, such as the US or the UK. There are hefty import and tax fees involved for Canadians that choose to purchase from other countries online using a credit card. For example, a $30 shirt imported from the United States could cost as much as $58 after taxes and fees. The inflated price makes many Canadian consumers decide to visit their local brick-and-mortar retailer rather than order it online, even if they can locate the product for less online (before fees and taxes).

Even in-country Canadian credit card transaction costs are prohibitively high for Canadian merchants. Per CBC News, merchants pay two to four percent of the sale price in various transaction fees whenever they accept a credit card for payment. Money first goes to the credit card network (Visa or MasterCard in the vast majority of cases), the company that processes the payments and the merchant's bank. A Bank of Canada survey looked at the estimated cost of processing a $36.50 transaction, which was the median cash transaction in its survey. Costs broke down like this:

  • Debit card: 19 cents
  • Cash: 25 cents
  • Credit card: 82 cents

Additionally the provincial tax system has been cited as an obstacle – in Canada, different provinces have different retail taxes and it is an onerous compliance burden for businesses to attempt to follow all of the rules, leading to less interest in e-commerce. 

And finally, with Canada being a smaller country, there is a lack of capital for funding the necessary expenditures on new technologies needed to drive e-commerce. With telecommunications, for example, this problem is further exacerbated by foreign ownership restrictions. The cost of implementing an e-commerce platform is high and many retailers are unable to currently accept online payments.

Shipping Challenges

Canada’s low population density makes shipping difficult and highly expensive for retailers – and that gets passed down to the consumers. The result is Canadians tend to research products online, but not actually make purchases via the internet, unlike Americans. Additionally, the poor showing of e-commerce as only 1% of Canada’s annual retail expenditures may also be affected by Canadians who shop online but from US retailers who ship north of the border, thus their e-commerce spending is reflected in the US’s annual retail expenditures, rather than Canada’s.

A Brighter Future

However, there is hope on the horizon. Large Canada-based retailers have begun to compete with US-based Canadian operators such as Amazon, online offerings have begun to expand, and creative solutions to supply chain difficulties have been implemented. One of Blueport Commerce's success stories, Leon's Furniture, has worked for five years to bring their furniture, electronics and appliance sales online. Their e-commerce revenue now holds its own against their physical store locations. And Canadians’ noted preference for going to brick-and-mortar stores to shopping online could work to big-ticket retailers’ advantage. Because of the consumer’s need to oftentimes see the furniture in a physical showroom, Blueport Commerce is able to localize the big-ticket retailer experience, creating an integrated shopping experience. This also applies to shipping, with consumers entering their Canadian postal code to allow for their local supply and local delivery, cutting down on shipping costs. With eMarketer predicting $35 billion in e-commerce spending by Canadians in 2016, it’s in Canada’s best interest to incentivize Canadian retailers to get their big-ticket retail items online.

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Augmented Reality in Furniture Retailing: The Future Is Here

Friday, October 19, 2012 by

A common problem for potential consumers of big-ticket retail items such as furniture and appliances is that it's almost impossible to know how a certain piece will look once it is in their home or office. Measurements can be taken, and photographs can be scrutinized, but it's more often than not a guessing game as to how everything will fit together on delivery day. In fact, one of the biggest e-commerce challenges is that the consumer is often uncomfortable pulling the trigger on big-ticket retail items that cannot be visualized in their own personal space.

At Blueport Commerce we combine the industry's only big-ticket retail e-commerce solution with dedicated e-commerce integration services and personalized service packages to build the right solution for your business. Part of providing all of the components required for a successful e-commerce site is ensuring retailers have the technology necessary to help consumers solve the age-old dilemma of how furniture or appliances will look in their rooms. Here are two hot new furniture retail technologies currently on the market that attempt to do just that.

Augmented Reality 3D


1. 3D Room Designer by Crate & Barrel

Crate & Barrel has introduced 3D Room Designer, an in-store tool which allows a customer to drop a digital photo of a room in their home or office into a 3D room model – without recreating a floor plan. The customer makes an appointment online and either emails or brings a photo on a USB stick to a nearby Crate & Barrel location. The height of the room is the only measurement the customer needs to know. From there, the customer can work with a store associate to transform their space with 3D models of Crate & Barrel merchandise, swapping out products, materials and colors. More than 2,000 Crate & Barrel products are incorporated into the 3D Room Designer, with all combinations of materials and fabrics together. Store associates are then able to print and email photos of the redesigned rooms to the customer, along with a list of all the items chosen.

While this technology certainly aims to solve the issue of visualization, the problem is that the final image can often look cartoonish and not realistic enough for the consumer to want to purchase. And while the goal of this 3D Room Designer is to drive traffic to brick-and-mortar stores, some customers will not want to make an in-store appointment and then go to the physical store. Additionally, by having the product only available in stores, it turns away those customers who may be in the research stage and want to simply “play around” with the tool online, and make a purchase decision weeks or months down the road.

By ignoring the needs of customers who live in rural areas, far from a store, as well as those who simply prefer to do all of their research and shopping online, Crate & Barrel is losing potential customers. In the spirit of true omnichannel retailing, Blueport Commerce recommends that Crate & Barrel creates a web version of 3D Room Designer that allows customers to do the manipulations themselves, as well as purchase the items online, rather than only going to the physical store.

Augmented Reality Big-Ticket Retail

2. Mydeco 3D

Mydeco.com, a UK-based online home store that sells furniture and home accessories from multiple retailers, boasts 3D, an online floor planner that lets customers visualize their home in 3D when buying new furniture. From the comfort of their home, a customer can upload up to 2 floor plans for free and move the walls and manipulate furniture from any of Mydeco’s retailers to their liking. After the customer is satisfied, they will receive back a 3D rendering in one business day. Additionally, the site has a community feel in that customers can connect with Mydeco’s collection of interior design enthusiasts, students, and professionals.

Mydeco.com also has another tool, Moodboard Creator, which is a Pinterest-like tool that lets consumers use furniture and home accessories from Mydeco.com (or any image they like) to get inspired to redecorate their homes. Pictures can be rotated and mixed, along with background and frames.

Blueport Commerce recognizes the value of Mydeco.com’s 3D tool, as the output is more realistic than Create & Barrel’s 3D Room Planner, and it allows users to get more creative, with furnishings from multiple retailers. Additionally, consumers can use the tool from their homes or offices, and not have to make an appointment or drive to a physical store location. The community and social feel of Mydeco’s 3D planner and Moodboard Creator allow for a greater viral reach, encouraging users to share their designs within the Mydeco community, as well as social sites such as Google+, Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon and Pinterest. The only negative is that it’s not as fully visually compelling as it could be yet – it has not achieved the next step of augmented reality.
 

Augmented Reality The Next Dimension

Imagine in the near future a customer being able to walk into a brick-and-mortar store and, with their mobile device or a device supplied by the store, scan and have elements of the display room pop out with information such as pricing, reviews, dimensions, availability and description. Or imagine being able to scan a room in your home or office you wish to redecorate with your mobile device, and have a retailer’s furniture placed into your home, in varying colors and at scale. Hidden Creative has a video depiction that suggests such a possibility here (at the 2:00 minute mark) through the next step of Augmented Reality, called Articulated Naturality Web. As the drive to capture the increasingly-connected consumer continues, retailers will need to stay attuned to technology advancements that can aid them in reaching and capturing tech-savvy consumers.

Blueport Commerce is currently developing exciting new technology that includes augmented reality. Our goal is to help solve the e-commerce challenge of allowing consumers to envision their desired big-ticket retail item in their own space. Let us know if we can help you develop technology to enhance your brick-and-mortar store or e-commerce website presence – we would welcome the opportunity to enrich the consumer experience and increase e-commerce transactions for your business.

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5 Tips to Help Big-Ticket Retailers Do Holiday E-Commerce Retailing Right

Friday, October 12, 2012 by

Holiday e-Commerce retailing BlueportGrowing your e-commerce and digital presence is as essential for the holiday season as Rudolph's glowing nose is to Santa Claus on a cloudy December 24th eve. If executed correctly, your web presence can be a beacon to consumers, guiding them to checkout online and in store, depositing gifts to your bottom line.

Retailers know that November and December can make or break their annual sales. This year, a projected $54.5 billion in online holiday sales for November and December could account for 24.3% of the total $224.2 expected e-commerce sales, according to eMarketer – nearly 25% of an online retailer's sales could be closed in the last two months of the calendar year.

Retailers should already be preparing for the onslaught. Being prepared entails increasing inventory levels, adding warehousing resources and adjusting your product catalog.

In October, you'll want to start building holiday content into your e-commerce store. By November, you'll want to launch overall holiday marketing. For December, you'll need to focus on delivering a superior customer experience. The “Cyber 5,” the Thursday-through-Monday window that includes Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, is a key stretch for businesses whose strategy includes hefty discounting and significant sales. From 2010 to 2011, online Black Friday sales leapt 24.3% from 2010, while Cyber Monday sales were up 33%, according to Forrester Research.

With all this in mind, we at Blueport Commerce, the only e-commerce technology and services company that localizes big-ticket retail online, have several tips to get big-ticket retailers locked and loaded for a joyous 2012 holiday season. This is an essential time to make sure you’re doing everything right, beginning with the basics.

1. Review Your Transactional and Triggered Email Messages

Ensure all text, such as contact information and return policies, is up to date. Make sure the sending information, such as from name and from address, match your non-triggered messages. Send tests to be sure the message renders properly and all links are functional. Bronto Software recommends a general rule that 80% of the message must relate to the transaction and 20% can be used for marketing purposes. Per Forrester Research, marketing effectiveness in driving site visits is on the upswing. The percentage of site traffic driven by overall marketing—including email, paid search and display ads—reached a new high of 32% during the November/December 2011 holiday period, up from 29% about a year earlier. So get your holiday marketing set before Black Friday and Cyber Monday to ensure increased site traffic for the holidays.

2. Merchandise Your Products for the Holidays

Think about what big-ticket retail items become more in-demand according to the season. For example, dining tables become more popular around the late October and early November with the onset of Thanksgiving, followed by Hanukkah and Christmas in the US. The highly anticipated holiday season could bring sales and promotions on dining rooms and dinettes. Big-screen TVs remain popular gifts in November and December, so inventory and merchandising around these items should reflect this, as well as marketing and discounting. You may even want to pair a popular December item, such as a big-screen TV, with a year-round purchase such as a sofa, and offer a package deal in order to move more inventory.

3. Lure Customers Back with Holiday Marketing

Target your existing customers first. Per Amazon, existing customers can be up to 80% more likely to purchase from your business than new customers. A nicely targeted email campaign can make sure your most loyal fans are shopping with you again. Social networks, like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, are good places to reach them with holiday messaging, too. For big-ticket retailers, social media can be a great way to drive in-store traffic with holiday-themed events that allow followers to come into your brick-and-mortar store to touch and feel the furniture.

Remember to add a little joy into your brand image. Absorb this upbeat vibe in your e-commerce store's copy and promotional materials to enliven your brand and get site visitors in the mood to make holiday purchases. Additionally, make the shipping policy and details clear and prominent on your e-commerce site. How long will shipping take, and how much does it cost? And most critical to the holiday season: when is the last day a consumer can submit an order, and still be guaranteed to get their item by the holiday?

4. Narrow Your Marketing

Avoid broad messaging and targeting. The narrower you can focus on your target market, the better. For example, instead of creating a guide of the “best holiday dining room tables,” consider something as focused as the “best dining room tables for Thanksgiving.” The search volume for such niche-specific terms will be lower, but you can concentrate on driving better qualified (aka higher converting) traffic instead. Use this as a seasonal opportunity to target only your most ready-to-purchase leads for the holidays. Also tie this in with your historically best-selling products for each month.

5. Staff Up to Be Helpful

If you post a phone number or email address for customer questions, ensure you have the resources dedicated to it during the holiday season. Customers will require speedy answers to their questions, and it’s in your best business interest to answer them before they shop with your competitors.

Don't forget that January 2013 can yield valuable data and insights when retailers take stock of what worked best in the 2012 holiday season! This allows big-ticket retailers to spend the first half of the year putting together strategies for the 2013 holiday season.

Here at Blueport Commerce, we feel holiday retailing can never be done early enough. As our big-ticket retailers traditionally look to gain a significant boost in revenue from November and December, it is our goal to help our clients with their marketing efforts every step of the way to ensure they seize this opportunity for sales growth. By improving an online retailers' holiday marketing, staffing and merchandising for e-commerce, big-ticket retailers will drive qualified traffic to both the e-commerce site and in-store, thereby fueling growth.

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Wait - Something's Different at Blueport Commerce...

Friday, September 14, 2012 by

Yes. Yes it is. And, it’s only just beginning.

This is an exciting time at Blueport Commerce. In addition to preparing our clients for the big-ticket retail selling season (think Thanksgiving, not Christmas) we’re working on Blueport, too.

We recently completed a transaction that will take Blueport, our clients and their customers to another level of big-ticket e-commerce.   

>> We’re investing in people – we’ve already added phenomenal talent to our executive, technology and services teams, and we’re looking for more (i.e., referrals welcome)! 

>> We’re investing in our e-commerce platform technology, partnering with leading-edge players for powerful plugins as well as evolving our own big-ticket platform.

>> We’re investing in the Furniture.com brand, as a groundbreaking consumer experience in big-ticket furniture and a means to drive incremental revenue for our clients.

It was flattering, the number of parties who took an interest in our deal, but it was more gratifying to see the breadth and depth of people we met embracing big-ticket e-commerce. 

We -- and our clients -- had known for a while that there was opportunity in e-commerce beyond the ecom 1.0 “Amazon” model. The excitement around Blueport has been fantastic validation of this idea and what we’ve built together.

So – we find ourselves with new funding, resources, clients, people, technologies. New opportunities and new goals. What’s next? Just to go do it.  

We’re in the foothills of an online penetration curve in an $80B category, and we know how it will evolve. We have over a decade of expertise and the technology to transform the consumer experience in big-ticket online. We have great clients, old and new, that, with us as a partner, will prove that incumbents can win as their industry goes online. It’s all blocking and tackling now, and we’re all looking forward to it.

If you’ve read the official blog of Blueport Commerce for a while, you likely know we don’t talk about ourselves all that much. That’s one thing that probably won’t change. We’d much rather talk big-ticket e-commerce and how you can take advantage of the last big verticals to go online.  

That said, from time to time, I’ll update you on our progress. It’s going to be a fun ride.

E-Commerce Lengthens the Path to Purchase

Friday, August 31, 2012 by

Back in the early 2000s, the path to purchase for a jacket or dress probably went something like this: choose a store or cluster of stores, browse around, try a few items on, make your decision and buy. The entire process took about half a day. But now in 2012, the time to get from browsing to buying takes 3.4 days, according to this article from InternetRetailing.

The article cites data, focused on fashion, showing that digital retail channels are responsible for this shift. Between e-commerce websites, mobile apps and physical stores, shoppers have a number of outlets to complete the full purchasing cycle as compared to 10 years ago when they primarily relied on the physical store. Today, nearly 91% of consumers use at least two channels before making the purchase.

The purchase process is composed of four steps: “browsing, researching, purchasing and collection.” The data shows consumers are spending half an hour longer on the first step and less time on the last three (largely because online retailers make it all more efficient). Then what is responsible for the nearly three additional days dedicated to shopping? Much more time now exists between each phase. A shopper can look in a store on Saturday and then visit the retailer’s website on Monday at lunch to pick up where she left off.

This creates a new challenge for multichannel retailers that need to keep customers engaged with their brands over a longer time period. It also creates additional opportunities as retailers know more about their customers, being able to better target and personalize this longer shopping cycle through emails and advertising.

What About Big-Ticket, Highly Considered Goods?

Big-ticket items, like furniture and cars, already have a significantly longer purchase cycle, lasting months, so these retailers already have some valuable experience in maintaining relationships over a longer period of time. The challenge with big-ticket retailers is adapting offline strategies to work in this increasingly digital world.

Here at Blueport, we work with our furniture retail clients to leverage the best the digital channels have to offer in a way that complements their existing physical programs. This includes everything from integrating physical store customers into our targeted email streams and leveraging the data we have on online customers to create a more personalized experience on site and off.

The increased length of time it now takes consumers to make a purchase could be a winning proposition for retailers and their e-commerce websites. The big opportunity is that there is now more time to target and refine your messaging as well as build your brand to potential shoppers – those retailers that seize this opportunity will end up ahead!

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The Future of E-Commerce Will Go Beyond Transactions

Friday, June 15, 2012 by

A recent Forbes piece takes a look at the future of e-commerce and how curated retail sites, like AHAlife are just the beginning of what is to come.

To date, there is no doubt that e-commerce is a force for quick retail transactions. From toothpaste and books to diapers and concert tickers. You know what you want, go to the website and in a few clicks these goods are on their way to your door. But these are the items that don’t require tons of research and thought.

For big-ticket items, like furniture, consumers want a more intimate experience with what they are buying. They want an emotional connection with the sofa before they pay a larger sum and welcome the piece into their home. As Shauna Mei, AHAlife’s founder says, “the next 10 years [for e-commerce] will be about leveraging digital technology to enhance and create real, emotional experiences.” And we here at Blueport Commerce, with our solutions and services for big-ticket retailers, believe we are on the forefront of this movement.

For years, we have been working with our clients to help them use the best of the web and technology to bring their product catalog to life. Through detailed imagery and rich product descriptions that go far beyond manufacturers’ details, we help our clients create romance and a story behind each item. We create an emotional connection between shoppers and the items they browse, giving them reason to take action, whether it’s using their online research to go in-store or choosing to buy the big-ticket item right there online.

We at Blueport are excited about this next step in the evolution of e-commerce and know that we and our clients are poised for continued success.

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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.

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How Will Facebook’s Acquisition of Instagram Impact the Social Network for Retail Brands?

Friday, April 13, 2012 by

You likely heard the news this week that Facebook is acquiring Instagram, a mobile photo-sharing app, for $1 billion.
 
According to DailyDealMedia, with Facebook’s IPO a month away, some were expecting the company to announce major news related to e-commerce capabilities on the social network. While an F-commerce announcement is still rumored to surface between now and the public offering, there’s much that might come out of the Instagram acquisition that could make Facebook a more robust platform for e-commerce marketing and potentially monetization. Take a look at what Instagram is bringing to the social network table:

Instagram’s Audience

The Instagram app is on 30 million iDevices. When it was recently made available for Android, 1 million people signed on within 12 hours. And when users share photos through Instagram, they use the filters and the app’s rich tagging system to share with family and friends. Which brings us to…

Data, Data and More Data

Embedded in these photos is a lot of information. Photographs put the consumer in a specific location at a specific time. Your images show your real interests and whether or not you have children or pets. They weave a richer story, and show the people you actually spend time with (as compared to your Facebook friends). These images and the data that comes with them can be a marketer’s dream. Marketing could be targeted to the content of your photographs.

Brand Engagement

Facebook’s current photo album functionality could be greatly improved by Instagram’s filtering and tagging abilities. If Instagram’s features are integrated into Facebook’s photos, then companies will be able to create a much more engaging visual presence for their brands.

Mobile Capabilities

To date, Facebook has been lacking in the mobile department – Instagram is all about mobile. It’s easier and quicker to share an image than a status post from a phone. With Instagram, that photo will be more compelling. And, Instagram’s 30 million+ users are already engaged in the mobile platform.

Social Commerce

So does Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram have a direct e-commerce of F-commerce play? I would venture, it sure does! So far, the one social networking platform to be the quickest to monetize its clicks? Pinterest, of course.

According to this blog post on VentureBeat, Pinterest has grown from driving 1.2% of social media revenue for  e-commerce websites in Q2 2011 to now being responsible for 17.4%. They’re projecting “Pinterest will be responsible for 40% of social media e-commerce transactions by end of Q2 2012, reducing Facebook’s share to slightly under 60% from 86% a year ago.” What’s even more interesting is that consumers are discovering new retail brands via Pinterest, in contrast to consumers following brands they already know on Facebook.

While we can’t be certain how Facebook will integrate with Facebook, we are definitely excited to see how it will all play out and the effects it will have on e-commerce, social commerce and multichannel retailing.

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3 Key E-Commerce Trends to Watch in 2012

Friday, December 30, 2011 by
As 2011 comes to a close, reporters, bloggers and now we at Blueport Commerce are talking about the hot e-commerce trends and predictions for the new year. After 2011, a year in which e-commerce sales grew year-over-year despite the floundering economy, we’re expecting to see some of the seedlings of trends blossom into their own in a new year where technology and consumers’ adoption of e-commerce will continue to explode.

Trend #1: Online or Offline, Customer Experience Counts

Customers expect to be able to shop wherever and whenever they want. To facilitate this, retailers need to create a seamless experience so that there is no difference for consumers, whether they are shopping online or in-store. IMediaConnection used the term “phygital” to refer to the engagement between brands and their customers and how the relationship needs to be consistent regardless of the medium. The consistency builds the relationships, the relevancy and sales.

In this regard, beyond marketing message, online retailers need to make their products as relevant online as they are in person. Consumers expect to have a rich online experience that will stand in for the offline experience they would otherwise have. Expect to see richer product descriptions and imagery, product videos and even user-generated content that is detailed and visual to give fellow consumers additional product information.

Trend #2 Mobile Commerce and Tablet Commerce Will Continue to Grow

If you didn’t believe it before, certainly the 2011 holiday shopping’s couch commerce tells you that consumers are buying via mobile devices, whether smartphones or tablets. Experts predict that mobile transactions will grow to make up 20 percent or more of all e-commerce transactions. Online retailers need to continue to brush up on their mobile presentation, as well as get ready to leverage the geo-location information provided by such devices to reach consumers when they are nearby and to close the gap on closing sales.

Trend #3: Increased Social Integrations with Increased Options for Customers and E-Retailers

While it is doubtful f-commerce will truly take off any time soon, Facebook and social networks are not going anywhere, and nearly half of consumers who are on e-commerce websites will simultaneously be on a social network. E-retailers will integrate more with Facebook, beyond the “like.” Perhaps following online content sites’ “recently read” features, e-commerce sites will adopt “recently bought” or “recently browsed” to encourage relevant social sharing.

Additionally, brands will further use social networks to develop those ever-important relationships with their consumers. Strong bonds through such networks will help online merchants close the sale and keep the customers coming back.

What do you think of our 2012 trends? Do you agree or have more of your own? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Copyright 2010, Official Blog of Blueport Commerce

Rethink Shopping Cart Abandonment on Your E-Commerce Site

Friday, December 16, 2011 by
Cart abandoners are not the enemies of your online retail business, skewing your site metrics. In fact, they could be your best prospects.

So says research conducted by ClickZ’s Charles Nicholls to be compiled in an e-book this month. His analysis of the behavior of more than 600,000 online users and 250,000 e-commerce transactions show that shopping cart abandonment is now a natural part of the buying process. The key for e-commerce merchants is to recognize cart abandonment as such and then to create marketing programs to capitalize on the different situations in which customers abandon their carts.

Nicholls split customers who abandon their carts into three segments: one-time abandoners, serial abandoners and recent goal abandoners. Serial abandoners appear to be the sweet spot for conversions.

Serial Shopping Cart Abandoners

Serial shopping cart abandoners put items in their carts and then abandon their purchases multiple times within a one-month timeframe. Forty-eight percent of these customers will convert after being remarketed to – that’s more than twice the rate at which one-time abandoners who are remarketed to convert. An average of 18 percent of one-time abandoners will pull the trigger on purchasing after being remarketed to.

Recent goal abandoners are e-commerce customers who have already completed purchases with your website but then come back to your site and abandon their carts. These customers, who have already bought from your e-commerce website, are the most likely to abandon their carts again, but they are also the most likely to make another purchase from you.

How E-Commerce Retailers Can Capitalize on Shopping Cart Abandoners

E-commerce merchants need to recognize shopping cart abandonment as a natural step in the buying process and create plans that offer specific messaging and service to cart abandoners. Here at Blueport, we have helped many of our clients find success by creating marketing programs like these:

Remarketing Emails

Your e-commerce retail business should have an email plan in place to reach out to customers who abandon their shopping carts. The messaging can be fairly specific since you know a lot about these customers, including the specific items and categories they are shopping for.

And don’t forget to reach out to those who have bought from your website. Follow up with additional offers and related products based on their purchases. If you win a customer over with one purchase, you could have a customer for life.

Remarketing Advertising

Similar to an email strategy, you can use display advertising to remarket to your customers once they have left your site. While there is debate about how Big Brother remarketing and retargeting ads can feel to consumers, when implemented correctly, they can lead to increased conversions.

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Copyright 2010, Official Blog of Blueport Commerce

Luxury Websites: If You Don’t Have E-Commerce, Why Not?

Friday, October 28, 2011 by
Many luxury brands have been slow to cultivate their online presence, and even slower to integrate e-commerce capabilities. They seemed to think that the mass appeal and convenience of online shopping would dilute the value and prestige of their brands or that consumers would not be willing to pay big-ticket prices via the Web. This has been proven wrong, as research shows that wealthy people shop online more frequently and spend more per transaction. As of late, many luxury retailers have come around to see the value of the Internet for driving sales, and, even more, the value in allowing customers to transact on an e-commerce site.

According to a recent study by PM Digital, 81% of the luxury websites surveyed now have e-commerce, and the sites with e-commerce get 98% of the traffic that goes to these luxury sites. About a third of this traffic comes from search engines, and there is very little cross traffic, since luxury shoppers are very loyal to their brands. Surprisingly, only a very small amount of luxury brands’ traffic (0.29%) comes from luxury daily deals sites, like Gilt Groupe, ideeli and RueLaLa.

What Makes Luxury E-Commerce Successful?

When selling big-ticket luxury items online, however, it’s not as simple as using a plug-and-play e-commerce solution. Luxury brand customers expect a high-end boutique experience whether in-person or online. Here are some aspects to consider when selling luxury via e-commerce:

  • You need to provide rich product descriptions. The more expensive an item is, the more information the consumer will want you to provide.
  • Offer exceptional customer service, getting as close to what you offer in-store with a personal shopper. On the Web, that translates to online chat.
  • The entire online shopping experience should be like going into one of your boutiques. Craft a strong welcome message on your home page. And then as customers drill down into products, allow them to zoom in on the images or even watch product videos – the goal is for them to handle the product, virtually.
Related posts: Copyright 2010, Official Blog of Blueport Commerce

There’s a Lot to Like About Facebook and Ecommerce Marketing

Friday, April 22, 2011 by
Last week we posted about Forrester’s report on Facebook as an ecommerce driver. And while we agree that Facebook will likely not become a major ecommerce platform any time soon, we do see the social network’s value for marketing your ecommerce brand.

There’s more to marketing on Facebook than adding a Like button to your web pages. You need to become a content publisher with a marketing slant. You need to provide value in the form of resources, product information and special deals. The frequency and scope depends on your audience, and cultivating that audience is the number-one step for successful marketing on Facebook.

Building a Facebook Audience for Your Ecommerce Website

We recently worked with one of our clients to run a Facebook fan promotion. The more likes the store’s Facebook page received within a specific time period, the larger the discount all of the Facebook fans would get.

We promoted this “The More You Like, the More You Save” campaign on Facebook, the store’s website and through email marketing. The nature of the campaign was for fans to spread the word -- if their friends liked the page too, everyone would save more. In two weeks, we nearly doubled the store’s Facebook fans, but it didn’t end there. Once we posted the special coupon code on Facebook, we promoted the discount to the site’s audience, encouraging an additional 1,300 of the store’s customers to go onto Facebook and like the page to get access to the code.

We’ve been able to attribute tens of thousands of online sales to this promotion, not to mention additional in-store traffic and sales. And we can continue to use the store’s Facebook page to market to these customers.

Create Social Noise Around Your Ecommerce Brand

A side effect of this promotion beyond the dollars, is that this store’s customers are talking to each other on Facebook about the store and its products. They’ve discussed the furniture they planned to buy with their discount, great experiences they had and what they like most about the store and brand. By administering this Facebook promotion, we’ve helped our client to create an army of brand ambassadors -- specifically brand ambassadors who like to post to social networking sites.

Engage Your Facebook Fans

Now the big challenge is engaging these fans and keeping them interested in a brand that sells big-ticket items the average consumer does not buy every day. To successfully do this, you need to think community more than transactional. Help your customers keep the conversation going about their purchases. Solicit pictures of what they bought, provide tips for caring for their items, and offer tangential information from other sources that complements your brand. This will help your fans remember you, recommend you and come back to you the next time they’re looking to make a purchase.





Copyright 2010, Official Blog of Blueport Commerce



Facebook's Role in Social Shopping

Thursday, April 14, 2011 by
Will Facebook become a major ecommerce player? According to the latest from Forrester Research, probably not.

In her newly released report, “Will Facebook Ever Drive eCommerce?,” Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru claims a social-network presence is less effective at online retail customer acquisition and retention than e-mail and paid search. She notes that Facebook's major challenge is that the majority of the 650 million users visit the social network to socialize, not to shop. While I agree Facebook is not on track to be the next Amazon or eBay, the social networking site does have a part to play in ecommerce.

Facebook and Online Considered Purchases

Facebook will likely never be a destination for major ecommerce transactions, but I do believe consumers will leverage the community's tools for the social aspect of shopping online and in-person. Whether sending a picture from their mobile phone or posting a link from an ecommerce site, Facebook is one of the quickest ways for consumers to ask their friends if they should get the new sofa in brown or gray.

Retailers can also use the Facebook platform to engage with customers and offer special deals and information specifically for their Facebook fans. Consumers want to be a part of the conversation, and Facebook lets you connect in new ways retailers only wished they could before. And a potential audience of 650 million makes Facebook a very difficult website for retailers to ignore.

What benefits you have seen from your retail store’s or brand’s Facebook presence? Has the site played a role in increasing conversions or helping to drive engagement?

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Copyright 2010, Official Blog of Blueport Commerce

E-commerce 2.0 – The Next Wave

Tuesday, March 22, 2011 by
Excerpts from Lazard Capital Markets  Tech and Media Conference
March, 13, 2011; Boston, MA

Blueport Commerce executives recently participated in a panel presentation titled “E-Commerce 2.0: The Next Wave” at Lazard Capital Markets Annual Technology & Media Conference. Held in Boston, on March 14 and 15. This conference brought together industry executives in a fireside chat format, with presentations from more than 50 leading technology, media and Internet companies. 

Drawing on his deep expertise developing online strategies for leading big-ticket retailers, President and Chief Executive Officer Carl Prindle, discussed the next e-commerce frontier and what brands need to do to capitalize on its growth.  Below are some key excerpts from his presentation:


Colin Sebastian – Lazard Capital Markets:  Carl, please take a minute to introduce Blueport.

Blueport is the only managed e-commerce provider focused on localized, big ticket commerce.

Think of us as GSI Commerce (GSIC) for players that need to involve local stores in their online efforts and whose products don’t fit in a UPS box.

Our clients range from a $250M furniture chain in Chicago, a $1B appliance, electronics and furniture superstore chain in Canada, a $4B flooring retailer with 1,100 independent dealers, to Sears (SHLD).

We provide each with a managed e-commerce solution – a localized, cross-channel commerce platform and the managed services to make their unique businesses work online.

CS: The pace of innovation in e-commerce is accelerating.  This is also driving another step forward in the shift of commerce and advertising from offline to online channels.  Given this overall trend, in your own businesses and markets, can you specify what are the 2 or 3 most important drivers of growth today?

Well, this session is definitely aptly named.  We’re at an inflection point – the start of a second wave of e-commerce.

The first wave of ecommerce was characterized by the Amazon model – online shopping for relatively simple, understood products shipped via UPS. 

There’s very little local store involvement in this model.  Customers buy things on their lunch break, and a guy in a brown shirt delivers it. 

A massive eco-system has grown supporting this model in last 15 years – advertising, merchandising, technology and so on. And, it works great – we see 45% penetration in some categories like PCs.

But, the e-com 1.0 model is bounded in a couple of ways.  One boundary is size – this model probably only works for less than half of all retail, less if you include services. 

The other boundary is profitability – e-com 1.0 was first because it’s easier.  Because it’s easy, it’s prone to commoditization, price pressure…it’s an efficient market, with all of the margin pressure that it entails.

What we’re seeing now is a second wave that pushes past these boundaries, engages the rest of the retail economy, and can be more profitable.

What’s driving it? Consumers looking to apply the habits learned via the Amazon model to new areas.  Companies that that have for a long time been on the sidelines because they DIDN’T fit that model – are now heading to the internet to meet them. 

The energy, the growth, is in the technology connecting the two – whether it is mobile, social, coupon sites, etc. – new technologies are giving new players access to new customers.

And Blueport is providing the multi-channel solutions for these new players to do something meaningful with that traffic.

CS:  You mention mobile. How big a factor is mobile becoming, for example as a percentage of your own transactions or volume, or as a lead generation tool?


Mobile is a huge factor, but different depending on whether you are an e-com 1 or e-com 2 player.

For e-com 1 players, mobile’s increased convenience is arguably driving new volume.  It’s also increasing price transparency, which accelerates the commoditization of some of these categories.

For an e-com 2 player, it’s a huge factor in a different way:  local.  Where e-com 1 was national, e-com 2 is local – local businesses, local services, huge retail chains were their offering is fundamentally local.

Take appliances as an example – I don’t think we’ll see refrigerators transacted via phone any time soon, but mobile can drive customers to local stores, critical for retailers trying to gain a slice of precious weekend “in-store” shopping minutes.

The game changer that starts to blend the two is the tablet…increased use of big screen browsing plus local is intriguing.

CS: There is a fairly rapid increase in merchant and enterprise use of Facebook, not only as a tool to reach out and communicate with consumers, but also to drive transactions.  Similar to the mobile question, how quickly is social becoming a meaningful part of real lead generation and driving online sales?

Well, Facebook, at its most powerful, is a personal network of friends.  A company interrupting that conversation can be pretty cringe worthy.  A company trying to be your friend doesn’t really work.

At the same time, along with apps, Facebook has become the “other” Internet, and retailers have to be there. 

We’ve seen it work in three ways:
  1. Brand Building: in high engagement categories, brands can interact with their customers on topics they are passionate about.
  2. Deals: Facebook can replace email as a way to distribute deals.
  3. As a Platform: we look at Facebook as an emerging platform/operating system that can host online stores with built in traffic.
CS:  Blueport appears to be in a sweet-spot helping merchants in challenging product categories figure out their e-commerce strategies.  Can you talk about the multi-channel environment, how the pace of that shift online may be changing?

It’s a phenomenal time to be where we are.  As we’ve talked about, there’s a seismic change from e-com 1 to e-com 2, and we’re in the middle of it.

You asked about the multi-channel environment.  The term multi-channel has been around a while, but its meaning is changing. 

In e-com 1, multichannel meant exactly/only that – more than one channel.  Retailers in categories that work well via direct ship built drop ship e-com systems, often entirely separate from their store business.

In e-com 2 today, we see true multi-channel, or cross-channel commerce (or just “commerce”).  Retailers are using the internet to drive their core business, not build a separate one.

Companies that were on the sidelines are now investing in solutions that reflect their businesses.  They look to online to drive customers to local stores, sell their local inventory and services, reflect their local pricing and local deals – to drive their core business.

A client, CarpetOne, is one of my favorite examples of this.  They are a $4B flooring retailer in 1,100 local markets.  They didn’t want to be Lumber Liquidators and drop-ship cheap boxes of hardwood.  They wanted to drive their core business – local installation of quality flooring. We enable that – their site reflects each market’s local product, pricing – pictures of owner’s dog, whatever makes that local market work.  It’s a seamless online experience that connects online to local store.

Sears (SHLD) – is a company taking another innovative approach.  They are reentering the furniture category via a unique cross-channel strategy.  They’re putting small footprint galleries in their stores, that drives traffic to a dedicated furniture website that we run for them, http://sears.furniture.com.  The site taps into local inventory, and Sears customers can get a sofa delivered tomorrow for $79.  Blueport powers the whole thing.

So, we’re seeing massive change in these categories, the evolution of true cross-channel categories, and it has accelerated dramatically in last 18 month. 

CS:  What are the key attributes that a bricks-and-mortar retailer or supplier of goods look for in an e-commerce vendor?

When looking at vendors, look at what experience they have in YOUR vertical.  Are you looking for an e-com 1 solution, or e-com 2?  Do you want a direct ship, separate enterprise, or do you want your local markets involved? 

Make sure the vendor has experience in your markets and your vision of what you want ecommerce to do for your core business. 

You can make some disastrous mistakes trying to sell appliances or furniture like you do shoes & apparel.

CS:  What would it cost a retailer or brand to build and maintain a state of the art e-commerce site from scratch, versus using a service provider such as Blueport?

Here again, it depends on what you’re selling. 

If you’re looking for an e-com 1 solution – you can put up a Yahoo! store up for next to nothing.  My 10 year old has one.

For e-com 2 – it’s more complex, requiring far more integration with your local stores’ existing systems and operations.  There’s no Yahoo! store or ready-made platform for that (but Blueport is close).

If you try to build an e-com 2 solution yourself, you have to look at three costs:  the cost to build it, the cost to run it, and the opportunity cost of screwing it up. 

We have a current client who first tried to build it themselves.  They spent $3M, and it never got off the ground.  It was two years of lost opportunity. 

With Blueport, they pay a monthly platform fee and a revenue share.  We’ve done major redesigns of their sites three times in the last two years, and added countless new features.  And they pay only their share of the overall platform and hosting costs.

We also help run the business for them from a marketing, merchandising and services perspective.  This is paid through the revenue share, so they get a turnkey, expert staff on a pay for performance basis.

This story has repeated itself a number of times – people trying it themselves, then deciding to work with us.  At the other end of our contracts, we’ve never lost a renewal, so people see the value of what we do (and would prefer not to have to do it themselves).

Part of the story is that the categories we’re in are a good fit for outsourcing.  They are challenging, don’t match the internal expertise of the players in them, and ultimately, they’re not like PC’s or software, where online is 45%-65% or more of volume. Stores are still key, so our clients get to focus on that part of their business, while we port and drive that business online.

CS:  Can you talk about the competitive nature of your business, who do you see as the most successful competitors and what are trends in pricing for these e-commerce services?

Sure, we segment the market on two dimensions. 

One dimension is e-com 1 versus e-com 2.  Is the customer in a market that will be a simple drop ship model, or do they need a cross-channel solution involving local stores?

The other dimension is platform versus managed solution.  Does the customer just want a technology solution, or are they looking for a partner to help them manage their online business?

On the e-com 1 side of the market, e-com 1 platforms are increasingly commoditized and under a lot of price pressure.  It’s a pure customer acquisition game.  Yahoo stores again.

For e-com 1 managed solutions, GSI Commerce (GSIC) is dominant with a huge lead in infrastructure and increasingly in services, where they’ve made some great strategic acquisitions.  While Amazon (AMZN) keeps looking at this space, GSI is the clear leader.

On the e-com 2 side of the market, e-com 2 platforms are mainly custom builds from players like IBM, and ATG (ORCL).  These are big dollar projects with two commas in the total cost, and they leave the customer to manage the solution - there’s no marketing, management, etc. And, they don’t have a ton of experience in these e-com 2 categories.

For e-com 2 managed solutions, where Blueport plays, we’ve yet to run up against a true competitor. 

I guess we really have two competitors: a customer doing nothing, which is less and less of a factor, and a customer trying to do it themselves, which with our case studies, is an easier and easier argument to overcome.  In a lot of cases, people are coming to us now who tried themselves, and now want out.

We expect competition to evolve, but we have a technology platform and service staff with a lot of specific functionality and experience in these markets, which makes it easy to talk to prospective clients, most of whom have been on the sidelines waiting for a provider that understands their business.

CS: That’s time – thanks to everyone for their participation.

Copyright 2010, Official Blog of Blueport Commerce