Not right now.

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

Saturday, September 21, 2013 by

Blueport E-Commerce Forrester Report Retail

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

Stay Focused On Top Marketing Revenue Drivers  

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

Our suggestions:

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

Invest In Traditional Interactive Marketing Tactics For Mobile

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

Our suggestions:

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

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

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

Our suggestions:

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

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

WHY AND HOW SHOULD I SELL FURNITURE ONLINE?

About Blueport Commerce

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

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.

Did You Know? Things Are Happening Here

Saturday, August 3, 2013 by


Recently, we issued a press release, also picked up by The Wall Street Journal, announcing how top furniture retailers are joining forces in the upcoming relaunch of our very own Furniture.com. Blueport Commerce helps our retailers sell furniture in two ways. For some retailers, the Blueport e-commerce platform powers their branded omnichannel 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. As our CEO Carl Prindle says, “Furniture has been called the last remaining $1 billion e-commerce opportunity online.” Check out the highlights from our news from the last two weeks.

Furniture.com Makes a Splash on FurnitureToday

In an article written by FurnitureToday, Cliff Engel reported on the recent news about Furniture.com. Specifically, it was formally announced that Schottenstein Stores and Rooms To Go have taken an ownership stake in Furniture.com, which will relaunch later this year. Other highlights include:

  • Schottenstein is the owner of Columbus, Ohio-based American Signature Inc., a current platform and Furniture.com client of Blueport Commerce.
  • The retail stakeholders in Furniture.com, along with other large players – Leon's in Canada, Salt Lake City-based R.C. Willey, and others that have yet to be named – will serve as "anchor tenants," on the revamped site launching in the fourth quarter.
  • The plan is to marry the scale and strengths of these major retailers – their buying power, product expertise and delivery and service capabilities – with the e-commerce technology strengths of Blueport and the power of Furniture.com's domain name.
  • Furniture.com is typically a number 1, 2 or 3 result when consumers search for "furniture" on Google and other search engines.
  • Furniture.com also will allow retailers to sell different merchandise that may not be a perfect fit in their stores, as well as expand into new geographical territories.
  • Jeff Seaman, CEO of 130-store Seffner, Florida-based Rooms To Go, said he was "thrilled to announce our investment," adding, "Furniture.com represents a unique opportunity in our industry for large furniture retailers to coexist and take advantage of national economies of scale in a new, quickly growing retail channel."
  • Once its current retailer lineup is included, Furniture.com will be able deliver to 65% to 70% of the US population, and that number will grow as the company adds more retailers.

Internet Retailer Defines the Enormous Furniture.com Opportunity

A separate article, written by Amy Dusto for Internet Retailer, announced how retailers Value City Furniture, American Signature Furniture, Rooms To Go Inc. and Leon’s Furniture Ltd. will each invest in Furniture.com’s website. Furniture.com is set to seize the massive opportunity ahead of it in the following ways:

  • Using backing from Mistral Equity Partners to reinvest in Furniture.com.
  • Only taking orders from consumers who live in areas served by retailers that work with it. Says CEO Carl Prindle, “Our retail partners handle all logistics and deliveries, leveraging their local inventory and furniture delivery expertise,” he says. “This leads to a far better shopping experience, as the shopper's furniture is nearby, will be delivered and set up by furniture experts and can be serviced easily if needed.
  • Selling to customers in the United States and Canada. Through the retailers, it can deliver up to 72% of the U.S. population and that percentage is growing each month, Prindle says. The site takes a share of revenue from each delivered order.
  • Penetrating the underserved markets. The 39 housewares/home furnishings retailers in Internet Retailer’s 2013 Top 500 Guide last year accounted for just 4.04% of all U.S. sales in the category, which totaled $138.9 billion. But that shows there’s plenty of potential growth because it “hasn't yet gone online in a meaningful way,” Prindle says.

Clients and Blueport employees alike are thrilled to formally announce how we’re capturing the opportunity for furniture online. Stay informed by visiting our news & press releases, following us on Twitter and LinkedIn, and liking us on Facebook.

WHY AND HOW SHOULD I SELL FURNITURE ONLINE?

About Blueport Commerce

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

 

How Can Retailers Tackle Gender-Based Selling?

Saturday, July 20, 2013 by

It turns out that we at Blueport Commerce love talking about gender. In April, we discussed gender differences in furniture shopping and we have a recent guest blog post  we’ve just completed for MITX. It’s clear that consumers are behaving differently when they shop, but how are retailers responding? In this follow-up post, Blueport examines what retailers are doing to take advantage of gender differences and what others caution can be a risky endeavor. 

Gender-Based Selling 

In order to stay ahead of the competition, some retailers are turning to gender-based selling. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, titled “His and Hers Shopping Rules,” notes that women are most affected by personal interactions with sales associates, and men are most affected by pragmatic factors. As a result, retailers are taking note by:

Women

Men

  • Allowing women to enjoy the experience with friends, hunting for a good deal, and enabling interaction with sales associates.
  • Encouraging women to envision how retailer products will look – in the case of furniture staging furniture with fabrics, matching accessories, etc. will allow women to visualize products in their homes easily.
  • Leaving men alone to shop in one area, and making it easy for them to make a decision with all information in one place.
  • Encouraging men to search online for the information that they need to make a decision.
  • Using colors to appeal to masculine sensibilities and style. It's a good thing that blue is in style this year for design.

Not all retailers subscribe to gender-based selling, but those who do are finding success. Nordstrom notes that their approach overall isn’t gender-specific, but it does make changes based on the behavior it sees from male and female shoppers. Similarly, Lowe’s began displaying finished projects, like kitchen vignettes to appeal to a female-friendly need to envision how they look at home, and lowered their racks in some areas to be less intimidating for female shoppers.

Not All Gender-Based Selling Is Created Equal

While some retailers meet success with gender-based selling, there are a few pitfalls that retailers need to plan for and avoid. Specifically:

  • Gender-based selling for retailers can be time consuming and expensive, due to training costs and high sales associate turnover rate.
  • Selling by gender is not always brand agnostic. Retailers must consider their own brand attributes and offering to determine the positive effect differentiating between genders.
  • Gender is not always so cut and dry. It can be a risk to apply a label that assumes differences in gender while adhering to strict gender stereotypes. Read: hot pink couches with ruffles will likely not be a bestseller among most women. Furthermore, there are benefits to selling that appeals to a mutual style that is gender-neutral, so retailers should avoid putting their eggs in one basket until they are sure of their gender-based strategy.

How Can Furniture Retailers Take Advantage?

At Blueport Commerce, we recommend many different strategies for pricing and promotion to drive incremental sales for our furniture retailers online and to encourage store visits. For our retailers that want to take a gender-based approach, having a strategy in place to execute it effectively and with consistency across channels is important. Furthermore, furniture retailers should pay careful attention to avoid stereotypical pitfalls and instead tailor furniture collections to the behaviors of female and male shoppers, such as kitchen vignettes and conveniently located merchandise for a single room. No matter the strategy, we continue to take a look at new trends in the marketplace, and even though we are loving the gender conversation, stay tuned for further marketing trend conversations in the future.

WHY AND HOW SHOULD I SELL FURNITURE ONLINE?

About Blueport Commerce

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

 

PetFlow.com: Making F-Commerce Real – Learnings from IRCE 2013 Part I

Friday, June 21, 2013 by

PetFlow.comCan my company really make money from Facebook? For one company, PetFlow.com, the answer is yes.

It must first be noted that Blueport Commerce was thrilled to attend the 2013 IRCE (Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition), held at McCormick Place West in Chicago from June 5-6. With a focus on social, mobile and global changes that e-commerce players are bringing to the new retail economy, the sessions and show floor were packed with internet retailers. Boasting 9,600 conference attendees, 200+ e-commerce experts and with nearly 90% of the e-commerce solutions market attending IRCE, there was an abundance of e-commerce energy and knowledge to capture.

Standing out from the crowd this year at IRCE was Chief Executive Officer and founder of PetFlow.com, Alex Zhardanovsky. In part one of our two-part series, Blueport examines how a company specializing in pet food delivery took steps to conquer the seemingly impossible world of f-commerce – the practice of making money off of Facebook. Furniture retailers – take note – these worlds aren’t so different.

Origins and a Marketing Problem

Now ranked number one in social commerce by CBS MoneyWatch, PetFlow.com wasn’t founded until Alex Zhardanovsky, Manhattan native and owner of a dog who required a special pet food diet, was frustrated when his local pet food store was constantly out of stock. Zhardanovsky discovered that people only realize they need pet food when they’re out! Similar to furniture retailers and big-ticket appliance retailers – people only tend to purchase new furniture every few years – so how do you stay top of mind? In the $50 billion a year pet food industry, PetFlow needed to stand out – fast. Here are the steps PetFlow took to drive retail revenue through social media.

Step 1: Know Your Customer

Originally it cost PetFlow about $300-400 to acquire a customer via Facebook advertising – too much for a startup. So Zhardanovsky asked a simple but poignant question: who are my customers? Exit survey data showed PetFlow's customers were 85% female, all 35-40+ years old with high household incomes and were comfortable shopping online. With this data in hand, Zhardanovsky honed his strategy and now pays about $.35 per fan to get his target audience – women who meet the above criteria who also like Neiman Marcus, Amazon and Saks on Facebook – aka online shopping savvy. In just two months, PetFlow's Facebook page grew from 10,000 to 200,000 fans. A tip – analyze and merchandise your product according to your audience.

Step 2: Use Humor and Go Viral to Reap the Rewards of F-Commerce

PetFlow.com Facebook Sample Post

 

PetFlow's posts on Facebook are humorous and go viral – consisting mostly of photos of cute pets with “caption this” or memes (like the example above).

So why does humor work, and furthermore on Facebook over Google?

1. Advertising lives on longer on a Facebook news feed – even with posts that are old and if that Facebook user is not active.

2. Repurposing is easy – Google is one and done. Facebook allows companies to edit the post and redo the caption repeatedly.

3. Facebook stays top of mind – originally, no one knew who PetfFlow was. However if a user likes, shares, or comments via Facebook, it moves to the newsfeeds of people who may not know who they are. PetFlow also did a one-time Facebook page name change from “Pet Flow” to “PetFlow – Pet Food for Delivery” which grew traffic. Current PetFlow.com revenue is $28 million.

Can furniture retails use humor? We think so – babies and puppies look ever so cute on plush sofas, and people tend to share images they find humorous and relatable.

Step 3: Brand Ubiquity

A final touch? PetFlow employed physical retargeting, by putting a message on all delivery boxes and encouraging people to upload user generated content to PetFlow's Facebook page. Additionally, customers would email pictures of their cute pets in the delivery boxes – allowing the content to be re-used online. PetFlow staffs accordingly to do this – in fact, they post to Facebook 20 times a day on average and respond to every message or question on social media channels. Every opportunity to promote their brand counts.

Furniture retailers can take advantage of how PetFlow.com has taken f-commerce by storm through data-driven marketing, humor and linking physical retargeting with the digital. Now, get posting!

WHY AND HOW SHOULD I SELL FURNITURE ONLINE?

About Blueport Commerce

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

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.

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.

5 Key Features Top E-Commerce Websites Share

Saturday, May 11, 2013 by

 

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

1. Anytime, Anywhere Accessibility

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

2. Intuitive Navigation

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

3. Prominent Search Box

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

4. Responsive Customer Service

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

5. Cohesive Omnichannel Experience

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

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

WHY AND HOW SHOULD I SELL FURNITURE ONLINE?

 

 

Three Reasons Why Video Works for Big-Ticket Retail Online

Friday, March 1, 2013 by

E-Commerce Videos WebsitesFor those of us that remember some of the first Jane Fonda fitness videos, their impact still makes you want to “Work Out.” Combine videos with product cross-sell and many companies are increasing their conversions online through video. But, can selling big-ticket retail online really be optimized through video? Dust off your leg warmers and leotards and read on.

Below are three reasons why video can help increase conversion for big-ticket retail e-commerce.

1. Watching Video Is Like Sitting On the Couch in the Store

Zappos continues to innovate and now has videos on most product pages where people actually show and walk around in their shoes. Similarly, a major fitness retailer learned that customers wanted to see how their clothes fit moving around in a class and videos helped them provide that information and increase their sales. The same goes for big-ticket retail e-commerce. Customers who can’t make it to your brick and mortar store still want to see your merchandise in order to help them make a purchase. For example, when considering buying a couch, customers might want to see how much the cushion depresses when someone sits in it or the size of the couch relative to the people in the video for perspective.

Watching a video is like being in the store, but your customers don’t have to be there, or feel like they are being sold something. And, unlike TV, they can browse videos online, look at many products in the convenience of their own home and ultimately convert. 

2. Customers Can Find You More Easily Online

In addition to providing your customers with visual value, video can help new customers find you more easily. Video attracts search traffic organically. According to Marketing Profs, simply adding video helps raise a company’s SEO profile, regardless of whether Google, YouTube and others change their algorithms. 

The more opportunities you provide to help your customers find your product online, the more traffic you’ll have to your site, which can only help increase conversion. This is especially true in the world of big-ticket furniture. The web is cluttered with offerings and you want to make sure your brand stands out.

3. Video Personalizes Your Brand

As indicated by the other two reasons above, the more you can do online, the better! That is never more true than video. Adding video to your already existing initiatives will help drive conversion and you’ll be able to develop video for multiple uses. In a case study of sharpmen.com through Internet Retailer, videos range from story-like videos to product features and benefits. The company’s conversion rate is 3.75%, greater than the 2.99% on average from North America’s Internet Retailer Top 500 and Second 500 guides. 

Whether or not you have big-ticket furniture items to sell online, or appliances and electronics, video can help make an impact on converting your customers online. Now, get out there and “Work Out” your e-commerce muscles!

WHY AND HOW SHOULD I SELL FURNITURE ONLINE?

Seizing the Opportunity to Offer Big-Ticket Retail Through Mobile Apps

Thursday, January 31, 2013 by

E-Commerce Big-Ticket Retail Mobile AppsWhen was the last time you looked at your smartphone? We can wager a guess that it was not more than a few minutes ago. In our increasingly digital world, more than ever a big-ticket retailer can take advantage of mobile apps as an avenue for your shoppers to view and buy merchandise.  

Mobile Apps to Influence Shoppers Pre-Store

Shoppers are relying on their mobile devices to discover more about a brand before they even consider stepping into a store. According to eMarketer’s report on two studies, Apigee/Harris Interactive and Adobe, one in five shoppers is using a mobile app to become familiar with a brand on their smartphone or tablet. Conversely, one in five respondents said not having a mobile app could make a retailer appear old-fashioned. For a big-ticket retailer staying ahead of the curve, allowing shoppers to view and purchase big-ticket items and promoting your brand through your mobile app can provide an additional avenue to help enhance a brand's in-store experience and can help increase sales.

Mobile Apps to Drive In-Store Visits and Engagement

Smartphone usage is tied to the shopping experience and influences the decision for a shopper to visit a store. A mobile app can allow shoppers to review your selection, share offers and allow them to find your store easily, even before making a purchase. More specifically:

  • 67% of shoppers value money saving offers
  • 60% want to locate brick and mortar stores through the app
  • 58% want to be able to purchase on the app itself

Having a well-organized and easy to search app, which includes store locations and a quality image catalogue, can allow shoppers to find what they need and get them to your store quicker.

Marketing of Mobile Apps as an Influencer in Purchasing Decisions

Lastly, having a mobile app creates another avenue for you to market your brand and display your merchandise. While an app store and friends significantly impact purchasing decisions, purchasing decisions are also heavily influenced by emails, online ads and Facebook, in that order. By using these marketing tactics to drive shoppers to a mobile app that they can use, they become more aware of the brand and the merchandise you are trying to sell, which has the potential to drive more omnichannel sales both online and in store.

Given the opportunity to create a mobile app to strengthen a shopper's connection to the brand, drive in-store visits and engagement, and help market your brand and merchandise, a mobile app can be a key component for a big-ticket retailer to increase sales not only in the mobile world but in the live world as well. Happy mobile shopping!

Selling Furniture Online E-Commerce

Furniture Shopping: Major Differences Revealed Between Generations

Friday, January 18, 2013 by

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

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

Where People Are Shopping

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

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

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

Why People Shop at These Stores

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

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

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

How Furniture E-Commerce Fits In

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

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

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

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

Furniture E-Commerce

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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Old SEO Tricks Won’t Help Your E-Commerce Business, But SEO Basics Will

Friday, August 24, 2012 by

If you have an e-commerce website, or any website for that matter, search engine optimization is an important part of your business. But a bunch of SEO tricks will not drive organic traffic from search engines to your site. What will? If you create quality content your customers want to read, then your SEO strategy will fall into place and drive traffic to your online retail site.

Search Engine Watch recently ran an article titled “10 Old SEO Methods You Need to Stop,” which lists 10 of the most popular SEO tricks that Google Panda, Penguin and other algorithm updates have deemed outdated. Here they are:

  1. Article Submissions
  2. Press Releases Without News
  3. Reciprocal Linking & Link Exchanges
  4. Creating Thin Content
  5. Losing Your Voice Through Automation
  6. Ignoring Social Signals
  7. Implementing Tactics Without a Strategy
  8. Focus on Rankings
  9. Focusing on Google Only
  10. Ignoring Design

The Right Way to Optimize Your E-Commerce Website: Quality

The overlying theme to successful search engine optimization is aligning your business goals with your customers’ needs and creating quality content based on that. If you put search engines before your customers, then you are missing the boat.

Your content and SEO strategy should be reflected in all the text on your site, from product descriptions to marketing copy and even your navigation labels. But where do you begin when creating this strategy?

Ask yourself these questions about your retail business -- these are the same questions we at Blueport ask to help our big-ticket retail clients when developing their digital content and SEO strategies:

  • What subjects are your customers interested in that you can offer expertise on and is related to your business?
  • What are your customers’ pain points when shopping for products like those you sell?
  • Are there emotional ways to appeal to customer who might be interested in buying your products?
  • What stories can you tell in which your merchandise is the hero?
  • What issues might your customer face after bringing your products home – these issues can be tangentially related?
  • What is your unique value/brand proposition in your markets?

Your answers to these questions can be the foundation for creating your unique voice and the types of content your e-commerce site should be providing in the marketplace.

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Move Over Omni-Channel Retailing, It’s Time for a Little Soul

Friday, August 10, 2012 by

Right about now, retailers -- whether large or small; online, offline or every line -- are gearing up for their busiest quarter of the year. The quarter that, in itself, can define the health of the business. And in a year when Pinterest went full force and tablets became affordable, the sky will be the limit for social media and mobile promotions.

But hold it right there! Don’t miss out on the point of the season for retailers: Sales. And how do you get sales? Of course, pricing is a major component, but customer service and branding can be equally important.

A recent iMedia Connection article implores retailers and their marketers to breathe new life into omni-channel retailing by reigniting the one-on-one connections with customers. The author calls it soul retailing, “stirring an emotional response that gets people to talk, share and love your company or product.” He says every retailer can get there by:

  • Go back to basics: Worry more about letting your customers shop than driving them to one of your channels.
  • Bring back one-to-one engagement with targeted offers rather than batch sends you hope will sometimes stick.
  • Use all the technology out there to create well-aligned experiences that drive sales over playing games.
  • Keep it all simple – customers do not want to have to work to find and buy your merchandise.

The point is that all these different channels and technologies can only help you move your retail business forward if you use them correctly, and before you grab the most cutting edge technology, you need to figure out how it will improve the experience for your customers. For example, Neiman Marcus’s NM Service app lets customers use their mobile devices to create a uniquely personalized experience in-store by alerting sales associates to the individual’s presence in the store, shopping history and merchandise scanned for more information that day.

Of course, the goal is for the channel to match the message. In social media, a hard sell just won’t work. We work closely with our furniture retail clients to help them focus their brands and refine their messaging for online. Design information and even content on entertaining and recipes, for example, is a great alignment for a Facebook page. One of our clients, Leon’s Furniture in Canada, has a rich history that the company has documented. Part of their strategy is to resurface the information and old photos, building up interest and their timeline at once. And then on sites like Pinterest, where everything is so visual, announcing the newest items with great artwork is a great win.

To keep the buying process personal, we help our clients craft blogs that extend their thought leadership within their subject matter expertise. We also use the blog platform to connect with customers by answering their questions in this longer format. Additionally, we work hard to create targeted email campaigns to boost the bottom line in-store and online.

Are there other ways you use modern technology to create good, old-fashioned meaningful connections with your customers? We want to hear about them! Please share in the comments below.

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Olympic Gold: Why E-Commerce Companies Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Social Media Either

Friday, August 3, 2012 by

In some ways, the Olympics is just like any business, including your e-commerce website. This year for the 2012 London games, the Olympics and NBC, the network airing the event on TV and the Internet, have social media to navigate.

And the solution for both of them is the same: If you can’t beat them (which you can’t), join them. The reality today is that social media is a part of people’s lives, and the best a marketer of any breed can do is harness its word-of-mouth power.
 
Social Media & the Olympics

Unlike during previous Olympic games, the use of sites like Twitter and Facebook has grown significantly. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, “Social media usage has surged since the last summer games. In 2008, Twitter had about 300,000 tweets per day. Now it has 400 million. Facebook had about 100 million active users in the summer of 2008. As of April 2012, it had 900 million.” It’s so prevalent that visitors were asked to refrain from tweeting and texting during specific events after the data network was too clogged to send bike GPS data to broadcasters during a men’s cycling race, reports dailywireless.org.

And beyond the personal user, media outlets covering the Olympics are present on these social networks. Contrary to many people’s intuition, the real-time streaming of winners, losers and other Olympic news  as actually led to an increase in viewership at prime time. “In its first three nights of the London Olympics, an average of 35.8 million viewers have tuned in, the biggest first weekend for any summer games on record, according to NBC,” reports the WSJ article. “Average viewership has been 1.4 million more than the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and five million more viewers than the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which was mainly live.”

It appears these “spoilers” and all the buzz  may be getting people more excited to see the games.

Social Media & Your E-Commerce Business

E-commerce marketers can learn from NBC and the Olympics that while a true social media strategy includes relinquishing control, the payoff for that trust is an impassioned community that can powerfully extend your brand.

We know it’s hard to let go, but here are some strategies to help you get started:

  • With social media, it’s always best to start with the reigns the tightest you want them and then let them loose as you become more comfortable. Doing the reverse will upset your brand followers. For example, if you think you might want to approve comments on your blog at some point, launch it that way. But also consider letting this control go, especially once you see the nature of the comments. In most cases, you can easily delete a comment that goes against your terms.
  • You need to really invite the conversation and show your customers you want the back and forth. Ask them to post images and reviews of items they’ve purchased, or allow them to weigh in on merchandise you plan to sell in the future. Show your fans they are a priority by quickly responding and commenting on their posts about your brand. To really put this on hyperdrive, be sure you have a good listening process and reach out to those talking about you beyond your own social network pages. Keep an eye on blogs and review sites.
  • Allow critics to voice their negativity. I know it’s hard to believe, but there will always be haters out there. Don’t close them out. Allow them to say their piece, and openly help them if necessary. If you don’t let them interact in this way on your brand pages where you have the control to interact with them, they will find other public places online to do it. And you’ll be surprised: As you grow your social media brand, when someone posts something invalid, your other fans will come to your aid.

A great social media strategy can equal gold for an e-commerce company. Are you and your e-commerce company ready to embrace and champion this medium to move your business forward?

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E-Commerce Leads to Smarter Brick and Mortar Retail

Friday, June 1, 2012 by

Admit it, Big-Ticket CEO, you’re still a little bit concerned about e-commerce’s relationship to the lifeblood of your business: Your stores. Is it competitive? Complementary? Your salespeople may fear one thing, your e-commerce P&L likely shows another.

The beneficial relationship between online and stores is a topic we’ve covered many times. We’ve built unique localized technology to ensure that relationship is a win-win. But rather than rehash those topics, let’s look at a few retailers that have blown past any initial e-com squeamishness and taken the online-offline store relationship to the next level.

Last week, a Forbes article reiterated our perspective on e-commerce’s value to bricks and mortar players and then went a bit further. It described how progressive retailers are using their e-commerce data to drive larger business decisions – like where to open stores and how to merchandise them.

Some real-life examples included in the piece:

When Abercrombie & Fitch decided to expand globally, they opened their first store in London and their second in Denmark. “The huge volume of traffic on its site coming from the region prompted the iconic brand to open one of its first European flagships in Copenhagen as opposed to more obvious choices like Paris or Milan,” says the article.

When Canadian retailer Joe Fresh entered the New York market, it wasn’t timidly with a single store. The company opened four, based on the large amount of Web traffic specifically coming from the New York City market. They also saw an abundance of ZIP codes from Manhattan’s Upper East Side and added a Madison Avenue location amidst higher end retailers – a location which has proved highly successful.

Localized Online Data = Offline Retail Intelligence

E-commerce data can point retailers to more than where they should open up physical locations. Online activity can point to the size of the store and the product mix, allowing for better inventory control and ways to appeal to customers other than discounting. For example, Stuart Weitzman, after analyzing digital data, adjusted its product mix for a more cross-generational customer base.

This capability becomes far more powerful on a localized platform like Blueport’s. When you know which products and pricing engage customers in each of your local markets, this intelligence can be used to inform everything from local offline marketing to store layouts and inventory planning. And, the data is real-time – far more accurate, relevant and less expensive than the typical market research used to estimate such things.

Think about it, Big-Ticket CEO. You sell larger items, like sofas, beds, mattresses, flooring and appliances. Your bets on stores, marketing, merchandising and inventory are far bigger than most retailers. These decisions are the core of your business. Start to think of online as unlimited data to inform these decisions and you’ll realize e-commerce isn’t a risk, unless you ignore it.

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3 Things E-Commerce Brands Large & Small Can Learn from Dollar Shave Club and Its F***ing Great Viral Video

Friday, April 27, 2012 by

By now you’ve seen it -- the 94-second hilarious spot that introduced a new player to the $13 billion men’s shaving industry. Online-only Dollar Shave Club shaved away 12,000 customers from its competitors within two days of opening its e-commerce site. It didn’t take them millions in advertising -- just this really funny video.

There’s much the likes of Gillette, Schick and Bic, and in fact any retailer looking to sell online can learn from this little e-commerce company that could, as Fast Company offered its own recent list. Big or small, retailers need to realize the landscape is changing, and how you relate to customers deserves to be reexamined.

1. Authenticity

Consumers can see through your marketing speak. And if they can’t, they likely have a network of friends and family who can validate whether your brand lives up to its promises, your products are worth their prices and your customer service is up to par.

2. Social Tactics Done Right

Why did this video go viral? It’s darn entertaining!

CEO Michael Dubin delivers the message simply and honestly. He’s witty and smart -- forget just buying his razors; this guy is fun! I’d go for a beer with him. He is the brand. And customers met the brand and liked him.

The danger with some companies’ ventures into viral video and other social tactics is they try to be viral, which too often delivers in an overthought and overengineered result that falls flat for the public. Humor is hard. And so is having a distinctive voice.

Consider tapping your passionate customers who are already your advocates. See how they are spreading the word about you and similar products. Harness their love of your brand. Their voices will be more authentic and will help you develop the reach you need, and in an appropriate manner.

3. When a Dollar Makes Sense

With Dollar Shave Club, customers know they’re not going to get frills, but for a small amount of money, the video promises decent shave with one of their razors. It’s believable, and consumers can test it out for the fraction of what their regular razors cost.

In this economy, consumers are poised to shop, but they want to know they are getting the best deal possible. That is why some brick-and-mortar stores have been losing sales to in-store shoppers who can find a better price online. Our clients, which sell big-ticket items that are not easily commoditized, are not in the clear just because their merchandise cannot be cross-shopped. They still need to demonstrate the value of their products, whether it comes down to the items themselves or the customer service that comes with it.

So for retailers selling online, examine how you can harness some of the honesty, social tactics and value that has helped Dollar Shave club off to an impressive start.

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Celebrity-Curated E-Commerce Hits Home Decor

Friday, April 20, 2012 by

These days, shopping online is like going to a post-Oscars party. You can grab a drink (in this case, one from your home bar) and settle in to see some of the hottest stars and the hottest fashion. Who’s the latest guest to join the party? Justin Timberlake.

This week, BeachMint announced Justin Timberlake will work with his interior designer, Estee Stanley, to select home goods and accessories to be sold on HomeMint.com, the company’s newest property to launch later this spring. JT will be in good company, lending his name and design sensibility alongside Kate Bosworth (JewelMint), Jessica Simpson (BeautyMint) and Rachel Bilson (ShoeMint). In similar news, LuxeYard.com, a luxury home furnishings and décor flash sale site, announced the addition of entertainment journalist/reality TV personality Giuliana Rancic to its list of curating trendsetters.

Why Celebrity Curators Equal Big Business for E-Commerce

According to this Practical Ecommerce article, when OpenSky first launched its e-commerce site, leveraging influential bloggers to sell merchandise, the model did not work. When the company relaunched in April 2011 using celebrity curators (Kristin Cavallari, Guy Fieri and Molly Sims, to name a few) who choose the products and accompanying recommendations and content, it was a model that worked.  Revenue and orders are growing 50% month to month, and the company hit $1 million in sales last October.

While celebrity endorsements are nothing new, why does celebrity curation have such a profound and positive effect on e-commerce sales?

Personalizing the Website: Celebrity-curated e-commerce sites  bring a personal feeling to the online shopping experience. Customers aren’t virtually strolling down Amazon.com’s endless array of aisles, but are instead being guided in their shopping experience to items that are already endorsed to have value.

Appeals to Women: Women do the majority of online shopping and tend to use the web socially much more than men do. Most of the categories that have so far seen success with celebrity curation – home goods, apparel,  cosmetics, cooking – are verticals where women buy, and much of the celebrity curation has been geared toward that demographic.

Brand-Building: By aligning with a celebrity, online retailers get the halo of that celebrity’s reputation. It’s a fairly quick way for a website to establish its expertise, style and reputation.

And, of course, it’s a bit of good, old-fashioned star power. After all, when it comes down to it, wouldn’t you like a little more Justin Timberlake in your home?

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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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