6 Steps to E-commerce Success in B2B Seller Marketplaces

Amazon Business is expected to reach $52 billion in sales by 2023; Alibaba and eBay are also competing actively in the B2B space. But these e-commerce giants are only part of the story. How should B2B marketers get in on the action? Read on.

Amazon Business is expected to reach $52 billion in sales by 2023, and is growing faster than its consumer side. Alibaba and eBay are also competing actively in the B2B space. But these e-commerce  giants are only part of the story. Complex categories like oil and gas, chemicals, aviation and manufacturing are taking expense out of their selling processes by setting up industry-specific marketplaces. So how should B2B marketers get in on the action? Read on.

As buyers worldwide become increasingly comfortable with “remote buying,” this is the perfect time for B2B sellers to find ways to use e-commerce to improve their customers’ buying experience, eliminate costs from the selling process, and find new markets.

How to make sense of this all? Here’s a six-step e-commerce process to follow.

1. Develop a Strategic Approach

This is as much a distribution question as it is marketing question, so engage your entire go-to-market team to develop a strategy. Get started by asking these key questions:

  • What areas of our product line are suited to e-commerce? In B2B, the answer usually begins with the aftermarket, like parts.
  • How can we leverage e-commerce without causing strife in our existing distribution channel relationships?
  • Are there elements of our current selling process that could benefit from digital automation? The first step in B2B was e-procurement and EDI. Where else can we find opportunity for speed and savings?

Review Your Options

The landscape of existing B2B seller marketplace options is already well populated.  See what your competitors may be doing on the majors.  Then look at activity in your industry as a whole.  In aerospace, it’s ePlane and Honeywell’s multivendor platform GoDirect Trade. In chemicals, it’s CheMondis, launched in Europe to serve the global market. Manufacturers use Asseta for semiconductor parts.

Keep Close to Your Customers

Listen to how they want to buy from you. Especially your key accounts. You’ll find them your best source for actionable ideas for your digital transformation.

Revise Your Marketing Communications

Selling on marketplaces means a different approach from traditional lead generation and sales enablement, in two ways, explains Liz Brohan, co-CEO of CBD Marketing in Chicago.

First, it’s a direct selling environment, so you’ll need product images, videos, descriptive copy, and the keywords most relevant to buyers. This means giving up a certain amount of control, as your selling materials will have to comply with standards set by the marketplace.

Second, you’ll be on the same platform with your direct competitors, so focus on how to stand out and how to differentiate. This may be through thought leadership content, top quality video, and keen attention to your pricing. “On marketplaces, B2B marketers need to think about building brand awareness, almost like a CPG company,” says Brohan.

Ramp Up Your Own E-commerce

Most B2B companies expect e-commerce to comprise 40% of their topline revenue by 2025, according to Digital Commerce 360. Opportunity is everywhere. Not just parts and aftermarket.  Examine areas of your selling process that can be shifted to self-service online.

Watch Amazon Like a Hawk

It’s no secret that Amazon is revolutionizing B2B e-commerce. It continues to disrupt, experimenting with private-label products in categories like MRO and office supplies, thus going into direct competition with their sellers. Amazon also has introduced Dash Smart Shelf, an automatic replenishment system for office supplies. Businesses who chose to sell at Amazon Business are in for a roller coaster ride.

The opportunity is huge, and so are the challenges.  So let’s get busy cracking this new nut.

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

3 Google Analytics Tips for E-Commerce

There’s a lot more to Google Analytics than looking at basic traffic metrics. These tips will help you make improvements to drive more e-commerce sales from your different marketing channels. 

Many businesses using Google Analytics are only scratching the surface of what Google Analytics can do. By not taking advantage of the platform’s more powerful features, they lose out on getting a lot of valuable insights about their marketing and how to make the most of their budgets.

Covering every aspect of Google Analytics would require an e-book. So in this article, I’ll walk through three steps to get you started and more familiar with Google Analytics.

1. Base Your Website Objectives on Specific Business Needs

You can use Google Analytics to measure how well your website performs in helping you hit your company’s target KPIs. Do not rely on the defaults set up in Google Analytics. Those are meant to cover a broad range of companies, and some of them are not applicable to your business needs.

Instead, take the time to define the important KPIs that your website should be hitting. For example, in addition to online sales, is your goal to generate quote requests for larger/bulk orders? Is another goal to collect email addresses by offering a free report? Where do visitors need to go on your website if they are interested in your products or services?

As you think through these goals, you’ll start to identify conversions that you need to set up in the Google Analytics admin area. This is a critical step that will allow you to monitor the performance of all of your different marketing channels. For example, if your goal is to generate quote requests, then you’ll need to set up a conversion to measure quote requests. Once that’s done, you’ll be able to run reports to see how many quote requests were generated from SEO vs. Google Ads vs. Facebook, or any other marketing channel you’re using.

We also recommend using the audience reporting views to see if your website visitors are actually your ideal customers. You can create customized segments for tracking important demographic points, like age, gender, and location.

Reviewing the information on your visitors may give your more perspective. Maybe your company needs to change its marketing strategy or website layout to resonate more with your target market.

2. Use E-Commerce Tracking

Google Analytics offers a feature called Enhanced E-Commerce. You should see it when setting up your Google Analytics account. Here are a few ways you can use the feature to get a better understanding of the customer journey through your website and shopping portal.

  1. You can track the shopping and checkout behavior of each visitor to your site. That includes product page-views, shopping cart additions and removals, abandoned items, and completed transactions.
  2. You can view metrics, like revenue generated, average transaction quantity, conversion rates for specific products, and how quickly products get added to a shopping cart. You can see what point a customer loses interest in the shopping experience. That lets you focus on tactics that keep them engaged and encourage them to complete a purchase.
  3. You can measure the success of various internal and external marketing efforts meant to encourage shopping and checkouts by visitors. For example, you can see whether the new product banner put up increased conversion rates.

The various reports give you a clear view of the path customers take as they shop on your website.

3. Sync Google Analytics With Your E-Commerce Platform

Many e-commerce platforms, like Shopify, have the ability to quickly sync with Google Analytics. This can save you and your team a lot of time and frustration trying to set everything up manually.

For example, the e-commerce analytics reporting mentioned above requires knowledge of Javascript, if you want to set it up yourself. Always check with the support team for your e-commerce platform to see if they have already synced up with Google Analytics. If they have, then you could be set up in a matter of minutes.

Look Beyond Surface Data

There’s a lot more to Google Analytics than looking at basic traffic metrics. These tips should allow you to gain a better understanding of where you can make improvements to drive more e-commerce sales from your different marketing channels.

  • First, identify your business goals and set up conversions in the Google Analytics admin area.
  • Second, set up enhanced e-commerce analytics either manually or by syncing your e-commerce platform with Google Analytics.
  • And third, review all the e-commerce reports to see which marketing channels can be improved to increase your sales.

Want more tips on how to use Google Analytics? Click here to grab a copy of our “Ultimate Google Analytics Checklist.”

 

Developing Technology Standards to Support Privacy Regulations of the Future

Advertising has played a vital role in the Internet’s mass adoption. But, as the industry evolved, consumer privacy took a back seat. Today’s technologies provide an opportunity to rebuild the digital advertising infrastructure to benefit publishers, brands, and consumers — and build in privacy, from the ground up.

Advertising has played a vital role in the internet’s mass adoption, but as the industry evolved, consumer privacy took a back seat.

Consumer privacy became a national conversation after Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm used by the Trump campaign, was able to obtain raw data harvested from up to 87 million Facebook profiles and use it to segment and target users in ways that critics argue amounts to voter manipulation.

Since then, congressional committees and governmental agencies have expanded investigations into Facebook, Google, and other ad tech industry players. GDPR came to the US in the form of CCPA, the California Consumer Privacy Act, a law designed to give consumers similar power over the data they generate online.

Our industry is now struggling to prove to both consumers and regulators that we can be trusted with their data, but there’s hope. Cutting-edge technologies provide an opportunity to rebuild the digital advertising infrastructure to benefit publishers, brands, and consumers — and build in privacy, from the ground up.

The First Step: Joining Forces

Cryptography and blockchain have already emerged as solutions for adding verification and validation layers that ensure accountability and efficiency in the media supply chain. But the only way to drive adoption of these forward-thinking solutions and solve for consumer privacy is by bringing together key stakeholders in the industry, educating them on the benefits and developing the technical standards that will create the change the industry needs.

“I knew blockchain paired with cryptography could deliver significant change to the advertising industry,” says Adam Helfgott, CEO of MadHive and founding member of AdLedger. “I also knew it would take a concerted effort to drive adoption across such a broad landscape of stakeholders.”

Uniting brands, agencies, publishers, and technology vendors provides an open forum for collaboration, allowing the industry to express their concerns and tackle the issues head on. Advertising industry leaders like Meredith, Hershey, IPG, Publicis, and GroupM are forming working groups that release findings for broader industry education, while companies like Omnicom, MadHive, and Beachfront are already engaging in proof-of-concept projects to tackle issues like fraud, brand safety, and transparency.

So, it begs the question: Why not leverage these technologies for privacy as well?

The Privacy Solution = Privacy-by-Design

Cryptography is already being used to keep consumer data safe, at-scale, in an industry adjacent to advertising: e-commerce. Every time you buy something on your favorite website and the little green lock pops up in your browser as you type in your credit card information, cryptography is being used to protect that sensitive information.

But cryptography’s potential runs much deeper than this single application. It can provide mathematical proof for things like data provenance, while simultaneously ensuring regulatory compliance. This gives publishers the ability to secure their first-party data and thereby control access to their most precious resource – their audience. For advertisers, this immutable chain of custody and identity validation of supply-chain participants creates a brand-safe environment in which customers are reached with the right message at the right time.

The best part? Cryptography and blockchain can be baked into the underlying digital advertising infrastructure, which will automate this entire process and create a system with privacy-by-design. But the only way to integrate these technologies and drive mainstream adoption is through the unification, education, and collaboration of key industry stakeholders.

Long-term fixes take time, but the value prop for publishers and advertisers is evident. And maybe the GDPR and CCPA regulations are the push the industry needs to join forces and work toward a long-term solution.

Rihanna and Amazon — Marketing Perfectly Together

Rihanna’s second Savage X Fenty lingerie show will be a highlight of New York Fashion Week, with its inclusive line-up of models representing all body types. Last year’s show was available to anyone on YouTube. But “this year’s Savage X Fenty Show will be available to stream exclusively on Amazon Prime Video.”

Rihanna’s second Savage X Fenty lingerie show will be a highlight of New York Fashion Week, with its inclusive line-up of models representing all body types.

Last year’s show was available to anyone on YouTube. But “this year’s Savage X Fenty Show will be available to stream exclusively on Amazon Prime Video in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide, beginning Friday, September 20,” according to Deadline.

So why limit access to the 100 million Amazon Prime members, instead of letting anyone view the show?

It’s a win for Rihanna, because those 100 million Prime members are excellent e-commerce prospects. Why not take advantage of their ability to shop the new collection and buy with a single click? And it’s a win for Amazon, which iis interested in making further forays into the fashion world as traditional department store retail sales wane.

Wired reports:

“Amazon isn’t exactly the most stylish place to shop for clothes. Most of its top-selling women’s fashion items are simple pieces: easy dresses, spandex workout gear, socks, and underwear — a lot of it from brands you’ve probably never heard of … Now, Amazon is experimenting to attract a new, more fashionable segment of consumers: social media influencers and the people who love to follow them.”

With 93 million Twitter followers (fourth highest), Rihanna certainly fits that bill.

What’s more, Rihanna can expect to benefit from Amazon’s targeting capabilities. Who’s purchased similar lingerie lines? Who’s purchased Rihanna make-up, perfume, clothing, and music in the past? Who are the big spenders? What else have they bought? When are they likely to buy?

Dazed writes:

“The Amazon Prime stream will include behind-the-scenes footage of the show and the making of the collection, allowing us a peak into Rihanna’s creation of an inclusive lingerie brand for all women.

“What can we expect from the lingerie brand’s second show? Last year, a diverse group of models hit the runway, while a heavily pregnant Slick Woods walked the catwalk in nothing but pasties and a bodysuit. No bombshell bras and mermaid hair here.”

Returns Are the Final Frontier for E-Commerce Dominance

E-commerce has had to overcome several barriers in its relatively short lifespan. (Well, relatively short for a Baby Boomer. But not so much for Millennials and Gen-Zers, who don’t remember a time when milk was delivered to your doorstep daily.)

E-commerce has had to overcome several barriers in its relatively short lifespan. (Well, relatively short for a Baby Boomer. But not so much for Millennials and Gen-Zers, who don’t remember a time when milk was delivered to your doorstep daily — but you couldn’t get almost everything else delivered for free in two days.)

First, there was online penetration. In 1999, only 44% of Americans had Internet access, either at home or at work.

Next, there was the fear of using your credit card online (65% in 1999). Most people got over that as they began to trust traditional retailers’ online sites and Amazon became a household word.

Shipping costs are too high. Enter Amazon Prime and FREE SHIPPING on orders over $30 from other retailers.

“I want to see it and feel it” and “I need it today” resulted in shopping online and buying offline, a common practice for several product categories even today, including high-end electronics and clothing.

Returns are a hassle and/or expensive. Yep! About 33% of global shoppers cited online return policies and processes as deterrents. (Chain Store Age, October 2015)

If there’s one thing consumers hate more than paying for shipping, it’s paying for return shipping. As counterproductive as it seems, I go out of my way to take Amazon returns to a return center to avoid paying $7 for return shipping. Returning an online purchase to a retail location is another option that consumers will choose — one that is probably more time-intensive, with a higher negative ROI. I don’t have firsthand knowledge, but I’m sure most online retailers have tested a higher price point with free shipping vs. lower price point plus shipping. Chances are, free shipping wins.

Zappos offers free returns so you can try different sizes and colors of shoes on in the comfort of your own home. However, free returns are met with the same skepticism regarding price as free shipping.

E-commerce continues to grow at a decent pace.

“Early analysis from Internet Retailer shows online retail sales in the U.S. crossed $517 billion in 2018, a 15% jump, compared with 2017. The growth in retail sales in physical stores reached 3.7% last year. This means that e-commerce now accounts for 14.3% of total retail sales, when factoring out the sale of items not normally purchased online, such as fuel, automobiles, and sales in restaurants. And it also means that in only a decade, the web has more than doubled its share of retail sales. Ten short years ago, e-commerce was at 5.1% of total retail purchases.”

While an almost threefold growth in 10 years is impressive, I think that making the return process more satisfying for consumers can accelerate the growth of e-commerce. Changing the consumer mindset about return costs may be the answer.  In his book, “Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics,” Richard Thaler notes that members view their Costco and Amazon Prime annual fees as investments and make no attempt to allocate those costs over the various purchases they make during the year.

Is there an opportunity for an unlimited free returns membership add-on from Amazon or another retailer? I know people who are chronic returners at brick-and-mortar stores who would welcome it. Pricing it certainly would be tricky. What do you think?

3 Quick Ways to Sabotage SEO Efforts

Are you sabotaging your own SEO efforts? As an SEO consultant, I see numerous well-intentioned business leaders make decisions that, in effect, sabotage and trash months and even years of SEO work.

Are you sabotaging your own SEO efforts? As an SEO consultant, I see numerous well-intentioned business leaders make decisions that, in effect, sabotage and trash months and even years of SEO work.

Because of these poorly thought-out decisions, organic search traffic craters and sales decline. This situation is often an indirect result of site owners making decisions without estimating or understanding the impact these might have on the long-established SEO efforts. Tactical SEO mistakes are easier to recover from than ill-thought out business decisions.

Here are three business decisions that can sabotage your SEO efforts:

  • Change your brand name
  • Dramatically shift your product offering
  • Target a different customer segment, while abandoning the previous target audience.

Here is how and why each of these marketing/business decisions can have a long-term negative impact on the site.

Changing Your Brand Name

As businesses grow, shrink and change ownership, there is often a desire to rebrand the company. This decision is usually made many pay grades above the SEO team. The assumption is that altering the name will be simply a matter of shifting the website over to a new address. This is what it takes technically, but it greatly oversimplifies the impact such a change can have on organic search traffic. A quick look at what percentage of traffic is first-time visitors and how dependent your site is on new customers coming in from search will give you the scary truth of how much of an impact a change might have.

If your site is a commerce one, there is more to lose. Google gives brand names preference in the search results, so you will be found for the new name on the door; however, this does not account for the broader loss of name recognition in the marketplace. If you are in a pitched battle for search placement with established brands, you will be giving them a gift; for until your new name is broadly known, you will be a nobody. Searchers do not see your lovely rebranding visuals or associate your once trusted name with the new name. There are ways to mitigate the impacts. Begin with a rebranding strategy that includes a thorough understanding of its impact on your organic search strategy and seek to mitigate upfront any impact. In short, don’t make the change and then ask why organic search traffic has declined.

Shifting Your Product Offering

Most e-commerce businesses change their product offering regularly as the seasons shift and styles change. This type of change is accounted for in the SEO workflow and causes little disruption to the flow of organic search traffic. It is dramatic shifts that can severely interrupt search traffic. You cannot go easily from selling gardening supplies to quilting fabrics without an appropriate segue. Before extinguishing a product offering, try adding the new offering and devise ways to inform your audience that you are shifting. This lets your content, links and traffic ramp up organically without injuring the site’s overall reputation. Organic search is not simply a spigot that can be turned on or off at your whim.

Shifting Your Audience

Search is still accomplished through keywords and hyperlinked text. Your search program is designed to optimize your visibility to a target audience. It has been my experience that search exposes how completely a business is focused on and aware of its audience. The SEO program hones the vocabulary so that the site brings the customers whose needs match your offering. When there is a mismatch of site content and keyword emphasis to target audience, search traffic declines. If there is an ambivalence as to who your target customer is, this will be apparent as well in diminished, sub-optimal results.

Conclusion

There is an overarching theme in this analysis of just a few of the ways you can sabotage your search traffic: Tie search into the major business decisions early on and seek ways to mitigate any negative potential negative impacts before they occur.

Winning at Voice-Assisted Search

Voice-assisted search came onto the mass market in 2011 with the initial release of Siri. Since then, there have been ongoing improvements and expanded options in natural language technology and experience. A better user experience made consumers comfortable with voice search and increased its usage, further fueling development of the technology and data architecture that makes the information we crave voice accessible.

The Walmart and Google cooperative voice-shopping partnership announced a few weeks ago heralds more than just the first real challenge to dominant e-commerce giant Amazon. It punctuates the growing prevalence and importance of voice-assisted searching and shopping behaviors.

Voice-assisted search came onto the mass market in 2011 with the initial release of Siri. Since then, there have been ongoing improvements and expanded options in natural language technology and experience. A better user experience made consumers comfortable with voice search and increased its usage, further fueling development of the technology and data architecture that makes the information we crave voice accessible. Personal assistants are now a default on smartphones but in the past couple of years smart homes, home devices and technologies like Amazon Alexa/Echo, Google Home, Google Assistant and even Microsoft Cortana (which powers both SIRI and Alexa) have become commonplace in American households. Amazon doesn’t divulge numbers but unit sales estimates for the Echo devices vary from 8-11 million since its 2014 introduction.

People use their voice-activated devices, most commonly their phones but increasingly smart speakers, for a number of purposes. They listen to music, control smart appliances, research products, play games, set alarms, enjoy audio books, catch the news and a thousand other things. Partnerships with other internet driven companies, like Uber, amp up the productivity and use cases for a voice search or shopping experience. Consumers can check ball scores, the weather, flight status or order a car, a pizza, a replacement part or any number of very useful queries. Add context — as in where you are located, what device you are on and a search history and the search utility goes way up. How will marketers pay for that level of relevance?

Marketers need to quickly understand how to optimize for voice search and voice assistants as the volume and share of mobile searching continues to rise. Hitwise says that almost 60 percent of searches currently take place on mobile devices with their tiny screens and keyboards. This makes voice search an attractive alternative to thumb cramps and typos. To date, Google has not announced a paid voice search product but organic results will be in sharp demand as comScore predicts that 50 percent of searches will be done through voice by 2020. Gardner further predicts that 30 percent of web browsing will be done sans a screen. Need more proof? Bing’s market share has rebounded in recent years, in part due to all the Android and Google powered voice searches that utilize their data. Moz wisely cautions that voice search volume is additive to typed search and not to neglect your typed search SEO as it continues to be important.

Search behavior is naturally altered between text and voice. Voice searches take a more conversational approach and are much more specific. Users typically ask a long question to a device where they might type a short string of keywords in a screen based search. Often taking place in a mobile environment and on a mobile device, voice searching skews to local queries. The results also differ. The search result can be returned by voice and is not always delivered with or by a long laundry list of possible search results to scroll through. The top one or two places in a search result will become all the more important, as the goal of a voice search is not to provide options but to provide the best response. THE answer.

As our population gets more and more connected, voice search will play a larger and more important role in commerce. A recent report revealed that in the last 12 months 19 percent of consumers have made a purchase using a voice-controlled device. That purchase percentage soars to 43 percent for Millennials. Marketers and sellers, in particular, should tread carefully. If consumers are voice shopping on an Amazon device in the Amazon marketplace, that closed environment provides Amazon the ability to skew the search results to Amazon products or their preferred partners. It’s not a level playing field. It’s the Amazon playing field and they have the home advantage. Voice assisted shopping can also devalue brand as both searches and search results are often generic.

Many experts suggest that becoming THE answer to relevant voice searches will take a combination of new skills and tactics that recognize that SEO is no longer entirely about SERP position though, happily, it appears that optimizing for voice searchers also improves overall SEO.

What steps should marketers take today?

  • Rewrite your site copy to mimic natural language. Listen in on customer calls or utilize a natural language tool (Question Samurai is one) to help you translate product or brand speak into natural language.
  • Optimize your site for questions including lengthy, long-tail queries that include the Who, What, When, Where, Why words.
  • Create an FAQ page that lists the most common questions along with the answers as well as very specific landing pages for key questions/queries.
  • Incorporate local/regional language as well as previously meaningless hyperbolic terms like “best” or “top” as these tend to be used in voice searches.
  • Use featured snippets
  • Claim your business in all relevant local directories, especially Google Pages.
  • Revise your search results to include a timely CTA with an immediate click (Book Now. Call Now.) to take advantage of the mobile mindset and the perceived immediacy of the need.

Voice search combined with data and preferences revealed by smart devices, wearables and other IOT should be able to take real-time data, add it to voice searches and better interpret our true search intent. Our voice searches should then lead to better, more convenient, more relevant results than typing. If not THE answer, then a closer approximation than our typing reveals.

Don’t wait to consider your voice search strategy. Giving real people real answers to their questions can have an immediate impact on your search relevancy and your business.

Amazon Accused of ‘Surge Pricing,’ Misleading Consumers During Prime Day

According to a recent report, a vendor who sells direct through Amazon has stepped forward to accuse the e-commerce giant of misleading business practices. Specifically, the vendor said that Amazon jacked up the suggested retail price of its product on Prime Day 2017 to make it seem like the discount consumers were getting was far better than it actually was.

According to a recent report, a vendor who sells direct through Amazon has stepped forward to accuse the e-commerce giant of misleading business practices. Specifically, the vendor said that Amazon jacked up the suggested retail price of its product on Prime Day 2017 to make it seem like the discount consumers were getting was far better than it actually was.

In the report, Jason Jacobs, founder of Remodeez — a company that makes nontoxic foot deodorizers and other odor-defense products — said he’s been doing business with Amazon since 2015 and has an agreement with the company that lists his product with a suggested retail price of $9.99. However, he found that on Prime Day, that price was nearly doubled.

“They showed the product at $15.42 and then exed it out to put ‘$9.99 for Amazon Prime Day,’” Jacobs told FOX Business. “And on the final day, the price was like $18.44. So, we put a support ticket in right away and I rallied some friends through social media to go to their complaint board and complain.”

Credit: FOX Business by Remodeez

Jacobs said the suggested price came back down to $9.99 the following day, but a little more digging showed that this wasn’t the first time Amazon did this to this product. Over the past year, Jacobs found that the suggested price of the product had been bumped up on two different occasions to more than $15. Important to note, Amazon’s agreement with Remodeez does enable it (Amazon) to set its own pricing as it sees fit.

Jacobs noticed that each time the price was increased over the past year, it correlated with media attention directed at its product. That coverage, in BuzzFeed on numerous occasions and in Forbes, led to an increase in demand for the product and, as it turns out, an increase in the suggested retail price. And those increases, according to Jacobs, caused sales to tank.

“It’s not like they’re bumping it by a buck and making a little bit more money,” he said. “They are really tanking sales and it kind of has a ripple effect to us, being a small company trying to do demand planning.”

Dynamic Surge Pricing

This kind of business practice from retailers isn’t uncommon. In fact, dynamic surge pricing — where retailers quickly change the price of products based on data-driven algorithms that look at things like demand, inventory and competitors’ prices — is a hot trend in the industry.

Think of it like surge pricing on an app like Uber. Though it did get out of hand and cause quite a controversy at one point (because of a screwy algorithm), Uber’s surge pricing is designed to enable the cost of a ride to reflect the current level of demand at any particular point in time.

It’s a practice that could make sense if executed correctly at retail. But without proper explanation to the customer, it more or less reads as a shady business practice. And the Federal Trade Commission keeps an eye out for that type of misleading sales information. Its recommendation is to make an item available at “list price on a regular basis for a reasonably substantial period of time” before setting a sale price. If a retailer appears to be veering away from that recommendation, the FTC can go after it.

Customer-Centric?

And that’s the case right now with Amazon. As part of its review of the company’s agreement to buy Whole Foods, the FTC is reportedly looking into whether the discounts that Amazon offers are actually as good as they seem to be. The FTC’s interest, more specifically, stems from a Consumer Watchdog complaint. In a report published in early July, the organization claimed that Amazon “routinely uses inflated and fictitious previous prices” to offer misleading discounts.

Not the kind of thing you expect from a company that claims right there in its mission statement that it puts the customer first…

Amazon refuted the Consumer Watchdog report, calling the study “deeply flawed” and based on incomplete data and improper assumptions. “The conclusions the Consumer Watchdog group reached are flat-out wrong,” the company said in a statement. “We validate the reference prices provided by manufacturers, vendors and sellers against actual prices recently found across Amazon and other retailers.”

And in response to the vendor accusations reported by FOX Business, Amazon said “Our customers expect to come to Amazon and find the lowest prices and we work hard to meet or beat them for all customers, across our entire retail selection. The world’s prices fluctuate all the time and we seek to match the lowest price.”

Amazon Aims to Shut Down ‘Showrooming’

First off, I’m a fan of Amazon. I can order everything from cat litter to sequined gowns, from dried blueberries to external hard drives. And I love that. So when I found out Amazon was granted a patent that prevents in-store price checking, well, let’s say there was a bit of a record scratch.

Amazon shopping memeFirst off, I’m a fan of Amazon. I can order everything from cat litter to sequined gowns, from dried blueberries to external hard drives. And I love that.

I’m a loyal Prime member, as well, and appreciate that when I’m too busy to make it to the store, I can order cat food for Apollo and have it delivered two days later.

So when I found out Amazon was granted a patent that prevents in-store price checking, well, let’s say there was a bit of a record scratch.

From The Washington Post:

Amazon was awarded a patent May 30 that could help it choke off a common issue faced by many physical stores: Customers’ use of smartphones to compare prices even as they walk around a shop. The phenomenon, often known as mobile “window shopping,” has contributed to a worrisome decline for traditional retailers.

But Amazon now has the technology to prevent that type of behavior when customers enter any of its physical stores and log onto the WiFi networks there. Titled “Physical Store Online Shopping Control,” Amazon’s patent describes a system that can identify a customer’s Internet traffic and sense when the smartphone user is trying to access a competitor’s website.

Trust me, there has been MANY a time in which I pulled out my iPhone while standing in the middle of a Target aisle, unable to find the item I’m looking for so I give up and look on Amazon. While still in Target. Why? Because I don’t want to forget that I need to pick up whatever the item is (and can’t get at Target). And yes, I’ve also done some comparison shopping, because that’s the norm nowadays.

This patent is a little scary. Sure … it’s for use in Amazon’s own brick and mortar stores, on the store Wi-Fi, so it’s not widespread — yet —  but it seems a bit hypocritical. I mean, Amazon is the company that’s benefited wildly from showrooming!

But here’s the deal: This patent is the foot in the door for more of this to occur. Who’s to say Target wouldn’t be next, keeping me from searching online for houseware items I can’t manage to find in their store?

I understand that showrooming has been a real punch in the gut for some brick and mortar retailers, but it’s the new reality. You can either adapt and evolve, or you can do shady things like block someone’s online search … causing consumers to get ticked off and go elsewhere.

Link Spam — What’s Old Is New Again

Link spam is like the proverbial crabgrass in the digital lawn. It requires continuous attention to keep it from taking over.

spamLink spam is like the proverbial crabgrass in the digital lawn. It requires continuous attention to keep it from taking over.

Recently, Google noted an increase in spammy links contained in articles referred to as contributor posts, guest posts, partner posts or syndicated posts. This new outbreak has been particularly virulent among sites publishing articles that are generally written by or in the name of one website, and published on a different one.

This informative blog post set my spidey-sense tingling. Should it be interpreted as more than a bland warning about the evils of link-building? Google usually signals major changes prior to implementation of what would, in this instance, be corrective action. Savvy SEOs know that these bland-seeming alerts should be heeded, for they give just enough time for alert site owners to correct any problems.

Link-Building — An Unusual Approach

In more than 15 years as a full-time SEO, link-building has always been the last effort on my list of must-do’s. Here are some reasons for my somewhat iconoclastic view:

• Links Are an Invitation for Your Visitor to Leave

Most of my clients are in the e-commerce space. Links, even links that open in a new window, still take a valuable visitor away from the site. If the information is essential, it should be on the page or somewhere on the site. Links should be references.

• Links Require Management

Links to and from outside sites can go bad, just like milk or fruit. There are tools available for managing links to make sure that your site does not have a load of dead links, but this just adds yet another line into an already too-long list of site maintenance tasks. For very large sites, this can become a non-trivial task; hence, it is too easy to let hygiene slip by the wayside. Just ask any email marketer about the problems and challenges of list maintenance.

• Good Content Attracts Links

A build-it-and-they-will-come approach has always been my recommendation. Content that is original, useful and highly targeted to your users will attract not only readers/users, but also links. This is completely congruent with Google’s recommendations.

What Are the Bad Links Google Is Targeting?

Google does not discourage linking in articles when they inform users, educate another site’s audience or bring awareness to a cause or company. This type of link can readily grow from quality content. Google is discouraging link-building schemes where the main intent is to build links in a large-scale way back to the author’s site. Google also indicates the traits of links in articles that violate their guidelines. These include:

  • Stuffing keyword-rich links to your site in your articles that appear on other sites.
  • Having the articles published across many different sites; alternatively, having a large number of articles on a few large, different sites.
  • Using or hiring article writers who aren’t knowledgeable about the topics they’re writing on.
  • Using the same or similar content across these articles; alternatively, duplicating the full content of articles found on your own site (in which case, use of rel=”canonical” in addition to rel=”nofollow” is advised).

Google notes that when the search engine detects such spammy links, it may alter its perception of the site and impact its ranking.

In short, punishment in the form of ranking demotion should be expected for those who do not heed this warning and clean up their acts. So, if you use contributor posts, guest posts, partner posts or syndicated posts as part of your marketing, review how you are handling linking. Not sure of the value, but not ready to let them go, just “nofollow” the links.

Consider yourself warned, don’t persist, or you will be downgraded. Maybe not today, but sometime soon.