The Technology Behind Black Friday Deals

Every marketer or web designer knows that a website has under three seconds to grab a users attention. Any form of friction will result in your target and audience going elsewhere. But, once again there is an increasing number of tools that are helping brands test the user experience of their digital products and services.

As our inboxes start to bulge with the deluge of marketing messages, many are already beginning to experience Black Friday fatigue. While marketers and business leaders pat themselves on the back for another successful campaign, tech-savvy consumers are creating mail rules to send any message containing “Black Friday” directly to their junk folder.

The problem is that customers now expect a little more than a generic email with Black Friday in the subject. The big question shoppers are asking is, what’s in it for me? If Netflix and Spotify know how entertainment preferences and Amazon knows what items we might want to buy, why are we still getting a marketing message containing products that we have little interest in?

Technology is now at the heart of every customer touch point. While consumers prepare to satisfy their insatiable desire for a bargain, the reputation of the world’s biggest brands is heavily reliant on technology.

For the busiest shopping day of the year to be a success, a website must work quickly and seamlessly without interruption. Digital audiences have little regard for how complex systems will work when faced with ten times more visitors. They just expect it to work.

Any break in connectivity or change in the speed of a transaction on an already overloaded website is catastrophic. Essentially, its the modern equivalent of bringing the shutters down of your store on the busiest day of the year. Behind the scenes, many have invested in content delivery networks (CDN) to reduce load times. But this is only one example of how technology is the real day of the day.

IBM AI Powered Ads

These rises in expectations from consumers are forcing marketers to think a little differently and embrace new technologies. For example, IBM recently announced that its latest AI-powered interactive ads will be used by LEGO Systems. The ads are aiming to recommend the right gift set to the right holiday shoppers using technology. Many brands will be watching from the sidelines to see if hyper-personalization and actionable insights can deliver tangible results rather than just more hype.

Lego is joining a long list of household names such as Lufthansa, Best Western, and TruGreen that are all bravely navigating unchartered digital waters to secure an early competitive advantage. Only time will tell if this emerging technology impacted their Black Friday sales.

71% of brands are still relying on generic marketing messages. But there is a realization in the industry that they need to do something different to stand out from the advertising clutter online. The problem is that we are only just learning how these new technologies can make the dream of personalized, targeted messaging across every touchpoint a reality.

Eye Level Is Buy Level

Every marketer or web designer knows that a website has under three seconds to grab a users attention. Any form of friction will result in your target and audience going elsewhere. But, once again there is an increasing number of tools that are helping brands test the user experience of their digital products and services.

H&M turned to Tobii Pro Sprint’s eye tracking platform to create a clear path of purchase for online shoppers and to validate design decisions on their site. The company are also using similar eye-tracking technology on online banking portals, music, and video streaming services, work portals, and believe it can transform any digital product or service

By tracking eye movements when testing websites, businesses can discover how users visually navigate the digital interface. The platform not only highlights what our eyes notice or what they ignore, but also areas where users encounter friction points as well as the things they see or ignore, the areas they get stuck on, and where they naturally gravitate to.

The eye tracking company are on a mission to ensure that technology works in harmony alongside natural human behavior. The technology enables companies to pinpoint potential causes or indicators of usability issues when working on software applications and websites.

The use of smartphones to make purchases online in the holiday season is unsurprisingly up 44% compared to last year. Welcome to a new digital age of the always-on mobile shopper. Digital natives are increasingly checking their mobile devices for bargains throughout the day.

Shoppers are increasingly attracted by discounts, sales, personalization and the convenience of doing it all from their mobile device in any location. How marketers leverage technology to create unique mobile experiences that deliver these minimum requirements is paramount.

Delivering the wow factor and remaining online will determine how successful retailers are during the holiday season. Meanwhile, marketers are faced with both challenges and opportunities of how to engage with the always-on customer without being creepy.

Using SEO Profitably Is All About Tactics and Timing

Are you using SEO profitably? The fourth quarter is already well underway, and the holiday season with Black Friday and Cyber Monday is hard upon us. For retailers and many e-commerce merchants, this is make-it-or-break-it time. Will this be a good year or one to regret?

Are you using SEO profitably? The fourth quarter is already well underway, and the holiday season with Black Friday and Cyber Monday is hard upon us. For retailers and many e-commerce merchants, this is make-it-or-break-it time. Will this be a good year or one to regret?

A successful season is really the final constellation of many interconnected tactical plans — the merchandise must be what the customer is looking for and the marketing and distribution must bring the merchandise and consumer together in a timely fashion.

SEO is by now deeply engrained in retail strategies, but the annual SEO planning process varies from site to site. As the year closes out, now is the time to review your plans. Did everything come together in a timely fashion? What changes in tactics or timing should you consider?

Don’t wait until the start of the new year, for you will already be behind. Here are some thoughts on what not to miss.

Technical Changes Must Be Done First

If your annual SEO plan is like most, it will include technical changes and enhancements that are designed to improve search and the customer experience. After 30 years (no, you did not read that wrong!) in technology, it has been my experience that technical changes almost never are completed with enough time for live shakedown cruises.

This is not necessarily the fault of the development staff. It is inherent in the complexity of the tasks. Deadlines are often slipped, or unforeseen problems arise.

With search, the problem is compounded. The plan must include adequate time to ensure that the changes were made correctly, that the site is crawled and that the technical SEO works. This is one of those times, when to go slow is to go fast.

Keywords Must Be Done Before Content

In 2018, keywords and content are the drivers of search. How often do you review your keywords? When was the last time you pruned or added to the list?

Keyword lists are dynamic and must reflect both changes in language and business focus. Some words simply fall out of use or morph to new usages:

“Cellular phone” has shifted from referring to the phone to now referencing service plans for communicating with a “cellphone.”

E-commerce sites that deal in fashion must keep a steady eye on what is coming off the runway to their site and how it is referenced by fashion mavens.

It is my preference to review keywords on an annual basis, and plan to do a thorough renovation about every two years for established sites and more often for newer sites. This should be completed in advance or in coordination with content planning.

Fresh, relevant content is today the single best driver for search. Because your keywords establish the focus and language of the site, they should also drive the content. New content should be planned to support major revenue-generating keywords. Content gaps and voids should be identified and remedied.

This represents a substantial amount of work, and it must be planned and prioritized so that it fits with the tactical plan.

Just as technical changes need to be completed with adequate time for the search engines to crawl and index your changes, the new content must also go live with adequate time for crawling and relevancy determination.

Because search is an iterative process, it is helpful to give yourself enough of a planning cushion that you can readjust, refine and enhance the content based on how the pages rank.

Did I fail to mention that part of the SEO annual planning process is determining who and how success will be measured? This must also fit into the tactical planning process. It is time to get to work on that plan. I’m not going to wait for you to begin. I’ll be working on mine immediately.

Millennial Habits on Black Friday 2015 vs. 2017

New research from Influenster shows how Millennial Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping habits have changed. And while it’s certainly not great news for in-store retail, it’s not as big a shift as you might expect.

No shopping holiday is more old-school than the retail war zone that is Black Friday. I can remember people camping out the night before for Black Friday deals all the way back to when I was a kid — South Park even did an episode on it! Surely, if there’s one shopping experience tech-savvy, retail-resistant Millennials are going to opt-out of over time, it’s Black Friday, right?

New research from Influenster shows how Millennial Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping habits have changed. And while it’s certainly not great news for in-store retail, it’s not as big a shift as you might expect.

Black Friday for Millennials: 2015 vs. 2017

The research, “Influenster Black Friday and Cyber Monday Millennial Shopping Survey 2015 vs. 2017,” shows a few interesting trends comparing this year’s results to results from two years ago.

For starters, slightly fewer millennials intend to participate in he combined shopping holiday of Black Friday and Cyber Monday: 89 percent vs. 93 percent in 2015.

Out of them, more still intend to shop on Black Friday than Cyber Monday, but the gap is narrowing:

Do you shop more on Black Friday
or Cyber Monday?
2015 2017
More on Black Friday 35% 32%
More on Cyber Monday 26% 30%
Equal on both days 39% 38%

However, far fewer millennials plan to shop in-store on Black Friday: 35 percent in 2017 vs. 61 percent in 2015. And 92 percent of all respondents plan to look for deals online before heading to the stores.

The survey respondents said their overall shopping plans look like this:

How do you plan on shopping this Black Friday and/or Cyber Monday? 2015 2017
Online for Black Friday and/or Cyber Monday 67% 61%
Browsing in stores, before buying online for Black Friday and/or Cyber Monday 44% 29%
In stores for Black Friday 61% 35%
Research online, before buying in stores on Black Friday 48% 40%

On the bright side for retailers, fewer millennials plan on “showrooming,” i.e. shopping on the phone for better deals while looking at the product in-store: 29 percent in 2017 vs. 44 percent in 2015. After all, why go to a store on Black Friday only to find the store you should’ve gone to online? By then, it’s probably already too late to get that doorbuster deal.

When it comes to what wins the sale, online reviews still appear to be the most powerful influencer (although, here it’s worth noting that Influenster is a company that powers online reviews). However, word of mouth has slipped slightly compared to social media:

What factors would most influence your purchase decision this Black Friday/Cyber Monday? 2015 2017
Word of mouth 53% 47%
Online reviews 72% 70%
Social media 58% 61%
Brand websites 47% 39%
News websites 12% 6%
Television 28% 15%
Newspaper 23% 9%
Magazines 24% 10%
Mail catalogues 24% 14%

Computer vs. Mobile, Website vs. App

Out of those who will shop online, there are some interesting changes in where and how. More plan to shop via mobile:

If you plan on online shopping on Black Friday and/or Cyber Mondays how would you do so? 2015 2017
On my desktop/laptop 83% 70%
On my mobile device/tablet 58% 62%

But when it comes to how they’ll prefer to order on mobile, all of the options came in lower than 2015.

If you plan on shopping on your mobile device/tablet, how would you make your purchases? 2015 2017
Through websites 95% 90%
Through apps 55% 50%
Through “buy” buttons on social media 10% 7%

It’s really time we improved that mobile ordering experience!

Holiday Favorites

And to wrap this up, when it comes to where millennials go and the brands they buy, some of the favorites appear to be shifting. Congrats to Target for holding off Amazon and Walmart to be the favorite Black Friday retailer.

Which are your favorite retailers to shop at on Black Friday and/or Cyber Monday? 2015 2017
Target 85% 71%
Amazon 70% 66%
Walmart 66% 54%
Best Buy 49% 29%
Kohl’s 47% 27%
Macy’s 41% 26%
TJ Maxx 33% 26%
JCPenney 35% 21%
Toys ‘R’ Us 36% 20%
Bed Bath and Beyond 39% 20%
Nordstrom 25% 19%
Marshalls 27% 18%
eBay 21% 10%
Dick’s Sporting Goods 17% 9%
Kmart 20% 8%
Sears 18% 7%
Home Depot 13% 7%
Neiman Marcus 8% 5%
Lord & Taylor 6% 3%

In the end, how Millennials shop may be changing, but the raw volume of commerce they’ll participate in this holiday is still staggering.

Top Holiday Season Digital Trends

The holiday season is nearly in full swing. How will it be different than past seasons? The most striking difference is not in what consumers are buying, it’s how they are shopping. Consumers have been gravitating toward digital over the past decade, but this year, shoppers have indicated that they will pass a new threshold.

The holiday season is nearly in full swing. How will it be different than past seasons? The most striking difference is not in what consumers are buying, it’s how they are shopping.

Consumers have been gravitating toward digital over the past decade, but this year, shoppers have indicated that they will pass a new threshold. For the first time, they anticipate making the majority (51 percent) of their holiday purchases online, according to a study by Synchrony Financial*. This has been steadily increasing over the past three years, up from 47 percent in 2015 and 49 percent last year.

Synchrony Holiday Season Shopping StatsWhich devices will they be using to make these purchases? Consumers indicate that one in five holiday purchases will be made on their mobile device. So, not only is shopping trending toward online purchases, many shoppers are planning to do it on-the-go.

Shoppers like mobile because, quite frankly, it’s easy and always around. The mobile device is with the shopper continuously. Whether riding on a bus, waiting in line for coffee or binge watching your favorite Netflix show. If you think of the perfect gift for Aunt Helen, you can order it immediately. And, not to worry about keeping track of your purchases — half of mobile shoppers say they use mobile because they can easily view the confirmation in their email.

And, discount hunting via mobile is ubiquitous. More than one-third (36 percent) of shoppers say they will shop via mobile during the holiday season because they can more easily link their email offers and coupons to their purchases. So, bargain hunters don’t have to worry about missing out on a good deal. The ability to scan available coupons and download offers gives shoppers confidence that they are getting the best price.

With the ease of shopping online and the widespread availability of next-day shipping, consumers may be less rushed to get their shopping done early this holiday season. Only 44 percent of consumers say they will be shopping earlier this year. Last year, 53 percent said they would be shopping earlier than in the past.

And, shoppers are less likely to be “hunting for a deal” on specific days like Thanksgiving, Black Friday or Cyber Monday. This is perhaps due to the prevalence of deal hunting throughout the season. Consumers have been less hooked on shopping on specific days, if they are certain they can find the best price on any given day.

How are retailers responding to these trends? One way is having websites that are optimized no matter which device consumers use — laptop, tablet or mobile. Retailers are spending time and resources building websites that are easy to navigate and intuitive. The experience is important — the top reason shoppers delete a retailer app is due to poor functionality, according to the Synchrony Financial 2017 Digital Study.

Also, shipping will be a big element of the online shopping experience this year. Many retailers have graduated from two- to three-day shipping to one-day, or next-day shipping. And, since shoppers say they will be shopping later in the season, this will be a big deal this year.

Finally, and perhaps most important, bargain hunting remains a key ingredient in the shopping habits of consumers, whether they are early bargain hunters or last minute deal seekers. The ability to check product reviews, compare prices and use coupons is a key part of the holiday shopping experience. If the consumer can do it all on one website, great! If not, off they go to the next retailer.

* Note: The views expressed in this blog are those of the blogger and not necessarily of Synchrony Financial. All references to consumers and population refer to the survey respondents from the Synchrony Financial 2017 Pre-Holiday Study unless otherwise noted.

5 Ways to Make Holiday Email More Productive

If your email inbox is anything like mine, the recent influx of messages is overwhelming. Not only are you hearing from your direct contacts, you’re also getting a lot more partner emails and yes, spammers. Below are five productivity improvements for your own email campaigns.

If your email inbox is anything like mine, the recent influx of messages is overwhelming. Not only are you hearing from your direct contacts, but you’re also getting a lot more partner emails and yes, spammers. Below are five productivity improvements for your own email campaigns.

Opts Outs Will Increase — Here’s How to Lessen Them

As every company increases its email output during the holidays, many of us start to cull the companies we receive emails from. We opt out. Do we really need two emails a day from XYZ company? You search for the “Unsubscribe” link hidden at the bottom of most emails and click it.

The smart companies use an email preference center. An email preference center is simply a landing page that gives the subscriber options. They can update their email address, choose which type of emails they want or opt out forever. Take advantage of this page by asking subscribers about the frequency of emails, especially if you have multiple product lines or email lists; ask what products they want emails about.

When emails are pouring into our inboxes this holiday season, you can reduce your opt-out rates by giving recipients control over what you send and how often. Fifty-four percent of subscribers leave because you sent too many emails, while 47 percent say they need to decrease the number of companies they get emails from.

If you want to dig deep and improve your email preference center, HubSpot has an info-rich blog post, “28 Quick Tips for Customizing Your Email Preference Center”, that is well worth the read.

Think Mobile First

These stats from 2015 prove this point best: 76 percent of Black Friday emails and 63 percent of Cyber Monday emails were opened on a mobile device. Additionally, 56 percent of searches during the holiday season were conducted on a mobile device, according to Movable Ink. The same stats for 2016 will be even more impressive.

Remember, your recipients are weeding through emails on their smartphones and saving interesting emails to read later on their desktop computer. Design your emails for mobile (they’ll look fine on a PC), keep them short and put the most important content toward the top. Subject lines on mobile emails become even more important — make them short enough to fit in the preview of a smartphone. It’s wise to test this on multiple devices.

Target Cart Abandoners

Studies show the average shopping cart abandonment rate is approximately 73.9 percent. The good news is that 72 percent who do make the purchase after abandoning their carts do so within 24 hours. But others can take as long as two weeks.

fultzpic1Many potential online buyers purposely abandon their shopping carts. They’re looking to collect coupons or to wait for offers that are sent to try to close the sale.

To target cart abandoners, you’ll need to consider your email schedule, images of the abandoned items, offers/discounts to bring them back and lastly, adding or emphasizing a guarantee. These prospects are low-hanging fruit just waiting to be picked.

Create a Sense of Urgency

Urgency is a powerful psychological motivator — this is Direct Response 101. Deadlines work. They compel your customers to take the next step.

“One-Day Sale” or “Only Available to the First 100 Buyers” or “Sale Ends December 24 at 5:00 p.m.” all can prompt more conversions. Long-time mailers know this too well. We’ve used urgency and deadlines to great effect long before email even existed. Email marketers can learn a lot from reviewing snail mail packages from today and yesterday.

Test Your Code

Assuming your segmenting is good, your creative and offers should resonate with shoppers. Testing your code for the most popular inboxes and devices is then the last — and the most important — step. Use an email preview application like Email On Acid, Litmus and PreviewMyEmail to send your email through test accounts to see how different email applications, browsers and computer platforms present your email to recipients. If you are using an ESP (email service provider) like MailChimp, Emma or Vertical Response, you can use their pretested templates. But be aware, if you play with their code, you could easily “break” them.

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Email On Acid previewing of code in multiple browsers and platforms

The Bottom Line

With emails, the phrase “test, test, test” is particularly pertinent. Not only do you need to test your segmentation, offers, subject lines and preheaders, you need to design for mobile, test your code and be prepared for opt-outs and cart abandoners. But do not fear — there are many people and tools to help you.

Happy Holidays!

Bah Humbug on Black Friday Emails

Congratulations if you survived another Thanksgiving with family. It can be a wonderful time of year, or contentious, depending on the circumstances. Also congrats if your inbox survived Black Friday. I’m still cleaning mine up, which is not easy with all the Cyber Monday emails hitting me left and right.

Congratulations if you survived another Thanksgiving with family without some sort of verbal fist fight breaking out over politics or the proper way to carve a turkey. It can be a wonderful time of year, or contentious, depending.

Also congrats if your inbox survived Black Friday. I’m still cleaning mine up, which is not easy with all the Cyber Monday emails hitting me left and right.

Because I’m a nerd for numbers, I applied some search parameters to see what really DID end up in my inbox. Then I made a chart. Stop laughing at me.

Melissa's Black Friday InboxBetween Nov. 1 and Nov. 27, I received 127 emails with “Black Friday in the subject line. The chart above breaks it down by percentage received by date (and yes, I clumped Nov. 1-Nov. 14 together, since most of those days I received maybe 1-2 Black Friday emails tops).

Amazon emailed me the most, taking up 13.4 percent of my Black Friday inbox overall (from Nov. 1-27, and 10.3 percent of my Black Friday inbox on the actual day (Nov. 25). NewEgg came in second, and JCPenney third (Fun fact: I probably haven’t ordered anything from JCPenney since 2013).

Now, as I look at these numbers, everything seems fairly reasonable. But here’s the thing: Over the holiday while visiting my family for 4 days, I felt like this every time I picked up my phone:

Too Many EmailsOkay, maybe that’s a bit hyperbolic, but I think at one point it got up to 36 unread emails. And what did I do? I cleared them all out, sometimes opening a message to see if there was a good deal, and usually not finding much beyond 20 percent off … which, c’mon! That’s a typical discount.

But maybe it’s just me. According to the National Retail Federation, 44 percent of consumers shopped online for Black Friday (while 40 percent trekked out to stores), and Millennials — my generation — helped to drive the increase in Black Friday sales. And according to information from an Adobe report, Black Friday online sales grew 17.7 percent over 2015, hitting $5.27 billion.

Black Friday Sales MemeLook, I can be sassy about this because it’s me. Again, I realize the days between Black Friday and Cyber Monday are huge for retailers … but as I mentioned, the Black Friday “preview” emails started Nov. 1 for me.

I really don’t need 28 days worth of “Ooh look! Online deals! Buy them now!” emails. And having my inbox hammered for almost an entire month made me numb to most emails … I swiped left so many times to archive things I almost accidentally swiped my aunt’s email right out of my inbox.

Maybe I’m jaded because I’m familiar with how this all works. Maybe I’m burned out on unimaginative email copy and the same old bland offers. Either way, I say Bah Humbug to Black Friday. Give me #GivingTuesday … at least then the money I drop can go do some good in the world.

With October Behind Us, Amazon Wastes No Time Kicking Off the Holiday Shopping Season

On its Black Friday Deals Store, Amazon began rolling out thousands of holiday deals with new sales and promotions launching nearly “every five minutes.”

Some of your kids (or, heck, maybe even you) are still trying to scrub off that Halloween makeup from all of the trick or treating that went on, but if you haven’t already started sending out the latest info on your holiday deals and curated gift guides, you’re already losing ground to Amazon.

In a statement published promptly at 12 a.m. Seattle-time on Tuesday, the e-commerce giant announced the launch of its Black Friday Deals Store and more than a dozen different curated gift guides.

Through its Black Friday Deals Store, Amazon began rolling out some tens of thousands of holiday deals with new sales and promotions launching “as often as every five minutes” on everything from HDTVs to kitchen appliances and toys. The store will remain open through Dec. 22, and will include dozens of daily “compelling Deals of the Day” that will involve big-ticket items.

“Customers love discovering the best deals on the most sought-after products, and our Black Friday Deals Store and curated Holiday Gift Guides offer them a place to do just that – plus enjoy the most convenient shopping experience with tons of super-fast shipping options,” Doug Herrington, SVP of North American Retail at Amazon, said in the statement. “This holiday season, we’re offering more deals than ever before and – for the first time ever – giving Prime members an opportunity to use Alexa voice shopping for purchasing their holiday gifts hands-free. They can make purchases simply by asking Alexa-enabled devices, like the new Echo Dot, while relaxing at home with family and friends.”

The curated gift guides harken to those big and beautiful F.A.O. Schwarz books that used to come in the mail around this time of the year and get all of the neighborhood kids talking about their holiday wish lists. The obvious difference being that Amazon’s guides will be digital only. The most likely-to be scoured by kids and self-shoppers alike: the Electronics Gift Guide, the Home Gift Guide, and (an Etsy-esque competitor) the Handmade at Amazon Holiday Gift Guide.

screen-shot-2016-11-01-at-8-15-56-am

Of course, the one that resonates with us, and you, has to be the Electronics Gift Guide (pictured above). Looking through the list of products, retailers can get a sense of what products Amazon expects to deliver the best returns this year. What’s more, retailers can get a look at what they’re up against as far as pricing is concerned.

A quick tour through the Electronics Gift Guide shows that the emerging tech categories are expected to be front and center this year. In particular, Amazon places an emphasis on things like smart home tech, wearables, drones, and robotics. Mixed in, though, are some of the staples of the holidays—things like gaming, TVs, headphones, cameras, and more.

The standout category on that gift guide though? The little box in the top left corner of the screen: those electronics gift ideas that come in under $100. During the holiday shopping season, most consumers are looking for the “big deal.” They’re not looking to spend a fortune on themselves or whoever they’re gifting for, and that under-$100-price-point serves as a clickbaity headline. And listed in the Under $100 portion of the guide is everything from smartphones, cases, and bluetooth speakers, to toothbrushes, razors, and portable hard drives.

Calling out your major deals is great, but the strategy here by Amazon—that every retailer can learn from—is their ability to hit the nail on the head with the core online shopper. Categorize those lower price point items into an under $XX amount, and let your e-tail customers effectively impulse buy right from your website.

The biggest takeaway from all of this Amazon news for retailers? Now is the time to start running those holiday deals of yours. If you’re just planning for Black Friday now, you’re well behind the eight ball. It’s 2016, and if Amazon hasn’t made it clear enough for us all these past three years or so, let it be said here and now. The holidays no longer officially start on Black Friday. They start the second all of the pumpkins are down and candy has been handed out. So, finish that Kit-Kat you’re chowing down on, and get to popping. The holidays are here.