Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Paid Search: Holiday Ramp-Up

As you're getting ready to ramp-up your PPC campaigns for the holiday be sure to check out the major retailers in your category for valuable competitive information. When you look at the major retailers or competition look for product identifiers. While you and a competitor might carry a similar product, your competition might use a different product identifier and its an opportunity for you to capture new traffic and customers.

On retailer sites like Amazon, Wal-Mart, Target, look for information like:
  • ISBN-10

  • ISBN-13

  • ASIN

  • Item Model Number

  • Item #

Don't forget to add the product's name and manufacturer ID in your list of keywords/phrases. Let's use the Garmin nuvi 780 as an example:

  • On Garmin's site, you'll see Part Number: 010-00657-05

  • On Amazon's site, you'll see ASIN: B0011UEUNG and Item model number: Nuvi 780. If you're savvy enough, you'll also pick out the unique identifiers in the URL.

  • On Crutchfield's site you'll find Item #150NUVI780.

For one product on three sites, there are at least three unique identifiers (I'm not including the Item model number from Amazon). While these may generate small amounts of traffic (and typically a very low CPC) in your campaign they may convert more often. The Internet is ultimately a research tool and many people will research a product before buying. The buying decision may be based on several factors including price, taxes, shipping costs, etc. The more often you appear in the search funnel the more likely you are to convert a visitor into a customer.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Holiday Planning for Online Retailers: Promotions


This is separate from online marketing and a lot of what is mentioned below depends on what your platform can handle. If you have a flexible platform, you can get creative in the promotions you offer and that can open new doors to incremental sales.

When I set out to create promotions, I lay out some goals I want to achieve and look at forecasts to see what I need to push hard. Again, pull year to date data and last year’s data (segregate November and December) to create a baseline. Here’s what you’re looking for:

- Top 10 products by units
- Top 10 products by dollars
- Average order value (total revenue divided by total number of orders)
- Units per transaction (total number of units sold divided by orders)

Break these numbers down by:
- Year to Date (YTD) 2009
- 2008
- November and December 2008 (if you have time, track these data points by week)

Compare your YTD 2009 numbers to your 2008 and November/December 2008 numbers. Is there growth this year over last? What’s the delta between YTD 2009 and holiday 2008? Create some goals that you want your promotions to achieve, such as:

- Promotions should result in 10% AOV increase
- Promotions should result in 10% UPT increase
- Promotions should bump Product X into the top 5 products for a given period

For promotions that involve increasing AOV and UPT, consider these options
- Set a qualifying order amount (based on product sub-total) to get free ground shipping
- Tiered discounts (e.g. Save 10% When You Spend $50, Save 15% When You Spend $75, etc.)
- Gift with purchase when you spend $X
- Buy 2 (or whatever amount) and get the third at 50% off
- Gift with purchase when you buy products A, B, C

If you need to increase sales volume on specific products consider offering a discount on that particular product. Examples include:

- Save X% when you buy Product X
- Get the second unit at X% off

Try creating bundles and promoting it as a separate SKU and offering a discount. You’re enticing customers to buy more than one product and providing an incentive to do so.

Put these promotions on your shared calendar so everyone on your team knows what’s coming. Stage products your promoting so that all the shipping team has to do is slap on a shipping label. If you’re like me, create a spreadsheet and track the promotions on a daily basis to get a sense of what they’re doing. Be sure to share these great results with your team and higher ups so everyone can share in the excitement of what they’re taking part in.

Next up…Online Marketing!

Woopra: Better Than TV

This is my third post on Woopra...no, I'm not paid by them! Just this morning, over the course of 15 minutes, I watched three customers come to one of the sites we manage and make a purchase. They came from different parts of the country and two bought form the same designer. It was interesting to see, in real time, the browsing behavior of these three people before they made their purchases. While two bought form the same designer, one was looking for something completely different. Our merchandising strategy paid off in this case because the individual clicked on a related products item, browsed the collection from that designer and made a purchase. This particular customer came in through adwords for a different designer and I now know that the conversion can't be directly attributed to that term. Yes, that term brought the customer in, but, the customer didn't buy a product from that designer. Watching this behavior also has me working on some new category page layouts in an effort to convert visitors into customer more quickly.

This is fun stuff, and if you think its fun too...get Woopra.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Holiday Planning for Online Retailers: Shipping

One of the worst situations you can find yourself in is not being able to fulfill the orders you’ve worked so hard to generate. Prepare by assessing your previous holiday outbound shipping needs and adjust for this year by taking into account your forecast. Here are some considerations to keep in mind while you’re planning:

Your shipping team is an important part of the ecommerce department because they’re the ones sending products to the customer. Understand your staffing needs and make sure you have a core group of individuals who understand the products, standards you set in shipping, processes and have experienced the holiday rush in your business. These individuals will be key in making sure shipping goes smoothly and the new guys understand what is required of them

One of the most overlooked elements of shipping is supplies. Don’t assume your vendor(s) will have the stock when you need it because they likely have other customers who want supplies when you do. Forecast your supply needs and negotiate cost with your vendor. Because you’re buying in advance, they should be willing to cut you some deals which ultimately helps to lower your per order fulfillment cost. If you’re tight on space ask them if they will store and deliver as needed – but they have to be close enough to your fulfillment center to make this an effective solution.

Shipping Rates
Here’s where you can save extra money. First, pull your shipping invoices from the previous two years and record the dollar amount per shipping method (ground, 2 day, etc.). Second, figure out how many orders you expect to ship this year and break it down by ground, 2 day, etc. Third, determine the zones to which you ship most often. Lastly, call your rep at UPS and FedEx. Tell them you want to negotiate shipping rates for the holiday and be prepared to show them your analysis. Play your UPS and FedEx reps against each other to get the best possible rates and get it in writing.

Shipping Calendar
Ask your shipping rep to give you a calendar of shipping dates for the holiday season. You need to understand your shipping window so you get orders in customers hands in a timely fashion. There’s no better way to lose customers than to deliver gifts on the 26th. Run Guaranteed to Get There promotions based on the shipping windows listed in the calendar.

Get your shipping team, customer service team and order processing team (or whatever teams you have in the order fulfillment chain) in one room and iron out any hiccups there are in the fulfillment process. Communication is key and designate point people along each step who will be responsible for communicating with others and raising the red flag when necessary.

Next up...Promotions!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Holiday Planning for Online Retailers: Merchandising

Planning is the difference between success and failure. One of the additional benefits of planning is it makes life easier during the hustle and bustle of the holiday rush. Well, it may not make it easier in terms of longer lunch breaks, but, it’ll allow you to do other things that generate incremental revenue. Here are some of the things you should look at for your merchandising plan:

Home Page & Category Plans
Plan your home page and category page refreshes in advance. By ‘refresh’ I mean update imagery and products. Pull together data from last year to see what products did well and what page locations generated the most clicks and dollars. Also pull together the same data for this year. Take a look at your forecasts, market trends and plan your refreshes accordingly. Get your creative assets lined up and present mockups to stakeholders for final blessings.

Cross sells & Up sells
Cross-sells/Up-sells: This is an oft-overlooked merchandising area either because retailers don’t have the capability in their ecommerce platform or simply don’t know how to do this. Pull reports to determine most profitable product correlations. Basically, when product X is bought how often is product A, B, C, etc bought? This data will help you determine how to merchandise your cross-sells and up-sells. Of course, there are other factors you may consider for this: new products, forecasts, recent trends, etc.

Buyers guide
This is an excellent way to guide people’s buying decisions and get SEO benefit. Keep it simple by targeting price points, demographics and themes.

Category updates
Update your navigation to include categories like Gifts for Him, Gifts for Her Gifts Under $50, etc. Your specific business might require different categories, but, the goal here is to help people make purchases as efficiently as possible.

Next up...Shipping!

Holiday Planning for Online Retailers

The end of summer is near (where did it go already?!?) and the holiday is quickly approaching. Many online retailers are starting to think about what they’re doing for this all important retail season while others haven’t even given it a moment’s thought. Either way, what I want to do is provide you with some basic things to consider in your holiday planning sessions (if you’re already planning) or to get your wheels spinning (if you’re busy sipping frozen drinks on the beach…which isn’t a bad thing!!).

In the next few posts I'm going to discuss Merchandising, Shipping, Promotions, Online Marketing and Technology. To kick off this series, I'm going to suggest you have three things lined up:

Online Calendar
- Use this for scheduling and enter important dates
- Share this with people in your department
- Check out: Google Calendar, Apple’s Mobile Me (great for Mac and PC users) or Yahoo Calendar

Online file storage
- Eventually you have to leave the office, but, you or someone on your team will need access to a file. If your company doesn’t have VPN setup, consider signing up for online file storage
- Check out: Apple’s Mobile Me, SharePoint (look at hosted versions) or Box.net

Excel Spreadsheets
- You gotta love spreadsheets. When you have your plan set, create spreadsheets to track promotions, home page refreshes, etc.
- It helps you understand what’s working and not in relation to the other parts

The next post is on Merchandising.

- Julian

Search Engine Optimization at the Beginning of a New Site Build

I was doing some SEO research and came across an article written by Chris Boggs that talks about the importance of SEO when building a site. Specifically, how search engine optimization needs to be part of the build plan and not an afterthought for when the site is launched.

If SEO is done after a site is launched, it can actually present more problems than if you were to do it at the front end of development. Reason being, you may have to make many tweaks to your site's code to handle the changes you want/need to make. This can also lead to an ugly looking site.

We've done search engine optimization on some sites where SEO was done post-launch. After auditing a particular site we proposed numerous changes to optimize the site which cost the client a decent sum. This cost could've been avoided in two ways:

1. SEO up front: if you don't have in-house SEO, hire a consultant or firm to be part of the site build team

2. Choose the right CMS or Ecommerce platform: Right off the bat, the client could've saved money by choosing the right content management system (CMS). There are numerous CMS options out there so you should carefully analyze each option before choosing one that best fits your needs.

Our site build process includes SEO on the front end and is a major component of the build plan. SEO presents the best ROI over the long term and if you're not ranking well for your business critical terms then what's the point of the site? Seriously! It's like a store without a sign...you exist, but, no one knows who you are or what you do.

When we do an ecommerce implementation, we use Magento and it is a great platform for SEO. Some of the things we like about it for SEO:

- Each page can be customized with unique meta data, page title and URL. Sounds simple, but, you'll be surprised how many sites don't have this

- Dynamic Sitemaps: the platform will create sitemaps for Google and the site itself. When you add/delete a page the sitemap is automatically updated

- Tags: a customer can organize their shopping experience with product tags. Sally might browse a selection of couches for her living room and might tag them as 'living room couches.' This creates a tag associated with those products and not only can she see that tag...you and the search engines can see it. The more that tag is used, the bigger it gets and eventually it'll get an H1 tag

- Popular Search: this simple, but, very useful feature aggregates all site searches onto one page for visitors and search engines alike to view. What does this mean for SEO? It means you get a page with a bunch of links and great anchor text leading to products. Again, the more often that term is searched the bigger it'll get. Here's an example from Bruges Home

- Add content to category/sub-category pages. To maximize this, develop unique and descriptive copy that targets a couple key terms

There are several other features that can be leveraged to maximize a site's search engine performance, but, the key thing is to make SEO a priority on the front end. If you do this, you'll have a better site, you'll save money and you'll get more organic traffic.

- Julian