Tips for Using Native Advertising to Increase eCommerce Sales

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Heading into the second quarter, merchants looking to maximize their marketing spend may well consider native advertising, which is experiencing strong growth. But to “go native” effectively, merchants should be selective in paid content placement and design campaigns that focus on commerce.
For the uninitiated, native advertising is the digital version of an old-school print “advertorial” — that is, advertising designed to blend with editorial features of a website. Depending on the definition, the native advertising umbrella can include any and all contextual placements, including paid product ads in social media news feeds. But most commonly, native advertising is content-focused, and attracts clicks and engagement covering what merchants categorize as “lifestyle” topics that range from the serious to the silly.
Because of its seamless relationship with editorial content and its relevance to the audience, advertisers report success with native ads — especially when compared to traditional display banners, which are routinely ignored or even blocked by consumers. Investment in native advertising has grown more than 150% since 2013, with revenues forecast to approach $14 billion this year, according to Marin Software.
Rising popularity can translate into rising costs, and merchants looking to make the leap into native advertising may be daunted by the prospect of not only creating bespoke in-depth content, but paying for its placement. Indeed, merchants must strike a balance between enriching their “owned” brand content and the paid placements that can drive engagement and sales. To maximize native advertising effectiveness, merchants should adopt the following best practices:
Use native for new audiences, and own the rest
Native advertising ranks higher than content marketing when it comes to brand awareness and landing-page traffic generation, and the two techniques are on a par when it comes to overall brand engagement, according to a survey of marketers by Digiday and PulsePoint. With these objectives in mind, merchants should focus native advertising campaigns on attracting new customers and convincing them to interact further with their brands.
To achieve these goals, merchants should both develop the right content to appeal to their target audience and target their native advertising efforts to appear on platforms or in publications that speak directly to that audience.
It’s also crucial to follow through with further in-depth content beyond the campaign, so that new visitors have reason to stick around, visit again, and commit to becoming loyal customers. That means merchants should develop comprehensive customer service content and build community via social media in addition to creating lifestyle content hubs that demonstrate merchants’ thorough understanding of their audience’s preoccupations and needs.
Make the connection to commerce with integrated eCommerce site pages
While native advertising campaign content itself rarely focuses outright on products, merchants should be sure to connect the dots once visitors find their way to a landing page or the eCommerce site. Echoing visual elements of the ads — from type styles to featured photos — can help connect the message to the merchandise, while further content to complement the paid campaign can add depth to the eCommerce site as a whole, as well as further engage ad-driven visitors.
Footwear manufacturer Cole Haan went “all in” with a native campaign on the New York Times website, which featured New York City Ballet dancers talking about their art. The related eCommerce site section features the same dancers and provides further dance-related imagery to accompany the ballet flats that are the products ultimately being promoted by the campaign.

Think beyond text and photos
When designing native campaigns, merchants should consider what medium most effectively conveys their message and creates the kind of emotional appeal that can compel viewers to explore further. Often, that means choosing content types that go beyond the article or “listicle” format which typified early native advertising efforts.
Indeed, video can now be incorporated into the native ad units and widgets that place links adjacent to editorial content, as well as in the native advertising feature itself. And with its ability to summon emotional connections, music — in the form of sponsored Spotify playlists or even branded podcasts — can be another potent element in the native advertising mix. Retailer Victoria’s Secret, well known for its fashion-show spectacles, promoted its runway music mix on Spotify, attracting more than 30,000 followers.

Heed new rules for transparency
With native advertising becoming ever more prevalent, the potential has grown for viewers to confuse paid with editorial content — and to feel deceived as a result. So it’s no surprise that new regulations have arisen to ensure that consumers can quickly distinguish between paid and editorial content. As of December 2015,  the FTC requires advertisers and publishers to clearly, prominently, and consistently label native advertising as paid or sponsored content. Not only should merchants comply with the standards to avoid potential fines or legal ramifications, but because otherwise they risk alienating the very shoppers they hope to engage.

Are you using native advertising campaigns, and if so, how do they fit into your overall content strategy?

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How to Use Social Media to Exceed Customer Service Expectations

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Although merchants struggle to quantify the direct impact on sales, by now there’s little doubt that social media can play a significant role in driving sales and sustaining loyalty. But while opening new outposts on the latest “hot” social networks may hold appeal for reaching coveted demographics, there’s one fundamental aspect of social media no merchant should overlook in 2016: customer service.

As we’ve argued in the past, customer service is crucial as a differentiator in a crowded marketplace — and social media is increasingly an important touchpoint shoppers use to address their customer service needs. Increasingly, more and more consumers are turning to popular social networks for direct communication with merchants. Some two-thirds of U.S.  consumers have used social media to receive customer service assistance, according to JD Powers.

Furthermore, plenty of evidence exists to suggest that social media plays a significant role when interactions go awry and shoppers turn to the Internet to share their stores. Fully 39 percent of consumers say they’ve shared negative experiences with friends and family, and more than 1 in 10 have posted negative reviews on sites such as Yelp or critical comments on their own — or a brand’s — Facebook page. Merchants with robust social customer service teams in place can act quickly to respond before flames are fanned into a firestorm.

To cover the bases, then, merchants might be tempted to multiply service outposts across social networks. But consumers have steep expectations for speed and resolution when it comes to social service: for example, 42% of consumers expect a response to a social media support request within the hour, according to a survey by the Northridge Group.

So in order for merchants to deliver effective social service, it’s crucial to clearly set expectations for what their brands can deliver. By fulfilling or even exceeding those self-imposed benchmarks, brands can surprise and delight followers and engender loyalty.

First, manage expectations for “always on” service — and provide alternatives. Merchants who are unable to staff social channels 24/7/365 must clearly communicate that fact and back it up with alternative options. Among the best practices:

  • List every available service option everywhere, with hours. Consumers should be able to access live chat, an “800” customer service number, email support, and other social support channels from every social media touchpoint. Hours of operation should be clearly stated up-front.
  • Reinforce opening and closing times with status updates. Signing off for the night and saying “hello” each morning lets social followers know when staff are available to field their requests.
  • Similarly, closures for holidays should be both messaged in advance as well as that day. Related customer service information about shipping deadlines and order processing delays should be proactively communicated.
  • Proactively address common questions and concerns with prominent customer service information in the social environment. Whether via a content tab in Facebook or substantive status updates on Twitter, merchants should anticipate consumers’ needs and supply the information that most frequently slows the journey along the path to purchase. By offering this always-available option within the social environment, merchants give shoppers a convenient alternative to live support.

Kibo merchant Figi’s provides Facebook users with a searchable trove of customer service information, accessible via a prominent tab. A direct email link is also available from the customer service tab, while the “About” section of the left-hand column displays still further options.


Avoid dead ends by giving staff the tools they need.
The temptation to divert serious customer service issues to the call center may be strong — merchants are more familiar with the medium, and the interaction takes place out of the public limelight that is a social media stream. But just 24 percent of social customer service users who are directed to call or email actually continue the interaction, according to social media marketing firm ConverSocial — leading to frustration for the consumer and lost opportunities for merchants. Instead, merchants must commit fully to providing robust service on the social media platform by enabling resolution, not just response — and that means empowering social service reps to:

  • Interact one-on-one with followers within the social environment. Reps should be able to initiate live chat on Facebook and use Twitter “at” replies and direct messages to continue conversations privately if need be. And they should be armed with protocols for when to do so, such as if the interaction requires sharing personally-identifiable information such as an order number or payment details.
  • Provide continuity by accessing customer data from other systems. Social service reps should have access to order management and customer relationship management systems so they have a full understanding of shoppers’ past interactions with the company. By the same token, protocols should dictate which social media interactions should be logged as a “ticket” and the details of qualifying incidents should be accessible to call center reps and even store associates.
  • Mollify customers with substantive incentives and discounts, such as free shipping, promo codes for future orders, and priority admission to store events.
  • Access online product information and inventory from across the organization. Social service reps should be able to resolve product questions and provide detailed buying guidance without shunting shoppers to another touchpoint.

Here is an example of a company that empowers its social service reps with the tools above. Kibo merchant Beauty Brands responded to a customer inquiry on Twitter with precise product information, and followed through over a multi-day exchange.


Go the extra mile to exceed expectations.
To shift from crisis management mode to proactive service that satisfies consumers, merchants must go above and beyond. To bring their social service to the next level, merchants should:

  • Monitor beyond the brand page. Employing “social listening” services that go beyond branded Facebook pages and explicit mentions in Tweets and Instagram posts can help merchants proactively address nascent issues before they become high-profile problems.
  • Don’t forget to call out positive experiences. Even as they focus on swift resolution of problems, merchants should also ensure that they respond to those followers who take the time to relate a positive experience or to praise products or the brand as a whole.

For example, Kibo merchant Modell’s retweeted a mention and photo of thanks from the recipient of donated sporting goods bound for a school in Namibia. Not only does the original poster’s cause receive a “signal boost” within the Modell’s fan base, but the retailer’s good works are on full display for followers to endorse.


How are you using social service to meet and exceed customer expectations?

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Three Key Strategies for Competing with Amazon in 2016

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No merchant needs to be told that Amazon continues to dominate online commerce — if anything, its lead over other sellers seems only to be widening. But merchants can compete with the online behemoth by taking advantage of their ability to nimbly demonstrate deep category expertise and build lasting relationships with customers.

Amazon’s growth continues to be nothing short of phenomenal. Its revenues in the fourth quarter of 2015 shot up 22 percent compared with 2014, bringing the year’s overall sales growth to 20 percent. But more than its sheer earning power, Amazon is dominant when it comes to consumers’ attention and engagement. More than a third of all shopping visits to websites in the fourth quarter were to Amazon, according to measurement firm Hitwise.

Additionally, thanks to its vast collection of product content and reviews, Amazon is often a waystation along the path to purchase. For example, during the 2015 holiday season, 87 percent of consumers reported using Amazon to browse for ideas and comparison shop, even if they ultimately bought elsewhere.

But despite these impressive numbers, there’s plenty of room for merchants to make headway against Amazon. As always, Amazon’s chief strength — its massive size, with all the economies of scale and breadth of selection that entails — can also be its Achilles heel. Whether the product is wine or handbags or batteries, the shopping experience is uniform, whereas merchants focusing on a more narrow set of product categories can tailor their offerings to showcase deep expertise and  foster community connection.

To compete successfully with Amazon in 2016, merchants should:

Use social media to inform and create content.
To satisfy the information cravings of those consumers using Amazon for research, merchants should not only develop comprehensive core product content, but they should aim to achieve critical mass for customer reviews by actively courting customer contributions via multiple touch points — from product packaging to post-purchase email communications — and likewise use review content in social media, in email campaigns featuring top-rated items, and in stores.

Tailoring review criteria to include category-specific criteria, such as ease of assembly or whether apparel fits true to size, further distinguishes merchants’ offerings and demonstrates knowledge of what product attributes are important to shoppers.

Kibo merchant Crazy Shirts uses detailed reviews that illuminate the fit and style of apparel items, as well as the type of dresser the reviewer is, so that shoppers can evaluate which reviews are most relevant to them. Review text is incorporated into promotions, including on the home page.

Crazy Shirts 2

Crazy Shirts 1

Merchants should also seek opportunities to incorporate further user contributions, with social media serving as both a source of content and a sounding board for which information spurs engagement and eventual purchase. By encouraging participation in content creation, merchants empower customers and followers to help shape the brand’s identity.

Promoting that content beyond social media, and closely tracking the results of related campaigns, ensures that merchants make the most of their efforts to spur user contributions, while informing the future direction of content initiatives. Ultimately, merchants can create and sustain a tightly-knit community around their content, building value that helps sustain an audience of loyal customer advocates.

Amp up the proactive service.
Amazon gets high remarks for responsive service and provides comprehensive self-service information that other merchants should match. But because policies vary according to whether products are sold by Amazon itself or marketplace sellers, consumers must read the fine print to determine how their orders will be handled.

To distinguish themselves from Amazon and their other competitors, sellers should make the most of their sole ownership of customer service. They should highlight FAQs about shipping and delivery, returns, gift card redemption, and loyalty club services in locations other than a “customer service” link in the global footer.

And given that fully two-thirds of shoppers consult return policies prior to purchase, merchants should call attention to perks such as extended windows for returns or free return shipping. Kibo merchant Title Nine promotes its “360 Guarantee” pervasively throughout the eCommerce site, from the home page to the product page to the global cart dropdown display.

Title Nine

Going still further, merchants can take advantage of their deep category knowledge to provide proactive pre-purchase service that supports shoppers in the research and consideration phase. Detailed fit guides that go beyond a size chart, product demonstration videos, and links to user manuals and installation instructions can proactively address key questions. Apps and other category-specific branded tools to help shoppers winnow their selections can further distinguish merchant sites as a go-to helpful resource.

Kibo merchant Design Within Reach pictures furniture dimensions on the product page, and offers a free swatch service so shoppers can touch and try fabrics prior to ordering pieces. Swatches can be ordered directly from the product page, thereby allowing shoppers to continue their browsing uninterrupted. Design Within Reach also provides a custom tool which allows shoppers to enter room dimensions and arrange furniture items to get a further perspective on fit and design.

Design Within Reach 1

Design Within Reach 2

Design Within Reach 3

Promote online/offline connections.
There’s a reason Amazon has opened a retail store, with others possibly on the way: despite the strong growth of online commerce, the vast majority of retail sales still take place in person at physical outlets. The ability to touch and try items and carry purchases home that day, not to mention the social experience of shopping, give stores a unique advantage. Merchants should do their utmost to integrate information about in-store availability, store promotions, and special events into the online shopping experience so that consumers researching online with intent to buy at their local outlet have further incentive to visit.

Once in the store, shoppers are already fashioning a blended online/offline experience for themselves using their smartphones — a third of store shoppers say they use their mobile devices to check prices, and a quarter seek further information online about products on shelves. Merchants should support this behavior by promoting the comprehensive array of content and further inventory available online, from reviews to personalization services. Kibo merchant Cost Plus World Market highlights store items that are popular on Pinterest, and encourages loyalty club members to log on via mobile devices prior to checkout to access their current coupons.



How do you distinguish your brand from Amazon and the rest of the competition?


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Straight off the Runway: New York Fashion Week eCommerce Tactics You Can Deploy

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Whether you consider yourself a fashionista or fashion-challenged, it is hard to deny that the leading retailers participating in New York’s Fashion Week are at the forefront of eCommerce experimentation. When new clothing collections hit the runways and cutting-edge marketing techniques hit the Internet, merchants of all stripes would do well to review the strategies deployed for the recent New York Fashion Week.

Because leading fashion brands are fashion-forward when it comes to online innovations, there was experimentation aplenty during one of fashion’s biggest weeks. Instagram coverage was heavy, Snapchat accounts lit up with ephemeral views of shows and custom geofilters, and live video feeds were available for those beyond New York.

Focusing on visual content and especially video was a wise move. For start, consuming visual content is a significant activity on mobile devices, where shopping activities are on the upswing: 60% of smartphone users have used their devices as cameras, and half use them to watch video, according to Pew Research.

Additionally, new image-centric social networks such as Instagram and Pinterest cater to mobile users, who make up 57% of the total social media audience, according to Merkle/RKG. New social media formats are almost exclusively mobile-oriented and image-centric, from micro-videos on Vine to live-streaming via Periscope to social messaging on Snapchat.  

But it’s not just overall Internet trends that are dictating merchants’ drive for visual content — they also have concrete results proving its value to the bottom line. For example, larger product images have been found to boost conversion by 9%, while the presence of video on a landing page can boost conversion by 80%; and visitors who go on to view those videos  are 1.6 times as likely to buy than those who don’t.

Merchants who are upping their investments in visual content and video can reap valuable lessons from last month’s New York Fashion Week experiments. Amidst all the experimentation, there were hits and misses, and lessons broadly applicable in the world beyond high fashion. Among them:

If you’re going live online, understand — and meet — the expectations.
In a world where consumers can download feature films and binge-watch favorite TV shows via the Internet, expectations are high for uninterrupted streaming and high picture quality. Merchants who decide to go live using Periscope or other means should test their technical prowess and their Internet connections extensively to avoid delays, and should devote considerable thought to camera placement to ensure lighting is adequate and background distraction minimized. While murky live streams were plentiful during fashion week, designers such as Tory Burch scored wins with clear high-definition images and embedded sharing tools.

NY Fashion Week Blog 1

Cross-promote online events relentlessly.
To optimize the ROI for big online events — whether live or not — merchants should deploy a widespread promotional campaign that ties together social media, on-site resources, and in-store opportunities. To make the most of their moments in the spotlight, Fashion Week merchants shared content comprehensively across touchpoints and employed hashtags strategically to generate still more engagement. Kate Spade presented live coverage of its show on no less than five social platforms, as well as on

NY Fashion Week Blog 2

In person, make the experience immersive.
Designers went all-out in staging their events — from Jay Z’s two-hour extravaganza of fashion and music at Madison Square Garden to Tommy Hilfiger’s recreation of the deck of a luxury steamliner, complete with “deck chairs” for VIP viewers. While most merchants aren’t likely to go so far over the top, the takeaway that in-person experiences have the potential to be more than a shopping trip is an important one. Marrying the best of online content — such as access to customer reviews, expert guides, and even how-to videos — with the unique in-store opportunity to touch and try items can evoke a mood and a lifestyle that resonates with shoppers and compels them to purchase.

NY Fashion Week Blog 3

Online, make the experience actionable.
However much merchants experiment with new formats, they should always keep the connection to commerce immediate and prominent. Fashion week brands enabled immediate purchasing with embedded links in videos and specialized category pages on their websites that opened up for browsing and buying the items just featured on the catwalk. Designer Rebecca Minkoff featured products in panels overlaid on the live video stream of her presentation, giving remote viewers the opportunity to claim pieces that resonated right as they appeared and boosting in-the-moment spontaneity.

NY Fashion Week Blog 4

How are you employing cutting-edge visual techniques to drive sales?

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10 Reasons You Can’t Miss the Kibo 2016 Summit

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The Kibo 2016 Summit is rapidly approaching! A must-attend event for all Kibo customers, our annual Summit on March 22-24, 2016 features three full days of networking, education, insight and inspiration.

For those customers who have yet to experience our annual Summit, below is a short list of the exciting events in store for our VIP attendees. In no particular order, here are the top 10 reasons you can’t miss the Kibo 2016 Summit:

No. 1: Gain a greater understanding of the newly formed company, Kibo, and what opportunities this strategic merger can offer your business.

No. 2: Be the first to learn about Kibo’s corporate vision for a unified suite of omnichannel products. Learn how Kibo will be investing in our product line and your growth with an aggressive development plan.

No. 3: Relax in style! Set on a cliff on the coast of California, the Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay is the most beautiful venue we have ever seen. You won’t be disappointed by the sweeping ocean views!

No. 4: Join us for the exclusive after session parties, including the welcome reception on the 18th green, the swanky customer appreciation dinner and the event closing farewell reception.

No. 5: Participate in the training day sessions and take a deep dive into the advanced functionality of the Kibo software, or sign up for a personalized training meeting with a Kibo team member.

No. 6: Attend inspiring keynotes from Kibo CEO, Kenneth Frank, and Doug Stephens from Retail Prophet.

No. 7: Celebrate fellow Kibo customers during the annual merchant awards ceremony (or who knows … maybe you will win one of the awards yourself!).

No. 8: Take advantage of social networking of the in-person kind, including numerous peer networking opportunities and a special roundtable session with industry-leading retailers.

No. 9: Choose between three concurrent tracks full of actionable sessions designed to educate and enlighten. View the full agenda here.

No 10: Meet with the deeply integrated partners in the Kibo ecosystem to learn how you can rapidly expand your capabilities.

Want to learn more about the exciting Kibo 2016 Summit? Visit the Summit webpage and register today! We look forward to seeing you in March.

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3 top tips for a successful retention/acquisiton referral program

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The old saw “the customer you’ve got is gold” has never been more true — and not just because repeat buyers are lucrative. With costs rising for acquisition activities, from paid search to social advertising, prioritizing retention can keep marketing budgets on track. But there’s still another reason to focus on existing customers: through referral programs, they themselves can be a valuable source of new business.

The value of word-of-mouth referrals is by now well proven. Recommendations from friends and family continue to top the list of trusted sources when it comes to influencing purchasing decisions, according to 2015 research from Nielsen. Once they buy, referred customers’ average order value is 20% higher, profitability is 25% greater, and they’re four to five times more likely to refer new customers themselves than the rest of the customer base, according to the Loyalty Marketers’ Association.

Merchants are increasingly attempting to tap this potentially valuable resource with referral programs that incentivize both the original customer and the referral to participate and purchase.  Among the emerging best practices:

When developing incentives, rely on the experts. Merchants should use customers as their guide when sorting through the options for incentivizing referrals, whether it’s a percent-off offer for future purchases or a straight cash payout for new customers. In addition to surveying customers outright about the preferences, merchants should study successful past promotions and buying patterns to determine the most likely winning combination. Product and industry type also factors into the equation; for example, purveyors of “buy it once”-type items such as furniture are less likely to entice participation from customers with a discount on still another purchase, and may fare better with a cash payout to the original referrer and a percentage discount to the referred customer. Once they’ve narrowed down their options, merchants should deploy A/B testing to test incentives and their presentation to determine which is most effective — and how best to communicate it.

Think Uber (i.e., think mobile) for signup and redemption processes. Most merchants know by now that if they wish to ride the rising tide of mobile visitors to significantly boost revenue, they must optimize to the hilt their transactional processes to minimize keyboard input and facilitate payment. The same goes for loyalty and referral programs: signup routines should be minimal, and redemption options should be fully integrated into checkout. Consumers have explicitly singled out loyalty program integration as the top feature they’d like to see in mobile wallet technologies they might use. And outside of retail eCommerce, user-friendly referral models are already seeing success at cutting-edge firms such as AirBnB and Uber, whose “free rides” promotion offers a simple one-for-one incentive and the ability to refer friends with a single touch.

Mobile example from uber

Promote referral opportunities one-to-one. As we’ve discussed recently, relevance is key to eCommerce success moving forward — and that means merchants should target referral promotions individually as well as showcasing the program to all comers on the eCommerce site. Referral program promotions should be placed in post-purchase transactional emails and integrated into targeted marketing campaigns across touchpoints.

Kibo merchant Cost Plus World Market included its referral program in a “friends and family” discount event, appealing to shoppers looking for bargains and likely to share deals.

referral program promotion from World Market

How are you encouraging customers to invite friends to buy?

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Making the leap from mobile to “buy anywhere” – MarketLive Performance Index

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Throughout the holiday season, mobile stole the show. The surge in mobile traffic — and, happily, mobile purchasing — capped a year that demonstrated time and again the importance of catering to shoppers on small screens. Now, quarterly and annual data from the Kibo Performance Index point to a new trend that goes beyond merely mobile to embrace contextual purchasing anywhere.

Throughout the year, commerce-related activity soared not only on mobile devices but on social networks, which drove traffic to merchant sites at a rate 46% higher than in 2014, while revenues attributed to social networks increase 76% year over year. Crucially, on smartphones, social fared even better, with traffic originating from social networks on smartphones increasing 236% and revenue 247% — underscoring the rich symbiosis between mobile and social.

Of course, the totals are still small when it comes to the total commerce picture: social drives just 1.5% of traffic and a little more than 0.5% of revenues (at least according to last-click attribution). But the data hints at the ways mobile is upending commerce in ways beyond the mobile commerce web site and brand app to transform interactions across the Internet. From  the predicted rise of mobile wallets to heightened expectations for online/offline fluency to mobile-enabled “shoppable windows” that are increasingly a feature of urban hubs, consumers are on the go not only physically, but in their browsing and transactional habits.

Mobile buying via qr code

In order to meet these expectations, merchants must not only standardize their processes so that nothing stands in the way of a swift, smooth, and secure purchase; they must also syndicate that functionality so that shoppers need not leave their current environment to transact. While this goal may present technical challenges, the potential upside is that merchants can win business via serendipitous finds arising organically from content or community engagement, rather than expecting shoppers to set aside time to “shop online”, or interrupt what they’re doing to visit an online store.

To stay ahead of the “buy anywhere” trend, merchants should:

Aim beyond functional for mobile experiences. But while functional, many mobile sites remain workmanlike, with little accommodation for mobile shoppers’ unique priorities – not an encouraging sign in an era when relevance trumps all.

One possible culprit behind generic mobile experiences may well be responsive design, the coding methodology by which multiple iterations of sites for different screen sizes and devices can be derived from a single base of code. We believe responsive design delivers significant benefits, especially when it comes to standardizing checkout and payment options; after all, ease of checkout and availability of alternative payments topped consumers’ wish lists of features that would convince them to buy more via mobile devices, according to the MarketLive/E-Tailing Group Consumer Shopping Survey.

But the standardization that’s so welcome during transactions can translate into monotony when it comes to site merchandising and content. Designing truly differentiated experiences within a responsive framework — for example, by moving functions such as the store locator and click-to-call customer service front and center for mobile users — requires significant coding prowess, but it’s a necessary investment if merchants are to prove their brand’s relevance to smartphone shoppers.

Kibo merchant Marc Jacobs Beauty creates a compelling mobile experience via responsive design by making apt content choices. Video, a crucial element for mobile shoppers, is front and center, along with reviews, and product details are available in an accordion-style layout.


Experiment with “buy” buttons.  As we’ve discussed previously, nascent “buy” button offerings from Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram deserve a cautious approach —  but that doesn’t mean merchants shouldn’t wait to use them, especially as early results suggest they’ll be an effective way to encourage purchasing. While Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram are still in the process of rolling out their “buy” button programs, Pinterest reports that pinned items with “buy” buttons convert at twice the rate of regular posts on mobile devices.

To take an appropriately measured approach, merchants should identify the social networks where their most engaged audiences gather and pinpoint which product categories or sale offers would be most effective — essentially viewing social media outposts as a new form of third-party marketplace, with all the attendant potential benefits and drawbacks.

Go deep with content/commerce connections. Marrying Web content management and eCommerce platform functionality has been the initial hurdle for merchants to overcome in order to provide shoppers the perfect mix of content and products. Now, with social media and mobile offerings further complicating the picture, it’s become even trickier for merchants to ensure that pathways through engaging content lead to actionable products and offers. Tools such as Paypal’s “In-Context Checkout” provide a model for merchants to emulate for delivering truly seamless purchasing alongside their most compelling content; on the path toward realizing that vision, merchants must avoid actionless dead ends with a relentless focus on integrating new content sources with existing touchpoints and commerce functionality.

Kibo merchant Helzberg Diamonds blends commerce and content effectively by showcasing photos submitted to its branded hashtag campaign on the eCommerce home page. Product images and links are displayed alongside the submitted photo, with a prominent “shop” link as well as the option to share on social media.

Content and commerce example from Helzberg

Download the latest Performance Index for further data from Q4 and 2015 as a whole, including detailed breakouts by sector, and read the official press release for further statistics. How are you enabling shoppers to buy anywhere?

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Must-have features for Amazon Webstore merchants facing replatforming

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The end is nigh for Amazon’s Webstore hosting solution, which is closing down in July. Merchants currently on the platform are either underway with site migration already — or looking for a quick solution that will make the transition seamless on a short timeframe.

In previous posts, we’ve articulated the need for a deliberate process by which to scope needs, evaluate vendors, and begin migration. But as the timeframe shortens, merchants still seeking

To make the switch as easy as possible, we’ve summarized the key features of Amazon Webstore that merchants should ensure their new platform provides — and the areas where they should seek to expand their capabilities to satisfy shoppers’ needs in 2016 and beyond.


The basics

Amazon Webstore offered merchants a potent combination — a solid eCommerce platform that took care of the headaches of hosting the Web site, while also integrating tightly with Amazon’s pioneering online merchant services. In their quest to find a replacement, merchants should seek out:

A stable, tested platform. By piggybacking on Amazon’s massive ecommerce infrastructure, Webstore merchants could rest assured that their offerings were on a solid platform with proven tools and features. In searching for a replacement, merchants should quiz vendors about core ecommerce functionality, including:

  • how product information is handled, including import routines from other systems
  • rich imaging capabilities, including video
  • how customer reviews and other user-generated content is integrated
  • on-site search functionality, including whether faceted search is available
  • categorization and navigation flexibility
  • promotions and discounting capabilities
  • personalization tools
  • shopper account features, such as registries, wish lists, and order histories

Intrinsic mobile support. By now, most merchants acknowledge the central importance of mobile in the shopping experience. Fully 59% of time spent with brands now occurs on mobile devices, according to measurement firm comScore; and initial holiday results from the MarketLive Performance Index reveal that mobile is accounting for 55% of traffic and 34% of revenues.

Amazon Webstore merchants who have enjoyed the platform’s built-in mobile functionality will need to consider whether potential new vendors are up to snuff — and whether mobile offerings are intrinsic to the platform or offered through a third party provider. They should especially investigate whether technology provider are fluent with responsive design, which is increasingly used to deliver consistent experiences across touchpoints. While using a single base of code deliver device-appropriate experience on the fly streamlines updates and maintenance and delivers SEO benefits, responsive design can also cause performance drag by upping page weight, and failure to properly size images can further bloat load times. To avoid these pitfalls, merchants should closely examine responsive design claims from potential vendors and ask for references from clients with responsive design implementations.

Security and anti-fraud features. Merchants who relied on Amazon’s payment gateway will need to familiarize themselves with the alternatives and ensure that the technology provider they select will interface seamlessly with them, as well as with any third-party fraud detection services they select. In addition, merchants should quiz potential vendors on PCI DSS level 1 security certification and threat monitoring capabilities.

Hosting capacity. Just as Amazon Webstore merchants relied on the ecommerce giant’s proven features and functionality, so did they enjoy the advantages that came with hosting sites on Amazon’s massive server network. Merchants should quiz vendors offering a hosted solution about how their solutions can scale — both during temporary traffic spikes and for long-term growth. Multiple physical instances of servers in different regions, 24/7/365 performance monitoring, an explicit capacity management plan for shared server resources, disaster recovery plans, and solid partnerships with content delivery networks are all signifiers of a serious commitment to delivering optimal performance. Kibo offers merchants hosting through AWS, Amazon’s own hosting platform — thereby guaranteeing the same level of hosting service Webstore merchants have previously experienced.

Amazon (and other) integrations. To replicate Webstore services, merchants migrating off the platform should seek out vendors with a proven history of integrating with Amazon’s myriad merchant services: marketplace selling with or without fulfillment services, Amazon Payments, and Amazon’s pay-per-click advertising solution. Depending on how important these services are for merchants, they should seek referrals from prospective vendors for clients with a successful track record of selling via Amazon.

Going beyond one-for-one replication of Amazon Webstore’s offerings, merchants should also explore further alternative payment integrations, such as inclusion in mobile digital wallet solutions and loyalty club points and rewards redemptions as well as services such as Paypal. Such services are becoming increasingly crucial as shoppers seek to transact seamlessly across touchpoints, and should be part of merchants’ strategy for growth.

Poised for takeoff: core features for growth

It’s not just in the area of payment integrations that merchants should consider how their needs may soon eclipse what Amazon’s offering provided. As shoppers increasingly seek relevant, unified brand experiences that cater to their individual needs, merchants must respond with technology solutions that bridge touchpoints and deliver a compelling combination of products, content, and offers. Among the emerging must-have criteria for merchants to consider:

Rich data. It seems obvious that any eCommerce platform investment should include the means to track its success – but nowadays, capturing a comprehensive picture of online ROI is both trickier and more crucial than ever. For merchants whose goal is unified commerce, data is the essential connective tissue that enables shoppers to move effortlessly among touchpoints and to receive relevant messaging as they go.

Merchants acknowledge the importance of integrating systems to achieve a holistic view of shoppers’ activities across the brand: fully 83% of merchants somewhat or fully agree that a single view of the customer is crucial to long-term success, according to eConsultancy.  As part of the vendor selection process, merchants should ensure that the new technology will help create that unified view, as opposed to creating disparate data points that defy integration. Platform-generated reporting should be available to enable tracking performance across devices, and the vendor should support integrations with widely-used solutions such as Google Analytics. Further, merchants should seek out the ability to import data into and export data out of the platform in order to build comprehensive customer profiles.

Content. Content is experiencing a resurgence as a brand priority, and for a host of good reasons, from supporting SEO to providing stellar customer service. As a result, the eCommerce platform must increasingly provide toolsets formerly more commonly seen in Web content management systems – including the ability to add value-added article content not directly related to product information, content in rich media formats, and submission and review tools for user-submitted content. And merchants must have the ability to seed this content throughout the shopping experience, whether in stand-alone tutorial or community sections, as part of the product page offerings, or on category or index pages. Merchants should further ascertain how easily product and lifestyle content can be syndicated elsewhere, whether by the staff via social media or by consumers who want to pin, tweet and otherwise forward information to friends.

Online/offline support. Increasingly, shoppers expect brands to present a unified experience regardless of where they shop. More than half of shoppers said it was important for brands to recognize them across devices and screens, and 45% said they expected brands to take into account their behavior and purchases from every touchpoint to deliver the best possible shopping experience, according to research from the E-Tailing Group. That means call center and live chat reps, social media customer service specialists and store associates are expected to pick up the conversation where shoppers left off on the eCommerce site and to recognize past online buyers as the potentially loyal customers they are.

The ability to integrate with inventory and fulfillment systems across the organization should therefore be paramount for an eCommerce solution. Merchants should quiz potential vendors about what integrations already exist – and shouldn’t just settle for a check-box answer, but rather fact-check by speaking with the integration partners themselves, shopping the eCommerce provider’s merchant sites, and even asking for merchant references specifically related to inventory and fulfillment operations. To support store associates and service reps, merchants should ascertain whether vendors offer specific apps or features to enable savvy one-to-one interactions and transactions.

This post is produced in conjunction with the Plumtree Group, part of Kibo’s Implement program. Through Kibo and the Plumtree Group, omni-channel retailers can quickly deploy and customize e-commerce features and functionality in order to meet market demands, increase revenue and loyalty.  The Kibo/Plumtree partnership provides the emerging merchant who will need to transition off of Amazon Webstore in the coming months with the tools they need to succeed today and grow with unlimited scale tomorrow.

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Why relevance is paramount in 2016 – webinar preview

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Our last post enumerated ways merchants can keep the momentum of a successful holiday season going. But to see lasting success in 2016 and beyond, merchants must undertake a fundamental shift that goes beyond individual strategies: they must find ways to prove relevance, or risk being left behind with the laggards who must rely on scattershot results from generic shopping experiences.

Increasingly, shoppers seek a highly individualized relationship with brands they follow. More than half of consumers say it’s important for brands to recognize them personally, whether they choose to shop on screens or in stores. Brands that successfully deliver relevant experiences are rewarded with increased sales and loyalty: 53% of shoppers say they buy more from brands that tailor recommendations based on past purchases and browsing behavior. Similarly, failure to move beyond one-size-fits-all offerings results in diminished interest, with close to 40% of consumers reporting irritation when brands fail to take into account past interactions when sending marketing messages.

Given the heightened competition for consumer dollars online and the continual price pressure exerted by leading mass merchants such as Amazon, merchants can’t afford to risk alienating their audience. Indeed, delivering relevance is so crucial to commerce that technology research firm Gartner predicts that brands offering a fully-personalized experience will outsell those that don’t by 20% by 2018.

In an exclusive webinar set for this Thursday, Jan. 28, at 10 a.m. PST,  Ken Burke, founder of MarketLive (now Kibo), will examine the ramifications of the increasingly critical need for relevance, and identify the five trends for 2016 that will shape merchant priorities for optimizing touchpoints to deliver a unified and relevant experience.  They include:

  • “Buy anywhere” capabilities. Shoppers increasingly expect to transact anywhere that’s most convenient to them, and merchants should meet that expectation with swift, smooth, and secure transactions across touchpoints.
  • Universal inventory access. By making the brand’s entire inventory available to shoppers across touchpoints, merchants can make “out of stock” disappointment a rarity, and instead offer an array of order fulfillment options to suit their budget and timing needs.
  • Digital store experiences. Stores play a crucial role in connecting buyers with physical goods as well as live brand experts, and merchants should do their utmost to bring brand assets from outside the store walls into the experience.
  • Predictive insights. Using cutting-edge technologies, merchants can now marry big-data trend indicators with data from individual shoppers’ profiles to anticipate their next clicks and deliver ultra-relevant products and content.
  • Algorithmic merchandising. To meet shoppers’ expectations, merchants must optimize the on-site experience to the utmost using dynamic, data-rich merchandising – not a static hierarchy of rules.

In an experiment launched over the holidays, The North Face employed IBM’s Watson intelligence engine to match shoppers with jackets right for their needs after a brief Q-and-A to solicit input.


Register for the webinar now to learn about the research behind the trends and the related strategies that will help merchants make relevance a reality — leading to heightened engagement, increased sales, and long-lasting loyalty.

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4 ways to use social media and content to re-engage holiday shoppers

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As January rolls along, merchants are working hard to beat the winter blahs following a successful holiday season. A key part of that effort should be luring back the gift buyers they earned and converting them into long-time customers.

The data is incontrovertible: loyal customers are a valuable asset. Returning customers’ average order value is 12% higher than that for online buyers overall, and although they comprise just 40% of the customer base, they account for 61% of online revenues. Furthermore, with paid acquisition efforts such as Google Product Listing Ads and social networking advertising becoming more expensive, retention efforts can achieve a higher ROI and require less spending.

So merchants would do well to capitalize on the surge of new gift givers who purchased on their sites during the holidays, and increasingly, they’re implementing well-known best practices such as post-purchase email series that go beyond mere transactional details to include engaging new offers. Additionally, seasonal messaging is now in full force to entice shoppers back to indulge in items for themselves now that the season of giving is over, from gift-card redemption invitations to early-spring sneak peaks to advice and products to help stick to resolutions.

Additionally, merchants should bring their social media networks and lifestyle content into play, emphasizing brand expertise in subject areas that matter to their target audience and inviting engagement in ways that deepen connections. Among the options:

Start by cross-promoting ways to stay in touch. Merchants should invite engagement on social networks, via email subscriptions, and on mobile devices, with an emphasis on how the brand stands by to help followers start the year right. Kibo merchant Eastland Shoe announced the debut of its Instagram account early in the New Year,  giving subscribers who joined the email list during the holidays a new way to learn about the brand, engage in visual content — and show off their new shoes with a hashtag campaign.

Instagram promotion from Eastland Shoe

Invite product input. The outset of the year is an ideal time to solicit substantive feedback about product offerings — an invitation that merchants can follow up on later in the year by featuring products or promotions driven by followers’ suggestions. Kibo merchant Berkshire Blanket asked email subscribers and social followers to take a survey about their products, offering entry in a prize drawing as an incentive.

Product survey from Berkshire Blanket

Promote deep expert content. Merchants should give shoppers cause to revisit brand sites even when they’re not explicitly researching purchases. Content that demonstrates brand credibility and authenticity can both help consumers address their immediate needs and suggest serendipitous items to help them fulfill their goals. Outdoor outfitter REI is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the national parks with a new content app that includes user-contributed content. The promotional email not only shines the spotlight on REI’s knowledge of the outdoors, but promotes mobile tools and its charity work with the parks service all in one fell swoop.

Content example from REI

Offer social as a step-down option for email-weary subscribers. The holidays brought an onslaught of promotional messaging, with volume jumping some 25% year over year. Understandably, some consumers are now seeking to trim their inbox contents by unsubscribing, especially if they signed up to receive a discount in the first place. Merchants are required by law to accommodate this desire with a direct “unsubscribe” link in email messages — but that doesn’t mean they should punt and remove subscribers from their lists without at least one further attempt to keep them engaged. Savvy merchants offer an array of “step-down” options, from receiving emails at a lower frequency to selecting only emails pertaining to particular product categories or subjects. Social media links should also be prominent on the unsubscribe page, giving former subscribers a way to stay in touch with the brand without crowding their inbox whatsoever. Kibo merchant Griot’s Garage does so with a message in keeping with its automotive product focus, promising “there’s always a space open for you” and inviting former subscribers to stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.


How are you keeping holiday shoppers engaged in the New Year?


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