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Data Analytics: Challenges and Opportunities in the Digital World

Saturday, August 10, 2013 by

 

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

 

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

 

Challenges with Implementing Analytics

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

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

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

Five Stages of Analytical Companies

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

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

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

Where to Start? Key Best Practices

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

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

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

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

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

WHY AND HOW SHOULD I SELL FURNITURE ONLINE?

 

About Blueport Commerce

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

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.

Insights from the eTail 2013 Retail Technology Spending Report

Saturday, June 15, 2013 by

In an effort to uncover technology spending habits, eTail surveyed over 100 retailers in a number of verticals in apparel, sporting goods, consumer electronics, travel and hospitality, mass market retailers and specialty retailers. Among the key trends of interest to us are what retailers plan to spend the most and least on in the next year, and what primarily influences their purchasing decisions. Furniture retailers take note: efforts in the online channel win best in show.

Retail spending over the next year

It’s not surprising that retailers surveyed in the eTail Retail Technology spending report are taking advantage of online opportunities to spend their hard earned dollars.



Here are the numbers:

  • 58% of retailers are planning to spend on online video
  • 55% on content management/e-commerce platforms
  • 40% on merchandising and visualization

In addition, 60% of respondents are planning to spend more in the next year on SEO, SEM, personalization, mobile (site design) and social engagement (earned). Areas that didn’t make the cut and that retailers will certainly spend less on were CRM systems, display advertising and media (paid advertising).

For Blueport’s furniture retailers, enabling their e-commerce platforms is top of mind for business success, but merchandising and promotions in unique ways (like with online video) go hand in hand with the effort.

Influences on Purchasing Decisions

When it comes to deciding on what areas will most benefit retailers, there are several influences in purchasing decisions. The ones that are most paramount to us are:

  • 36% of overall spending decisions are based upon a management decision
  • 12% mobile site design decisions are made based upon time to market
  • 25% mobile apps are based on competitive pressures
  • 15% of content management solutions are based on ease of execution

So what does this information mean for furniture retailers? 36% of content management/e-commerce platform and global technology decisions are also based upon a management decision. Furniture retailers who are looking to take advantage of enabling their businesses for e-commerce not only have to compete with overall spending decisions at the management level, but also the decision to enable their platforms for e-commerce. And, as we’ve discussed time and again, mobile plays a large factor in retailer success. An overwhelming majority of retailers surveyed answered that mobile would see the most growth in the next year.

No matter where retailers are planning to spend on technology in the next year, the front runners are clearly in many aspects of the online channel. And, at Blueport Commerce, we’ve got our furniture retailers covered on their e-commerce platforms, merchandising, mobile and content management needs.

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.

Social Commerce: Planting the Seeds for Future Revenue

Saturday, June 29, 2013 by

Want customers to like your furniture retail brand’s official page on Facebook? Think those people who like you are then going to navigate directly to your furniture retail website and purchase a new sectional? Think again. Monetate’s recent findings in their E-Commerce Quarterly Q1 2013 show that social media is not a significant source of direct traffic to e-commerce websites or purchase conversions from those destinations. While it’s tempting for an online furniture retailer to just give up and abandon their social media presence altogether, Blueport suggests ways to refine your social media strategy in order to reap the eventual ROI.

Don’t Discount Social Word of Mouth

Data from Forrester Research suggests that word of mouth is part of 80% of all purchase funnels. And social media is the next generation version of word of mouth, with brand or product mentions creating searches and/or direct URL entries. Unfortunately, social media wasn’t the final URL pre-purchase (last-click), so it gets none of the credit (attribution) for the customer conversion it spurred.

In addition, new research from Google shows that social media is very much an awareness-building vehicle, and less of a conversion trigger. With social media users accounting for only 1.55% of all traffic to a retailer’s e-commerce site, and a conversion rate of less than three-quarters of one percent (.71%), social commerce appears to be a fallacy, at least with regards to last-touch attribution. Per Google, social media is the second “earliest” (after only clicks on display advertising) in the average US consumer’s purchase path. The last step of the process is considered direct URL entry, which accounts for 48% of the last-touch conversions. What does this mean for furniture retailers? Having a social media presence is critical for word of mouth and awareness, even if you can’t tie it back to direct sales. Having this awareness and brand clout can contribute to register ringing success, even if it’s not a linear data point.

How to Make Your Social Pages (Eventual) Conversion Engines

All is not lost though in making your social media pages work harder to increase conversion. According to Monetate’s findings, brand-led direct social commerce tactics are ineffective. Examples of these are social media programs such as Twitter offers or links to specific products on Facebook. Of American social media users, 66% follow brands in social media hoping for exclusive deals and special offers. Two conclusions are that consumers want awareness of deals and offers, but don’t necessarily want to click on them in a social platform, or that e-commerce websites aren’t giving customers what they want for social commerce.

Another theory is the idea of unwanted session interruption, where consumers don’t want to leave the social network they’re on by clicking a link and going shopping online, but would rather mentally flag the product or offer and visit the retailer’s website later to purchase a sofa with a free matching ottoman, when they are finished with their personal social media time. The data would then reflect this purchase as a visit from the direct source, with no credit given to the first or second click influence of social media.

At first glance it appears that social commerce isn’t a big revenue driver. However, all of the posting, sharing, and liking is at least contributing to e-commerce traffic and sales, especially given that Americans spend more time on social media than on web browsing and email combined. Blueport recommends that furniture retailers at least have a presence on Pinterest, Facebook, Google+ Pages, and Twitter, and find a level of activity that’s scalable given their staff’s time and resources. And know that while a pin, post, or tweet may not generate revenue that hour, or even that day, the SEO value and traffic to their branded website makes the effort ultimately fruitful.

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.

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.

E-Commerce Merchandising: For Furniture Retailers Image Is EVERYTHING

Saturday, June 1, 2013 by

In our two-part blog series in May (read part one here and part two here), we shared how mobile is having a true impact on our world for furniture e-commerce. Another area that is of huge importance to Blueport Commerce, even more so than other e-commerce players and retailers alike, is making sure furniture merchandise is so online-ready that shoppers can practically feel the fabric they are touching. Here, we spend countless hours trying to get our merchandise just right. In fact, it’s a critical factor to doing business with us. In short, an image for e-commerce merchandising is EVERYTHING to our business. Here are two catalog imaging guidelines Blueport Commerce follows for our retailers in order to increase conversion rates and post-purchase satisfaction.

1. Properly Color-Corrected Images Increase Conversions

It may seem par for the course online for shoppers to simply expect that when they navigate to any website, what they see is what they are going to get. However, with merchandising furniture catalogs, it must be even more exact. This is because furniture for any shopper is immensely personal and a part of the fabric of someone’s life. And when it’s not accurate, it can influence a shopper’s decision to ever purchase from you again, never mind conversion rates. According to Practical Ecommerce, image quality significantly impacts conversion.

Making sure the online channel is optimized for selling furniture effectively over the internet will aid the overall shopping experience for customers. According to Furniture Today’s consumer report, 44% of consumers have purchased home furnishings online, yet only a fraction of those home furnishings are furniture. In order to clear this hurdle, Blueport Commerce invests hours per collection, making sure that every aspect of our visuals is accurate, from the color swatches down to how the light hits a piece of fabric in a living room set.

2. Omnichannel Catalog Experiences Are Critical for Furniture Retailers

E-commerce merchandising for Blueport’s furniture retailers is also unique from other e-commerce retailers simply because it’s almost never pure play. Many shoppers view the process of buying their piece of furniture as an experience, which almost always involves going to a brick and mortar store. An even better experience is bringing the tactile benefits of a physical furniture store with the online component of convenience to create an optimal way for furniture retailers to go the e-commerce route. In fact, convenience is a major component of a shopper’s decision to buy online, according to a study conducted by Continuum.

Ensuring that images are consistent both in the online channel, as well as the offline channels of flyers, direct mailers and even storefronts is critical for furniture retail success. As we discussed earlier this year, smartphones and tablets are integral to furniture e-commerce platforms and retailers must be able to align and maintain their visual integrity.

For Blueport Commerce, image really is everything for our retailers, both online and off. And because when a consumer is buying furniture, whether digitally or in person, the experience is inherently emotional – consumers fall in love with furniture’s style first, and adjust their budgets and delivery expectations accordingly. By creating a positive and beautiful online experience through both realistic and gorgeous images, e-commerce furniture retailers are enabling more conversions and post-purchase loyalty. 

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.

Translating Hockey Success to E-Commerce: How Canadian Retailers Can Beat Their US E-Commerce Counterparts

Saturday, May 25, 2013 by

 

Canadian Furniture E-CommerceFor years, Blueport has been following the fledgling and humble beginnings of e-commerce in Canada, as well as the rise of the connected Canadian consumer, making Canada seemingly the ideal destination for an imminent e-commerce shopping explosion. Yet despite all this promise, Canadian consumers’ needs aren’t being met, and thus they are finding the products they need elsewhere: across the Canadian-US border. Currently, 68 percent of the online shoppers surveyed said they have shopped at a web store based outside Canada.

Principal Analyst Peter Sheldon of Forrester Research reports in The State of Canadian Online Retail –  2013 that one of the biggest factors hurting Canadian retailers is their seeming disconnect between physical and digital retail; the lack of a true omnichannel organization.

The report (funded in part by Canada Post and Shop.ca) is based on surveys with 1,103 Canadian online shoppers and concludes that U.S. retailers are in a strong position to steal online revenue from Canadian retailers. Part of this is that many Canadian retailers currently don’t embrace the two key drivers critical to the omnichannel: customer-centricity in all forms of fulfillment and payments.

1. Mastering Shipping, Pick Up and Returns the Canadian Way

It is a myth that Canadians require free shipping – consumers from Canada are actually more concerned with flexible pickup options than expedited shipping. Canada Post, in a model similar to Amazon Locker, allows consumers to pick up their orders in different nearby locations, such as local pharmacies or convenience stores. And 57 percent of consumers polled said they would be somewhat or very likely to abandon cart if a Canada Post nearby pickup option wasn’t available, with 48 percent saying the same about an online retailer’s physical location.

Canadian shoppers are also adamant about their need to both buy and reserve online and pickup in-stores. In fact, 47 percent of those surveyed are somewhat or very likely to abandon cart if they cannot buy online and pickup in store, and 40 percent said the same about reserving online and picking up and paying in store. Sites such as Best Buy® and Future Shop allow these options, and Future Shop even allows for pick up a mere twenty minutes after placing an order.

In the case of returns, 43 percent of Canadians demand free returns as a mandatory condition of shopping online. However this has been slow to catch on with Canadian retailers, and as a result, business is not booming, and Canadian dollars continue to get spent overseas – 25 percent of online spending by Canadians goes through international websites.

If US retailers in Canada and the Canadian Post can adjust to this customer-centric business model, Canadian retailers must adjust their shipping, pick up and returns policies to match.

2. Payments

In a positive trend, PayPal and Interac Online are getting adopted by more and more Canadian e-commerce retailers. However, retailers must remain flexible with regard to payment models, and offer more omnichannel payment methods. Of consumers polled, 52 percent were somewhat or very likely to abandon cart if they could not use a store gift card online, 41 percent felt the same about store credits and 37 percent felt similarly about loyalty points. The best thing Canadian retailers can do? Consider every payment option not enabled as lost revenue, and work to implement payment methods that work both online and in store.

Overall, The State of Canadian Online Retail - 2013, stresses the importance of all retailers offering an omnichannel experience – a seamless blend of physical and digital retail. However, progress is being made in the Canadian furniture world: many homegrown Canadian furniture retailers have the option to reserve online, as well as pay and pick up in a local store. Additionally, free shipping is offered once a furniture order reaches a certain minimum, though for big-ticket considered purchases, that minimum is harder to meet than for apparel. All are great starts – but for Canadian retailers to stand strong against foreign retailers, the focus needs to be on meeting their local consumers where they are – by being world-class, customer-centric organizations.

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.

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

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.

Three Reasons Your Website Must Have Reviews

Friday, December 14, 2012 by

Blueport Commerce e-commerce website reviews big-ticket retailFun fact: 61% of customers read online reviews before making a purchase decision according to Econsultancy, making them essential for e-commerce websites. Benefits include optimized SEO, increased conversion rates, improved customer trust, an uplift in sales and more engaged customers. Blueport Commerce, the only e-commerce technology and services company that localizes big-ticket retail online, always encourages our clients to implement reviews on their websites in order to ultimately increase revenue. Here's a look at the benefits of customer reviews, and the numbers behind them.

1. UGC is Good for SEO

User generated content such as product reviews can act as a magnet to crawling search engines like Google and Bing. Because consumers are regularly writing reviews on their purchases, the content is fresh, relevant and updated – just what search engines love. Additionally, consumers often search for the name of the product plus the word "review" or "ratings", which helps with long tail keyword searches. When properly formatted reviews get pulled into search results –for example, with the star ratings or headlines, these rich snippets can produce a 10-20% increase in click-through rates.

2. Trust!

Not surprisingly, consumer reviews are trusted nearly 12 times more than descriptions that come from manufacturers, according to a survey of US internet users by online video review site EXPO. In a Reevoo study, 30% of potential consumers actually suspect censorship or faked reviews when they don’t see any negative reviews on a retailer's website. Additionally, consumers who go out of their way to read bad reviews convert 67% more than the average consumer. So just by having reviews, even with a mixed amount of positive and negative, a big-ticket retail e-commerce website can cause consumers to place more trust in their products and customer service.

3. Sales!

Every big-ticket retailer's ultimate goal is to drive revenue. And reviews produce an average 18% uplift in sales according to Reevoo. Site visitors who interact with both reviews and customer questions and answers are 105% more likely to purchase while visiting, and spend 11% more than visitors who don’t interact with user-generated content, per Bazaarvoice. So by keeping your browsing shoppers engaged with the reviews on your site, you can increase your likelihood of getting them to convert to paying customers.

Blueport encourages all of our clients to implement product reviews on their e-commerce websites and to also actively encourage consumers to leave product reviews, both via emails sent a certain amount of time post-purchase, as well as on product pages. In the end, it can be the difference between a lost opportunity and a closed sale.

3 Ways Furniture Retailers Can Stave Off Amazon

Friday, November 16, 2012 by

Amazon Furniture Retailers Stave Off CompetitionIt is inevitable that any retailer in the e-commerce space will aspire to be the success story that is Amazon, no matter how unrealistic that dream may be. As an e-commerce site that was born in 1994 as a seller of used books, Amazon has morphed into a Goliath in the industry, becoming the dominant retailing marketplace for products ranging from books to electronics to food. With its low prices, rapid delivery and huge inventory, Amazon poses a threat to retailers in all industries.

“It is coming down to convenience, assortment and price,” said the operator of a Los Angeles area consumer electronics retailer to HFN. “And Amazon is beating us on all three fronts.”

However, there are steps furniture retailers can take to counteract Amazon.com before they find themselves floundering like former retail giant Best Buy. We at Blueport Commerce, the only e-commerce technology and services company that localizes furniture online, have our retailers place an emphasis on service, product knowledge and convenience to ensure customer loyalty and retention.

1. Service

While Amazon is known for their accommodating customer service, our clients can actually benefit from showrooming, which extends a personalized touch that Amazon itself can't offer. Shoppers in a brick-and-mortar store may be tempted to see, touch and feel a piece of furniture they like, and then immediately try to find it for less online on their mobile device. With the help of experienced, knowledgeable salespeople in the brick-and-mortar store, as well as an e-commerce website optimized for mobile, plus a mobile app, furniture retailers can turn showrooming from a lost opportunity into a closed sale by keeping the buyer on their brand's site. Additionally, offering iPad and touch tablets loaded with inventory information as well as allowing store consumers to experience online checkout while in their store, can reach more connected consumers. 

Kathee Tesija, Target’s executive vice president of merchandising and supply chain, said it best when she said, “Do we love being a showroom? Yes, when we can book the sale.”

And we at Blueport Commerce are confident that in this case, our clients can book the sale.

2. Product Knowledge

Currently, Bed, Bath & Beyond is one retailer most at risk of losing out to Amazon. “Our work suggests there is 89 percent direct product overlap with Amazon in kitchen electrics, 83 percent in cookware and 83 percent in cutlery, all key traffic-driving categories,” said Matt Nemer, retail analyst with Wells Fargo.

Bed, Bath & Beyond is responding by changing its merchandise mix toward more exclusive products, mirroring that of Williams-Sonoma, Crate & Barrel and Pier 1 Imports, who are less vulnerable to Amazon due to name cachet and exclusive products. Bed, Bath & Beyond now has its own specialty food, as well as home textiles. In a similar vein, by offering a strong range of one-of-a-kind, name-brand products, as well as having a plethora of information about each product available both online and in-store, furniture retailers can benefit from consumers who aren't just price shopping, but are looking for durable and stylish furniture and appliances that last. 

3. Convenience

Bed, Bath & Beyond, which currently receives only 3 percent of their total sales from e-commerce, has invested heavily in improving their website and opening an 800,000-square-foot e-commerce fulfillment center in Georgia. Convenience-based improvements they are exploring include in-store pickups and returns on e-commerce purchases, identical pricing on merchandise between stores and online, more exclusives and increased private label. Like Bed, Bath & Beyond, furniture retailers who can most successfully merge the in-store and online e-commerce experiences to result in the most seamless, customer-centric experience possible will succeed. 

“Having a unique product mix, backed by a strong knowledge of the products and consumer needs, will definitely help smaller brick and mortar retailers hold off Amazon,” said Alan Mendelson, a business reporter based in Los Angeles.

Our retailers who offer quality service, a deep product knowledge and convenient ways for customers to shift between digital and physical channels are the stores who will survive as Amazon continues its rapid growth. 

3 Holiday Socializing Tips for Retailers

Friday, November 9, 2012 by

Socializing Your Brand Big-Ticket Holiday RetailersAs all consumers know, 'tis the season to be thankful, merry and wise – especially when shopping! And from a big-ticket retailers' perspective, it's more crucial than ever that social media be part of any e-commerce marketing campaign. No longer just for individuals, social media actually affects consumer holiday spending – for example, in 2011, 66% of Black Friday purchases resulted from social media interactions (Fast Company). Here are three ways you can make your social marketing as seasonally appropriate as possible.

1. Be Responsive

Responding in a timely manner and encouraging social sharing are critical to retail chains' success. A recent survey by Fast Company found that brands only respond to half of the posts on their social media pages. This is problematic, as 80% of users who receive a response will end up purchasing. Additionally, when a brand actively communicates with its social media followers, 28% of them will pull the trigger on a purchase specifically because of that outreach. Prioritizing real-time engagement with social media fans, aka your potential consumers, can monetize your social media investment. While this is important to keep in mind every day of the year, with the heightened activity during the holiday, a fast response could make or break the sale.

2. Don't Be Too Sales-Centric

Consumers are consistently bombarded by holiday season retail advertisements, offers and promotions. YesMail's holiday marketing survey found that campaigns aimed strongly on getting consumers to buy showed below-average engagement, while messages about holiday spirit performed much better.

"Consumers are oversaturated with holiday messages this time of year,” said Michael Fisher, president of Yesmail. "Brands have to be especially careful about not being overly promotional during the holidays, even though customers are increasingly turning to social channels to find deals."

It's important that retailers are not viewed as too pushy. When in doubt, focus on what the holiday spirit means, not pushing big-ticket retail product. An example might be a big-ticket furniture retailer sending a regularly-scheduled promotional email about the in-laws visiting during the holidays and the importance of making them feel comfortable in your guest room, while featuring a relevant bedroom collection.

3. Encourage a Social Dialogue

Facebook's mission is to "give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected." Likewise, Twitter's is to "instantly connect people everywhere to what's most important to them." Social media networks were initially concepted on the idea that people could be friends digitally, and share things that matter to them – including brands. Think of your organization as a "friend" in the sense that while obviously the bottom line ROI matters, it's key that your social media channels are seen as approachable, helpful and timely – especially at this time of year. How can you encourage a better social dialogue?

  • Enable content that's easily shareable: keep your tweets and Facebook statuses concise, so they can be easily retweeted and shared.
  • Similar to young children on Christmas Eve, holiday spirit never sleeps! Timing matters – schedule holiday posts for off-hours. A YesMail survey recently found almost 60% of consumers prefer to interact with brands on social media between 6 p.m. and 2 a.m., but the majority of brands run social campaigns during office hours (Business News Daily).
  • For added holiday spirit, run a holiday-themed promotion, contest or offer on Facebook or Twitter via a third-party app to grow your fanbase and increase virality.

Since May 2012, consumer spending on durable goods, which includes big-ticket items such as cars, washing machines and televisions, climbed 3.6% (Benzinga). As the only e-commerce technology and services company that localizes big-ticket retail online, Blueport Commerce wishes both retailers and consumers a joyful holiday retail season, spurred by a flurry of timely, helpful and friendly social media activity.

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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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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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.

With E-Commerce, How Many Physical Stores Do Retailers Really Need?

Friday, April 6, 2012 by

The answer to that question depends on what you’re selling. For instance, if you sell electronics and video games or other commodities, like Best Buy does, then you need 50 less physical stores than you currently have.

Last week, a day after Best Buy’s e-commerce site was down for 17 hours’ worth of upgrades, the company announced it would close 50 big-box stores as a cost-reducing measure.  Similarly, big-box commodity seller Wal-Mart is losing ground to Amazon and is working to beef up its own e-commerce offering.

We’re seeing this trend, because commodities can be easily searched online and via mobile devices, and consumers can easily shop the lowest bidder. After all, a Canon Powershot is a Canon Powershot and has the same features and feel no matter where or how it is purchased. E-commerce operations with lower overhead can underprice physical stores and win the business away from them.

However, if you’re a retailer selling big-ticket or other non-commoditized items, your e-commerce presence can be a vital customer touch point that drives the overall business. When executed correctly, the e-commerce site becomes a full brand extension that drives in-store traffic and vice versa. This is what Blueport Commerce helps its clients do.

For the merchandise our clients sell, like furniture and flooring, the store behind the products matter.
Consumers often begin their searches online, researching selections and offers from various retailers, but for some, they will need to move on to the store to make their final decision. As a retailer, you want to give customers the choice so they can buy in the way that best suits their needs. Even if sofas from two different retailers look the same, they likely come from different manufacturers and may be constructed differently. Given that this is a larger, more expensive purchase, consumers are also looking for trusted retailers that can provide quick, inexpensive delivery, as well as service, if ever required.

Our clients are fortunate -- they can truly harness the power of multichannel retailing, because all channels play important roles in the buying cycle. And consumers win as well, because they’ll still have a place to go test drive a sofa.

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Copyright 2010, Official Blog of Blueport Commerce

How Can You Get the Best Buy If the Retailer’s Website Is Down?

Friday, March 30, 2012 by

If you wanted to browse products or make a purchase at Best Buy’s website on Wednesday morning, you were out of luck. BestBuy.com was down, due to a planned outage, from 10 p.m. ET on Tuesday until 3 p.m. ET on Wednesday, for site updates. But the inconveniences transcended the prospective online shopper.

Customers who already made online purchases could not track or receive updates on their orders, and access to the mobile site and in-store kiosks was also cut. In-store, salespeople rely on the website for checking inventory and other product information. So, if you went to a store and wanted to know if an out-of-stock item was available at another location, for example, a salesperson would not have been able to help you during that downtime.

While the full extent of the updates may not be apparent to the average consumer, the disruptions they caused for 17 hours must have been.

Blueport Commerce Minimizes Downtime for Online Retailers

Here at Blueport, we have set up our systems to keep downtime to a minimum during any release – our goal is to never make core functionality unavailable for more than five minutes.

Our global environment is composed of many small environments that all work together. For instance, we split the websites the public sees into two groups, A and B. When we’re doing a site release, we remove the A group from public view and update that group. Then we repeat with group B group. Releasing in this way allows for almost no downtime as one of these groups is always available to customers.

Such a process has allowed us to release significant site and platform redesigns without any adverse effects for our clients and their online retail customers.

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Copyright 2010, Official Blog of Blueport Commerce

Online Retailers Can Close Sales with Curated E-Commerce

Friday, March 23, 2012 by

When looking for anything on the web, people are faced with numerous possibilities. It’s like our lives have turned into an overwhelming list of search results listings with seemingly limitless possibilities. For some, this is an opportunity to explore and play, but for others this is just plain daunting. Here at Blueport, we believe thematically culling items is especially helpful for big-ticket retailers that sell larger items that aren’t easily shopped around like other commodities.

And shopping on an e-commerce website is the same. Many online retailers’ site links are merely returning keyword searches, giving shoppers choices, but sometimes the vast number of items returned is too large. As a recent eMarketer article about its new report, “Curated E-Commerce: How Less Can Be More for Shoppers,” says, “As the Internet matures and expands, the number of choices available to users grows exponentially…. Over time, though, human curation was all but replaced by algorithm-based searching.”

The report discusses the merits of retailers hand-picking items and grouping items together based on themes or other qualities beyond data points that might align with a specific user’s Facebook profile data points. It’s about bringing a genuine human quality back to the online shopping experience that can’t be replicated solely through metrics.

“Curated e-commerce is becoming recognized by both retailers and shoppers for its simplicity and ability to help fill an online void,” says Krista Garcia, the report’s author. “There will always be a place for comprehensive, multi-category retail sites, but fine-tuned collections enhanced by personal touches also perform a necessary function in the e-commerce ecosystem.”

How Curated E-Commerce Can Help Your Online Store

Here at Blueport, we believe thematically culling items is especially helpful for big-ticket retailers, like our clients, that sell larger items that aren’t easily cross-shopped like more commoditized items. Often, shoppers come to our clients’ websites knowing they want a sofa or a dining room set and little beyond that. They may have specific ideas related to material, color, size or price point, but often stores are not organized by these characteristics. But curated collections can be!

Curated galleries of merchandise allows retailers to guide their customers to product in different ways, often with a more brand-oriented, personal touch. Retailers can use these galleries to offer information related to what they sell so customers get advice as well as exposure to a specific slice of inventory. It helps to perpetuate the retailer’s voice and authority.

We have already developed curated offerings for our clients and have found that those shoppers who interact with category widgets or curated collections on the websites and via email have deeper interactions with the sites overall. And we think an even more aggressive curated approach will capture more consumers in an increasingly overwhelming online shopping landscape.

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Copyright 2010, Official Blog of Blueport Commerce

Demandware: A Cloud E-Commerce Solution for a Category That ‘Will Never Go Online’ -- Sound Familiar?

Friday, March 16, 2012 by

Blueport Commerce would like to offer a hearty congratulations to Demandware, which priced 5.5 million IPO shares at $16. They closed at $23.59 making the company’s value $530 million. Demandware joins the likes of other cloud computing-based software companies, including Brightcove and Bazaarvoice, that have joined the IPO wave since December.

There are a number of reasons why we here at Blueport are happy for Demandware’s success. Above all, it shows how more and more retailers are looking to the cloud for e-commerce solutions, rather than trying to build and run their own e-commerce software.

Retailers who use Software as a Service (or SaaS) e-commerce solutions like Blueport or Demandware leverage the cloud, cutting-edge technology and the expertise of companies that live and breathe e-commerce to bring their brands online efficiently and effectively.

This IPO is also a good reminder of how far e-commerce has come. Demandware’s e-commerce solution focuses on apparel. There was a time when no one believed anyone would buy clothes or shoes online. Now, buying clothing online is as commonplace as buying as anything else.

Just as Demandware has done for its apparel clients, Blueport takes the hard work out of e-commerce for challenging categories like furniture, flooring and appliances. We provide a robust SaaS e-commerce platform that solves the unique, local challenges our customers face, so they can focus on their businesses, rather than attempting to reinvent e-commerce technology.

We’ve seen our customers have great success selling big-ticket items online. Demandware’s IPO reminds us this is only the beginning.

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Copyright 2010, Official Blog of Blueport Commerce