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Gang of Santas crossing a San Francisco street

Five lessons from Datacember 2016: Datacember 16

Gang of Santas crossing a San Francisco street

Is it time to close the book on Datacember already? We were just getting warmed up.

But all good things must come to an end — and things like Datacember, too. But seriously, folks. It was a learning experience, this the second year of data in December. Let’s take a look at five lessons amid the rubble of a month-long marathon of crunching numbers.

And if you’re a retailer, there will be a quiz. You know that, though. Every day is a test of the strategies you employ during the holiday shopping season, retail’s biggest stage. Which leads right into our first lesson:

Be prepared: What are we your mother? At the risk of sounding condescending, we offer this lesson almost as a way to commiserate. We know, that you know, that the holiday season brings traffic and demands like nothing else.

There is an old, and somewhat exclusionary, saying that “you don’t build your church for Easter Sunday,” but in retail, you do. With its massive traffic, the holiday season is the opportunity to ensure a profitable year. It’s a chance to impress customers you haven’t seen before. That is, if you do everything right.

No, you don’t hire everyone you’ll need for the holiday shopping season or run your operation at the same frenetic pace year-round.

But you do have in place the technology and practices that can scale up for a huge spike in online traffic beginning in November and carrying through into the New Year. Steering clear of religion, we at Datacember refer to it as preparing for the 100-year flood.

Cyber Friday is a thing: Black Friday is still a gigantic shopping day, but the way it’s gigantic is changing significantly. More people shopped online than busted doors and shopped in stores on Black Friday this year, the National Retail Federation reported.

BloomReach data showed that more online sales were made on Black Friday than on Cyber Monday, the day that was named for online shopping. In fact, the data seemed to illustrate the embrace of a shopping weekend, during which consumers browse on Thanksgiving and get more serious about buying on Black Friday.

By Cyber Monday the pent-up demand is such that shoppers show their greatest intent to buy, BloomReach data shows.

Retailers need to avoid too fine a focus on traditional shopping days — which could lead to taking their eye off the prize on the in-between times.

Different devices for different circumstances: Consumers have become quite comfortable calling the shots. They’ll shop when they want to; where they want to and on the device they want to use.

But not all shopping circumstances are created equal. BloomReach data shows that — at least in 2016 — shoppers prefered particular shopping modes on particular days. Remember all the stories about what a huge mobile day Black Friday was? (Oh yeah, see above.)

It turns out, that by one measure, Thanksgiving was an even bigger day for mobile. On Thanksgiving, mobile (smartphone and tablet) accounted for 44 percent of online conversions. The figure on Black Friday was 36 percent.

Now, Black Friday, of course, was a much bigger day than Thanksgiving in sales overall. We guess that means its 36 percent number was a smaller part of a much bigger (pumpkin?) pie.

All in all, it’s another sign of consumers’ rapidly changing preferences — a fact that no retailer can afford to ignore — or even underestimate.

There’s something about a Monday: Us? We don’t like to do anything on Monday, starting with getting out of bed. But most consumers? They’re ready to buy on Mondays, at least Mondays during the holiday shopping season.

Mondays really shined in the holiday season just passed. As a group they were the leading day for consumers’ buying intent. The last four Mondays of the holiday shopping season came down hard on the “buy” side of Datacember’s Browse vs. Buy index.

They were also leaders in conversions. And, as they did last year, Mondays outperformed Sundays, a day that has outshined Mondays through most of the year.

Retailers need to be aware of context. Sure Sunday is a big day for sales. And then comes the holiday season and it’s time to think about what you’re going to do for shoppers on Monday — a day when they’re ready to buy.

Desktop still reigns: Yes, mobile is your future and your franchise. Increasingly mobile is figuring into every online and in-store sale. It’s often how consumers are introduced to your brand. And if it’s not, it’s how they’ve come to think of it.

But guess what? The desktop is still where shoppers are making purchases — at least most of them, most of the time. Overall in 2016, desktop accounted for an average of 66 percent of daily conversions during the holiday shopping season. The figure neared 70 percent on some days.

We saw the same thing last year, not surprisingly. It could well be that the mobile experience hasn’t caught up with consumers desire to live on their mobile devices. That said, consumers seem determined to lead retailers into the mobile era.

While desktop dominated in both 2015 and 2016, its grip slipped ever so slightly this year, dropping to that 66 percent figure from 68.2 percent in 2015.

Yes, it’s all a reminder of just how hard it is to get retail right in the smartphone era. Sure, the desktop is where a majority of the money-making is happening (for now), but no retailer can afford to focus on desktop at the expense of mobile.

Not only is commerce moving to mobile devices, particularly smartphones, but as we’ve said before, the smartphone is fast becoming involved in almost every commercial transaction. And so the answer is to do both better.

Hey, what fun would retail be if it were easy?

Happy Datacember to all.

Photo by Mike Cassidy.

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.

 

Desktop shopping with Neiman Marcus

Desktop is still the e-commerce champ: Datacember 15

Desktop shopping with Neiman Marcus

As we kick away the gift wrap and other post-holiday clutter and contemplate our good fortune, let’s contemplate something else as well: Holiday e-commerce performance by device.

Yes, we’re serious. The calendar still says Datacember, doesn’t it?

The point of this exercise is to acknowledge the tectonic shift that mobile has been causing in digital commerce for years. Mobile is where it’s going, but is it where it’s at?

Yes and no. (Don’t you love answers like that?)

If we sweep the ribbons and bows off our Datacember data-cruncher, we can see that when it comes to visits to e-commerce sites, the desktop (which includes laptops) and mobile are locked in an impressive battle for holiday supremacy.

Chart of holiday e-commerce visits by device

The visual manifestation of the struggle looks like some sort of prehistoric hieroglyphics, but like the ancient drawings, they tell a story. Consumers are now using mobile devices — smartphones in particular — as much or more than desktops to visit e-commerce sites, according to a relevant subset of BloomReach e-commerce customer data.

Weekends are particularly strong for mobile, most likely because shoppers are more likely to be on the go. Mobile also was on the rise as the calendar closed in on Christmas Day. Again, the on-the-go argument seems apt.

Many were off work at the end of last week. And, yes, there was a little bit of shopping going on — shopping that undoubtedly featured a lot of smartphone use in, and on the way to, brick and mortar stores.

If we dig into product views, some subtleties begin to emerge. We think of product views as a good proxy for consumer engagement. The more product views, the deeper a shopper is going into a retailer’s digital site.

Chart of e-commerce product views by device

Here we see that smartphones are a strong performer, if not a real threat to desktop’s numbers.  The percentage of product views on smartphones never eclipses desktop. But, if we combine tablet and smartphones, mobile does make up more than half the product views on two of the days during the holiday shopping period, which we’ve defined here as Veteran’s Day through Dec. 22.

Now for the star of our show: conversions, actual purchases online. Here we see that desktop remains the go-to device for closing the deal. Its statistical dominance was never in doubt. On a number of days desktop conversions accounted for more than 70 percent of conversions and it never dipped below 55 percent, which it hit on the Sunday before Thanksgiving.

chart showing holiday e-commerce conversions by device

 

But if we look at last year’s data, we will see a subtle shift in how consumers are buying. In 2015, desktop accounted for an average of 68.2 percent of daily conversions during the holiday period. This year, the number was down to 66 percent.  The comparison is not apples to apples, as BloomReach has more customers and a larger data set this year, but the numbers are a reasonable indicator of changes in consumer behavior.

Still, there is plenty to take away from this snapshot. First, take a look at the smartphone arc as Christmas nears. It’s near its high point on Dec. 22, as shoppers engage in the last-minute rush, a mix of hitting the malls and turning to one- and two-day delivery.

Also, the fluctuation of device-use for visits, views and conversions is a reminder that consumers don’t think in terms of channels. They think in terms of shopping and retailers need to be ready for them however they arrive.

Mobile will undoubtedly continue to rise in influence. Given the small screen size and tiny keyboards, retailers will need to provide a flawless customer experience on mobile. Asking a shopper to move to the desktop to seal a deal might simply be too much to ask today.

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.

 

Gang of Santas crossing a San Francisco street

Christmas day is a big day for digital window shopping: Datacember 14

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Given that Christmas is an outlier in so many ways (hey, people are actually nice to each other), it should come as no surprise that the day exhibits some odd online shopping habits.

What do you mean you’re surprised there is shopping at all on Christmas? This is America. In fact, you might say the digital world is bringing a whole new meaning to the term “Christmas shopping.”

First, you might be relieved to know that shopping is light on December 25, according to a relevant set of BloomReach customer data. In fact, if we look at the two weeks leading up to Christmas, we see that the number of product views on Christmas is not even half (49 percent) what it is on the busiest day of the period.

As for conversions, there is even less interest in buying on Christmas day. Christmas registered only 27 percent of the conversions seen on the day with the highest conversions during the two-week period. Yes, the day with the most product views and conversions was one of the miraculous Mondays — December 12, to be exact.

But that doesn’t mean people weren’t looking. In fact, In the United States, e-commerce traffic started picking up just about the time folks were opening that sweater that really wasn’t their cup of tea or pulling that gift card out of their stockings. And what time was that? Time to start looking for ways to make their own Christmas wishes come true.

Seriously, after a night-time lull, e-commerce traffic started to pick up at about 7 a.m. on the east coast. It moved straight up, until peaking at about 11 p.m., or 8 p.m. on the west coast. You can see the trend in the chart below. Note that the chart displays Universal Time Coordinated (UTC), which is five hours ahead of east coast time and eight hours ahead of west coast time.

Christmas shopping traffic

The data also shows that Christmas has some of the characteristics of Thanksgiving. Christmas is big on mobile, which makes sense when you think about all the visiting and socializing that is going on. Consumers are more likely to whip out their smartphones than their laptops when they’re in the midst of a present-opening frenzy or a lull in a holiday meal. When we look at product views, desktop views account for only 47 percent of the day’s total. Smartphones and tablets, on the other hand, account for more than half of visits.

chart showing product views by device

The story is similar for conversions, when almost half of online conversions, 47 percent, took place on smartphones and tablets.

chart of conversion percentage

When we move on to online visits, we begin to get a hint that Christmas may well be a big day for browsing. And why not? Not that anyone wants to look a gift horse in the mouth, but there is a tendency to want to check out alternatives to that nifty tie Uncle Joe got you or that Taylor Swift CD your sister got you, somehow unaware that you don’t have a CD player.

And, of course, there are those gift cards — a huge gift this year. Can you blame a recipient from turning to an ever-present smartphone to imagine the possibilities?

Whatever the reasons, smartphones and tablets crushed the desktop when it came to Christmas online visits. While the desktop accounted for 37 percent of visits on Christmas day, smartphones racked up about 51 percent and tablets accounted for about 11 percent, making up 63 percent of visits.

visitsbydevice2

But the clincher, when it comes to discerning consumers’ intent on Christmas day, comes in the form of Datacember’s Browse vs. Buy index. The index looks at the number of product views per conversion on any given day and compares that to an average for a given period.

If you look at the two weeks leading up to Christmas, you will see very consistent “buy” behavior. In other words, consumers are looking at a fewer than average number of products before buying. That’s a sign that they have an idea of what they want and are going for it.

On Christmas day, however, consumers shift dramatically to looking at many more products than average per conversion. In fact, product views per conversion hit 52, 20 more than the two-week average of 32.

chart showing browse vs. buy on Christmas

It’s not likely that Christmas day is going to be a big day for retailers any time soon, but there are a number of lessons in consumers’ Christmas day shopping behavior. For one, it is not time for retailers to rest on their laurels.

Consumers remain in a shopping mood. In fact, Christmas might be a planning day heading into the post-holiday shopping frenzy. Retailers should be ready with online promotions and relevant suggestions for those shopping for replacement gifts and gift-card purchases on Christmas day.

And the Christmas day activity is also a reminder that customers are setting the agenda now. They will shop and buy how they want to and when they want to. Retailers need to do what they can to understand those habits in advance and prepare.

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.

Shoppers’ focus intensifies in closing days of holiday season: Datacember 11

screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-5-48-48-pm

You know how when November rolls around and you start hearing Christmas songs and seeing holiday decorations and you think: What’s the big rush? Can’t these people just chill?

And at that point, you can certainly chill, because there is no rush to buy gifts for loved ones. You figure you’ve got weeks. And hey, 12 percent of those surveyed told the National Retail Federation that they wouldn’t finish their holiday shopping until two days before Christmas.

Which it is. Now. Imagine.

Anyway, we’ve looked in the past at procrastination and how mobile seems to be the procrastinating holiday shopper’s friend. The closing days of the season are generally good for in-store traffic and online conversions.

An outfit called Customer Growth Partners reported that consumers spent $42 billion, up from $41 billion last year on Super Saturday, a sort of D-Day for holiday shoppers. And while that’s interesting, Datacember thought it would be more fun to look at a different metric.

We wondered just how focused shoppers become on getting the job done as the holiday deadline approaches. Beyond the joy, childlike wonder and goodwill at Christmas, comes a palpable sense of gifts absolutely, positively having to be there on time.

And sure enough: Digital shoppers are acting on that feeling.

Char that shows browse vs. buy activity in holiday home stretch.

 

Data from across a subset of BloomReach customers shows that shoppers are hitting websites with greater intent as Christmas nears. Datacember gauges consumer intent by looking at the ratio of daily product views to the number of daily conversions.

Our thinking is that the more products viewed for each conversion, the more shoppers are browsing, digitally window shopping for just the right gift. A lower number of product views indicates a certain go-in-for-the-kill mentality.

In the chart above, the dotted blue line represents the average number of product views per conversion for November and December. Peaks and points below that line indicate a relatively low number of product views per conversion — or a higher intent to buy.

In fact, you’ll note the daily number of product views per conversion rarely rises above the average after Thanksgiving — and that it’s remained far below for the last two weeks of the holiday shopping season.

It’s interesting, with all the talk of the holiday shopping season creeping earlier and earlier, that the real serious buying still appears to happen in the two weeks leading up to Christmas.

The data reveals another interesting quirk about holiday shoppers. We’ll get to that in a coming post in the Datacember series.

Photo by Mike Cassidy.

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.

 

Macy's union square at Christmas

How great are Mondays? It’s all about context: Datacember 10

 

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Remember how Datacember concluded that Mondays during the holiday season are big shopping days and key days for retailers?

Well, the final Monday of the holiday shopping season is in the books and while the conclusion still holds up, the last Monday of the season wasn’t exactly the powerhouse we were expecting.

Before we get to the numbers, we’ll just say: Yes, you should be panicked if you haven’t finished your Christmas shopping. We’re down to days. OK, with that bit of housekeeping out of the way, let’s take another look at holiday Mondays’ performance.

First off, if we look at the super star Mondays, what we’ve identified as the Mondays between Nov. 21, which was Monday X, to Dec. 19, which was Mailing Monday, there is no doubt the much maligned day of the week outperformed the holiday season average — by a lot.

Product views, which act as a good proxy for engagement, were above average to well-above-average for the last five Mondays of the season. Cyber Monday was huge of course, racking up 90 percent more product views than the season’s daily average. But even Green Monday came in at 45 percent above.

 

Chart showing Monday product views compared to holiday average

Conversions generally followed suit, with Cyber Monday taking its rightful place as the conversion leader and the other Mondays holding their own.

Chart showing Monday conversions compared to holiday season as a whole

But if there is one thing that Datacember has learned, it’s that it is necessary to view all things in the relevant context. Sure, the Big Five Mondays are, well, big, but how do they stack up in terms of the home stretch of holiday shopping?

Generally speaking, shopping activity intensifies as Christmas approaches. The Mondays from late November to late December are situated in the midst of shopping crunch time. If you look at how the five Mondays performed compared to the average performance during the period from Nov. 21 (Monday X) to Dec. 19 (Mailing Monday), the picture is slightly different.

Product views are still strong on the now well-established Cyber Monday and Green Monday when compared to the daily average late in the season.

Cyber Monday, for instance saw 60 percent more product views that the late season daily average. And Green Monday was 23 percent ahead of the average.

But the number of views are closer to average on the other three Mondays — one of which is unnamed and two of which were named by Datacember.

Chart showing Monday product views compared to late holiday views

The pattern holds true for conversions, too, though not as markedly as is the case with product views. Only Monday X, the Monday before Thanksgiving, came up below average in terms of conversions.

Chart showing Monday conversions compared to late holiday converstions

The 2016 numbers take a little of the shine off the Monday Miracle, which was fairly prominent in 2015. But we’re not ready to count Monday out as something special during the holiday shopping season.

In fact, it is a day we’ll be keeping an eye on in holiday seasons to come.

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.

 

Datacember smartphone shopping

Mobile traffic finds its holiday shopping tipping point: Datacember 9

Datacember phone shopping

Have you finished all your holiday shopping?

Of course you haven’t finished all your holiday shopping. What fun would that be? The last-minute shopping is as much a tradition as visiting the mall Santa and hanging stockings by the chimney with care — or a lack of care, depending on the time you have to devote to that sort of thing.

Anyway, we ask not to be mean, but to point out that shoppers and retailers are in the home stretch of the holiday shopping season. (Well, unless you count the rush of after-Christmas shopping.)

Datacember has spotted tell-tale signs that procrastinators are beginning to step up their games, relying heavily on mobile. In fact, the weekend (which featured a couple of shopping “holidays’’) yielded an historic moment involving smartphones. You’ll have to read on.

First some background: This past weekend checked Free Shipping Day (Friday Dec. 16) and Super Saturday (Friday Dec. 17) off our lists. The former is a day on which more than 1,200 retailers provide free shipping for orders (without imposing minimums) and promise to get the goods where they’re going by Christmas, Fortune explains.

For its part, Super Saturday has displaced Black Friday as the busiest shopping day of the year — at least for in-store shopping. The National Retail Federation projected that 156 million shoppers would possibly hit the stores on Super Saturday (the last full Saturday of shopping before Christmas). That’s far more than the 137.4 million the NRF said it expected to shop on Thanksgiving weekend.

 

In a coming Datacember piece, we’ll take a look at how Free Shipping Day and Super Saturday affected online traffic and conversions. Today we’re too excited about our news to deal with such matters.

A look at the weekend’s online shopping activity shows that mobile activity is picking up as Christmas nears and shopping time dwindles. In the past, we’ve looked at mobile activity as a sign of procrastination. The conclusion isn’t entirely fair, but it’s reasonable to think that when consumers are in a time crunch, they’re more likely to turn to mobile, particularly when it comes to making purchases.

Let’s take a look at what happened over the Super Saturday weekend compared to the days leading up to it. We’ll start with product views. You can see that mobile is more popular on weekends than during the rest of the week. Makes sense. Folks are on the move, out of their routines. But the smartphone is always there.

Chart of product views on holiday shopping weekends

You can see a rise in the percentage of daily product views conducted on smartphones on both weekends on the chart above. You can also note that the weekend of Dec. 17 and 18 shows slightly higher mobile use as Christmas draws nearer. The difference is slight — the percentage of product views on smartphones hovers around 31 percent on the first weekend above. On the second weekend the number is 33 percent.

A similar weekend pattern played out with conversions, which should be encouraging for retailers. Mobile conversions have been a struggle for many retailers. But it’s clear consumers will buy on smartphones when it’s in their interest. Retailers need to make it in consumers interest.

About 28 percent of daily conversions were conducted on smartphones on the weekend before Christmas. The previous weekend featured a Saturday with 27 percent of conversions on smartphones and a Sunday with 24 percent on phones.

Chart of Conversions on the last two weekends of holiday shopping

In fact, throw in tablets, and mobile conversions hit 40 percent on Dec. 17 and 18, compared to 38 and 36 percent on the previous Saturday and Sunday respectively.

Things get really interesting when we examine site visits and the devices consumers used to visit those sites. As you can see, site visits passed a tipping point: More consumers used smartphones to visit e-commerce sites than used desktops on the weekend before Christmas.

Chart of site visits by device on last two weekends of holiday shopping season

If you look at mobile overall (add tablet and smartphone), 55 percent of shoppers visited sites via mobile on Dec. 17 and 56 percent visited with a mobile device on Dec. 18.

There is a lesson in the numbers for retailers — a lesson they are not hearing for the first time. Consumers are continuing to more strongly embrace mobile devices. Smartphones particularly have become the shopping tool of choice.

But while mobile conversions are increasing, they still lag, given the numbers of those browsing and otherwise researching on mobile.

We’ll state the obvious, not to be annoying, but to be helpful:  If more than half of your visitors are coming to your site using a mobile device, it would be wise to take the steps you need to take to make converting on a mobile device as easy as possible.

Charts based on a relevant subset of BloomReach customer data. Photo of iPhone and apps by Jason Howie, published under Creative Commons license.

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.

Big holiday traffic means a big opportunity for retailers: Datacember 8

 

Shoppers in San Francisco

We’re moving deeper into the holiday shopping season and as we do, Datacember would like to remind you to beware of the smiling M.

You know, the smiling M — the visual manifestation of the e-commerce data that compares holiday visits, conversions and conversion rates with activity during a more typical time of year.

And, yes, we did just make that up.

But hear us out: Start with a comparison of site visits pre-holiday season and in the heart of it. OK, starting with a comparison of visits, the smile is a little jacked up.

Frankly, it looks like an M who’s had a little too much of the spiked eggnog.

chart comparing October and November site visits

 

But there is a story in this face that only a mother could love. Site visits are huge during the holiday period. Consumers are out — or rather in — shopping. They’re looking for particular gifts or inspiration.

It’s a tremendous opportunity for online retailers — a time for which most have spent months preparing. If a retailer is not ready to offer shoppers relevant and helpful recommendations the 10-times spike in traffic (from October’s low to November’s high) goes from being a tremendous opportunity to a tremendous opportunity squandered. This is the time to provide an exquisite customer experience.

The smiling (albeit crooked) M represents the number of visits to a relevant subset of BloomReach customers from Thanksgiving Eve through the following Tuesday compared to visits for a Wednesday through Tuesday in October.

Some would say the numbers for visits between October 12 and 18 are already elevated, as a substantial number of consumers begin their holiday shopping before November. For instance, 42 percent of respondents in a BloomReach survey told research firm Survata that they would start gift shopping by Labor Day weekend.

But we felt comparing a Wednesday through Tuesday stretch in October with the Wednesday through Tuesday kickoff of the traditional holiday shopping season was a reasonable way to illustrate the increase in online activity during the holidays.

With elevated visits come higher conversion numbers — meaning more sales. Not a shocker, but the sales don’t just happen. Again, successful retailers have geared up for a stretch of weeks that bring in 40 percent of some companies’ annual profits.

And for what it’s worth, comparing conversions does wonders for the smiling M, though the smile exhibits satisfaction more than it shows sheer joy, which would be understandable, given that the daily conversion average in the November period hit 2.9 times the October number.

Chart comparing conversions in November and October

Dramatic, yes. Surprising? Not really. The holiday shopping season, after all, blows away any other time of year. The National Retail Federation says U.S. consumers will spend $655.8 billion during the holiday period this year.

The back-to-school season comes in second at a projected outlay this year of $75.8 billion. Yep. Quite a gap.

But for retailers, perhaps no image of the smiling M is more significant that the face made by comparing conversion rates. After all, it’s great to have many more visitors to your digital sites and all the better to have many more conversions thanks to those visitors.

Chart comparing conversion rate October & November

The holiday season, however, also brings with it a significantly higher conversion rate. In other words, those who are out shopping are out to buy. Consider that the conversion rate averaged 1.4 percent in mid-October, but during the shopping frenzy of Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, the figure rose to 4.4 percent.

But again, that’s not to say the holiday season is a time for retailers to sit back and watch the money roll in. Instead, it’s a time to be ready, to have promotions lined up, to know who is shopping when, on what device and what it is that shopper is looking for.

And how do you get ready for that? This seems like a good opportunity to recycle some advice we published about this time last year. Yes, it might be too late for this holiday season, but it’s never too early to start planning for next year.

The tips come by way of Dalin Brinkman, a site optimization and mobile expert at BloomReach customer Lamps Plus. He offered the suggestions during a webinar called, “Five Tips Web Merchants Can Use to Drive Conversions: Takeaways for a Successful Start to 2016.”

  1. Adopt your taxonomy to your users and trends: Consider how your customers think as you arrange the structure of your site. Lamps Plus categorizes lamps by the type of lamp it is — table lamps, floor lamps, desk lamps etc. But it categorizes furniture by the room it goes in — dining room, kitchen, bedroom. That’s because consumers have a use in mind when they shop for a lamp and a setting in mind when they shop for furniture. It’s the type of thing you can learn by analyzing your own site. Sure, big, web-wide trends are important, Brinkman says, but so are trends that are peculiar to a specific retailer’s site. “We’re actually starting to go in and look at trends in our own (site). What we found, is there are certain trends that are more particular to us. As a lighting company, there are certain things that are more popular to our users than they would be to the general public.”
  2. Decrease user friction: Brinkman says Lamps Plus has started to look at all the places where consumers are slowed down as they go through the shopping process. Speed bumps, he calls them. Any one of them on its own is probably not enough to lose a sale, he says. But taken together, they have the potential to frustrate customers and turn them away. He and his team found that about one-third of the company’s traffic starts on mobile and then moves to desktop to complete the transaction. But that’s not easy to do, he says. The mobile and desktop sites look different — with desktop displaying rows of four products and mobile displaying rows of two. It makes it difficult for a shopper to pick up where he or she left off. And the Lamps Plus team found that shoppers increasingly were using mobile in the store, so the retailer trained sales people to work with mobile-toting consumers. They made sure those salespeople earned a commission on sales, even if the customer purchased on mobile while in the store. “There are a million different paths that users take,” Brinkman said. “The more we identify places that can reduce friction, then the happier our users are with us.”
  3. Presentation is everything: In looking at the Lamps Plus site, Brinkman and his team noticed that some products were just not made to be stand-alone images on a website. Mirrors for instance — plain rectangles, one after another. So the merchandisers used Photoshop to add relevant backgrounds and objects, putting the once-solitary mirror in a bathroom over a vanity, for instance. And while the move seems very from-the-gut, Brinkman’s team members, in fact, tested their ideas, monitoring clicks and conversions. Some changes bombed. Pictures of mirrors on wallpapered walls, for instance. But others, those with a relatively plain background, were a huge hit. “It was amazing to see the result,” Brinkman said. “We saw an immediate increase in conversions and we’re up 30 percent in the time since we started.”
  4. Identify different landing-page behavior: Yes, Lamps Plus understands its shoppers’ demographics, but they took that understanding one step further, Brinkman said. Why not look at how different users behave in relation to different landing pages. For instance, Brinkman said, some pages brought out the “hardware store problem.” You know the drill: You line up a home improvement project, pick up what you think you need at the hardware store and then spend the rest of the day making return trips to the for things you didn’t know you needed. Some pages, like those for chandeliers, are gateway pages, Brinkman said. They might not have a high number of conversions, but in ways far beyond other pages, they attract shoppers who return again and again to the Lamps Plus site. On reflection, Brinkman says, the phenomenon makes sense, given that a shopper might pay $4,000 for a chandelier. “It’s a signature product,” he says. “Once they get it, they tend to want to purchase other products that match that look and feel. So, they come back to us multiple times.” The insights helped the company guide its marketing efforts and consider ways to get the most out of its landing pages.
  5. Identify marketing channel behaviors: Lamps Plus merchandisers noticed that customers who come from social media tend to be younger than organic search visitors, who tend to be younger than paid search visitors. When you think about it, some pages have a bigger concentration of traffic from search, for instance. Merchandisers at Lamps Plus keep the paid search demographic in mind, then, when focusing on those particular pages. While exploring channels, Brinkman said his team discovered something else interesting. Again he used chandeliers as an example. Modern chandeliers, he said, are far and away the most popular style on the site. But a good portion of shoppers arriving at the chandelier page, about 25 percent, are actually looking for a traditional chandelier, Brinkman said. When only modern chandeliers were displayed in the top two rows of the page, those shoppers would bounce, he said. Based on consumer behavior data, the merchandising team decided to move some traditional chandeliers up to the first two rows displayed. Brinkham said the move reduced bounce rate by 77 percent: “It was a big win for us.”

And remember, the holiday shopping season is a time to shine — and prosper — and to pay close attention to the shape of your particular enterprise’s smiling M.

Photo of holiday shoppers in San Francisco by Mike Cassidy. Charts based on data analysis across a subset of BloomReach customers.

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.

 

Two women window shopping

Datacember 7: Small Business Saturday remains an enigma

Two women window shopping at a boutique

In a world where consumers shift seamlessly from online to in-store as they shop, Datacember has become intrigued with the interplay between Small Business Saturday and big-business e-commerce.

We discovered last year how difficult it is — even with data — to draw iron-clad conclusions when many outside factors (literally when you consider the weather) are at play. But that never stopped us before.

Last year, we looked at small data — a mom-and-pop shop run by the mom-and-pop of my then-Datacember colleague. And we looked at some big data that painted a mixed picture of just what was going on.

Last year, engagement and visits online were up over the previous year, but online conversions were down. Were online conversions down because more customers were shopping in stores? After all, the folks behind Small Business Saturday reported that spending at independent businesses was up 14 percent over 2014.

Were visits and engagement (measured by product views) up because more people were heading online instead of to stores? Or were traffic and engagement up because people were standing in stores comparison shopping and seeking gift-buying inspiration?

Hard to tell.

This year we took a different approach. We took a look at overall visits, products views and conversions on e-commerce sites on Small Business Saturday and surrounding days to see how the day fared in comparison.

What we discovered: It remains hard to draw iron-clad conclusions about shoppers’ behavior on Small Business Saturday. Of course, that doesn’t stop us from mulling and speculating. Let’s start with visits and product views, which not surprisingly are related.

Product Views and Visits in November

You can see that both categories peaked at times you’d expect — Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Thanksgiving racked up some big numbers as well. They are all marquee days for holiday shopping.

Both metrics plunged on Small Business Saturday. But they weren’t at the lowest levels of the week, which came on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. And when you look at overall spending at independent businesses on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, it’s hard to argue that dollars were migrating to the small brick-and-mortar stores.

The National Federation of Independent Business and American Express, the forces behind Small Business Saturday, reported that spending at independent businesses was down to $15.4 billion this year from $16.2 billion in 2015, a drop of 4.9 percent.

In fact, when you look at product views, which serves as a measure of engagement, Small Business Saturday was roughly right at the daily average for November. In terms of online visits, Small Business Saturday came in well below the average  — about 14.8 percent lower.

So, does mean that on Small Business Saturday, consumers took to brick-and-mortar, leaving the web to a relatively small group of consumers really intent on finding a great gift? Well, if we look at conversions, it looks like whoever those online shoppers were, they weren’t all that ready to buy.

Daily Conversions in November

You can see that conversions followed product views and visits into a gully. In fact, conversions took off again on Sunday, up 24 percent from Saturday, on their way to a lofty height on CyberMonday.

One other piece of evidence helps us unravel the mystery slightly. By looking at online shoppers’ intent on Small Business Saturday, we could argue that the day was a browsing day, at least compared to the rest of the long weekend.

Datacember classifies browse vs. buy days by looking at the number of product views per conversion on a given day. Our thinking: The more products consumers view before they buy, the more they’re window shopping, or browsing. The fewer products they view, the more intent they are on making a purchase.

Browse vs. Buy in November

It’s true that the entire end of November shifted to buy days, days on which the number of products viewed per conversion was below November’s average. But you can see that Small Business Saturday is on the high-product-view side in the closing days of the month.

Could it be that those product views were happening in stores or at lunch tables in between brick-and-mortar shopping stops? It’s possible.

Sure there is the issue of lower spending at independent businesses, but remember the noise we mentioned? It just so happens that there are indications that shoppers are spending less than they did a year ago.

The National Retail Federation says shoppers on average spent $10 less shopping over the Thanksgiving weekend. Could that account for the slide in spending at mom-and-pop shops?

It certainly could — especially given that AmEx and the National Federation of Independent Business reported that while overall spending was down, the number of people shopping at mom-and-pops on Small Business Saturday was up by 13 percent.

So, again, we’re left with some theoretical conclusions about Small Business Saturday, but no hard answers. In some ways the difficulty in reading the signs is a reminder of how difficult it can be to reconcile online and in-store data.

Beyond that, it’s a reminder that consumers have largely moved past viewing shopping as either online or in-store. They see shopping as one unified experience conducted with different tools for different jobs.

Business, large and small, need to take that into account and be ready to offer consumers the products and experiences they are looking for where and when they come looking for them.

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.

Apple store with mobile shopper outside

Datacember 6: Monday sales are holiday magic

Apple store with mobile shopper outside

Monday appears to be maintaining its magic this holiday season.

Online shoppers have continued to show an outsized interest in buying online on the first day of the work week, a pattern that Datacember first noticed last year.

It’s a pattern that some holiday-shopping-watchers had seen signs of over the past several years. And with made-up shopping holidays, like Cyber Monday, Green Monday and Datacember’s own Monday X, Monday remains a key day for retailers. (Thank God it’s Monday, anyone?)

Last year, Mondays during the holiday season accounted for a significant percentage of conversions over a relevant subset of BloomReach retail customers — especially compared to non-holiday Mondays.

And, in an odd bit of days-of-the-week gymnastics, Monday took on many of the attributes of Sunday during non-holiday periods, a time when Sunday was accounting for just over 20 percent of a week’s conversions, while Mondays accounted for just shy of 15 percent.

The chart below looks at the data from June through October 2015 across a number of sites, compared to the period between Veteran’s Day and Dec. 14, 2015. It looks at the percentage of total conversions that each day of the week contributed to during those periods.

screen-shot-2016-12-14-at-10-24-26-am

This year, we looked at conversions on Mondays beginning Nov. 1 through Green Monday. (Yes, there is a Green Monday and it was this week, FYI.) We found that Mondays saw higher than average conversions than the period over all.

Of course, the Monday stat sheet has the advantage of Cyber Monday, which racked up nearly twice as many conversions as the daily average for the entire period. But Mondays’ performance was leavened by the first two Mondays in November, which were well below the average.

More interesting was the Monday momentum we saw later in the month. It started with Monday X, the Monday before Thanksgiving, which had a killer 2015 and a strong 2016.

Conversions on holiday season Mondays

 

While the number of conversions on Monday X this year was just about average for the period, it represented a steep climb — 147 percent — from the previous Monday. It also marked the point at which holiday season Mondays began performing well above the daily average in terms of conversions.

Monday has also outperformed Sunday as a conversion engine this holiday season. While Monday conversions are beating the period average, Sundays are well below it.

The Monday metamorphosis is even clearer when you look at a month of Mondays leading up to the holiday period. While both Sundays and Mondays in October were strong performers, relative to the month’s average conversions, Mondays averaged 4.8 percent more conversions than Sundays.

October Conversions chart

These monster Mondays and the annual Sunday-Monday flip are in part a reflection of the day-to-day volatility of online shopping. But the Monday bump during the holiday season certainly looks like a thing, as Mike Baumgarten of Custora told Datacember when we first asked last year.

“It’s almost like a (rising) curve over the past couple of years for Monday,” he said last year. “Then it will go down a bit for the weekend and peak back up again for Monday.”

His working theory? When people are out and about and relaxing on the weekend, they’re more likely to be browsing on mobile phones. And though consumer habits are changing, many still probably find it easier to actually buy on their laptops.

So they wait until Monday when things literally settle down.

We’ll add our closely related speculation: During the holiday season, consumers spend the weekend out shopping and researching online. By Monday, they believe they’ve done their due diligence and it’s time to close the deal.

Oh, and one more thing: It could be that shoppers add items do their carts when they have time to shop on Saturday and Sunday and then give it until Monday to see whether the killer holiday deal they found gets even better.

Besides, the clock always ticks louder on Monday.

Whatever the reason, it’s a trend that retailers ought to keep an eye on. Those looking for a competitive advantage might want to scour their own data to see if in the holiday season, they should be gearing up for customers who are ready to buy on Mondays.

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.

Macy's Chicago interior at Christmas

Datacember 5: Did we mention that holiday preparedness is key?

screen-shot-2016-12-09-at-12-23-24-pm
Last week we looked at the extraordinary lengths that retailers and those who support them go to, to prepare for the rush of holiday shoppers that make or break many businesses.

OK, so it isn’t the rush of shoppers that breaks a business, it’s being unable to capitalize on their strong intent to buy something in time to present as a holiday gift. We looked at the hundreds of thousands of temporary workers that retailers, delivery services and the like hire to get through the season.

We wrote about companies like BloomReach that provide vital tools and infrastructure to help retailers make the most of a two-month period that rounds out a quarter that accounts for as much as 40 percent of some companies’ annual profits.

We talked specifically about the spike in server calls for one particular BloomReach service — BloomReach Commerce Organic Search, which saw calls increase 76 percent on Cyber Monday, compared to a typical day.

And we looked at a measure of overall traffic that indicated that the peak of e-commerce activity on Cyber Monday was up more than 300 percent over the peak of a typical shopping day in October.

But recently, we caught up with the BloomReach team that keeps tabs on BloomReach’s Commerce Search product, a tool that optimizes site search and personalization on a retailer’s digital sites.

Not surprisingly, server calls to BloomReach related to Commerce Search were also humming as the holiday shopping season got going in earnest. By that measure, peak e-commerce activity doubled on Cyber Monday over a typical day.

Chart showing holiday server calls for BloomReach Commerce Search

(Note: The chart represents Coordinated Universal Time, which is eight hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time.)

The traffic peak, in fact, hit at 6:35 p.m. PST, reinforcing the notion that shoppers apparently waited to get home from work to indulge their Cyber Monday shopping needs. Or at least they waited until the work day was almost done, given the sustained high-level of traffic that we saw from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. that day.

While the spike is dramatic, it wasn’t surprising. As we noted earlier, BloomReach was among those working in and with the retail industry that had prepared in advance for the holiday season, retail’s 100-year-flood. So, the spikes came and went without significant problems.

Why does any of this matter? Well, money for one. When digital sites aren’t working properly, e-commerce operations can’t sell their stuff — or certainly can’t sell as much of it.

You might remember news reports about trouble at Macy’s and some other large retailers, who were swamped on Black Friday. Nobody — not customers and not retail executives — want to see a notice that says, “heavier traffic than normal,” and suggests shoppers sit tight until things get cleared up.

Ann Ruckstuhl, CMO of SOASTA, a company that measures and improves digital performance, laid out just how valuable those frustrated shoppers can be when we spoke to her at Shop.org in September.

SOASTA’s research focused on the way a slow website can damage a business. Obviously, a website that won’t let a consumer order at all is far worse.

“When you have a three-second delay, about 41 percent of your users are gone,” Ruckstuhl said in a video interview. “For everybody that leaves your site, based on our research with Aberdeen, each visitor cost the business from $21 to $80.”

Ruckstuhl pointed to Walmart.com as an example. She said the retail giant discovered that if they could speed up their site’s loading time by one second, they could make $250 million more in annual revenue.

And beyond missing out on that immediate sale when your site is slow or overwhelmed, think about what that customer experience means in terms of ever seeing that shopper again. Not good.

So yeah. Being prepared is a big deal. You can take that to the bank.

Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

Photo by Mike Cassidy.

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.

Datacember 4: Consumers are choosy about devices when holiday shopping

datacember-christmas-trees

Datacember keeps its promises.

After picking through the leftover data of the Thanksgiving weekend earlier this week, we said we’d next take a look at not just how many people bought and when, but on what device.

It’s a critical issue for retailers who need to understand where their customers are coming from — so to speak — in order to tailor offers, design mobile strategies and figure out where to spend money to attract and then keep customers.

And it turns out there were definite daily shopping patterns over the long holiday weekend. Most noticeable were the contrasting preferences of consumers on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. And Cyber Monday had it’s own distinctive flair when it came to device of choice, all of which we will get to.

Key takeaways

    Consumers lean more heavily on mobile during some holiday shopping days than others. Retailers should pay attention in order to provide the most effective promotions and to better understand what sort of experience customers are looking for at any given time.

Mobile is again a headliner in the story of early holiday shopping. Mobile has been a huge story for years, but one that confounds retailers trying to maximize the device’s potential. Its importance tends to be magnified during the holiday season, perhaps because consumers feel more time constrained or perhaps because everything seems more magnified during the holiday season.

This year mobile is again bursting out of the gate, setting records and showing every sign that it is the future of digital commerce.

But interestingly enough, when it came to the percentage of sales booked on mobile, Black Friday came in second over the Thanksgiving weekend. The winner, as you can see below, was Thanksgiving Day itself.

Graph showing conversions by device over the Thanksgiving weekend

Mobile accounted for 44 percent of conversions on Thanksgiving — 31 percent on smartphones and another 13 percent on tablets.

On Black Friday, that billion-dollar mobile day, only 36 percent of conversion were made on mobile devices — 25 percent on smartphones and 11 percent on tablets. On Cyber Monday, mobile accounted for only 31 percent of conversions — 22 percent on smartphones and 9 percent on tablet.

It’s important to note, of course, that as digital shopping days, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are much bigger days than Thanksgiving, which only recently started coming into its own as a significant shopping day.

And it is definitely riding the mobile gravy (and mashed potatoes?) train. Last year, for instance, mobile accounted for only 34.5 percent of conversions on Thanksgiving, according to BloomReach data, 22 percent of that being on smartphones.

So what’s behind consumers’ device preferences on Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday — the first big three shopping days of the holiday season? Datacember is not past speculating.

Start with Thanksgiving. Sure it’s a day off for many, but there are still commitments. It’s a day for visiting relatives. A rare day for some, when the whole family — and more — sit down to eat dinner at the same time.

There are hours of football on television, of passing interest to some and of no interest to others. And so what do people do between conversations and after dinner and at halftime or during commercials? Shop and buy.

Black Friday is a different animal. Black Friday traditionally has meant: Hit the stores. That appears to be fading and the day is becoming a laboratory for omnichannel shopping. Datacember pointed out earlier this week that Black Friday online buying peaks in the morning, falls off, and then has another surge in the evening.

It sounds like the morning is for researching and buying items (perhaps can’t-miss promotions); midday is for hitting the malls for buying and showrooming and evening is for shoppers returning to digital sites to buy what they couldn’t find or what they couldn’t find at the price they wanted.

Is it just us, or does that sound like a day more attuned to shopping on a laptop or desktop?

And what’s with Cyber Monday coming in with 69 percent of conversions on desktop? Well, its roots are in the desktop. Remember the original Black Friday notion was that online sales took off on the Monday after Thanksgiving, when workers returned to the office — and the high-speed internet connections they lacked at home.

Of course, Datacember has demonstrated how that behavior seems to have shifted as residential internet speeds have raced ahead. And yet, could it be that old habits die hard and consumers head for the laptop or desktop at home?

Possible. But maybe more likely is the notion that by the evening of Cyber Monday consumers are ready to buy. After a weekend of researching and contemplating, they know what they want and where they want it from.

In fact, if we look at the BloomReach Browse vs. Buy Index for Thanksgiving week, it’s clear that on Cyber Monday, consumers showed the greatest intent to buy. The index compares the number of products viewed per conversion. Anything under the red line indicates shoppers were looking at fewer products for each conversion — indicating buying, not browsing behavior.

Chart of Product views vs. conversions

 

And so given that strong intent, why not go to the laptop, which despite improvements in mobile, still seems a more nimble shopping tool than the trusty smartphone?

After all, despite all the attention that mobile grabs, the desktop (which is actually probably more “the laptop”) remains holiday buying’s workhorse — for now. We’ll check back in on this trend later in Datacember.

Photo by Mike Cassidy. Chart source: BloomReach.

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.