Essential e-commerce features & functionality to drive great customer experience – part 2

In my last post, I looked at the features and functions of e-commerce platforms that help to drive a positive customer experience at the point at which a prospect has decided they want to purchase a particular product. In part two, I am going to take a look at features that facilitate the actual moment of purchase and the post purchase experience.


Moment of purchase

By removing barriers to conversion, an e-commerce platform can have a big impact on making the purchase process as easy as possible.

Although not necessarily dictated by the e-commerce platform, the design and layout of the site should be customisable to an extent, ideally without the need for development resource.

  • Category product layout – Product listings in grid or list format should be an option available to the customer and remembered for that user
  • Flexible module based design – The ability to move certain pieces of content from one area of the page to another, whilst adding and removing landing pages will greatly increase your chance of being able to improve conversion rates through a/b testing, for example
  • Flexible templates – Ability to assign designs on category and product level (unique design per product/category)
  • Hero & header images – Carousels and image headers should be specifiable for the homepage, categories and across other areas of the site. make excellent use of hero & header images across their categories, highlighting latest ranges and deals, for example:

Product detail
A customer needs to feel as informed as possible about a product before committing to purchase. The layout and information provided at a product level can have a big impact on this.

  • Multiple images per product – Customers expect to see a large number of high quality product images
  • Product image zoom-in capability – Images should be high resolution, be ‘zoom-able’ (did I just make that word up?!) by click and through movement of the mouse across the image
  • Product image 360 degree view – Functionality to allow for products to be viewed from all angles
  • Product coverage – Where products appear in publications, the ability to highlight this to the customer through thumbnail images/logos
  • Product stock level tracking and notification – Ensure stock availability is visible and ideally in real-time to to avoid fulfilment frustration. As highlighted in my last post, make great use of product imagery, offering a number of images from different angles and showing the items in use and on their own:

A smooth buying process from basket to checkout to completion will help minimise the customer ‘dropping off’ at any of these stages:

  • Customisable checkout – A flexible checkout is important as this allows for testing, removing and reposition of form fields and so on
  • Checkout without account/guest checkout – Probably the biggest mistake made by retailers (and the biggest bugbear for customers) is insisting an account is created in order to make the purchase. Don’t force this on customers up-front, offer it as an option after the sale with an incentive for doing so i.e. money off a next purchase
  • SSL security support – Both front-end and back-end, secure checkout is vital for customers trust to complete the sale
  • Saved shopping baskets – Ideally with configurable expiry time. Remembering a user’s product choices will avoid frustration if they accidentally close their browser or press the back button

A key factor to conversion is an excellent shipping and delivery process. To achieve this, the e-commerce platform should be highly configurable to allow a multitude of flexible options (assuming the retailer has the processes and systems in place to offer these options of course):

  • Trackable delivery – Customers expect to be kept up-to-date in terms of where their purchase is in transit or be able to find information on the status of their order on the site
  • Configurable delivery cost – Free delivery or flat rate delivery per order or item from our experience are the best aids to high conversion rates. Clear information for differing weights, destinations etc, are also essential so all costs are clear up-front
  • Print invoices and packaging lists from the order screen – Key to offering a smooth and efficient delivery service is to make the background processes simple and automated

A comprehensive range of payment features will allow customers to transact easily and conveniently.

  • Payment gateway integration – Offering a broad range of payment gateways will ensure any obstacles to completion are minimised
  • Discounts codes – The ability to add voucher/discount code at basket/checkout
  • Credit card details – Securely remember users credit card details (should they wish to) saves time and effort next time they make a purchase

Active selling & dynamic merchandising
This refers to the art of cross-selling a similar or complimentary product to the one a customer has chosen to purchase. This is could be an alternative (before they have added to basket), an item that would complement their purchase or an additional item required for the chosen product to function properly.

  • Recently viewed/compared products – The option to include a list of recently viewed products
  • Active selling – The ability to push items through daily deals and new item promotions
  • Configurable cross-sells, bundled items, up-sells and related items – All should be customisable, and be able to be added to different areas/templates of the site
  • Wish lists – The ability to add desired products into a list associated with users account

IKEA make nice use of tabs to include an array of cross selling opportunity, matching and complementary products, similar items and more products from the same range:

Post purchase

Delivering on your promises after the purchase is essential to building trust and brand loyalty. An e-commerce platform can aid this in the following ways:

  • Customer accounts – Allow customers the option to create an account that remember key details such as address and payment methods
  • Customer service – Allows customers to make enquiries via their account and linked to the products they have purchased previously
  • Online chat – Integration into the platform for customer service queries, as well as asking product specific questions
  • Email marketing – Email marketing fully integrated with the customer database can feed into the retailer’s eCRM program


Whether off the shelf or bespoke, there is a lot to consider in terms of functionality when selecting an e-commerce platform. The above attempts to cover some of the key e-commerce features to ensure your site achieves its true potential and most importantly you deliver the kind of pre- and post-purchase experience needed to win in complex and competitive sectors, such as homewares and fashion.

Can you think of anything additional you might look for in an e-commerce platform?


One simple question to ask yourself when assessing the validity of a search marketing tactic

Last week, my latest article was published on the Econsultancy website.

It explores SEO payment models that buyers need to seriously question before committing to (or in some cases avoid completely!).

The payment models under scrutiny are:


  • Fixed fee, quoted up-front
  • Pay-on-performance (based on rankings)
  • Pay-on-performance (based on sales without proper attribution)
  • Anything less than £200 per month

Head over to the Econsultancy blog to read why, in my view, these models just don’t work in the context of today’s search landscape.

At the end of the article I introduce a theme that I am going to briefly expand on below but which I’ll also be exploring in more detail next time.

The theme is ‘experience’. As I state in the article, here at Leapfrogg we believe it is ‘experience’ that, in time, will separate the winners from the losers. Those businesses that can deliver a superlative experience at every stage of the buying journey from awareness to advocacy will prosper. Those that don’t will fail.

For me, search marketing (and in particular the approach that is taken to natural search) can play an integral role in how a brand delivers a positive, engaging and memorable experience; the kind of experience that drives repeat business and brand advocacy. This is for a number of reasons, not least the fact that search engines remains the number one method by which prospects begin their discovery of a new product or brand. According to a report from Hitwise, on average, the UK is making an additional 93m visits per month to search engines compared with last year, representing an average year-on-year growth of 4.3%.

Therefore, the route a prospect will take in discovering your brand and products will more than likely involve a search engine. In turn, the first impression a prospect may have of your brand will come as a result of how you present yourself (or fail to present yourself) in search listings. With this in mind, search can either act as the starting point to delivering a superlative experience for the prospect OR the means by which you lose the game before they’ve even visited your website.

I’ll be exploring how specific naturals search techniques and tactics contribute to driving a positive experience (or not, as the case may be!) in my next article.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with the same question I concluded my latest Econsultancy article with; a question that I believe all marketers should ask themselves when considering a natural search technique or tactic:

‘How will this approach or activity deliver a memorable & superior experience for my customers?’

By starting with this question it will allow you to take a more objective view to what you should be doing (and more importantly what you shouldn’t) when it comes to shaping and executing your natural search strategy.

This is what I’ll be exploring further next time around.

Until then…

Essential e-commerce features & functionality to drive great customer experience (part 1)

To prosper in a complex, competitive and fast paced market, retailers must deliver a superior and fulfilling customer experience, consistently and seamlessly across all marketing channels. It is a monumental challenge but one that retailers, big and small, need to overcome and marketers, at all levels, need to grasp if they are to win new customers and build valuable, long-term relationships with them.

The choice of e-commerce platform can have a major impact on a retailer’s ability to deliver this experience. The right features and functionality can greatly aid the likelihood of succeeding at each stage of the buying journey, beginning with visibility of the site in search engines (thereby acquiring targeted traffic), helping to convert that traffic and then retaining new customers through a good post purchase experience.

Our Retail Marketing Machine visualises the complex journey consumers make when researching, considering and purchasing products, along with every touch point that shapes and influences their decision.

There are a number of key stages that I will refer to during the course of this post, namely:

The shop window of opportunity
This is the point at which a prospect has decided they want to purchase a particular product or service. Are you in their shop window when they are in research and consideration mode?

Moment of purchase
This is the point at which the prospect is engaged with your brand and is ready to purchase. A wide range of factors will determine whether they progress to sale (or not) with the look and feel, features and functionality of your site playing a key role.

Post purchase experience
Here we refer to both the practical and emotional experience the customer receives once they have made their purchase. The practical involves delivery, for example. The emotional more concerned with how the retailer builds a loyal brand advocate through channels, such as content and social media.

This two part blog post looks at the features and functionality that will aid and improve each of the above stages and therefore what to consider when choosing an e-commerce platform. This is by no means an exhaustive list but more a guide to those features that help drive a superlative experience at each of the key buying stages outlined above.

Shop window of opportunity

For your site to reach and acquire customers during their ‘period of active consideration’, it needs to be found across search engines – that’s pretty much a given. But once they arrive at your site it must also present prospects with access to as much information as possible to evaluate your products sufficiently. With this in mind, let’s take a look at a number of e-commerce features that are essential to meeting this goal:

Categorising products
The ability to categorise products will aid natural search visibility, as well as improve usability. Features associated with product categorising might include:

  • Unlimited products and categories – Surprising as it might sound, some platforms have a limit to the number of products and categories you can create. Ensure you choose a platform that allows unlimited products and categories
  • Product option selection – A product should be able to have unlimited options such as size, colour, etc. rather than having to create new product pages for each variation
  • Grouped product view – Allows products to be grouped together. This works well if you are presenting a number of different products into collections or ranges
  • Faceted navigation for filtering of products – It should be easy to add new filters and tag products. Filtering should also be search engine friendly i.e. it should create ‘friendly’ URLs and use keyword insertion in page titles, meta descriptions and h1 headers. The Marks and Spencer site is a good example of clear and comprehensive faceted navigation:

Product detail
By creating content over and above that of simple product descriptions, you are creating a more memorable experience should encourage a prospect to return to the site oe perhaps share that content even if they are not quite ready to commit to the purchase at this stage. Content might include:

  • Product reviews – Usually a score out of 5, the ability to display average customer ratings for a product can help make your site a destination at the consideration stage but also help be a decision trigger
  • Question and Answers – A Q&A sections take FAQs a step further by allowing customers to ask product specific questions. This level of interaction can significantly increase conversion rates as any doubts the customer has about a product can be dispelled
  • User Generated Content (UGC) – Allow people not only to review but upload photos and videos of their experiences in using products. In turn, this helps prospects see products in their real world setting used by actual customers
  • Product comparisons – Where products are complex, the ability to compare side by side is a very powerful feature to aid decision making. uses both a Q&A areas and reviews across their products with many of the customer reviews including images as well

Site search

Configurable search with auto-suggested terms. Many e-commerce systems fall down here. Users expect the search function to be as good as that of Google.

Store pages
More often than not, store pages are dull, un-engaging and lack personality. An e-commerce platform with advanced multichannel availability and logistic capabilities can significantly help with a smooth in-store/online purchase path.

  • Store-specific content – Imagery, events, offers, staff biographies and the store manager’s ‘favourite product of the week’ are all methods by which to add relevant content to the page
  • Store locator/search – Provide advanced search and filtering functionality, as well as a reliable mapping tool and directions
  • Click and collect – The ability for a customer to select their local store and collect their order is a growing expectation of savvy customers. Obviously, the business needs to support this logistically before offering the service on the site!
  • Save a store preference – Associate a store with a customer’s account to quickly allow the customer to look at stock availability locally to them

Although not injecting much personality, do a good job with their store pages in terms of information. By capturing postcode searches from people looking for their nearest store, they can potentially start to join the dots between online and offline.

Ensuring the e-commerce platform is not going to cause any headaches for search engines will give your business the best possible foundation for natural search visibility.

  • URL rewrites – Rewriting URLs in a friendly format, using words and not parameters is better for both the user and the search engines
  • HTML mark-up – Marking up HTML using can result in rich snippets in search results and improve click through rates
  • Sitemaps – Both XML and HTML sitemaps should be generated and auto update
  • Shopping feed creation – Important for shopping comparison engines, the ability to generate comprehensive feeds that auto update but can also be customised to add or change product attributes
  • Meta-information – It should be possible to specify page titles and meta descriptions for products and categories both template driven and specified by page
  • Duplicate content prevention – Advanced canonical functionality across the site can help prevent duplication of products if placed in different categories and also help pagination issues

In part 2 we’ll look at e-commerce platform features that are important at the ‘moment of purpose’ and ‘post purchase’ stages.

Article by senior natural search consultant, Ben Adam

Survey results: Inside the mind of your premium retail customer

Last week, I presented Leapfrogg’s first piece of customer insight research of 2012 at SheerB2B, the conference specifically for retailers in the premium and luxury sector.

We will be producing a piece of insight into the premium retail industry each quarter this year and our first research piece focused on exploring the habits and behaviours of consumers purchasing premium products and services.

As the UK economy slides back into recession, the news agenda is packed full of doom and gloom about consumer spending on the high street and we were interested in finding out what the reality is for premium brands who sell online.

Significantly, 61% of premium UK shoppers say they will not reduce their online spending habits in 2012.  Great news for premium and luxury brands reading the Government’s gloomy economic report from Q1.  Indeed, 30% of our survey respondents claimed they are actually planning on spending more in 2012 than they did in 2011, due to increasing levels of good service and confidence purchasing online.

We also uncovered some surprising details about who the ‘premium retail customer’ actually is.  The average household salary of our premium shopper respondents was just £23K per annum – really exploding the myth of who the premium retailer customer is and inspiring us to dig deeper into this in our next quarter’s research.

We also looked at how the premium retail shopper uses the internet during their buying journey. More than a third of consumers use the web to compare and check prices. For 20% of respondents, online search is used for product inspiration and research. Surprisingly, only 14% use online to search for offers or vouchers, reinforcing what we’ve believed for a while, that retailers need to focus on the longer term investment in providing genuinely quality products, competitive pricing, useful information and great service over quick-win approaches such as voucher codes.  There’s no doubt that voucher code sites and smart tactical pricing to help shift stock and introduce new customers to your products plays a part in a rounded multichannel approach. However, maintaining a ‘bigger picture’ focus and protecting your brand equity is key.

Naturally, 39% of respondents said that lower prices would encourage them to spend more with a premium brand in 2012, but excitingly for our clients currently looking at developing better relationships with their customers, 21% of our respondents claimed that the proven quality of a product and great service is enough to encourage increased spend this year.

We’ve put together this infographic to bring to life the stats that we believe to be the most noteworthy from the research, but the full report, complete with advice on what to do next and actionable insights for brands, is available to download at absolutely no cost!

Click here to read and download the Leapfrogg Premium Shopper survey

What we’ve learnt in 2010 (and what we look forward to in 2011)

With contributions from various members of the Leapfrogg team, we take a look back at what we’ve learnt this year in digital marketing and online retail.  We also look forward to 2011; what we’ll be keeping an eye on and how we expect 2010’s developments to evolve.

Google continues to innovate but at what cost?

Leapfrogg’s natural search team, Suzanne and Ben Adam, comment on the significant changes Google has made to both its back end architecture and search experience:

“2010 saw Google roll out its new indexing system, ‘caffeine’, which updates their search index on a continuous basis and therefore should provide more up to date results to users. The Mayday update, placed more emphasis on authority sites for long tail searches. Sites that create fresh, useful, original content, in a range of formats (i.e. images, video) and optimise for long tail searches will benefit most from these updates. These are good practices that we’ve been advocating for many years so from our point of view the changes have had little impact on the recommendations we make to clients.

The typical Google searcher would probably understand little of ‘caffeine’ and ‘Mayday’ but 2010 has seen an unprecedented number of changes to Google’s search engine results page (SERP) that certainly would not have gone unnoticed, most notably Instant Search, Previews, the somewhat pointless blue arrows, and Google Places.

In 2011, it will be interesting to see if the increasingly cluttered Google results page turns users off OR will the changes to back end architecture counter this by reducing the amount of spam and therefore making search results more relevant and fresh? With Bing increasingly offering a viable alternative to Google, will we see users jump ship? Or is ‘Googling’ just too synonymous with the act of searching in the mindset of most search engine users? 2011 is shaping up to be a pivotal year in the search engine wars, not to mention the threat posed by the big social networks, such as Facebook”.

The growing influence of social signals on search engine rankings

Social Media and Content Executive, James Mortimer, comments on the continued convergence of search and social:

“2010 has seen Google and Bing confirm that tweets and Facebook ‘likes’ have an influence on search rankings. In 2011, I expect to see the continued convergence of search and social. This will demand that companies take a much more holistic view of SEO; an approach where traditional activities, such as keyword optimisation and link building are combined with more contemporary tactics in social media marketing, an approach we’ve been advocating for a long time. I am sure more and more companies will adopt this more holistic approach now that the major search engines have confirmed a direct relationship between search engine rankings and social media activity, particularly on Twitter.

If, as suspected, one of the factors the search engines focus on is the number of followers on Twitter, will we see an increase in the use of auto-following tools to artificially inflate followers? Personally, I refuse to follow anybody who has an unnatural looking Twitter profile (i.e. following 23,984 people with almost the same number following them back!) but will the search engines be able to spot this kind of activity?

The importance of having a local ‘footprint’

Analyst, Andy, and Client Services Director, Greg, have been paying particular attention to the growing importance of local search:

“In October, Google updated how it displays local search results; they are no longer restricted to a specific section at the top of the SERP. Instead, local results on Google are now integrated into the main ‘natural’ listings. With Google placing more and more emphasis on local listings, we expect 2011 will see an increase in online shoppers entering phrases such as “designer dresses” and being served results that includes listings for nearby retail stores (regardless of whether they use a location term within their search query).

What we find most interesting about this change is the potential impact it has on retailers without physical stores, for example ASOS. Herein lies a somewhat ironic dilemma for online retailers in 2011 – an online brand could start to suffer in the search results because it DOESN’T have a physical store(s)”. Do not be suprised to see brands that have traditionally traded online, for example ASOS and Amazon, develop some form of high street presence in 2011 (note; this will not be necessarily be purely as a result of Google’s change to local listings).

Joining the dots

Paid search manager, Amelia, saw huge benefits in the use of software and advanced tracking tools to measure the success of multi-channel marketing campaigns:

The growth in mobile highlights the key challenge faced by brands; ¾ of consumers use two or more channels to browse, research & purchase products. Not only does this demand that brands have a presence where consumers expect them to be (online, mobile, the high street and so on) but it makes analysis and optimisation of the path to sale absolutely essential. We’ve really seen the value of investing in software to better understand the user journey. The ability to measure the first click to the final sale visit (whether this is online or in-store) is crucial when evaluating the returns from digital marketing activity. We have been amazed with some of the insights we have found when looking at sale journeys, particularly for retailers where the path to sale is more likely to involve a number of channels over a period of time. Seeing the overall sale path journey enables us to quantify the success of specific keywords which contribute to sales via brand terms or via different traffic sources”.

The year mobile finally took off

MD, Rosie, comments on how the year when brands finally saw some measurable returns from mobile commerce:

“It seems that every year, for as long as I can remember, analysts have claimed that ‘this will be the year mobile commerce’ takes off. Well 2010 might just be the year that this claim was finally justified.  Smart phone adoption still represents a relatively small percentage of the overall market, however, the number of people subscribing to smart phones this year has been significant enough for a number of brands to finally see tangible benefits of investing in mobile enabled websites and applications.

2011 will see this trend continue as more and more brands learn from the early adopters and invest in mobile commerce. However, it is vital that marketers understand the difference between the conventional browser and mobile experience. With mobile, there is an even greater emphasis to give people exactly what they want as smaller screens make it difficult for functionality, such as dynamic merchandising, to work effectively. Keeping things simple will be key to success for mobile websites and applications”.

Don’t run before you can walk

Head of Social Media and Content, Lucy comments on the need to ensure tactical execution is linked back to commercial objectives:

“Everyone seems to have embraced Twitter and Facebook this year, but we’ve sometimes pushed back on briefs because we didn’t believe social media was really going to deliver to a brands commercial objectives. It’s all too easy to jump on the social media bandwagon. However, when a marketing team has limited budget, often the more tried and tested direct marketing or more quantifiable and measurable link building and online PR activity can be proven to deliver more.

Although we love it when our brands want to experiment, we always need to ensure campaigns deliver to the bottom line. If you’re selling to a target audience that isn’t highly active in social media, then sometimes it is not the right medium to use. But even if it is, we very much advocate that clients get the basics right before they start investing in social media, for example. Very much a case of learning to walk before you run”.

Agencies need to evolve

Sales and Marketing Director, Ben, comments on how the role digital agencies need to take with their clients:

“In 2010, I’ve seen a noticeable shift in what clients expect from their agency partners. Clients are looking for much more than tactical delivery…and so they should. We’ve really seen the value of more closely aligning digital strategies to a client’s commercial objectives and completely changed the language we use to communicate with prospects and clients as a result.

It highlights to me how the SEO industry needs to evolve in 2011 beginning with a rebrand. SEO is a dated term that fails to represent the remit of the job undertaken by forward thinking agencies. The convergence of search and social, the need to be creating useful and unique content, and the strategic and analytical value added by an agency is much more than SEO. In 2011, I’d like to see less emphasis on somewhat dated language such as ‘rankings’, and especially those agencies still making ‘guarantees’, to instead focus on messaging that more closely reflects the landscape and the expectations of clients”.


What were you key lessons from 2010? What are you going to be keeping a close on in 2011? We’d love to hear from you?

Online retailers: how to beat the snow

The atrocious weather conditions this week will no doubt have affected retail sales in the build up to Christmas, particularly on the high street as shoppers find themselves restricted to their homes (it will be interesting to see the impact on high street sales when figures are released in the coming weeks).

But the adverse conditions do present opportunities for online retailers, as it is likely customers will have time on their hands with their normal routines interrupted. With conditions expected to continue into next week (and beyond – it’s still only December!), we’ve been thinking about the ways in which online retailers can minimise the impact of the weather with a few quick-tips. Here goes…

Your website

  • Update your delivery information to reflect any changes due to the snow. It is better to be open and honest with your customers rather than maintain delivery promises that you may not be able to fulfill. If you are confident you are still able to deliver on time then shout about it on your home page
  • If relevant, upload some interesting content to your blog around how your products can be used in the snow, or alleviate the boredom of being snowed in. Fun or interesting content around such a hot topic has the potential to go viral

Your paid search activity

  • As the snow is such a hot topic of conversation, and if you can make it relevant, get creative with your ad copy by referencing the snow to encourage click through rates (CTR’s). Again, if you are able to offer a normal delivery service mention it in your ad copy as that is a real plus point for people affected by the snow
  • Some regions may be more adversely affected by the weather than others. If working to a limited budget, consider utilising geo-targeting options to focus budget on areas least affected where you can guarantee timely delivery

Social media

  • If you are utilising social media then this is the perfect tool to engage with your customers. Keep them up to date with delivery times and answer any queries where the answers may not be available on your standard information pages or where customers cannot get into a store to ask
  • Engage online with those complaining that things have arrived late or damaged due to the snow. It may not be your fault but if you can show you are responding publicly to concerns, customer loyalty will be positively affected
  • Take advantage of the current obsession with the weather by utilising relevant and popular hastags in your Twitter updates i.e. #uksnow. But only do so if there if the weather conditions are relevant to the tweet i.e. if you are talking about how the snow has impacted your ability to deliver on time. By doing so, you may capture additional traffic from social media users not previously aware of your brand

This weather is snow joke (sorry!) so consider these quick and low cost solutions to help minimise the negative impact during the busiest time of the year for online retailers.

Christmas retail: gearing up for Cyber Monday (part 2 – website optimisation)

Yesterday, Ben looked at how careful research and planning is essential to maximising sales on Cyber Monday, and over the course of the Christmas period. Now that you have established your ‘hero’ products, target audience and key messages, I turn attention to your website. After all, dedicating time to research and planning, and increasing investment to acquire traffic over the Christmas period, will be wasted if your website fails to convert that traffic into sales.

With this in mind, and time against you, we recommend you spend day two of five preparing your website for the uplift in traffic you can expect by executing tactics in paid search, link building and social media, all of which we will be looking at as the week unfolds.

Day 2 – Website optimisation

According to Logan Tod‘s Annual Online Shopping Index, the factors most important to consumers online shopping experience last Christmas were listed as delivery options, site search and product availability, and well-written copy.

On this basis, here are some relatively quick-win considerations in each of these areas:

Delivery information and options

  • There is nothing worse than getting to the very end of the checkout to be hit with a larger than expected delivery charge. Ensure your delivery costs are made clear from outset, ideally on product pages
  • If you can, offer a range of delivery options and prices. For some customers next day delivery will be essential. For others, as long as it received prior to Christmas, next day will not be so much of a priority
  • Consider using delivery options as an extra incentive to encourage sales, for example by offering free delivery on orders made between certain dates, or for orders over a certain value
  • Do not make promises you cannot keep when it comes to delivery. Let down a customer by failing to deliver to them what was promised and on time, and they are unlikely to be as forgiving at Christmas as they may be at other times of the year

Site search

  • As we get closer to Christmas, search queries will become more specific as prospects get closer to the point of making their purchase (having already worked through the research and consideration stages of the buying cycle). Does your site search function stand up to this by displaying relevant results for longer tail searches?
  • Ensure that your site search functionality is set up to account for different methods by which customers may search. For example, do you send out a catalogue? Do products therefore have codes attached to them? If so, customers may search using these codes so ensure the site search function will deliver results on this basis
  • If there are no search results to return, be sure to offer alternatives. Nothing is more likely to drive a prospect away than the message ‘sorry this product is not available’ accompanied by little or no accompanying help or advice

Product availability

  • Do not allow customers to add a product to their basket only to get to the checkout and be informed it is actually not available. Or worse still, pay for the product, receive the confirmation email only to then be informed later on that stock is not available (I’m amazed so many retail sites still allow this to happen!). Therefore, ensure your stocking information on the website is as up to date as it can possibly be. If you are utilising an automated back end system that maintains live stocking information on the front-end website this should be straightforward. If not, you need to establish a manual process to update stock levels at least every couple of hours
  • If products are not available, be sure to display information detailing when they will be back in stock. Better still, allow customers the functionality to reserve the product when it becomes available again. If it’s too late to build this automated functionality into your website, add a call to action that encourages the visitor to ‘call and reserve’

Copy (and other types of content)

  • Ensure your product descriptions are accurate, well written and optimised with relevant search terms. Are you REALLY selling the features and benefits of not only the product itself but also why the prospect should buy from you?
  • Ensure your product images are of good quality and tagged with appropriate descriptions
  • Create content that will help support your product descriptions, and therefore sales, especially if your research and planning has indicated that you are targeting a different audience at Christmas to the one you would normally attract. What content can you create that will help a male audience, for example, to make a more considered purchase of ladies underwear? Your aim is to make the buying process as straightforward and pain free as possible. Make sure this complementary content, buyers guides for example, is highly visible alongside product descriptions, downloadable and shareable
  • If you have promotional areas on your homepage, for example a banner, ensure they are pushing the ‘hero products’ and key messages you have established during the research and planning stage
  • When attempting to cross sell, ensure the products you deem as complementary are indeed so in the eyes of your customer. The disappointment of finding a product is out of stock is hard enough to bear, offering alternative products that are almost entirely different just adds insult to injury and will not be seen as at all helpful
  • Make sure your contact details are obvious and if offering support, particularly by phone, have a clearly visible number on every page

Checkout process

  • Importantly, test your checkout process now to make sure it is running normally
  • Assuming you have conversion funnels set up in your Analytics software, you should be able to identify where visitors typically drop out of the checkout process and to what extent. Based on this data are there any quick and easy tests you can run to increase conversion rates, such as:
  1. Removing the need to register an account before making a purchase. This is a sure fire way to have potential customers drop out of the checkout process in their droves yet so many retail sites still insist on it
  2. Where you do have forms, can you remove any of the fields, which if you really thought about it are unnecessary?
  3. Can you add progression indicators so users know how long the process will be i.e. this is step 1 of 2?
  4. Are you providing too many distractions at the point of purchase? Attempting to sell other products at this late stage, although admirable, may actually lead to abandonment, the exact opposite of what you were looking for
  5. Are the payment methods clear?
  6. Do you need to reinforce the security of your checkout. Shoppers may be more wary of fraud around Christmas
  7. Are you communicating the next steps clearly, for example will the customer receive a confirmation email? Will they receive an email when their product is dispatched?

And finally…

Increasing sales over the Christmas period is somewhat wasted if you do not seek to build relationships with newly acquired customers. Any promotional efforts over the Christmas period should be aimed at developing ongoing dialogue with new customers.

Therefore, ensure you offer newly acquired customers an incentive to come back. Consider how to collect data so you can engage with these customers again in the future. Request that they join your social networks for further offers and add them to your mailing list, for example (the latter with their permission of course).

Now that you your website is ready to go, you can focus on efforts to increase targeted traffic. Tomorrow, Amelia looks at paid search.

Until then…

Christmas retail: gearing up for Cyber Monday (part 1- research and planning)

Back in January, Logan Tod‘s Annual Online Shopping Index predicted that online sales will hit £1.26 billion during the Christmas 2010 shopping season, with UK consumers intending to do 23% more shopping online than they did in 2009.

If you’ve not yet put plans in place to take full advantage of Christmas 2010, you’re not too late…just. Although we’d usually recommend retailers start planning for Christmas during the height of the summer, there’s still enough time to execute tactics to make this Christmas your most successful yet.

Every day this week, we’ll be publishing a post looking at a different area of your online strategy, covering website optimisation, paid search, editorial link building and social media. If you’re in the early stages of your Christmas planning, we recommend you follow suit by dedicating a day to each of your main online marketing channels for brainstorming, planning and execution…but do it quickly…the clock is ticking!

The culmination of your efforts should be aimed at maximising sales on Cyber Monday, recognised as the biggest Internet shopping day of the year. It is the first Monday in December, this year falling on the 6th.

With that target in mind, we start by looking at research and planning.

So, down tools, take some time out and let’s get started:

Day 1: Research and planning

To maximise sales over the Christmas period you need a solid plan in place. Before looking at specific channels, such as paid search, we recommend focusing some thought on five key areas; products, target audience, key messages, marketing channels, and ensuring your business is prepared for the uplift in sales you can expect by executing your tactical plan.

By taking some time out to consider these five areas it will provide much needed focus for your Christmas marketing efforts, ensuring you are selling the right products, to the right audience, at a profit.


Think about the products that are most commercially viable to push over the Christmas period. There is a lot to consider here; first and foremost, are you price competitive, especially compared to major players such as Amazon? If you don’t consider Amazon a competitor, think again; they sell products crossing virtually every market from consumer electronics to clothing…and they do so at very competitive prices. This highlights how you might need to re-think your competitive landscape; run searches across Google for your key product lines to see who is present and their price points.

Also, think about your margins as these are likely to be squeezed as marketing costs, such as those for paid search advertising, increase over the ultra-competitive Christmas period. Once you factor in these costs, you may find that the products you thought you wanted to push may not be the ones that make commercial sense to do so.

In summary, consider products that are unique to you, where you can compete on price or where you offer such a compelling reason to shop with you that price is of secondary importance. Based on this analysis, select your ‘hero’ or ‘champion’ products; those that have the potential to perform best for you, and focus your Christmas marketing efforts around them. And then consider other products that compliment your ‘hero’s’, using cross selling techniques on your website; dynamic merchandising for example, to increase basket values. We’ll look at this further on day 2.

Target audience

Once you have established your ‘hero’ products, consider who you are trying to sell these products to; appreciate that your target audience may be different at Christmas to other times of the year; adjust your web content and marketing messages accordingly to appeal to this new audience. For example, if you sell ladies clothing, your audience will typically be female. But in the build up to Christmas, your site is likely to attract a male audience searching for that perfect gift. Think about the motivating factors for this audience. Unlike your typical female shopper, who may be happier to spend time browsing, men will typically be looking for ease and immediacy. Consider how you can tweak your messaging to account for this. Also, begin to consider additional content you can create to aid the target audience, in this instance helpful advice or buyers guides you can offer to men. Again, we develop this further on Day 2.

Key messages

Talking of key messages, what is it that will make you stand out on Cyber Monday and over the Christmas shopping period as a whole? Are you offering the cheapest prices, the widest selection of products or no quibble returns? Competition is fierce over the Christmas period – establish these key messages as they will be integral to your web content, paid search ad copy, press releases and so on.


Consumers expect the ability to connect with your brand across a number of channels…seamlessly. You must therefore ensure that if running promotions around Cyber Monday, for example, that they are timed to hit all channels, and therefore customers, simultaneously whether they are on your website, following you on social networks, using your mobile app or of course, in-store.

Ensure your channels are well established before dedicating too much time and resource to them. I would argue now is not the time to be moving into mobile marketing, for example, unless planned well in advance. Focus on those channels you are familiar with and that you have already demonstrated provide the business with a return.

Be prepared to deliver on your promises

For consumers, Christmas is a stressful time. Many view shopping online as means of avoiding the high street, instead enjoying pain free shopping from the comfort of their armchair.

Use this to your advantage by ensuring information concerning delivery and returns policies are highly visible across the website. But, be absolutely sure you deliver on these promises. Failure to do so at any other time of year might be forgivable – but let down a customer in the build up to Christmas and they are unlikely to show you much in the way of festive goodwill. Any future relationship you hoped to build will be destroyed in an instant, not to mention the likelihood of their anger being vented across social networks, thereby spreading this negative experience to a wider audience.

Therefore, ensure the business is prepared for the uplift in sales you can expect. Are you well stocked with the items available on your website (especially those ‘hero’ products), do you have appropriate staffing levels in place and can your fulfilment channels cope with a sudden increase in demand?

With time dedicated to thinking around each of the above areas, you should feel ready to move onto day 2; getting your website ready…

Until then, happy planning…

Digital marketing benchmarking report for premium home and garden retailers

Over the course of 2010, Leapfrogg is conducting a series of surveys investigating premium retailers’ use of, and attitudes, towards digital marketing. We are looking at a number of very specific niche markets beginning with home and garden. Further surveys will look at premium fashion, health and beauty, and food and wine.

This first survey was sent to 80 premium home and garden retailers with just over a quarter taking part. Respondents included well recognised high street brands and smaller retailers.

The full report is available to download here. Below we have included some of the key findings:

Use of marketing channels

The top five online marketing channels being ‘heavily’ or ‘partially’ used by premium home and garden retailers are articles and press releases (75%), email marketing (67%), search engine optimisation (67%), paid search (66%) and voucher codes (48%).

Respondents are ‘just getting started’ with social networking (38%), micro-blogging i.e. Twitter (33%), blogging (30%) and involvement in forums and communities (25%).

Interestingly, respondents have ‘no intention of becoming involved’ in the creation of audio (55%) or video content (35%), mobile marketing (33%) and shopping/comparison engines (33%). And although a number of retailers are adopting the use of voucher codes, a further 33% have no intention of using them.

It is suggested that premium home and garden retailers take the time to investigate the opportunities presented by video and mobile in particular. Video and the use of mobile technology to access the Internet, read product reviews and download coupons/vouchers are experiencing significant growth with consumers.

Importance of marketing channels

The top five online channels that are considered most important to the success of the business are search engine optimisation (76%), email marketing (50%), articles and press releases (33%), paid search (30%) and reputation management (25%).

The areas that are felt to be unimportant are voucher codes (33%), social networking (30%), audio (27%), mobile marketing (24%) and shopping and comparison sites (24%).

Understandably, premium brands may feel the use of voucher codes ‘cheapens’ their offering. However, Leapfrogg would consider it a concern that so few companies rate the importance of social networking and mobile marketing, in particular.

Channel rating according to return on investment (ROI)

The key channels that are claimed to deliver return on investment are search engine optimisation (SEO), email marketing, and articles and press releases.

In respect of the other 13 online channels the majority view is that the return on investment is indifferent.  Social networking is perceived to have a very poor return on investment by one quarter of the respondents, suggesting that premium home and garden retailers have not yet implemented appropriate systems to measure their social media marketing efforts with accuracy and in line with business goals.

Channel resource plans

The online activities where resource is being increased in 2010, compared to 2009, are social networking (65%), email marketing (60%), micro-blogging (58%), SEO (57%), activity in forums and communities (43%) and blogging (44%).

Plans to increase resource in social networking is interesting when it is considered that a quarter of respondents perceived social networking to have a very poor return on investment, whilst a lack of internal resource (see later section) was also deemed a significant barrier to the success of social media efforts. It is therefore suggested that premium home and garden retailers need to carefully consider objectives from social media activity, set up appropriate systems to measure performance and ensure adequate levels of in-house resource are dedicated to managing social media effectively.

Multi-channel marketing

Results indicate that respondents combine more traditional online activities, such as SEO, PPC and email when running multi-channel campaigns. Social media and blogging also represent popular channels, yet integrating mobile is very low, despite consumers growing use of smart phone technology to access the Internet.

It is recommended that premium home and garden retailers consider all the ‘touch points’ between brand and consumer and implement multi-channel marketing campaigns that ensure a consistent offering and message is present across all of them.

Management of marketing channels

Marketing is the department responsible for managing all online activities except PR, of which there is either a dedicated department or it is outsourced.  IT is responsible for search engine optimisation (SEO) in just over one third of the retailers who responded, which might suggest it is viewed as a technical discipline as opposed to a marketing activity.

Knowledge of customers

Generally, premium home and garden retailers feel that they need to know more about the behaviour of their customers online. 82% do not know how their customers behave on social networks and 66% do not know what their customers are saying about their brand online.

The latter is a particular point of interest as consumers are increasingly willing, and easily able, to share their thoughts with hundreds, possibly thousands of others through blogs, forums, reviews sites and social networks. In turn, purchasing decisions are heavily influenced by the positive and negative reviews a retailer may receive online. It is therefore suggested respondents investigate the use of buzz monitoring tools to quickly identify the conversations happening around their brand and products.

55% feel informed about their customer’s behaviour on their website suggesting respondents have implemented, and are using analytical tools to good effect. However, 45% appear not to be using tools, such as Google Analytics, to great effect therefore limiting the opportunity to make informed decisions on optimising site performance.

Knowledge of search engine ranking factors

Premium home and garden retailers rate keyword placement (67%), website architecture (57%), Meta tags (55%), the user experience (48%) and external links (43%) as crucial to achieving high search engine rankings. Rich media content and blogging were considered by the majority as important but not crucial to improving search engine rankings.

A quarter of respondents were unsure of the impact on search engine rankings of choice of technology and social media activity. Concerning the latter, it is recommended respondents investigate the relationship between search and social media as these channels cannot, and should not, operate in isolation of one another.

Goal setting

Half of premium home and garden retailers used past performance as a benchmark for setting goals for digital marketing activity along with basing predictions on financial goals.

One third of respondents do not currently set goals for digital marketing activity. It is highly recommended that premium home and garden retailers work to establish objectives using SMART methodology to ensure there is direction and focus for digital marketing activity. In addition, appropriate tools and processes should be put in place to measure goals accurately.

Ability to track goals accurately

Respondents rated their ability to track search engine rankings (57%), online conversions (48%), email marketing performance (47%), behaviour of site visitors (35%) and affiliate marketing (33%) as good.

Areas not being tracked accurately include conversions from social media activity (74%), mobile marketing (73%) and customer lifetime value (71%).

59% do not currently track overall return on investment from digital marketing activity.

This would indicate there is still a great deal of progress to be made in the area of measurement. Retailers should be implementing the appropriate tools and processes to measure the impact of each online channel. Better tracking will not only enable return on investment to be calculated from each channel but also provide invaluable data for forecasting and developing future strategies.

Agency relationships

The split between managing work in-house and the use of external agencies is 50:50 with a slight preference for conducting more of the work in-house but using specialist agencies where needed. Those that use external resources use specialist SEO agencies, full service digital agencies, web designers, affiliate marketing and PR companies.

Premium home and garden retailers rated the ability to deliver results (95%) as the most important factor when working with an agency. Specific knowledge of the customers’ market (76%), and having open lines of communication (67%) also rated particularly highly.

Premium home and garden retailers believe it is ‘crucial’ that an online agency has knowledge of the clients’ target audience (80%), their key performance indicators (73%) and knowledge of the business plan (53%). Yet only 40% believe an agency should have knowledge of the clients’ offline marketing strategy (40%).  This indicates that premium home and garden retailers need to better communicate offline activity with their agencies therefore ensuring a consistent, and properly integrated online/offline marketing strategy.

Barriers to success

The barriers that prevent premium home and garden retailers from maximising their online marketing efforts are lack of internal resource, lack of budget and a lack of understanding.  Board approval and not having an appropriate measurement tool are also cited as significant barriers.

The ‘lack of internal resource’ is of particular interest as a high number of companies choose to manage digital marketing in-house yet do not appear to possess the necessary capacity to do so to maximum effect.

Download the full report here. If you would like to discuss any aspect of the report findings, please get in touch. And remember to keep a look out for future reports covering premium fashion, health and beauty, and food and wine.

Infographic – the online retail wheel of fortune

With ever-increasing competition online and the demand to deliver a multi-channel shopping experience, online retailers have a never ending list of actions they need to take in implementing a successful digital marketing strategy.

Add to that the growing sophistication in how search engines display their results; the introduction of blended search, personalised search, social search and real-time search demand a much more holistic approach to search engine optimisation (SEO); an approach that combines traditional activities, such as keyword selection and link building, with more contemporary tactics in social media and content marketing.

A successful online retail strategy is therefore made up of many parts that are continually growing and repeating throughout the customer buying cycle. This can at times be overwhelming as retailers struggle to find the resource, time and skills to succeed in every necessary area.

Understanding this, we thought we would lend a helping hand to online retailers by creating the infographic to end all infographics; the online retail wheel of fortune. This is a graphical representation of the main elements to be incorporated into your online strategy to maximise success.

And here it is! Now being rather large, and very detailed, you will need to download the pdf version to digest it fully, which you can access by clicking here.

As you will see we have split our graphic into four main sections, representing key stages of the customer buying cycle as follows:

Covering the top line projects and tactics aimed at maximising your online exposure, therefore enabling you to connect with as many prospects as possible, which in turn drives more of the right traffic to your website.

The tools and techniques you can use to ‘talk’ to your audience once you have found them.

How to turn those engaged prospects into customers by optimising the user experience on your site, for example.

The actions you need to take to encourage repeat sales and develop advocates of your brand.

For each key stage of the buying cycle, we have detailed areas of attack, top level projects, specific actions within those  projects and some of the key benefits you will experience. Start with ‘reach’ before working your way out and then around to the next stage.

We realise it is a lot to take in…but this should also highlight just how much is involved in researching, planning and implementing an integrated digital marketing strategy for retailers.

We’d love to hear from you with your comments.