Advanced eCommerce SEO and PPC Marketing Tactics and Philosophies

by Grace Miller |

Advanced eCommerce SEO and PPC Marketing Tactics and Philosophies

ecommerce seo and ppc

We recently caught up with Ron Dod, CEO of Visiture, a top ecommerce SEO and PPC agency. He answered our questions about how to boost visibility and conversion in this complex ecosystem…

1. Tell us a little about Visiture and how you help ecommerce businesses.

Visiture was founded over 10 years ago as a search engine marketing agency focused on the ecommerce space. It might sound fancy, but, when it comes down to it, what we do is simply help online merchants sell more products using search engines. I came onboard in October 2015, after merging my old agency, Grey Umbrella Marketing, with Visiture in order to strengthen their SEO service and provide PPC services that I was not offering.

Getting more into what we do, we help merchants utilize Google’s organic listings (SEO) and optimize their AdWords accounts (PPC) in order to increase their returns from their search marketing campaigns. When it comes to PPC, we have a lot of very advanced strategies, from Inventory Driven Search and Google Shopping Data Optimization to more, which enable us to get higher returns. On the SEO side, we have a tried and true content and outreach team that creates very compelling content, promotes it to the right people, and works to get high-quality links, which is the 2nd most important Google ranking factor most online merchants do not focus on.

2. eCommerce SEO and PPC have been crucial tactics for quite a while, and, while Google Shopping is newer, it’s clearly very established. What’s new in these three areas?

Search engine marketing has been around since the late 90s and was adopted by the larger retailers. At that time, not too many people were using search engines to find products and services. Flash forward to today and 81% of people research online before they buy. So, in today’s market, most retailers and merchants are focusing on it on some degree; but to say it’s important is an understatement for retailers and online merchants.

While SEM is constantly changing, for the most part, the large objective has been the same since the late 90s. For SEO, you still want to focus on creating the best customer experience on your website so that Google will place you higher in the SERPs. For PPC, you want to be focusing on advertising to someone when they are looking to buy, not research. As I alluded to above, 81% of people research online before they buy, which means you could be buying a lot of clicks and spending a lot of money for someone who is just doing research. Focusing on the long-tailed approach, below, is the best course of action for PPC.

ecommerce seo and ppc

What is new in the industry is fairly groundbreaking. I did this study about a company called If you don’t have time to read the whole study, I’ll summarize it for you. Basically, they were able to outrank these gigantic brands and go from 5,000 keywords in Google to 83,5000 in a little over a year. It was the largest jump that I have ever seen, and we looked into everything to find out how they ranked so much higher than everyone else.

We found that their backlink profile was worse than their competitors, their on-page efforts were poor, and, from a traditional SEO perspective, they weren’t really doing anything right. What we did find was they had more than 6.3 million Instagram followers, and their Alexa score said they had a 21% lower bounce rate and a 4-minute more on-site time. Basically, Google was placing them higher because consumers were interacting positively with While it was confusing from a traditional SEO viewpoint, it makes sense—Google wants to put the best listings, with which people have a positive interaction, in the SERPs.

visiture ecommerce seo and ppc 2

This shows us that the new thing regarding SEO is to focus on the customer experience and try to ensure that users click on your organic listings, don’t bounce back to the SERPs, and then stay on your site longer. This will help it rank higher in the organic search engine results.

When it comes to PPC, there are constant changes when it comes to best strategies and tactics. Recently, Google implemented expanded text ads, so merchants are still recovering from that. However, the biggest shift in the industry has been Google Shopping. Today, Google is placing Google Shopping results on almost every single eCommerce-related search. Google loves to make money, so, of course, they are going to be slipping in their ads wherever possible. This means that retailers and merchants really need to be focusing on Google Shopping optimization.

How you optimize your Google Shopping campaign is really on a case by case basis, but using SKU multiplications has been working very well for retailers. I would definitely say that everyone is getting better results with Google Shopping. Most retailers aren’t just plugging their Google Shopping campaigns into AdWords, anymore. They are doing data optimization, so, if you aren’t correctly optimizing your Google Shopping product feed, you can quickly be outpaced by your competition and miss out on a key part of your marketing mix.

3. How do Google Shopping and ecommerce SEO and PPC relate to and support each other?

That’s a great question. A lot of people think of the three as completely separate disciplines, and, while they are distinct, they work best together. If you are doing SEO, then it is highly recommended to use PPC data, in some regard, to help your SEO campaign. It could be using high-converting keywords to focus with on page optimization or to better understand trends, seasonality, or more.

While most people consider Google Shopping and PPC to be very similar, Google Shopping is almost more a mix of SEO and PPC. You can’t tell Google what you want to show up for when someone searches. You are at Google’s mercy because they decide where to place you in the Shopping results, based on the information your product feed provides them.

We are seeing this renaissance, where PPC professionals are starting to learn basic SEO on-page optimization tactics in order to optimize product feeds to get better performance. The lines between the three are becoming more blurred and assimilated. But, overall, it is important to remember that they are separate entities and becoming a master in all three can be very difficult.

4. How is bidding on Google Shopping different from PPC ad bidding?

Google Shopping is similar to PPC when it comes to bidding, but the biggest difference is that you cannot choose what you show up for, compared to PPC, where you have much more control over where your ad is served. A very good strategy to use for Google Shopping is to break up your products into product “buckets” or groups. The idea is that you use software or manually break up your products into similar groups. You can also add negative keywords to eliminate advertising spend in your Google Shopping campaigns.

This is not a perfect science, but it is the best we have right now. Another item to do is really dig into your product titles and descriptions in your product feed. You can use a software management tool to help you optimize this data dynamically, to either show up for more search queries or more accurate ones.

Google crawls your product titles and descriptions so make sure that they are accurate. Otherwise, you might show up for a bunch of unrelated searches. For example, you might have an American Flag design Arm Brace as a product. You might end up showing up for unrelated searches such as “arm casts” or “American flags.” You can see how Google might think this is good, but we would not think those three are relevant at all.

negative keywords

5. What should sellers be doing to optimize their product feeds?

I alluded to a lot of the tactics above, but the main three right now are below:

  1. Title and Description Optimization – Optimize your titles and descriptions dynamically or statically in order to show up for more searches.
  1. SKU Multiplication – Expand your product feed, and take your products and multiply them to change the titles and description in order to rank for different phrases. You can do this one by one, but I would highly suggest using a software program to do this to save time.
  1. Negative Mining – Continue to add negative keywords to your product buckets so that you stop showing up for useless keyword phrases which make no sense for your campaigns. Using software, you can do this dynamically and easier; however, manually is fine in some situations.

By doing this, you can definitely gain an advantage over your competitors.

6. What are some of the differences between the major ecommerce platforms and how they affect sellers’ SEO tactics?

In my opinion, the big three platforms for retailers and online merchants are Shopify, BigCommerce, and Magento. There are bigger ones for larger retailers, i.e., Demandware, but I find these three are the most common. When you really dig into the platforms, none of them really own a competitive advantage over each other. They are all fantastic platforms. It really just depends on the merchant and the needs they have. The same can be said when it comes to SEO—they are all great. Shopify uses a “collections” category page that you have to adopt, but, other than that, it is very solid.

In reality, they are all fantastic, and you can’t go wrong with any of them. Outside of those three, you can get into a lot of problems with other eCommerce platforms, like site structure, canonical tags, and more. But, in general, platforms have taken a huge step forward in the past three years.

7. What are some overlooked best practices for ecommerce SEO?

Everyone tends to focus on one of the most important factors in Google, which is content, but no one really focuses on the other two—links and RankBrain, which have the biggest opportunities for retailers and merchants. We are going to see a huge shift in the industry, to those two ranking factors, and more people adopting link building again.

It seems like a lot of people tried to write off link building, but it is coming back into play, and the retailers that invest in it are winning big. Also, in the future, RankBrain is going to become larger, and more merchants will focus on it once we understand more about it and how to optimize for it.

8. What about PPC–what are some important tips to remember?

PPC can be time-consuming and frustrating, but my biggest tip is just to not give up on it. A lot of the times you are just buying customers, so the return can be poor. Remember, if you acquire a customer through PPC, calculate the lifetime value of that customer, and then estimate your returns. Otherwise, it will look very unprofitable, and you might give up on it while your competitors are buying customers and growing their businesses.

9. What are some typical challenges for your clients and how do you address them?

Unfortunately, no one ever comes to us when things are going well. The largest problems we solve are usually:

  • Organic search engine rankings are decreasing
  • Search engine traffic and sales are decreasing
  • Changing agency vendors due to performance
  • Some sort of Google penalty

There are even more than that, but those are the main challenges. Our job is to correct the ship and get it back on the course of profitable growth with search engine marketing!

10. If anyone has questions, whom should they contact?

Feel free to email me directly:––I would love to help however I can!

Amazon Cash: A Way Towards Cardless Payments

Amazon Cash

A broken online shopping experience is a real killjoy for e-commerce operators as well as shoppers. Studies have shown that tricky, complicated, and inconvenient payment options can be a deal breaker for an online shopping experience. It has been observed that 8% have abandoned the cart as they felt that there were not enough payment methods. Amazon has decided to respond to this rising alarm of inefficient payment modes. Lat week, it announced the launch of Amazon Cash to reduce the need of card payments by opening a channel for customers to pay with cash.

This free service lets shoppers who are credit card-adverse pay online through a simple process. Customers will have to go the Amazon Cash site and press “Get your barcode,” which they can receive via text or print out at home. Customers then will have to present the barcode at a participating retailer — which includes CVS, Sheetz, and Speedway. Once at the store, customers will have to show the cashier the barcode to scan and pay the amount they want to be added to their Amazon balance in cash. With the Amazon gift card, which gets added to their account, customers can purchase items on Customers can add between $15 and $500 in a single Amazon Cash transaction; daily limits vary by retailer. This cash will get applied immediately to their online Amazon account.

Besides, as a promotion through May 31, Amazon is offering a $10 free digital credit to those who add at least $50 to their Amazon Balance. It’s important to note that customers won’t be allowed to withdraw the cash from their balance. All these activities can be tracked through the individual accounts of customers. The following image will help you in grasping this functionality.

amazon cash

The Reasoning for Amazon Cash

A little observation is enough to conclude that neither the functionality nor the conceptualization of Amazon Cash is a maverick innovation. PayPal has the My Paypal Cash card, which has a similar partnership with retailers that enables its customers to make cash payments on multiple sites. Even Amazon’s competitor, Wal-Mart, has launched a Pay with Cash initiative for online purchases back in 2012.

The secret why almost everyone in the online business domain is opting for generating this cardless payment framework is in the insights. According to a 2014 survey by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, 63% of the 1,000 millennials polled are living without credit cards. The total population of card-free Americans is likely well below 25%. Further insights tell that 7% (9 million) and 19.5% (24.5 million) of U.S. households were unbanked and underbanked, respectively, in 2015. It also found that 62.5% of unbanked households used cash to make purchases. Looking at such data, it’s not surprising to see that Amazon wants to use its Amazon Cash as a tool to reach people who don’t have bank accounts and cards. Of course, it also aims to target the set of people who don’t want to use their debit or credit cards while shopping online due to security purposes.

Even though for time being Amazon Cash is currently available for Americans only, Amazon can think about expanding it in emerging economies where digitalized payments are still not a norm. Amazon’s recent launch of its Prime services in Mexico, where only 44% of adults have a bank account, is a sign that it has already made a move in that direction. And Mexico is not alone. India has more than 165 million unbanked citizens. The situation of Southeast Asian countries is more or less similar.

Another important point to consider here is that Amazon has tried to run promotional campaigns and offered free Prime membership to low-income households to get a grip over that demographic segment. It has seen positive results too. Baird analyst Colin Sebastian wrote that Amazon Prime membership is increasing “fastest among lower-income householders, which should drive continued incremental share gains at the expense of more discount-oriented retailers”. Amazon Cash can further tighten this hold over the low-income group by giving it an easy payment option.

Concerns with Amazon Cash

Though everything about Amazon Cash looks picture perfect, some concerns make their presence felt. The first point is, about 28% of unbanked customers said they don’t trust banks while a similar number said avoiding a bank gives them more privacy. Now, it’s very difficult to find out how those who don’t trust banks would want to give the online retailer the personal information required to open an Amazon account.

The second point is that it’s simply not that troublesome to buy an Amazon gift card and then type in the numbers to add it to your account. It’s true that Amazon Cash is a new way to pay that some consumers may find more convenient. But it looks like a lot of effort for Amazon to come up with a way to shake the last nickel out of the pockets of customers who were slightly outside its reach. If it doesn’t get translated into sales, Amazon Cash may turn out to be a solution which was created to solve a problem that didn’t really exist!

The Why and How of Meaningful App Personalization

app personalization

When you order a latte with a dollop of whipped cream at a coffeehouse, that’s customization. But when you reach the coffeehouse and the server puts options in front of you, remembering that you like your latte with whipped cream, then that’s personalization. In that sense, personalization is a step ahead of customization, as it doesn’t demand any activity from customers. It’s a proactive method of providing state-of-the-art customer experience with the minimum efforts from the customer’s side. This is the prime reason why the concept of customization, which is rapidly becoming a thing of the past, is getting superimposed by personalization.

The consequence of this trend is getting reflected in whatever the retailers as well as etailers are doing. They are trying to add a dash of personalization at all possible avenues through which customers may interact with them. But, when you look at the study that found that mobile app transactions accounted for 54% of all mobile transactions for the fourth quarter of 2015, while app shoppers spent more per order on average ($102) than both mobile Web ($92) and desktop shoppers ($100), the value and significance of mobile apps get highlighted. The only reading that retailers/etailers can draw from this is that the time of mobile app personalization has arrived!

Why Mobile App Personalization?

A) Customers Demand It

According to a Merkle survey, 67% of shoppers under the age of 50 stated that they want retailers to offer a totally mobile path for purchases, while 46% of that age cohort want personalized offers for in-store purchases on their mobile phones, resulting in an urgency to make deals specific to the store as well as urgency.

There is absolutely no doubt that there is a need among customers to get relevant and personalized communication. Indeed, TimeTrade Systems just released a survey estimating that retailers lose out on $150 billion through a lack of personalization. In fact, the question that marketers need to think upon is this: Does it really help to send a generic communication to a bunch of customers who have different needs, tastes and mindsets? It generally fails, as one communication cannot fit to all. And unfortunately, most of the mobile apps have made this mistake. This is one of the main reasons why even though average person will have about 65 apps on their device, but only actually use about 15 of them each week. They find nothing new or useful in it. They fail to make the sense why they should keep the battery eating app in the limited storage device. Mobile app personalization can give them a logical reason to stay with you.

B) It Affects Your Bottom Line

The problem with many older ways of marketing communication is that they are pretty far removed from the bottom line at many organizations. It is visible from the structure of their funnel that marketing is two to three times removed from the point at which a customer makes a purchase and drives revenue for the company. A well-oiled and thought-out personalized mobile app can help in stretching a pall over this bleak reality.

Remember that most of the basic offers that customers will get through mobile apps won’t be drastically different than what they will see in other marketing campaigns. But what differentiates the two is the fact that the same offer becomes “immediately actionable” within the app. It’s like you are standing in front of the gas station with your car and someone hand you a special discount coupon for filling up your tank. It makes benefits easily, and most importantly, quickly accessible. You can look at it as an outlet to ensure instant gratification. Note that millennials, the most important customer segment, have a weak spot for instant gratification.

Moreover, mobile app personalization is a handy tool in informing the customer when a product that he wanted is back in stock and he just has to tap to alert the store to hold the item for him. It doesn’t just delight and surprise the customers- the key building blocks of any good customer experience. It is enabling you to fill out the missing possibilities of sales. It will become even more impactful if that one tap leads directly to adding the item to the mobile app shopping cart.

The Right Approach for Mobile App Personalization

The changing times and incredible product awareness that consumers have has changed their psyches. Even though 50% of customers want mobile app personalization to deliver notifications about discount offers, the scope of demand has expanded voraciously. Many customers expect a lot more than discount offers from mobile app personalization.

The limitations of mobile devices have made it difficult to stay true to those demands in the past largely because of screen size and gesture-heavy interfaces. But now such limitations have been stripped away due to arrival of technologies such as Flash and Ajax alongside web interfaces. Customers are aware of this fact. And who are not aware of it are seeing that someone else has made a mobile experience very personal . Before building an app, thus, it’s of a high importance to know what customers expect when they have an image of a personalized mobile app in their minds.

As per the February 2016 survey, people want a high level of mobile app personalization. They want apps to adapt as per their needs.

mobile app personalization

As you can see, they want their apps to enable faster payment methods. They also want the ability to order on the go with faster delivery, instant real-time online customer service and seamless product offerings across different channels. Delivering meaningful personalization takes data and good segmentation. This blog of ours discusses innovative ways to segment shoppers, while this one talks about valuable but underused consumer research tools that give you actionable data.

It’s quite affirming that customers want their apps to cover everything that generally happens between a buyer and a seller. They are viewing them as a one stop destination which will actually take care of everything. Starting from the product discovery to payment, they want everything to be embroidered by the personalized app. And many have taken a clue from these findings and have tried to reach closer to the enormity of customer’s expectations.

Note: We understand how valuable mobile experience has become in the modern business world. To further enhance your understanding of the topic, I suggest you to dive into this blog where we have discussed how mobile wallets can be used beyond the normal payment functionality. In this blog, we have listed the issues with mobile payments.

A) Samsung:

Samsung, the Korean giant of  consumer electronics, debuted a heap of products that incorporate IoT, data analytics and mobile technologies at the National Retail Federation Big Show in New York. Samsung created a clothing shop that blurs the lines between online and offline shopping, while synchronizing backend systems for an omnichannel shopping experience.


With the help of store app on a Samsung Galaxy smartphone, a shopper can order products at home. As soon as he arrives at the store, the app sets off a beacon on a large digital signage display to show the personalized content based on his prior purchases, and suggesting items that can be browsed via a touchscreen display. If he fails to find a desired product in the store, he can get assistance via the store app on their mobile device by pressing a ‘Help’ button on the app. Through Samsung wireless triangulation, the assistant will get to know the customer’s store location, He can help the customer in finding the item in the store.

The most striking thing about Samsung’s app is that it has created an integrated ecosystem by linking the app with beacons and other technologies like Samsung wireless triangulation. Samsung has not viewed the app as an isolated entity, as they’ve rightly guessed that people need an assistant at every stage of buying. This is a prototype of future apps. We will see more of such integration in the wake of other technical tools like Wi-Fi login and wayfinding.

B) Nordstrom:

Nordstrom gave a different meaning altogether to the ordering system by making it hyper-personal through its mobile app. It created an app, TextStyle, which was essentially a personal link between customers and sales associate to help them through the buying journey. It allows sales people to send a description or photo of a product in a form of a private message. Once the customer is convinced by the information that he has received through the app, he just has to reply “buy”, enter in a unique code to complete the transaction. It’s like an encapsulation of the entire buying journey in one single app!

nordstrom app

C) Flipkart:

As customers get exposed to thousands of products on an ecommerce site, the chances are high that he may get stuck in indecision and may abandon the process. Though personalized onboarding can help in pacifying his nerves and notorious “buyer’s anxiety”, personalized In-app features can enhance his interactions with the app to make him stay a bit more with your app, and thus, with you. Flipkart, a major Indian ecommerce player, guessed that and decided to insert In-app chat function.

The direct benefit of In-app chat function is that it makes simpler for customers to take buying decision,as they can connect with their friends and family for an opinion instantly. The green signal by friends and family can push them closer to the checkout page. Flipkart Ping is designed with the same philosophy. Have a look at how this feature can help millions of customers.

All these three examples as well as the analysis of the customers’ expectations show that personalized apps should do more than just sending relevant content and information. Of course, it will hold its importance, as relevance will always get reverence. But that’s standard for this era. The need is to superlatively heighten the customer experience by generating a bird’s eye view of customer behavior, preferences, buying journey, needs and future possibilities. A shopping app should become a trusted virtual adviser. Otherwise, it’s far too easy for an app to tip over to the land of oblivion. This is especially true when customers are surrounded by 4.4 million apps!

Amazon’s Spanish Language USA Site Is Ready To Say Hola

amazon boxes

Though there is an option on Amazon China that anglicizes some of the text, for the first time since its inception, Amazon has taken the bilingual approach to its flagship site. Amazon’s U.S. site, not its .es counterpart, will be available in Spanish as well in English.  Here’s what else your should know about Amazon’s Spanish language USA site…

How Amazon’s Spanish Language USA Site Will Work

The site will allow the visitors to toggle between the English and Spanish versions of the same pages. They can see product listings and information in both the languages. The e-commerce giant has even added an easily accessible language settings option on the website’s interface, right next to the “Accounts & Lists” drop-down menu. The following image will give you a fair idea about the look of the Spanish version of Amazon’s USA site.

amazon spanish language

An Amazon spokesperson said:

“Customers will be able to shop, browse and search for millions of products, view their shopping cart, and place orders in Spanish on and through the Amazon Mobile Shopping app. If you don’t see the option yet, you’ll get it soon enough. Amazon will continue rolling out the feature to more accounts over the next few weeks until everyone can access the new language option.”

Of course, Amazon is no slouch when it comes to providing multiple languages based websites to expand its scope all across the globe. It has provided dual- or multiple-language shopping opportunities on its sites in Canada (English and French), and in Germany (German, English, Dutch, Polish and Turkish). The online retailer already caters to Spanish speakers with both (for customers based in Mexico) and (for customers based in Spain). But this move of adding Spanish as a second language option to bring Spanish version of Amazon’s USA site is a strategic move which has germinated after a thorough analysis of the opportunities and threats.

Opportunities for Amazon’s Spanish Language USA Site

As per The Guardian, with 41 million native Spanish speakers and 11.6 million bilingual Spanish speakers, only Mexico has more (121 million) native Spanish speakers than the US, which is ahead of Columbia (48 million) and Spain (46 million). The language is also the third most widely used on the internet, though less than 8 percent of traffic is in Spanish. Besides, Morgan Stanley has suggested that retail spending by Hispanic-Americans will rise by 1.6 percentage points by 2020 as opposed to millennial spending growth of 0.6 percentage points. The potential of the Hispanic buyers both in terms of quality and quantity, thus, is as straight as the line drawn with the ruler. The move of bringing Spanish version of Amazon’s USA site appears to be much more integrated with the larger plan of attracting the Spanish-speaking community when we consider that earlier this week, Amazon launched its popular Prime membership service in Mexico, giving customers benefits such as free shipping for $46 per year.

Questions About Amazon’s Spanish Language USA Site

Though Amazon has been the most dominating color on the retail canvas, analysts and observers are saying that it may be reaching a saturation point for English-speaking Prime customers in the US. According to analysts, US Prime membership has grown to more than 60 million people. If it has to keep the stagnation at bay, growth is the most critical factor at this juncture for Amazon. This concern was at the helm why it brought Prime to China and India last year. It made sure that Canada, the UK, Spain, Italy, France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, and Japan will also see the Prime service. Amazon is clearly looking at this language addition as a way to reach out to more and more people to strengthen its customer base.

But having said that, there are people who have begun to raise questions about the efficacy of this Spanish version of Amazon’s USA site. And there are reasons for that questioning. 80% of native-born Hispanics younger than 18 years-old speak only English at home. Moreover, according to Nielsen, 35% of all Hispanics living in the United States speak both English and Spanish at home. All these numbers are making it difficult for some industry experts to see business acumen and profitability in this logic of Amazon’s Spanish language USA site. But history has proved that Amazon has rarely gone wrong with its decisions!

Note: Considering how important Amazon is for the future of the retail industry, we always keep a watch on its activity. Go through this blog to know how Amazon banned incentivized reviews. Prior to that, Amazon had punished fake reviews too. We have talked in depth about that in this blog.

Fight Attrition With Subscription Box Loyalty Programs

Subscription Box Loyalty Programs

Even though Amazon deserves a pat on back for giving rebirth to the way people used to shop, there are sentimentalists who believe that it took some of the pleasure of discovery out of the shopping picture. Subscription boxes and services came as an antidote to that sentimentali feeling due to their inherently personal and surprising nature. That’s the reason why this form of e-commerce is growing. The study by Hitwise has showed that visits to “sub-box” sites has grown 3,000% in the past three years, with 21.4 million visits in January 2016. (In comparison, visits to the top 500 online retail sites have only gone up 168 percent). It then answers why bigwigs like Amazon, Starbucks and Sephora have been switching to the subscription mode.

subscription box graph

The above graph shows the immense potential of the subscription concept, but issues with it still remain. That’s where subscription box loyalty programs can fill up the void. When you are selling something one-off, then you tend to think mostly about top-of-funnel metrics, and cost per acquisition (CPA) is based on a single conversion event. But in the subscription business, usage, churn, yield, and lifetime value (LTV) become the metrics that need to be closely monitored. These same metrics hold great importance in the world of loyalty platforms, as the ultimate goal of subscription business and loyalty programs is repeat purchases. When the novelty of the box wears off for some customers, the subscription box loyalty program usually has enough weight to keep them coming back.

Subscription Box Loyalty Problems: A High Churn Rate

There are almost 400 subscription box startups on the investor marketplace AngelList. It tells how crowded the market of subscription business has become and looking at the current phase, it’s not going to die down soon. The increasing amount of subscription programs is making customers’ plate full of options. As soon as your rival gets into the subscription mode and offers a slightly better deal, many of your customers won’t give a serious thought before leaving your program. That’s why new research shows that 72% of subscription customers failed to make a repeat purchase in the 12 months following their first purchase.

Besides, another reason for this is that subscription commerce works on the basic dynamics of necessities–most of them offer something which needs to be replenished on a regular basis. In that sense, this model works better for products like razors and cosmetics. But through the value addition in the form of rewards and special treatment, which is very much the core competency of a loyalty platform, you can keep people interested in your business by giving them a strong reason to stay with you. After all, who doesn’t like rewards? Also, a good loyalty program with intelligent communication, exciting rewards, and fun oriented premise can help you to stand out in the competitive world of subscription.

Subscription Box Loyalty Solutions: Maintaining Lines of Revenue

The customer’s move toward the subscription model is slow. In the beginning, a customer that subscribes to your product is less valuable than the customer who purchases from you. There is less cash flow and the front revenue will get affected. There is no doubt that in the long term a subscription customer is certainly more valuable. But initially, there is a lengthy holding period. Thus, it becomes a demand of the economic front to generate maximum revenue from the existing customers.

A subscription box loyalty ecosystem can help companies in implementing a proper customer retention management. And remember that 80% of revenue comes from existing customers. For subscription companies, it can compensate for slower revenue growth that they experience in the beginning.

In short, subscription to ensure a respectable customer experience through rewards and financial stability via reordering. A surge in rewards programs in this segment is an outcome of that assurance. The following example of Try the World is one among many other examples.

Subscription Box Loyalty Example: Try The World

Try The World is a subscription box that provides customers with gourmet treats from around the world. It a straightforward rewards program that rewards purchases in order to boost repeat purchase rates and average order value.

ttw loyalty better

It’s a win-win situation for both the customers and Try The World, as customers are getting extra spending money, which they can use towards Try The World’s subscription boxes or in its individual product store, and Try The World sees increased order values and customer LTV. Try The World also implemented a referral program to further reward its loyal advocates for spreading the word about their company. You can read about it and their subscription box loyalty program in our case study!

ttw quote

It’s then not at all surprising to see why the subscription model has worked well when combined with some sort of a reward program. The success story began when Birchbox pioneered that form of combination. Within 6 months of the launch of its reward program, it got over 400,000 subscribers to the service. This is a telling text of the power of this combination…and its significance becomes even more glaring when we get to know that 35% of Global 2000 companies generated revenue using a subscription model in 2015.

The Virtual Changing Room: A New Need for Apparel Sellers?

virtual changing room

Buying clothes online has always been a leap in the dark. For most shoppers, it’s frustrating to see that the garment that dazzled them so much on the retailer’s website is too big or small, or just doesn’t look right. Return rates are as high as 30% to 40%, and 70% of returns happen due to wrong size. Apart from dissatisfied customers, it has a negative collateral impact on the financial health of the retailer. The loss gets compounded, as most of the retailers nowadays offer free shipping due to the sheer force of brute competition. That’s why retailers as well as etailers have believed that matters related to fit are way too important and can impact sales directly. They have tried hard to cut short the danger of returns through various ways. One such way, which is in accordance with the technology empowered era, is the virtual changing room. And it is quickly blurring the lines between online and physical fashion retail.

Certainly, many retailers have used this concept of the virtual changing room in various ways. In physical stores, virtual clothing can be superimposed onto the shopper’s image in a mirror-like screen. In this way, the virtual changing room eliminates the need to get undressed. For busy shoppers, this can be a much more enjoyable experience as they can try on more items in less time.

Similarly, Zugara, a virtual changing room technology company, offers Webcam Social Shopper software, which enables a shopper to use their webcam as “a magic mirror” to try on items virtually. Just like the in-store experience, a shopper can hold a dress in front of her. The mirror will immediately notify her about the rightness of the color and style of the dress as per her body style, skin tone and features. The interface is intuitively interactive with the built in gestures, motion and voice control. The software even allows her to take pictures and share with her friends.

virtual changing room

Looking at the sway of the mobile in online shopping, integrating virtual changing room tech in mobile infrastructure appears like the next step. Gap has just rolled out a new AR equipped Dressing Room app. Within the app–which was created by Google and Avametric–a shopper has to provide basic information like height and weight into the app. Once they select one of five body types, a virtual 3D model will appear by displaying how the garment will look on the shopper. If a shopper is satisfied, he can buy the item from the app.

Virtual Changing Rooms

Benefits of Virtual Changing Rooms

It’s clear that virtual changing room technology will benefit both etailers and retailers. The first direct and visible benefit is the novelty of such apps and rooms. Though they have been in use for some time, they are still not the norm. Their newness will not wear off that quickly. Obviously, they will be a key factor in attracting more shoppers. A 2015 report by Walker Sands confirms this claim, as it found that 35% of customers would shop more online if they were able to try items on virtually, rather than just see images of them.

But, these virtual trials will also pleasantly affect the inventory scenario of brick and mortar retailers. There is no need for them to carry clothes in all sizes, colors and patterns. The customers can simply “try on” the demo (virtually of course), customize their pick (say, Medium in Light Blue with contrasting trim) and place their order. The cost that requires to maintain the inventory in the form of storehouses and staff can be waived off (think of how Bonobos keeps costs low by stocking next to nothing in their stores). Thus, when looked at it from the long term view, it’s worth to bear the cost that is required for implementation and installation for virtual changing room tech. This cost analysis particularly holds true for in-store virtual dressing rooms.

The theoretical benefits of both the online and in-store virtual dressing rooms have already been transformed into real revenue for many retailers. Carrefour introduced the app that shared similarity with the Gap’s app as far as functionality is concerned. It saw its returns fall by over 30% whilst conversion rates were up by more than 23%.

But by no means has virtual changing room tech managed to keep the critics and cynics silent. They are more skeptical about the efficacy of online virtual dressing rooms. Marge Laney, CEO of Alert Tech, has no problem in welcoming it. But she has raised her concerns by saying, “No buying decision is final until the try-on has been completed, whether that’s in the fitting room or at home. AR can increase the fidelity of the online experience, but will never replace the actual try-on when the items are received.” That said, virtual reality and augmented reality aren’t the stuff of science fiction. The advancement may iron out the points which are making people like Marge Laney to look at such apps with a bit apprehension!

While virtual changing room technology is in its nascent form, it’s well-established that online sellers need engaging visual content to convert shoppers. Visual Commerce–including shoppable Instagram through Shoppic,me, shoppable multimedia user generated content displays, and more–is an excellent way of using this technology. Fill out the form below to learn more!

Connected Devices in eCommerce are the Future of Shopping

connected devices in ecommerce

The considerable increase of present day connectivity is going to become as big as a full blown balloon. It is estimated that by 2026, consumers will be living in a hyperconnected, high-speed world where the Internet of Things (IoT) will be a norm of life. By 2020, there will be 660 million machine-to-machine (M2M) connections. But, what is important to know here is that these interactions will race off far away from the dominance of mobile and tablet only world. We will see a more evolved form of interaction between online sellers and online shoppers. And at the heart of that interaction will be connected devices in ecommerce.

We’ve already seen the beginning of connected devices in ecommerce in the form of the Amazon Dash Button. This technology lets shoppers re-order predefined goods with the touch of a button. We’ve also witnessed how Amazon’s Echo, Google Home, and other devices can be used to order your mom a bouquet of flowers when you remember that her birthday is next week. But looking at the speed with which ecommerce world moves, I believe that this is just a launching pad for the future possibilities of over- or hyper-connected shopping experiences. One significant outcome of this is that it will transform ecommerce into predictive commerce. These connected devices will allow etailers to help people find products before they even perceive that need them–and whether or not they’re logged in or ready to click a “buy” button on a screen. Consider the following scenario to grasp how connected devices in ecommerce will transform our routines from searching and browsing to merely thinking.

Just visualize that you are about to leave the house to reach the office. As you are about to lock the door, you hear a voice from the device on your coffee table: “It looks like you are running short on milk, and yogurt is on sale for $1.19. Would you like to pick up an order from XYZ store, for a total of $5.35?” You say yes, and Alexa confirms. The order will be ready for curbside pickup, on the way home from your office.

The scenario isn’t a stretch of imagination. Tech pioneers like Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Apple are looking to figure out customer needs before they actually register in customers’ minds. With machine learning and behavior analysis, machine-powered image recognition, AI, and VR, it’s not at all an oblique or opaque possibility. It’s very real and plausible. Besides, the scope of such devices will not be limited to the early prediction of customer needs. It will be much more than that, which will take care of the customer’s convenience, and journey points. Let’s take a closer look at exactly how connected devices in ecommerce will affect consumer habits.

Augmented Reality (AR) Will Be A Key Ingredient In Devising Future Connected Devices in eCommerce

Augmented reality (AR) has been defined as a live, direct or indirect, view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics, or GPS data. AR, thus, is well placed in blurring the boundaries between the physical and digital worlds. With AR, it will be possible for online stores to give an experience of store shopping. Such device can be a boon to the apparel, cosmetics, home decor, and jewelry industries–among others–as it will allow consumers to virtually try products. It can significantly reduce return rates– the scourge of modern ecommerce. According to a survey by the U.S. National Retail Federation, returned merchandise cost U.S. retailers $284 billion in potential sales.

How can it work? With the example of a clothing business, It’s possible to collect the measurements of customers through the device along with the preferences like color, pattern, and fabric type. If the business integrates their connected devices in ecommerce, as soon as that device comes across such a garment on that particular site, it can notify the customer immediately. As the device will have the AI abilities, he can try that garment instantly. If he finds it suitable, he may just order it from the same device. Remember that the smaller the hurdle between the product and the customer, the lesser the chances of cart abandonment.

Wearable Technologies Will Give Important Contextual Information and Alerts

Even though the ecosystem of wearable technology is still in its teething days, it is believed that the future will be consumed by wearables. Ovum expects the installed base for wearable devices to reach 650 million by 2020. Of course, there are some visible constraints associated with wearable devices; the tiny screen being the most glaring one. But they also have an advantage as most wearables are companion devices. They can act as a perfect reminder giving device or a modern messenger.

Note that wearables of the future will have the ability to capture a broad array of data related to a user’s contextual activity, health and emotional state. This can be used effectively to tailor both products and marketing messages to a very high degree. This can be used in scenarios where connected washing machines take the center stage and automatically orders washing powder. This machine uses dual-phase liquid detergent in replaceable cartridges. When the detergent in one of the cartridges gets low, an app sends a message via the home’s WiFi router to the user’s smartphone so that they can order refills. The wearable can easily replace phones.

Machine Learning is the Key to Prediction 

Naturally, in both the previous scenarios, prediction is the most important factor. And any business perdition needs a proper detection of subtle patterns from massive data sets that are constantly in flux. This flux may include consumers’ purchase histories, product preferences, and schedules; competitors’ pricing and inventory; and current and forecasted product demand. Machine learning holds importance precisely because of this factor. In general, machine learning is all about understanding data and statistics. It’s a process where computer algorithms find patterns in data, then predict the probable outcomes. That’s why Etsy acquired a company that specializes in machine learning. The aim is to make its searches more predictive by surfacing nuanced product recommendations that go beyond simple purchase histories or preferences. It’s a natural evolution of product recommendations and it will have a huge role to play in the future designs of connected devices.

Clearly, online selling is witnessing a paradigm shift. Till now, online shops were hell bent on being a good responsive seller. It was a reactive way of engaging with a customer. But, connected devices are set to change that. By predicting needs earlier and suggesting products to fill that need, it has taken a proactive stance. They are not ready to wait for the chances of buying. They now want to create those chances. It is according to the buying behavior of online shoppers which has become less of a deliberate activity. It has developed as an organic mode of living for many. And that’s why there is a scope for such chance creations and proactive thinking. No online seller can afford to overlook it by not matching his pitch with this new tone. It can pose a threat to his existence. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, has deliberately said for such situations that what’s dangerous is not to evolve!

Note: We keep a close eye on the happenings in the retail world. Check out this blog about 9 innovative ways businesses are implementing in-store technologyand this one to learn about the most important ways of differentiating your stores in 2017.

See Now Buy Now Trend: The Good & The Bad

See Now Buy Now Trend

When asked about the rampant See Now Buy Now trend, which is revamping the old connotations of the fashion industry, Alber Elbaz, a Moroccan-Israeli fashion designer, calmly said “When there is a wind of change, we can build a wall to protect ourselves from the storm or we can build a windmill to let the wind blow faster, so we can benefit from the wind and be part of the change.” Of course, he was right not just in a philosophical sense, but also in terms of business. And as the wind of that change becomes a year old experiment–pioneered by giants like Burberry and Tomy Hillfiger–much of the dust has settled down, painting an unbiased picture of the efficacy of this trend. The problem is that medicine always comes with a possibility of side effects. And business trends, in concept, are no different than medicine. They can help but they invariably come with negative side-effects. And having an acute understanding of this simple truth is what matters the most while dissecting this trend with the scissors of rationale.

The Positive Side Of The See Now Buy Now Trend:

A) Seizing The Moment:

For at least half a century, the mainstream fashion industry has been nourished and nurtured by the two-season model designed around “autumn/winter” and “spring/summer”. The repercussion of this model was that fashion giants used catwalk models to showcase those clothes that people would only get the chance to buy after six months or so. But in the current ecosystem of digital media, which comprises of social media and other chat applications, buyers are just a click away from countless beautiful clothes and apparels. Naturally, the impact of fashion shows’ clothes, which was lingering once, gets withered away in the current span of 6 months. The desire that used to steadily grow and result in a purchase decision, no longer exists. In the fury of instant satisfaction, it’s now or never, and fashion is now special case.

The moment where people are dazzled by the art, craft and beauty of a fabric for example, is the right moment to seize. Because that’s where they are likely to make an impulsive decision. Zach Duane, CEO of Victoria Beckham, has put it in a clear way: “If you are spending millions, promoting a collection, why on earth would you be doing that six months before it hits store, when you could drive desire at the moment it goes on sale?” Besides, getting the clothes straight off the runway has the “I was there” badge and social currency aura attached to it. This all plays on the psyche of customers, supporting the reports showing high sales as the result of See Now, Buy Now trend.

B) Broadening The Vision:

As I have mentioned, the fashion industry has followed the two-season calendar ritually for many years. But the Formula One like speed with which globalization is sweeping everything and transforming the world into a global village, has made the idea of seasonal trends antiquated. The season barrier is blurred by the plenitude of air conditioning, of mass-market long-haul travel, and of a global economy. Amidst such dynamic environment, it would be a silly mistake to design clothes only for people who live in one climate, one culture, or one way of thinking. If your brand lover is somewhere in a different hemisphere, whose season doesn’t match with yours why would you focus on a specific season? Digitalization, which has made the See Now Buy Now trend a practicality, is helping the fashion industry to move away from the twice-yearly trend roundup. Instead, it has made the industry much better in catering to the world.

C) Counter Attacking The Counterfeits:

The parade of clothes that happens during the catwalk is no longer restricted to the catwalk itself. The wine sippers, who sit in the front row of the show, make it public by sharing them on Instagram or Facebook. This early glimpse of high-end designers work, simply opens doors to imitators. A six month period is more than enough for them to copy these designs by making negligible alterations and presenting those designs as their own. But this problem can be crushed by making the collection available for shoppers as soon as it first display hits the public domain.

Many people may fail to gauge the importance of this benefit. But the point is, creating an authentic and well designed piece of clothing is an art, and art loses half of its sense when the original idea is lost. Big brands have maintained their supremacy due to the high artistic quotient that drives the imagination of new designs, fabrics and patterns. Their ability to come up with authentic pieces that others can’t even think of is the biggest differentiator for them. If that differentiator melts, which is quite a possibility if others crate the cheap copy of their classic idea, they may have to struggle for identity!

The Negative Side Of The See Now Buy Now Trend:

A) Inventory Woes:

To implement the See Now, Buy Now trend, designers need to have stocks at their disposal. Otherwise, they can’t make the clothes available immediately. That has some financial and stock dangers, but those dangers can be handled efficiently by well-capitalized brands with their own stores and the ability to coordinate runway looks with in-store merchandising. It’s certainly not a young fashion brand’s cup of tea.

Besides, if designers don’t have a strong market research efforts, it becomes extremely difficult to predict demand for a new collection, as volumes are ordered from suppliers before there is any real life reactions to base decisions on. Due to this inaccuracy in the prediction, they may overstock or under-stock. In the former case, they run the risk of creating a surplus of stock which then must be disposed of at a discount, diminishing margins. In the latter case, they may miss some huge business opportunities. The only way to tackle this unfortunate situation is to ensure that your suppliers are agile enough to facilitate the reordering of the most popular lines.

B) Stultification Of Creativity:

From thinking about the feel and texture of a garment to the finalization of the design, creating a fashion apparel is an amalgamation of many creative processes. But making the clothes instantly shoppable during the fashion shows freezes the development of collections for several months, in order to put them into production in time to stock stores before staging the show. Even though Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s chief creative officer and CEO, says that see-now-buy-now policy doesn’t mean that you lose any creativity or any of the artisanal skills, this is in gross contradiction with the designer’s psychology and his working principles.

The second, and perhaps the most worrying point is that this consumer-driven buy now gives the consumer tremendous control. Any work of art, like creating beautiful clothes, can’t be done by catering to customers’ aspirations all the time. Otherwise, customers end up being the co-creators of the products. And in the field of fashion, which is all about creation and innovation, listening too much to the customers can be detrimental. The reason behind this is designers, and not customers, are in a better position to think what magic a fabric can weave. This was well explained by Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, when he said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses” People very often don’t know what they want or need. Especially for the products that fall into the creative or innovative segment. They realize its worth after the product has come into existence. Apple products, created by Steve Jobs, can be seen in the same light. It took a while before people learned to understand his disruptive product innovation. Maybe, that’s why Diego Della Valle,  president and CEO of Tod’s, was a bit dismissive about this instant gratification method when he said, “It’s true that we need to be quicker, but we are not talking about a piece of soap. We need to [build the] desire for the products and make the storytelling [perfect].”
After looking at both the good and the bad sides of the See Now, Buy Now Trend, the most certain thing is the fact that this trend is going to stay. And the reason for this is we live in the empire of immediacy, fanned by things like one-day-delivery.

Note: Go through this blog where we have explained  Burberry’s motives behind implementing See Now, Buy Now trend.  

Our Top Posts on Engagement, Loyalty, + Advocate Marketing in 2016

advocate marketing in 2016

Hi, this is Eliza Fisher, the editor of the Annex Cloud blog! There are a whole lot of things to say about 2016, but here at Social Annex it was a pretty wonderful year for our blog. We have more readers than ever before, as well as a great new design. As a thanks to you, our readers, let’s take a look at our most noteworthy and interesting posts about customer engagement, loyalty, and advocate marketing in 2016.

Sephora Launches Shoppable Snapchat Campaign

Sephora has been consistently breaking down boundaries when it comes to innovative uses of social media and tech for marketing and other retail purposes. This past spring, their team made a fair amount of noise when they successfully used Snapchat as a sales channel. Read more about it here.

sephora shoppable snap

Four Keys to Amazon’s Marketing Success

One of our most popular posts about customer loyalty and advocate marketing in 2016 was this one about four of Amazon’s marketing tactics, including product reviews, their Prime loyalty program, and more. And don’t worry, we also share our thoughts on what they could do to improve them!

Where Black Friday Went Wrong: A Personal Take

This post detailed my personal experiences as a consumer and a marketer, shopping online and in stores on Black Friday through Cyber Monday. Certain retailers–notably Ulta Beauty–offered inconsistent experiences between their online and brick-and-mortar set-ups, while others did a great job of giving customers straightforward deals. Click through for more details.

ASOS’s Success: 5 Lessons Everyone Can Learn

ASOS has a lot to teach other sellers about both tech and marketing, even for those in disparate verticals. The British fashion retailer has made a lot of smart investments in its digital infrastructure and logistics, and made advocate marketing in 2016 a priority through both their customers and their employees.

To learn more about how to turn your shoppers into advocates, don’t miss out on our white paper!

Why the New Starbucks Loyalty Program Won’t Work Well, and How to Fix It

We have to eat, or, uh, sip, our words with this one. Even though this was one of our most popular posts of the year, our prediction about the new Starbucks loyalty program failing ended up being completely wrong. The coffee giant changed its rewards basis from amount of visits to dollars spent, and we sided with the angry customers who felt that they were being seen as mere dollar signs in Howard Schultz’s eyes. While the new Starbucks loyalty format has been extremely successful (albeit only according to some), it also loops in a lot of promotions that aren’t directly related to the amount of money spent, though. They run special points bonuses on certain drinks and days, for example, or will give extra credit when you reload your card with specific payment methods like Visa Checkout.

Uber’s Marketing Strategy in 7 Steps 

It seems like everyone is infinitely curious about Uber. Even though Annex Cloud’s clients are primarily retailers, manufacturers, and telecom companies, the ride-sharing colossus has made such a name for itself that marketers everywhere can learn something from them. In this post, and in its end-of-year update, we break down 7 of the marketing tactics that’ve worked extremely well for them, from their well-known referral promotions to their stealth loyalty program.

9 Examples of Innovative In-Store Technology

At this point it’s very clear that brick and mortar stores need to differentiate themselves if they want to thrive. This post takes a look at 9 sellers who are doing just that by using uncommon applications of technology. My two favorites are Uniqlo’s neuroscientific approach and Bloomingdale’s display targeted at window shoppers. In the latter, customers don’t even need to step inside the store to make and get their purchases! It’s these sorts of noteworthy experiences that make advocate marketing in 2016 an outcome rather than a tactic.

Bloomingdale's NYC flagship has interactive window displays.
Bloomingdale’s NYC flagship has interactive window displays.

Why You Need To Make Your Instagram Shoppable 

It’s nearly 2017, people! If your business fits into one of the two following nightmare scenarios, things need to change: (1) You have a strong presence on Instagram but aren’t using it to directly lead followers to your e-commerce site; or (2) your customers are all over Instagram but you aren’t. In both of these situations, you’re leaving money on the table, or leaving low-hanging fruit to rot on the vine. Pick your metaphor–the outcome’s the same. Click through to learn more.

I’m a Female Millennial and This is How to Market to Me 

This post is a half-rant, half-survey of what I, a 25-year-old digital marketer and consumer, want to see on e-commerce sites. A brief summary: give me as much information as possible, hopefully with user generated content, and convince me that you’re a reliable seller who’s giving me a deal. Oh, and free shipping? It’s obligatory, but I don’t mind if you hide it in the cost of your products or ask me to pay a subscription fee.

Happy 2017, and thanks for reading!

Year-End Countdown: The Best Loyalty Programs 2016


As the end of the year approaches, people can’t help but reflect on the year that has just gone by and think about the upcoming new year filled with possibilities. That’s especially true for marketers. At the end of every year, they can see what progress they have made, on which metrics they have thrived, where they have failed, and what they can do better in the new year. While doing so, marketers should also take a look at others. Especially at things that embody quality and creativity, whether it’s a marketing campaign, digital outreach, a contest or a press release. Naturally, the best customer loyalty programs of 2016 wouldn’t be out of this list; especially considering the fact that they’re the most powerful, efficient and measurable tool to achieve customer retention. With that said, let’s take a look at the best loyalty programs that have outperformed others during 2016:

Best Loyalty Programs 2016 #1: GameStop Power-Up Rewards

Even though it’s relatively unknown in the retail industry, GameStop’s loyalty program has been hitting new benchmarks of success. Members just have to sign up for a free or paid membership and they can earn points based on purchases in GameStop stores and the US website. Then, they can simply redeem those points for discounts or merchandise. GameStop Power-Up Rewards   The most luminous part of the program is that members of the paid version have the chance to get their hands on the Game Informer magazine. Game Informer magazine is the fourth largest consumer publication in the US and it’s also the largest subscribed digital magazine in the world. Unsurprisingly, it became the USP of the program. GameStop is also thinking about converting it into an outlet to generate extra revenue from advertising. The program became even more solid after it became mobile friendly–the GameStop mobile app has been installed over 5 million times. It is safe to say that due to all the right things that this program put in place, it generated more than satisfactory results. In fact, according to Forrester Research Analyst Sucharita Mulpuru, 75% of the GameStop store revenues are coming from those memberships. Moreover, 50% of transactions are reported to have a PowerUp Rewards card attached to them.

Best E-commerce Loyalty Platforms 2016 #2: Costco

Costco, the largest membership-only warehouse club in the United States, came up with a tiered loyalty program with three segments–gold star, business and executive–in which members are rewarded with super discounted groceries and household goods in bulk. Of course, the rewards keep customers coming back because who doesn’t like to buy extra discounted products? But what gives the program an extra push is its ease of use. All customers have to do is swipe their membership card during checkout. Despite having three structures, the program is extremely simple and easy to understand. Any loyalty program needs an easy-to-see value proposition and it needs to have simplicity. Costco’s loyalty program has both in abundance, so it’s no coincidence that 90% of sales are generated from existing customers, even though the company is charging its customers to be members of the loyalty program. People have to pay $55 per year to be in the gold star and business level, and the joining fee rises to $110 to be in the executive bracket. It’s impressive that while Walmart and Target struggle amidst competition from Amazon, Costco has 81 million paying members and it’s still growing.

Best Loyalty Programs 2016 #3: British Food Depot

British Food Depot, the online provider of quality English and British foods, really redefined the definition of simplicity in the context of best loyalty programs. The program has only one tier with rewards of store credit for every purchase. Moreover, to make it as user friendly as possible, the program doesn’t even bother its customers for enrollment or point redemption. The points are redeemed automatically as soon as they spend a minimum of $50. British Food Depot   Now, not requiring any efforts from customers is a very unique feature for a loyalty program. They don’t need to think about how much they should spend to earn a specific number of points, or how many points they have in their accounts. The automatic redemption mechanism converts points into rewards as soon as the minimum amount is collected. Obviously, the ease of earning rewards along with the ease of using those rewards became the hallmark of this super effective program.

Best Loyalty Programs 2016 #4: Amazon Prime

While critics are whining about Amazon’s loyalty program’s lack of true value to customers, Amazon Prime keeps winning customers by pleasing its loyal members in all possible ways. Apart from its range of exclusive offers, like thousands of free movies and music and free 2-day shipping, they came up with an online supermarket for its UK loyal members. And as expected from Amazon, that’s spot on as far as value offering is concerned. For an extra £6.99 monthly fee, Prime members have access to AmazonFresh, which allows them to:

  • Order fresh fruit, vegetables and other grocery products online
  • Get quicker delivery for 130,000 products at a relatively cheaper rate
  • Get specialty foods from local suppliers

Amazon has always been a master of understanding its customers’ needs, and by bringing Amazon Fresh to UK, the company transformed the boringness of weekly shopping into easy and few clicks. And to further the ease of shopping, Amazon has joined hands with large supermarket chains like Morrisons. grocery products online

Best Loyalty Programs 2016 #5: Hyatt Gold Passport:

Hyatt, the highly respected luxury hotel brand, really knows how to reward its loyal guests. The company is aware that the experiential and not the monetary benefits are going to touch people considering the hospitable nature of its business. With that in mind, it launched Hyatt Gold Passport guest loyalty program to ensure that its guests stay will be as pleasant as possible by offering “right” rewards. Hyatt Gold Passport   Members of this program can avail benefits, such as earning five points per dollar spent to redeem towards free nights with no blackout dates, room upgrades, and airline miles. Besides, the highest tier members get 4 suite upgrades yearly and upon qualifying for the first time. This privilege can be enjoyed by the members for 7 nights without the need of any sort of booking. Besides, members can earn and exchange rewards across Hyatt’s 12 hotel brands. If you look at all the best loyalty programs 2016 examples, it’s easy to believe that if you are offering good rewards, your program will sail through your customer’s preference. But there are many programs that have eaten dust despite lucrative rewards. Simplicity needs to accompany rewards to ensure easy collection and redemption of earned points. The lesson that marketers can learn from all the aforementioned examples is that a convenient program will always further enhance one that has excellent rewards, after all “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”.

The Luxury Industry in the eCommerce World

Luxury Industry

Online shoppers won’t find a price list or an “add to cart” button when they visit the website of iconic watchmaker Patek Philippe.  The homepage is not dominated by limited edition timepieces. Instead, there is a commercial featuring a father congratulating his young son for winning a cricket match. A tradition where customers can look but not purchase, is certainly typical of luxury goods websites. Clearly, failure to make a full-fledged leap to eCommerce is the biggest problem that the luxury industry has been wrestling with for a long time. This problem was born in the digital age and it’s a manifolded one.

Besides the craft and elegance of its products, a big selling point for the luxury goods industry is the deeply satisfying and emotion-evoking in-store experience that brands can provide customers with. Indeed, the feeling of going to a showroom and taking a test drive on a luxury car or trying on a piece of jewelry with the help of a super dedicated salesperson in front of a shiny mirror, is something hard to replicate in online shopping. Luxury manufacturers and marketers believe that if the unparalleled experience of the store is gone, customers’ footfall will be gone too.

There is this conception, even among luxury marketers, that luxury and internet are like an oil and water combination: unrealizable. They believe that luxury is about scarcity and exclusivity, and that the internet is about mass. Thus, to juxtapose their opposite natures is the real pain point. And the problem is worsened by millennials, who expect brands to be available online but become apprehensive with just one sub-par experience with those brands. According to Hearst’s New Language of Luxury study, 54% of millennials feel that when luxury brands become easily accessible, they cease to feel luxury.This really puts forth a dichotomous nature on this particular issue and explains the luxury industry’s impulse to avoid ecommerce and digitalization in general. Despite the rising tide of online shopping, luxury retailers are only dipping a toe in the water, as only 10% of sales in that market happen online.

But in the era where digitalization has invaded each and every life and has become a great class equalizer, the luxury buyer can be anywhere on any digital platform. Hence, luxury marketers have realized that there’s an online world and many understand the need to be part of that world.Thus targeting social media and allowing people to shop from their homes is a must. Of course, this will have to be done by trying to replicate the in-store experience as much as possible by keeping uniqueness and exclusivity intact.

There are definitely certain luxury brands who have been walking on that path and they have understood the value of content in doing so. They have also realized how that online content must complement the in-store experience, and that the product range must complement what is sold through stores. Net-A-Porter, the UK luxury cloth designer, is creating high-fashion, magazine-style spreads that showcase products as part of editorial pieces. It has integrated that content with its ecommerce portion of the site to allow a smooth transition between brand experience and online purchasing.

Mr. Porter, Net-A-Porter’s sister brand, has further fostered this spray of digitalization. This October, Mr Porter came up with its first shoppable application for Apple TV in which users can connect their digital shopping experience with rich video content.



The completion of the total omni-channel and digitalized experience happens as soon as the mobile phones gets in the picture. Tiffany & Co, an American luxury jewelry and specialty retailer, has guessed it and has worked accordingly. It launched its Tiffany’s Ring Finder app in August/September 2015, which was neither a makeshift eCommerce platform nor a miniature of its brand’s website. It had a proper incorporation of the unique features of a mobile device to engage and educate the consumer.



The app enabled customers to narrow down their search efforts by providing various styles and materials. By allowing them to use touchscreen to find their ring size using any ring they already have, Tiffany’s app eased the shopping complexities that many online shoppers face. Thus, with this app, people can know more about new styles and designs, figure out what sort of ring they want, can make a personal in-store appointment and discuss about their new purchases and opinions of others about new arrivals.

Continue reading this article… 

In the above examples, the most important point is how the luxury industry has been able to understand the luxury consumers’ need of having a meaningful relationship with luxury brands. And also that this need goes beyond a cold and plain buying and selling activity. That need is met by making the brand available at all the touchpoints, which resonates with buyers even in luxury categories where eCommerce might seem counterintuitive, like automotive. Maserati, the Italian luxury car manufacturer, sold 100 of its newly launched SUV model in China through Tmall, a Chinese-language website for business-to-customers, in just 18 seconds!

The crux of the matter is, the luxury industry cannot afford to let the vast pool of customers, which is there on various digital media platforms and devices, off the hook. The demographics are changing. It’s not like the good old days where very few had the financial muscles to buy luxury goods. We have more millionaires and billionaires now than any other time in the history. McKinsey & Co is assuming that by 2025, the online share of total luxury sales is expected to triple to 18%, worth a massive €70 billion annually. Naturally, luxury brands will have to cast their net much deeper to catch new buyers, and it would be next to impossible to achieve that without eCommerce and digitalized omni-channel experience.

Note: We have always given a deep and comprehensive thought to the luxury industry. This is the blog where we have discussed how visual commerce can be used for the benefit of the luxury industry. Get your eyes on this blog to know which things a luxury marketer should keep in mind while implementing a loyalty program.   

5 Reasons Why Retail Mobile Apps Fail

retail mobile apps

The time for mobile shopping has come. And retailers were quick enough to prepare for it. For a while now, they have been pushing towards a business ecosystem helmed by mobile devices. And naturally, apps are at the forefront of that ecosystem. They were undoubtedly right in their assessment, as 45% of U.S. internet users reported that they use their favorite fashion retail mobile apps to purchase products, according to a recent Market Force Information survey as reported by eMarketer.

However, there is a different side to this story too. It has been shown that 80% of all apps never get opened twice, and most of these forgotten apps are deleted forever. Clearly, not all retailers and marketers have been able to get this whole app thing right. The retail mobile apps they are making are either inefficient, confusing, or irritating, which drives customers away. What are the actual problems in these apps? Can they be fixed? Let’s dig into it.

Problem #1 With Retail Mobile Apps: Push Notifications

A push notification is a powerful way to communicate with your customers about new offers or the arrival or new products. It builds rapport with your customers. However, trouble arrives when that’s the only thing that your notifications do, especially if it’s with an annoying level of frequency.

Push Notifications


A notification should be more than a nudge to get your customers shopping. You could (and should) use it to inform your customers about interesting industry news. Or to send a notification about recent articles published that they could be interested in. Of course you should talk about your business and deals through your app, but you don’t want to be overwhelmingly salesy. And your customer’s smartphone should not be buzzing all day long. So, choose the topics of your notifications wisely and plan how to do them carefully.

Problem #2 With Retail Mobile Apps: A Beautiful But Difficult Interface

It’s easy to fall prey to the temptation of coming up with novel ways of navigating through an app. Unique menus, fancy buttons, and responsive elements. This is especially true when the entire world of technically enhanced app development platforms is at your disposal. In this case, retailers end up creating apps that are beautiful but not so useful after all, and customers end up confused and lost about something as simple as which tap they should click. Of course aesthetics matter a lot in app building, just not more than functionality.

Retail mobile apps must be useful and must become customers’ trusted shopping assistants, helping them make the easiest and most pleasant shopping experience.

eBay’s app is a good example to ponder over here. Two of the most striking things that greet you as soon as you begin to interact with it are user friendliness and functional brilliance.

A Beautiful But Difficult Interface

The app’s simple layout, clean design, and swipable interface make it really user friendly. eBay’s app also has the ability to upload images and scan bar-codes through a phone’s camera for product information. The app isn’t just user friendly and beautiful, but is a time-saver too, which is the main reason why mobile apps became popular in the first place. In short, the app is the superior version of the eBay experience, which makes eBay’s app the closest to what one may call a perfect retailer’s mobile app.

Problem #3 With Retail Mobile Apps: No Added Value

Customers have become very critical, since they’re surrounded by multiple versions of the same or essentially the same product. Thus, if your app is a replica of most of the apps out there, it’s  impossible for it to carve a niche for itself. It will most likely vanish into the world of apps.

The most important thing for an app is to justify its very existence. Because that will answer the customer’s question: why should I download it?

He should see some tangible benefits of the app and these benefits don’t necessarily have to be monetary. But there should be something in it for the customers. Something that will enhance their overall shopping experience. For example, the app could do something that your mobile site can’t, keeping in mind that a mobile phone is the device people have with them at all times. So, it’s possible to use it to perform instantaneous things like allowing people to redeem loyalty points on the go or use it as a payment device.

Starbucks, the coffee legend, used its mobile app to include things similar to that.

No Added Value


With almost 12 million active users, the Starbucks’ app gives people the option to pay with their mobile phones in order to earn rewards. Besides, the app also allows customers to monitor their loyalty program progress in real time, which is a great way to let customers have a complete view of their earnings.

Another point to note here is Starbucks is constantly trying to save their customers time. The app comes with an option where customers can pay for drinks beforehand and schedule pick-ups in-store. Obviously, customers are getting more than just a plain purchase action through this app. It is significantly improving the overall customer experience and this is exactly what I mean by giving extra value through the app.

Something to think about–71% of iPhone users download retailers’ apps to earn extra loyalty points, while 67% will install an app to receive app-only coupons or discounts.

Read on below…

Problem #4 With Retail Mobile Apps: Complicated In-App Purchasing

When customers decide to buy something from you, there is usually a series of processes they have to go through. They have to fill the cart, then they have to type in their credit or debit card number, and so on. More than often, customers prefer a laptop or desktop when they have to give out card details. And the reasons for that can be many–they may not be carrying their card at the time of purchase, they may be in a hurry, etc. In either case, the chances of shopping cart abandonment are high. But, it’s possible to get rid of such a complex mobile shopping framework! With your customers’ permission, you can save their payment information when they buy from you for the first time.

Another simpler way is to make use of payment systems like PayPal, Apple Pay or Google Wallet. The Groupon app has shown how this should be done by allowing purchases via Apple Pay. It seriously makes it very easy for customers to grab deals.

Complicated In-App Purchasing


Problem #5 With Retail Mobile Apps: Technical Glitches

Not many things are worse in the customer experience than an app that is constantly freezing or crashing. In fact, 92% of iPhone owners said that they have deleted a retailer’s mobile app because it crashed or froze. The slowness of apps was also a bigger turnoff than the simple fact of not using the app. When customers have such a strong resentment towards these technical glitches, they’re very likely to write negative reviews on the retailer’s site or other reviews collection sites. These technical glitches are the reason behind 96% of bad reviews.

As suggested by the aforementioned stats, technical problems can severely hinder the prospect of your app. The only way out  is constant testing of the functionality of the app and the timely remedies for the existing technical bug.

Indeed, the mobile app industry is growing, and only the best will get the chance to compete for the attention of demanding customers. And to be ahead of the competition,you must make sure that the below listed elements are acting as building blocks of your app-

  • Send notifications judicially and make sure that the content of those notifications deserve your customer’s time.
  • Do not make the app interface complicated. Customers should never get confused about the navigation.
  • Give customers strong reasons for downloading your app. Link it with some business functionality apart from just purchasing.
  • Last but not least, make sure that your app stays away from any sort of technical malfunctioning.

Note: We know how vital mobile is for businesses. And thus we try to include it into our topics of churning and blogs. In this blog, we have discussed how mobile wallets can be used not just as payment tools. Don’t forget to go through this blog where we have listed down the woes of mobile payment use.

Vital Cyber Monday + Black Friday Lessons, 2016 Edition

black friday lessons

Much to the relief of many marketers, this year’s Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday sales have displayed a spectacular performance. Thanksgiving online sales posted a 17% gain to $1.3 billion, while Black Friday jumped 19% to just under $2 billion pushing holiday season-to-date growth rate to 12%. Cyber Monday, meanwhile, broke e-commerce records with $3.45 billion! The numbers aren’t as readily available yet for in-store results, however. But amidst the clamour of all the numbers and success stories, Black Friday lessons deserve contemplation. So, let’s understand what exactly they are.

Black Friday Lessons: Mobile Has Become Even Bigger

Let’s get the most obvious takeaway over with: Whether it’s customer service, promotions, loyalty programs, buying activity or product search from the customer’s side, mobile is inevitable. The two main holiday events of Black Friday and Thanksgiving has reaffirmed that inevitability and the growing clout of mobile in the shopping scenario. 39% of online purchases made this year were done so via mobile device (smartphone or tablet). Mobile sales totaled an incredible $449 million, an increase of 58% from this same time last year.

It was a reflection of the fact that people increasingly try to shop online from the comfort of their own homes. Plus, they often shop on the sly. In 2014, a full 10% of respondents in a Paypal survey admitted to shopping during their Thanksgiving dinner in order to find the best deal on a product online. Now that two years have passed and mobile technology is even faster and more ubiquitous, that percentage must be higher!

Certainly, mobile emerges as the best candidate to fulfill both the above-mentioned demands. And that’s why this lesson of becoming mobile-friendly is not something that must be utilized only during the holiday season. This should be like an ever going act from the marketer’s side.

Black Friday Lessons: Creativity is Crucial

All throughout this week of promotions, marketers kept trying to outdo themselves with richer content.  It was much beyond the traditional ways of discount offers, coupons and vouchers. Marketers went ahead with interactive and gamified campaigns not just to differentiate themselves from the competitors, but to attract the customers who are vulnerable to get swayed by the competitors counter-campaigns.

Many online sellers used video and GIFs in their marketing emails to get attention. Forever 21 even used GIFs instead of static images for certain products on its category pages to boost click-throughs!

And this trend wasn’t only observed during the American holiday season. Even Singles’ Day in China experienced brilliant creative ways of giving one-of-its-kind experience to the customers. Alibaba launched an AR game to market the electronics it sells, in which customers can chase its mascot cat around their cities to find discounts.  Watch an example of a customer playing it below.

Black Friday Lessons: Don’t Hide Your Deals

Today’s shopper is inundated with price-comparison apps, alerts, browser add-ons and sites. Within a moment, they can know which retailer is offering a better offer…and those who are price sensitive will make a move towards a retailer who is offering a better bargain. This leads to a significant dent in the customer footfall. That’s why we saw that most of the retailers posted Black Friday specials on their websites ahead of time.  It’s one of the most important Black Friday lessons to follow throughout the year as even when we’re saving money, we still want to make sure we’re saving the most money.

Black Friday Lessons: Timing Does Matter

Along with the creativity and messaging in the Black Friday communication, the equally important factor is the timing of the promotion of the Black Friday offers. It has always been a conundrum for many retailers. If they start to post about the offers too early, they risk the chance of missing the excitement…and if they begin to post too late, there is a fear of getting lost in the noise. But this season has shown that the best time to post information about Black Friday sales is about 10 days before Black Friday. Marketers should repeat it several times over the next week and a half. It sounds logical as shoppers begin the research about the products that they want to buy at least 2 weeks before the Black Friday. And if your communication meets the shopper somewhere in between his research journey, he may finally end up buying from you.

Black Friday Lessons: Capitalize on FOMO

FOMO (fear of missing out) has always worked well irrespective of the product segment, market conditions or holiday season. This is because people generally like to have best things at the lowest price possible and they have the fear that others might be having rewarding experiences from which they are absent. They don’t want to miss out.

Thus, it didn’t surprise us to see that Black Friday promotions were also designed in the same fashion. Lands’ End’s subject line of the offer email, hence, was like this. “Today only: 50% off sweaters + 40% off everything else.”  And really people fall for such offers. Otherwise we wouldn’t have seen people waiting up in a long queue in the middle of the night to grab a Playstation, Hatchimal, or iPhone.

Black Friday Lessons: Tap into Downtime

It’s not a rare sight that the marketing machine winds down once the big holiday events end along with the year. The excuse for this lethargy is that not many are going to buy now. But this is actually naive thinking.

Due to the multimedia nature of the current business world, shopping journey has become more complex than ever and it can be a bit longer sometimes. That’s why the engagement with prospects need to be ‘always’ on. There is no dearth of customers who like to take time to think and let the dust of the fury of holiday season settle. Meanwhile they take note of the stock and go for it after the holiday season.

We understand how much importance the holiday season has for marketers like you. And that’s why we have created this blog where you will get to know what millennial holiday shoppers want. We have also documented The Biggest Holiday 2016 Retail Trends here. And, for a consumer’s and marketer’s point of view on Black Friday and Cyber Monday offers, don’t miss “Where Black Friday Went Wrong: A Personal Take.”

Sainsbury’s: Dominating the Retail Industry in the UK

sainsbury's marketing

When the economic downturn first hit the UK in 2012, Sainsbury’s managed to emerge as the most successful British food retailer. The significance of this can be gauged by the fact that many retail industry experts thought that the chain, with its mid-market position, would suffer the most. But Sainsbury’s marketing team and their colleagues squarely proved them wrong.

Somehow Sainsbury’s recent results replicate the 2012 scenario. Despite a 0.4% drop in sales last year, Sainsbury’s online and in-store sales rose 0.1% in the nine weeks to March 12th. Total sales were lifted by a 14% increase in online grocery sales, a 10% rise in sales of clothing, and an 11% lift in sales of entertainment products, such as CDs and DVDs, buoyed by the release of Adele’s latest album and the Bond film Spectre. Again, the retailer proved many people wrong. Obviously, success, especially after a lot of difficulties, has many learning curves. And generally, success is an accumulation of many tiny and big factors. Sainsbury’s success is no exception. From clever acquisition to enticing marketing, there are many things that the retail giant has done right to survive the rough economic weather. We will analyze all those factors one by one.

A) Brand Match Promotion

With each passing day, the UK retail market is becoming more and more cluttered and ultra-competitive. And price-comparison schemes have become a popular competitive tool. Asda has used that by plugging its Price Guarantee and Waitrose by extending its Brand Price Match. The biggest challenge for Sainsubury’s marketing team amidst such moves by competitors was to convince shoppers who thought that Sainsbury’s was too expensive for them, that the company could actually provide them with value-for-money.

It was important to take into consideration the fact that consumer confidence was at its lowest ebb for 30 years and that disloyal shopper are always willing to weigh up which retailer offers the best value. Sainsubury’s overcame that through its Brand Match promotion, which compares with rivals Tesco and Asda the price at which it sells branded products.

B) Early Mobile Use In Stores

Now it doesn’t even sound interesting to hear that retailers are using mobile phones to improve the overall customer experience or operational efficiency. That has become a common thing. But Sainsubury’s was the first British grocer to use it in an innovative way. The company experimented Mobile Scan & Go in its stores, allowing customers to shop and scan items with their own smart-phones. Until that moment, retailers were doing it in stores with handsets. Allowing customers to use their own phones to scan items was pioneering and Sainsbury’s did that right.

C) Crave-Worthy Content Marketing

Considering that content acts as a communication bridge between the company and the customers, it can sometimes be considered as valuable as the product itself. Sainsubury’s marketing team understands this perfectly and acts accordingly.

Crave-Worthy Content Marketing


The company began a signature magazine- the biggest and fully paid for- to elevate foodie content to a multimedia art form. It delivers recipe features that are tested by some of the U.K.’s best home economists and aim to serve all types of readers’ culinary needs. The magazine is great but Sainsbury’s marketing pros didn’t stop there.

To give a real multimedia touch to its content, they have created a successful portfolio of social media channels, sell-out live cooking demonstrations, weekly newsletters, the magazine’s Food & Drink Awards, a series of editorial one-shots. The magazine has assured Sainsbury’s a multi-platform audience engagement, which is something content marketers break their heads trying to achieve. Here are just a few of the results reported by Sainsbury’s marketing team:

  • 50,000 magazine readers receive the Sainsbury’s newsletter every week, which has achieved a 35% open rate and 31% click-through rate — well above the industry average.
  • The magazine has over 24,0000 followers on Twitter and 162,000 on Pinterest.
  • 81% of readers have cooked a recipe after reading the magazine, and eight out of 10 have bought a product from Sainsbury’s after reading about it in the magazine, according to a 2015 survey.

D) Customer Service for Even the Smallest

Sainsbury’s is an example of how good customer service can pay dividends. Sainsbury’s customer service executive responded to a three-years old’s letter about renaming their Tiger Bread to Giraffe Bread. The response went viral, which resulted in the supermarket chain changing the name of its product to ‘Giraffe Bread’. The new Giraffe loaves went on sale eight months after toddler Lily Robinson sent a letter to the supermarket suggesting the splotches on the bread’s crust resemble a giraffe’s pelt more than that of a tiger. The customer manager Chris King, responded to this sweet letter as follows:




As you can see it, the customer service manager didn’t respond by just accepting the toddler’s request, but he also included a £3 gift card in it to thank the little girl for her help. No wonder the story was shared on Facebook 14,000 times and that the Customer Manager received tons of compliments. That was indeed a great example of amazing customer service.

E) Shopping for a Cause

People nowadays have the urge to give back to their communities and when they see a brand doing that, they have an extra incentive to buy from that brand. Customers take pride in being associated with brands that do what they can to make the world a better place, and Sainsbury’s marketing team capitalizes on that.

The store donates food that is still healthy, nutritious and within its use-by dates to a number of places. Those places include food banks like Corsham Churches. Sainsbury’s Chippenham also donates flowers to the Seymour House care home situated in Monkton Park, Chippenham.

Sainsbury’s Chippenham


Chippenham’s store manager Val Atwill once said, “There are hundreds of hungry mouths to feed in your local community and by donating food to charities and organizations we are saving thousands of tonnes of food needlessly going to landfill.” Clearly, the efforts to avoid the wastage of food by giving to those in need is a beautiful gesture and resonates with people.

F) Try The Buy Sainsbury’s Range

 It has been observed that in the segments where big brands have a sound presence, customers generally tend to overlook the retailer’s in-house brand. There’s some common assumption that retailer’s products may not taste as good as the big brand’s. And that can significantly affect the retailer’s sales numbers.

Sainsbury’s marketing team found a solution to tackle this problem by launching a campaign called “Try The Buy Sainsbury’s Range”. It installed large PoS in the stores highlighting the price of a brand along with the price of its own equivalent product next to it. Examples include Sainsbury’s chocolate ice cream for £2 versus Ben And Jerry’s ice cream for £ 2.50. Obviously, the goal here is to make shoppers buy Sainsbury’s own version of their favorite brands. The campaign ran in 600 stores and it saw a great success as its own product range grew at twice the rate of the branded goods. The retailer also said that 97% of its customers bought Sainsubury’s products, which was a huge accomplishment.

Indeed, the great lesson from retailers like Sainsbury’s and Topshop is that even though the quality of the products and services is going to be the most critical element in any success story, the other things like customer service, tech adaptability, innovative use of content and marketing policies hold vital importance. They cannot take a back seat. Simply because the moment your competitor brings a quality product or service, you may lose your customers. But if you are adding a value proposition through your offers, content and customer service, customers will at least think twice before leaving you!

Note: Sainsbury’s is not the only major retailer whose success story we have chronicled. You can read here what made Williams-Sonoma a smashing success. Here is the reason why Home Depot is dominating the home décor and home improvement industry.  Don’t forget to read about Michael Kors’ successful marketing strategy either.    

Where Black Friday Went Wrong: A Personal Take

fall path

Hi! I’m Eliza Fisher, Annex Cloud’s Marketing Strategist and Editor. I live and breathe retail, and I have tons of thoughts about how I, as a female millennial consumer and too-frequent online shopper, should be marketed to. For another blog post from my personal perspective, check out “I’m a Female Millennial and This is How eCom Sites Need to Market to Me.” Now here’s my take on how Black Friday went wrong, and what retailers can do to fix it next year.

Black Friday broke e-commerce records this year, with online sales up 21% year-over-year according to Adobe. Beyond that, mobile sales contributed to $1.2 billion of that on Friday the 25th alone. Needless to say, there’s a lot to celebrate here, and as I write this Cyber Monday is still in full swing, promising even more profit for thousands of businesses. Even sellers outside the US are benefiting, with spending and in-store traffic at UK chain stores up across the board.

Of course, all is not well in the land of pumpkin pie leftovers and 60% discounts. By now you’ve probably heard of the ransacked Nike store near Seattle.


In terms of metrics, the numbers aren’t very clear yet for in-store traffic in the US, but it looks like the overall trend is that online is “cannibalizing” in-store sales, and with good reason. Here’s where my story of where Black Friday went wrong starts.

Ulta Online: Not So Ultimate Beauty Deals

As you’re probably aware, many companies took the route of offering promotions all week long, or at least Thursday though Monday. Ulta Beauty, a large cosmetics retailer and arguably Sephora’s only real competitor, was one of them. I was perusing their online offers on Sunday morning, and found myself intrigued by some of them and baffled by others.

While some items were legitimately discounted, e.g. 30% off, many more were crafted for the upsell and had tons of preconditions. Buy one, get one 50% off; free gift with purchase; spend $35 on X brand and get a free sample…

Some of Ulta's Cyber Monday offers.
Some of Ulta’s Cyber Monday offers.

Some of the “free” gifts with purchase were so unrelated to the purchase it was almost laughable…

I suppose if you're in the market for a bathrobe it's a useful addition, though...
I suppose if you’re in the market for a bathrobe it’s a useful addition, though…

There was one very smart offer that I noticed, though: if you spent $75 with them on Cyber Monday, you qualified for a bag of samples. While beauty product samples can be totally free if you look in the right places, businesses like Birch Box and Ipsy have lasted for years on just them. Ulta’s offer is totally mindless, just a collection of minuscule-margin items of which I’d use about 50%, but it’s placed at just the right price point to tempt shoppers.

The main difference between this offering and the other ones mentioned are that this one is site-wide and doesn’t apply to a specific brand or product. It’s general enough to be vaguely useful.

ulta beauty bag

Despite my complaining here, I ended up putting about a dozen items in my cart on Sunday morning. They were mainly a combination of purely discounted products, as well as buy one get one 50% off deals on products I already use and know I’ll need to replace in the somewhat near future.

Because I’d already spent so much money on gifts for others and myself this past week, I decided to stave off the purchase, but ended up going to the closest Ulta store later that day. This is where their Black Friday went wrong to a whole new degree.

Ulta In-Store: Where Is Everything?

I went to Ulta’s store to try on products, which is one of the major limitations of beauty e-commerce. As soon as I walked in, I was struck by the towers of pre-packaged gift sets, which are generally not good gifts due to the smaller size of the products and the fact that you have less choice in what you get.

This set has a dozen different components, plus 10 different eye shadow colors and 3 shades of blush. For me, this is paralysis by choice.
This set has a dozen different components, plus 10 different eye shadow colors and 3 shades of blush. For me, this is paralysis by choice.

Really, they’re only good presents for (1) friends who legitimately love these sparkly gift sets (I don’t know very many), (2) people you don’t know very well, or (3) when the set happens to include or be based around a product you really believe in.

Other than these types of sets–and their “free” luxury bathrobes–Ulta’s store really didn’t have anything in the way of Black Friday discounts. I noticed a set of hand moisturizers from Bliss that I’d been eyeing online. It turned out they were twice as expensive in-store due to a seemingly misguided online-only special.

Beyond that, I was on the lookout for two products that they didn’t even carry in the store. I walked out after about 10 minutes, confused about why Ulta wouldn’t want to have a more exciting in-store experience that matched up more with its online presentation. Maybe their numbers will be fantastic, but this potential customer was disappointed.

Takeaways: Where Ulta’s Black Friday Went Wrong

In essence, Ulta’s missteps boiled down to two major factors. Their offers weren’t straightforward, and their in-store deals weren’t nearly as good as their online ones. Like I said earlier, perhaps the labyrinth of buy two get one free, free 5-piece travel set with $50 purchase, and so on attracts tons of shoppers who pay a little less attention to what they’re actually getting when they reach those purchase thresholds, or who just have more money to spend. For me, though, there are too many products but paradoxically too little choice and not enough value.

Furthermore, if Ulta’s aim is to drive online purchases over in-store ones, they’re probably doing a good job. However, if they’re concerned about foot traffic, it seems like a simple enough fix would be to at least get rid of the online-only promotions, if not to go further and heavily market exclusive in-store deals. While Black Friday went wrong for Ulta, I was impressed by certain other retailers’ approaches to it.

Where Black Friday Went Right

As both a consumer and a marketer, I was attracted to companies whose promotions fell into a variety of categories…

Cause-Based Marketing: You probably heard of how Patagonia donated all the proceeds of their Black Friday sales to grassroots environmental organizations. This is highly laudable and I’m positive that it boosted their social capital and trust factor, priming shoppers for future, full-priced sales with them.

Not all companies can afford to take this approach, though. I was struck by the amount of small- and mid-sized businesses that I follow who were practicing some sort of Good Karma Friday approach on a smaller scale. Many retailers were advertising that a smaller portion, usually 10%, of their profits were going towards the charitable organizations of their choice.

Milwaukee boutique and online retailer Bona Drag put their politics on their sleeve for Good Karma Friday.
Milwaukee boutique and online retailer Bona Drag put their politics on their sleeve for Good Karma Friday.

While this probably put off certain shoppers who don’t agree with the stores’ chosen causes, other consumers were definitely emboldened to spend more.

Straightforward and Sitewide Discounts: I also noticed a fair amount of sellers doing a very straightforward sitewide sale, often 20% to 30%. If I’m curious about a new brand, 20% may not be enough to fully pique my interest. However, if I’m already a loyal customer, this range of discount will assuredly motivate me to shop.

British fashion site ASOS did 30% off their whole site from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday. I’ve been buying from them for at least about 8 years, and at this point it’s a given that I’ll buy something from them any time there’s a sale. The selection is always spectacular, and I know I can find show-stopping clothing and shoes there. I actually ended up making two purchases this past weekend!

Direct-to-consumer beauty brand Glossier also had a sitewide sale, but only for 20% off. Loyalty definitely drew me in, as I like their products and think that they’re fairly priced even when they’re not on sale. However the biggest motivator here is that Glossier never, ever does sales.

Pure Necessity, With an Upsell: The only successful in-store shopping I did over the weekend was at Target. It’s right next to my local Ulta, and I wandered in there in search of beauty products after being so disappointed by them. While I would have made a certain amount of purchases at Target regardless of any promotions, I was definitely encouraged to buy more due to a 15% discount on all in-store purchases that day.

I wasn’t even aware of the promotion before I came in, but it’s one that I’m sure helped increase average order size at their brick-and-mortar locations. 15% is the sort of discount that usually doesn’t make a huge difference for shoppers at the end of the day, but it seems sizable enough to encourage additional purchases.

Furthermore, many people, despite having their smartphones with them at all times, aren’t great at doing the math for 15% off either in their head or on the go, so they don’t have a great understanding of how insignificant it is. And let’s be honest, I kind of fell for it!

Honorable Mention: Discounts for Buy Online, Pick Up In-Store: Last and pretty much least, Macy’s gets an honorable mention. My mom and I were looking at Tempur-Pedic mattress pads online on Friday, and they had the best price. Beyond that, they had an offer to take off an additional 20% if we picked up the mattress pad in-store. It seemed too good to be true, especially for a product that’s normally quite expensive. And, it was: It turns out that no Macy’s in Los Angeles had one in stock. Still, if this is cost-effective for your business’s logistics, it’s a really alluring offer for customers and could also prompt more in-store shopping.

Going back to our earlier topic of irrelevant gifts with purchase, though…My friend bought a Chloe perfume at Macy’s over the weekend and ended up getting a free…set of plates!

chloe gift with purchase

For more information on holiday 2016 shopping trends, check out Unwrapping What Millennial Holiday Shoppers Want in 2016, 6 Vital Holiday Retail Drivers for 2016and 5 Black Friday 2016 Trends that Retailers Need to Know. And when you’re planning for 2017, don’t forget about these guides!

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