Good News: Online Sales Expected to Rise This Holiday Season

If you’re like me, you noticed that on Nov. 1, right after the bags of Halloween candy were pulled off the supermarket and drugstore shelves, the holiday items began to appear.

Folks, the holiday shopping — and selling — season has begun.

This year, there’s actually some good news leading into the holiday season. For starters, on Nov. 5, major retailers announced their best sales in months.

If you’re like me, you noticed that on Nov. 1, right after the bags of Halloween candy were pulled off the supermarket and drugstore shelves, the holiday items began to appear.

Folks, the holiday shopping — and selling — season has begun.

This year, there’s actually some good news leading into the holiday season. For starters, on Nov. 5, major retailers announced their best sales in months.

What’s more, U.S. online sales are expected to rise 8 percent this holiday season, according to a recent report from Forrester Research. Online retail sales in November and December are expected to reach $44.7 billion this year, up from $41.4 billion a year ago, according to the report, providing a bright spot to a retail industry that could still see total sales for the season fall.

So, how are online retailers planning to increase sales this year? Through social media and free shipping promotions, at least according to the results of Shop.org’s eHoliday study, conducted by BIGresearch.

Since many shoppers today use Facebook and Twitter regularly — and because these tools are more cost effective than traditional advertising — 47.1 percent of online retailers surveyed for the study are increasing their use of social media this holiday season.

More than half of the online retailer respondents have updated their Facebook pages (60.3 percent) and Twitter pages (58.7 percent) this year, while two-thirds (65.6 percent) have added or enhanced blogs and RSS feeds. 



As for the multitude of free shipping offers expected during this holiday season, 79.4 percent of those retailers surveyed said they will offer free shipping with conditions at some point during the holiday season. More than half (57.4 percent) also plan to offer free shipping without conditions. More than one-third (35.7 percent) said their budgets for free shipping are higher than last year, and nearly as many (30 percent) said free shipping offers will start earlier than a year ago.

Many online retailers have also revamped their websites this holiday season to make it easier for people to shop. Many, for example, have added or revamped their sites’ shopping carts (45.2 percent), search capabilities (44.3 percent), suggested items (42.9 percent), customer ratings and reviews (40.6 percent), and featured sale pages (37.1 percent), according to the study.

So, are you ramping up your use of social media or free shipping promotions this year? Doing anything else you’d like to tell us about? Leave a comment here.

Finally, Online Shopping With Friends

Don’t you just love shopping with friends? I do. I love getting opinions from them about what items of clothing look good on me, what would be considered a good value, what would
make a great gift and so on. When shopping with friends, I bet I also spend
more.

Don’t you just love shopping with friends? I do. I love getting opinions from them about what items of clothing look good on me, what would be considered a good value, what would
make a great gift and so on. When shopping with friends, I bet I also spend
more.

That’s why I was
interested in a new, free widget called Shoplication
that I received a press release about recently.
Placed in the checkout areas of
online retailers’ websites, the widget — which says, “Shop With Friends”
— enables shoppers who click on it to shop and share products with their
friends in real time. And online retailers can drive more sales.
The widget is the brainchild of Josh Bochner, CEO of Boston-based FriendShopper, a social platform that allows web shoppers to chat with their friends while shopping. The chat function docks to the right side of browsers to create an interactive shopping environment, and the dialogue feature allows users to converse and share with multiple friends simultaneously.

To use the tool, shoppers add the FriendShopper bookmark into their browsers’ toolbars, surf any
online storefronts and click the bookmark button whenever they find items
they’d like to save or share with friends.

The Shoplication widget takes this experience to the e-tailer.

Here’s how the widget
works: After FriendShopper members click on the Shoplication widget, they see a
pop-up featuring that product’s data that can be used to save the item, share
it with friends or both. If they’re currently shopping with a FriendShopper
member, that product data is added to the conversation. Users can also share
the online merchant’s store with FriendShopper friends by clicking the
“Add New Store.”

If consumers who aren’t members click on the widget, they see a co-branded pop-up window that
says the online retailer’s store has partnered with FriendShopper to bring them
a new shopping experience. Consumers can then sign up. Then they’re offered the
option to have the item be discussed in their “My Items” pages so
they can share it with their friends.

There are also some cool search options available for retailers. When they add the
widget to their sites, for example, they’re listed on the FriendShopper portal.

I thought this was a great way to allow friends to shop together and help online retailers expand
their reaches.
What do you think?

Outlook for Online Retailers: Sunny, With a Chance of Rain

On the surface, a walk through the show floor at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition in Boston, which ran June 15-18, would make even the dourest economist smile.

On the surface, a walk through the show floor at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition in Boston, which ran June 15-18, would make even the dourest economist smile.

With a reported 5,000 attendees and more than 350 exhibitors, the show was the first one I attended this year that felt like a “real” trade show. I saw lots of online and offline retailers and catalogers walking around, discussing Web design, social networking, site navigation, the mobile Web and other online-related matters. I also saw many packed sessions and many smiling, busy vendors. Was this 2009 or 1999?

But beneath all of this good feeling was the fact that the gloomy economy was still top-of-mind for most attendees. Many said that while they were there learning about the latest trends, they were still struggling, hoping to break even at year’s end. Others were more hopeful, stating that while their sales were down, their profits were holding steady and they were positive and upbeat about the year ahead.

During a presentation on June 16, Gian Fulgoni, chairman and co-founder of comScore, added a bit to the doom and gloom. He noted that while online retail sales were up 2 percent between both January 2009 and January 2008 and February 2009 and February 2008, they were down 1 percent in March, flat in April and down 4 percent in May. Overall numbers are flat.

But Fulgoni had some good news. E-commerce, for example, clearly continues to outperform brick-and-mortar stores in disposable income-driven product categories, such as sporting goods and fitness merchandise; books and magazines; and music, movies and videos.

What’s more, he said, 74 percent of consumers say they’re likely to shop online before making an offline purchase.

So the weather forecast is mixed. But there’s no denying the real energy on the trade show floor. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Search Marketing Reaches for New Heights

It’s no secret the economy is forcing online retailers to change the tactics they use to acquire and retain customers. But this doesn’t mean they’re cutting back across the board. While they’re cutting spend in some areas, they’re spending more in other areas that bring positive ROI.

It’s no secret the economy is forcing online retailers to change the tactics they use to acquire and retain customers. But this doesn’t mean they’re cutting back across the board. While they’re cutting spend in some areas, they’re spending more in other areas that bring positive ROI.

This may be why more than 80 percent of the 24 percent of retailers, who indicated in a recent Forrester Research survey conducted for Shop.org that they’ll spend more than originally planned this year, said they planned to increase their search spend.

The results of the survey of 117 online retailers were compiled in Shop.org’s study, The State of Retailing Online 2009.

The study reminded me of a case study I heard about recently involving Cabela’s, the direct marketer and specialty retailer of outdoor sporting goods. The company used a paid search campaign designed to push traffic into retail stores during a Memorial Day sales event last year.

Cabela’s maintains a strong online and catalog presence in addition to a growing number of retail stores across the U.S. “To increase traffic at these brick-and-mortar locations,” says Derek Fortna, Internet marketing manager at Cabela’s, “we decided to promote our offline stores online.”

For the campaign, Cabela’s partner, Performics, built paid search campaigns for each store, focusing on keywords for Cabela’s brand, the Memorial Day event and the combination of both, such as “Cabela’s Holiday Event.”

Geotargeted strategies were used. The company developed ad copy offering in-store coupons. These appeared on search pages of people who were in a 200-mile radius during the holiday event, and could only be redeemed at those locations. Landing pages were also developed to guide consumers through the coupon retrieval process.

The results? Ten percent of all consumers who clicked on the ad retrieved coupons, and 40 percent of the coupons were redeemed at retail locations.

This is one of the best success stories I’ve heard involving geotargeting, retailing and online search, and certainly one worth going to school on.

Online Retailers Need to Get Serious About Online Security

Online retailers, listen up: Earlier this week in its e-mail authentication report, the Online Trust Alliance (formerly the Authentication Online Trust Alliance) gave online retailers a failing grade in preventing deceptive e-mail and phishing scams.

Deceptive e-mails and phishing scams refer to forged e-mails that purport to come from legitimate brand owners. If you’re receiving a failing grade in this, you’re really shooting yourself in the foot.

Online retailers, listen up: Earlier this week in its e-mail authentication report, the Online Trust Alliance (formerly the Authentication Online Trust Alliance) gave online retailers a failing grade in preventing deceptive e-mail and phishing scams.

Deceptive e-mails and phishing scams refer to forged e-mails that purport to come from legitimate brand owners. If you’re receiving a failing grade in this, you’re really shooting yourself in the foot.

E-mail authentication, which equips e-mail messages with verifiable information so recipients can recognize the nature of each incoming message automatically, has grown over the past year, according to the OTA. Nevertheless, the OTA found that 45 percent of the top 300 revenue-generating e-retail sites have not adopted e-mail authentication. The alliance said this lack of adoption leaves brands, domains and consumers exposed to security and privacy threats.

“Authentication is the best tactic to use to counter phishing scams,” OTA Chairman and Founder Craig Spiezle told me earlier this week, adding that authentication is an easy fix. And for goodness sakes, it’s free.

Many leading brands — including Amazon, Dell, Office Depot, Apple, Costco and Staples — have adopted increased online security measures, according to the OTA. But many others — including Sears, Victoria’s Secret, Gap and Nordstrom — still don’t adequately protect their brands and customers through e-mail authentication. “These brands need to step up to the plate and protect their consumers and stockholders,” Spiezle said.

Spiezle did indicate that among the top 100 online e-retailers, “we are close to 70 percent of adoption. So, what this indicates is that, in general, bigger companies are recognizing the value of authentication.”

When you look at the top 200, Spiezle said, “adoption drops to 59 percent and then to 55 percent when looking at the top 300.”

OTA will also release similar data on the Fortune 500 at the upcoming OTA Online Trust Town Hall Meeting on April 23 in San Francisco. At the forum, OTA will also present best practices including data governance, privacy and behavioral targeting with the goal of increasing the adoption of best practices to protect consumers.

It seems to me that if you’re an online e-tailer, it would make sense to do whatever it is you can to make sure that your brand is protected. And since it’s easy and free, it makes even more sense. Do your brand a favor, authenticate!

Many Online Retailers Failed to Satisfy Customers This Holiday Season

A survey of customer satisfaction with top retail Web sites during the holiday season is shedding light on which online retailers will thrive in 2009 and which could be facing an uphill battle.

A survey of customer satisfaction with top retail Web sites during the holiday season is shedding light on which online retailers will thrive in 2009 and which could be facing an uphill battle.

Amazon.com and Netflix continued to delight holiday shoppers online while customer satisfaction with Web sites for Circuit City, Gap, Home Depot, Home Shopping Network, Neiman Marcus and Overstock.com is below industry standards, according to the annual Top 40 Online Retail Satisfaction Index from ForeSee Results and FGI Research.

ForeSee used the predictive methodology of the University of Michigan’s American Customer Satisfaction Index to examine how successful the top 40 retail Web sites are at encouraging loyalty and purchase intent. All 40 Web sites are rated on a 100-point scale.

The study found that a highly satisfied online shopper is 73 percent more likely to purchase online, 38 percent more likely to purchase offline and 75 percent more likely to recommend a site than is a dissatisfied shopper.

Highlights of the report include the following:
* The only two online marketers that scored greater than 80 on the study’s 100-point scale were Amazon.com and Netflix; both received an 84. QVC came next at 79.
* Ten Web sites improved online shopper satisfaction since last year’s holiday shopping season. The most improved were Walmart.com, which increased 5 percent to a score of 78, and Shopping.hp.com (Hewlett-Packard), which improved by 7 percent to 76.
* Forty percent of the sites measured saw satisfaction decline year over year. The largest declines were for HSN.com, down 9 percent to 69, and Gap.com, which fell 7 percent to 69.
* Five of the six e-retailers that scored 69 this year had lower scores in 2008 than in ’07.

Online Sales Continue to Climb, Despite Struggling Economy, Study Finds

Want to her some good news amdist all of the bad news surrounding the economy?

According to The State of Retailing Online 2008: Marketing Report–the 11th annual Shop.org report based on a study conducted by Forrester Research of 125 retailers–online retail will continue to be a bright spot in the industry with retail sales rising 17 percent this year to $204 billion.

Want to her some good news amdist all of the bad news surrounding the economy?

According to The State of Retailing Online 2008: Marketing Report–the 11th annual Shop.org report based on a study conducted by Forrester Research of 125 retailers–online retail will continue to be a bright spot in the industry with retail sales rising 17 percent this year to $204 billion.

Apparel ($26.6 billion), computers ($23.9 billion), and autos ($19.3 billion) will be the largest three sales categories.

According to the report, online retailers allocate 53 percent of their marketing budgets to online customer acquisition and 21 percent of marketing dollars to online customer retention. However, retailers are finding that traditional acquisition programs such as search engine or affiliate marketing may also serve as retention tools that attract existing customers as well as new shoppers.

Retailers report that search engine marketing continues to be the most effective way to reach new customers, citing 35 percent of sales coming from that initiative. As a result, nearly all online retailers surveyed (90 percent) use pay-for-performance search placement, and 79 percent said they will make this tactic an even greater priority this year. Companies are also using offline marketing tactics to drive customers to the web, with catalogs and other direct mail pieces taking priority over methods like television and newspaper advertising.

Though free shipping offers have proven to get some consumers over the obstacle of shopping online in the past, the study showed that retailers’ are less interested in promoting free shipping options this year. While 85 percent of online retailers said they used some shipping with conditions promotions in the past, just 35 percent said that they would focus more on these types of promotions in 2008. Instead, retailers are eager to experiment with Social Computing initiatives to attract customers – 65 percent and 55 percent of retailers respectively said that social network advertisements and widgets would be categories of increased focus this year. However, Social Computing efforts to this point have been considered more effective for brand-building and less proven for driving revenue or sales conversion. Therefore, the report advises retailers to continue investments in proven techniques like email marketing and free shipping promotions to drive sales.

The State of Retailing Online 2008: Marketing Report is currently available to Shop.org members and can also be purchased directly at www.shop.org/soro08.