Amazon & You: How to Win

Posted by , February 5th, 2016 at 5:30 am PST
Categories: eCommerce, Merchandising, Site Search | No Comments »
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Last week SLI Systems sponsored the Internet Retailer webinar Amazon & You: Top New Competitive Strategies for 2016. eShopportunity founder Fahim Naim and Medelita CMO Dan Stephchew took a look at what is emerging as the best ways for online retailers to compete with Amazon.

The webinar was jam-packed with examples from the recent 2015 holiday shopping season (including how to gracefully opt out of Black Friday without killing your sales).

While Amazon is undeniably a Goliath, you can beat the e-commerce giant by turning its weaknesses into your strengths. Here are a few key takeaways:

Help shoppers find what they are looking for. Amazon isn’t the easiest place to shop. It can feel like you are wandering through a huge warehouse without a soul in sight to help you. You have little choice but to base your purchasing decisions on price and reviews.

Fahim advises, “Do a better job of helping customers engage and find relative products.”

An effective way of providing a more satisfying shopping experience is by delivering relevant site search results. Engage customers further by offering a product or gift finder, which suggests a collection of products based on a series of questions. This level of personalization is impossible to deliver via the Amazon interface and it allows you to build brand loyalty.

Treat shoppers differently. Amazon is one-size-fits-all. There is no room to massage your message for different audiences. As a result, you miss the opportunity to create tailored offers for different shoppers, like first-time buyers and loyal customers. You can outshine Amazon in this area by leveraging your email marketing with content and offers designed to reach specific shoppers.

Own long-tail search terms. It’s OK if Amazon wins broad keyword searches. Shoppers who find your site via long-tail search terms are more likely to find exactly what it is they want to buy. You can build landing pages specific to these keywords. (To learn more about this, check out the webinar Advanced Data Mining.)

For more competitive strategies, watch the Internet Retailer webinar. To see how SLI Systems can help you implement these strategies, join us for our next live demo on March 8.

   

EASY – A Deciding Factor for E-commerce Technology

Posted by , January 28th, 2016 at 6:00 am PST
Categories: eCommerce, Navigation, Site Search | No Comments »
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Easy to use technology for E-commerceEasy is a critical feature for today’s technology solutions – easy-to-implement, easy-to-use, easy-to-measure and easy-to-update. Of course solutions need to be effective and results are the number one point of comparison. But if you’re in the position of choosing technology and you’ve narrowed your options to those with proven results, you’re likely to choose the one that will make it easier for you or your team to achieve the results you want.

After all, there’s only so much you alone can do – you need technology that expands your abilities, rather than giving you one more thing that requires your expertise.

This is how Michael Schuler of the Minneapolis-based Schuler Shoes felt about the company’s website. A year ago, he was the only one who could customize merchandising banners and SEO since it required going into the code to make modifications. He knew this process wasn’t sustainable as the business expanded its product catalog. He needed a merchandising solution that was straightforward enough for anyone on his team to use – he needed it to be easy for his employees to edit promotions and optimize SEO.

Michael Schuler also needed a site search and navigation solution that would provide a consistent product-finding experience for shoppers. He wanted to make it easy for shoppers to find and buy what they were looking for.

At the same time, Schuler was moving the business to a new e-commerce platform and he needed a hosted site search and navigation provider that would easily integrate with the latest version of Magento.

Of course Schuler wanted the solution to work well – choosing a vendor with a solid history, reliable infrastructure and clear, proven results was a given. But easy was a key theme in his search for the right vendor. In the end, he chose SLI Systems as the best fit to achieve his goals. As stated in a case study on Schuler Shoes:

“We chose SLI because it fits well with Magento and offers the features we needed. SLI Learning Search Connect easily plugged into our Magento platform, quickly improving the shopping experience and simplifying merchandising and promotions,” said Schuler.

In fact, yesterday SLI Systems announced it’s the first and only Magento Gold Partner to offer a site search extension for Magento 2.0. Our commitment to “easy” meant that we wanted to have our plugin for Magento 2.0 ready as soon as our customers needed it.

Schuler also achieved his goals of making it easier for his team to manage merchandising and SEO, along with making it easier for shoppers to find the products they wanted.

“With SLI site search, navigation and refinements, we have seen 20% fewer bounces and a 7.5% increase in the time visitors spend on the site, indicating the solutions are helping customers in the ‘pre-shop’ phase before they buy from us in-store or online,” Schuler said.

If you’re in the position of choosing a new technology vendor, look for easy – easy-to-implement, easy-to-use, easy-to-measure and easy-to-update. Add easy-to-show results to this list (as we’ve done with our latest SLI Dashboard), and you’ll be set. Michael Schuler found a solution that was all this, plus provided better results than his previous solution. For him, it was an easy choice.

   

A New Look at the Shopper Journey – Introducing the SLI Dashboard

Posted by , January 21st, 2016 at 5:40 am PST
Categories: dashboard, Merchandising, Reporting and Analytics, User Experience | No Comments »
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devices_dashboard“Big data” is all the buzz. It’s a challenge to merchants and data providers alike. Complex calculations on large volumes of data can be fascinating to a programmer. But these aren’t just numbers – they represent real-life actions of people on a website. If we aren’t careful, our calculations can outsmart the spirit of these actions, resulting in meaningless (or at least misguided) data for merchandisers.

Recently we undertook a project to create a new dashboard for the SLI Merchandising and Reporting Console. With more than 100 metrics already available in our console, it would have been easy to present some of these and call it a day.

But we decided it was time for a fresh start. We talked to our customers about what was most important to them. Then we went further – all the way back to the basics. We examined our underlying calculations to ensure the way we tracked data considered customers on their shopping journey and not just purchases.

Many existing reporting systems, including our own, count events like transactions and compare them to other events like page or session counts. But tracking events in isolation doesn’t always reflect how shoppers behave. Consider a shopper who starts browsing in the early evening, breaks for dinner and returns to make a purchase after putting the kids to bed or the shopper who has a late-night browsing habit and completes her purchase after midnight. Many analytics simplify and examine activity based on a set time period. As a result, each of the previous examples would likely be considered as two sessions – one that failed to convert and one that succeeded – when in actuality each was a single shopper.

A session-focused versus shopper-focused model can cause e-commerce sites to worry needlessly about conversion rates when in actuality the trouble is with how their analytics views the data.

Another example of analytics skewing reality is when a customer completes a transaction and then realizes he forgot something and makes a second purchase. Should one customer be treated as two just because he completed a second transaction? When considering conversions, is a shopper who transacts twice buying one item each time really more valuable than the shopper buying two items in a single transaction? We don’t think so.

The new SLI Dashboard now includes shopper-focused attribution. As a result, SLI looks at all of a shopper’s activity in the 24 hours leading up to a transaction, regardless of when it occurred. A site visitor with activity before midnight that continues into the next day is counted once, and multiple conversions from a single customer are treated as one successful conversion.

Conversion rate and average order value are critical measures of your e-commerce site. You need them to be an accurate representation of how many people successfully found what they were looking for, how many items people bought and how much they spent. The new SLI Dashboard provides a real-life view of how your customers are interacting with your site. In a world of numbers and calculations, let’s remember our customers are people too.

   

Refining Your Site Navigation (Part 2)

Posted by , January 13th, 2016 at 6:10 am PST
Categories: Color, eCommerce, Merchandising, Navigation Tips, Refinements, SEO, User Experience | No Comments »
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As we discussed last week, the purpose of refinements is to allow shoppers to find what they are looking for more quickly. By indicating specific characteristics to narrow down the number of options shown in a category, visitors don’t have to scroll through pages of products to find the right one.

There are some simple ways you can deliver an exceptional shopping experience through your refinements.

SLI Color PaletteConsider a Color Palette

Color palettes provide a visually appealing way to show color options for a particular product. Plus, it takes the guess work out of identifying colors with names like vermilion (a reddish orange) or verdigris (a yellowish green). Color palettes are often displayed on the left column with other refinements.

Show Products in the Right Color

Display products in the color shoppers requested. For example, if the default image for a shirt is red, but it is also offered in blue, show the blue shirt when shoppers refine the category to blue.

If your product is available in several colors, let visitors see the color options from the navigation page. One effective way of doing this is to allow visitors to hover over the color palettes directly under the picture of the product. The color of the product changes, while other products on the page remain unchanged.

Use Images

The human brain processes images faster than text. Consider using images to signal certain refinements, such as apparel type (dresses, shirts, pants), brands, ratings, colors and shapes. Of course, images won’t work for some refinements, so use your judgment. Make sure the images you use are clear and simple, so your customers won’t be left guessing.

SLI Navigational ImagesUse Easy-to-understand Navigational Images

If you use navigational images to identify subcategories, make sure they are easy to understand. You want to make sure shoppers don’t accidentally confuse the subcategory images for the product selection.

Provide the following visual cues:

  • Show products as well as subcategories
  • Include the number of results for each subcategory
  • Label the subcategory images clearly
  • Distinguish between the layout of your products and subcategories

Offer Multiple Ways to Unselect Refinements

Let visitors easily change and remove refinements. Customers may want to navigate to the top or up one or several levels within a category. Use a Show All link or a breadcrumb trail to enable a quick link back to a category page or higher navigation levels. Breadcrumb trails help visitors see
 exactly where they are on the site and what refinements have been used.

Another best practice is to use an X or checkmark beside the selected refinements. This allows visitors to easily remove a refinement selection without deleting all the selected refinements and gives shoppers the flexibility they need to find the item they’re looking for. A Clear All option offers a quick “back-to-the-top” navigation alternative.

For more tips on how to improve your site navigation, download our Big Book of Navigation Tips.

   

Refining Your Site Navigation (Part 1)

Posted by , January 6th, 2016 at 6:10 am PST
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Refinements allow visitors to quickly narrow down their product selections as they travel through your site. This is one of the best ways (aside from using the search box) that visitors express to you exactly what they want.

The right use of refinements can make the shopping journey easy and intuitive. From broad category pages, you can break down choices into more specific subcategories. On a furniture site, for example, shoppers might start with the Living Room category then navigate to Sofa and Armchairs, Coffee and Side Tables or Living Room Lighting, depending on what they need.

In addition, providing refinements for brand, price, style and color can help shoppers pinpoint the products they had in mind. In my next two blog posts I will outline some practical ways refinements can help you improve your site navigation.

Don’t Show Too Many Refinements

Instead of showing every possible refinement (which can overwhelm shoppers), examine your analytics to see which refinements are used the most and which are hardly used at all. For example, do you really need the option to refine jeans by the number of pockets? If it is useful to your visitors, then show this option only when it’s relevant. A simple list of refinements versus a convoluted one increases your chances of improving your conversion rates.

Only Show Refinements with Results

Show relevant refinements for each category and make sure each refinement option contains results. You may be tempted to provide general refinements across your site for all category pages, but this can lead to a frustrating shopping experience. For example, you wouldn’t want to provide a refine-by-color option if an item is only available in one hue.

SurfStitch_SLIShow the Number of Products for Each Refinement

By indicating the number of products for each refinement, shoppers quickly understand how many results they can expect to find under each option. This guides them to consider other refinements if necessary and assures them they have seen all possible products.

Provide Different Ways of Ranking Products

Let visitors easily re-rank the criteria for how products are shown. Shoppers might want to view products by best sellers, highest rated, new arrivals, most expensive or least expensive. As a default, show products in order of most relevant or most popular. Once a visitor chooses a new order, remember the preference to spare him or her the hassle and frustration of re-ranking products on each category page.

For more tips on how to improve your site navigation, download our Big Book of Navigation Tips.

   

A Spending Miracle

Posted by , December 30th, 2015 at 10:00 am PST
Categories: eCommerce, Mobile, Ratings and Reviews | No Comments »
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Like a good little elf, I started Christmas shopping in October. But despite my weekly purchases all the way through Super Saturday and Sunday, retail sales were reportedly sluggish throughout the holiday season.

People noticed that the malls weren’t quite as manic on Black Friday. Maybe because “Black Friday” deals stretched into early November or perhaps because significantly more people were shopping online.

Like many, my holiday shopping included a combination of in-store and online purchases, gifts for others and items for myself. I shopped with my phone in hand, often checking both prices and reviews when I was in a store or late-night browsing before bed.

Without a sleigh of my own and with family scattered across the country, the convenience of buying online and shipping directly to recipients provided an added bonus of skipping the lines at the post office to mail presents.

Yet, hours before the clock struck Christmas, there was strong doubt that retailers would hit the 3.7% rise forecasted by the National Retail Federation for in-store and online sales.

On Christmas Eve, Reuters reported “U.S. retailers at risk of missing modest holiday sales goals.”

Santa must have needed some last-minute gifts because the numbers reported this week – with Christmas Day behind us – reveal a sort of spending miracle (and proof that I wasn’t the only one shopping).

Holiday spending is up, and online shopping was a winner,” declared the Boston Globe.

Retail sales were up 7.9% – more than double what was expected – according to data released by MasterCard SpendingPulse, which does not reveal dollars spent.

Not surprising, online retailers ended up on the Nice List with a 20% surge in sales compared to the same Black-Friday-to-Christmas-Eve timeframe as last year, according to the SpendingPulse report.

It seems Santa likes the convenience of online shopping, too.

For the latest in e-commerce news, trends and best practices, explore the SLI Knowledge Base.

   

Dressbarn Wins Award for Customer Engagement Success Using SLI

Posted by , December 16th, 2015 at 11:13 am PST
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rtp cust engageThis year, industry-leading retail magazine Retail TouchPoints recognized 18 innovative retailers with a 2015 Customer Engagement Award. According to Retail TouchPoints, each winner has gone the extra mile to delight, surprise and satisfy shoppers. SLI is honored to be recognized with Dressbarn, the Silver Winner in the E-Commerce Innovation category.

“Customer engagement has become a key focus for retailers striving for success in today’s omnichannel world,” said Retail TouchPoints Editor-in-Chief Debbie Hauss. “The award winners are ahead of the curve and are achieving business success in this increasingly competitive marketplace.”

Among the winners this year, Dressbarn joins retail giants AT&T, Barneys New York, Kate Spade, Kohl’s, Payless ShoeSource and Pep Boys.

Dressbarn Uses SLI Learning Search to Create Great Omnichannel Customer Experiences

A major priority for Dressbarn is to always provide a great customer experience, regardless of the channel. One way the retailer continues its mission is to use SLI Learning Search® (and search data) to offer its customers a unified, seamless experience, making it easy for customers to find what they’re looking for across all channels.

Online

Dressbarn pays close attention to online trends, monitoring site search activity and on-page analytics, to optimize landing pages, PPC ads, email campaigns, site search and more. For instance, this past summer, Dressbarn saw a spike in search volume and conversion on the keyword Camryn dress. Dressbarn used its top-performing keywords report to identify the Camryn dress as a product to feature across channels to take advantage of its recent popularity.

Dressbarn quickly created a landing page using SLI Landing Page Creator™ just for the Camryn dress and then promoted it via the home page, email campaign and PPC ads. With search data in hand, Dressbarn also was able to fine-tune the page’s meta tags for better SEO. Conversion rates and sales soon skyrocketed.

Mobile

Dressbarn also provides its customers with a mobile-friendly experience. To adapt to the physical limitations of the mobile user experience, the retailer implemented SLI Mobile’s prominent search bar (vs. tiny magnifying glass) and easy-to-select refinements on search and navigation pages (e.g. color, size), speeding the shoppers’ path to purchase. The retailer also resizes all images into thumbnails, increasing the page load speed and customer engagement.

On its mobile site, Dressbarn has seen noteworthy results engaging customers and increasing conversion with SLI Rich Auto Complete™. Rich Auto Complete™ delivers a search experience with fast, visual and dynamic results. Shoppers are able to type less and buy more. With Rich Auto Complete, the time it took a shopper to find a product and complete a purchase decreased significantly, and mobile site search usage increased by 25 percent.

In-Store

At Dressbarn brick-and-mortar stores, the retailer offers associates and shoppers an endless inventory of products and information via iPads on display. If a product isn’t on the rack at the time, customers are able to use site search to look up the product, review the product description and get a clear idea of how it would look. This was a unique opportunity to use Dressbarn’s digital properties to make its stores more effective and its customers more informed and engaged.

For Dressbarn, it’s not all about making the sale right at that instant, but about building a seamless and delightful omnichannel experience that creates loyal customers who love Dressbarn and want to have a life-long relationship with the retailer.

Congratulations again to Dressbarn for a well-deserved win.

To learn more about Dressbarn’s winning merchandising strategies, view recent SLI webinar with Dressbarn E-Commerce Marketing Manager Sri PV: Merchandising Matters.

   

Are Gender Filters Necessary to Search for Toys?

Posted by , December 10th, 2015 at 9:02 am PST
Categories: eCommerce, Enterprise Search, Navigation, Refinements, Site Search | No Comments »
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genter based search filtersIt was an interesting move when Toys R Us removed the gender filters from its UK website. There has been pressure for toy retailers to do this to stop reinforcing gender stereotypes and Toys R Us obviously decided that this is best for their company. It’s interesting because it is potentially damaging the user experience, making it harder for customers to find the toy that they want.

In my opinion this won’t be the case. I really don’t think that people need a gender facet when searching for toys. The blogger that wrote this article agrees: “My Son Likes Barbie. That Doesn’t Make Him a Girl.” On the other hand, I suspect it will have little impact on changing the behavior of toy buyers.

In fact, this change may actually improve the user experience. It really has nothing to do with gender-based stereotypes but instead with user design. If the gender filter is indeed not necessary for finding the toys you want, then removing it will simplify the search and navigation pages, meaning the user can spend slightly more of their cognitive load on making a purchased decision, rather than on assessing which, if any of the filters they should select.

Assuming Toys R Us has personalized recommendations, it will be interesting to see if the machine learning algorithms behind these will reinforce the gender stereotypes. I suspect, to the disappointment of the pressure groups and Toys R Us, this will be the case.

   

Black Friday’s 2015 E-commerce Shift

Posted by , December 3rd, 2015 at 10:57 am PST
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As the biggest shopping week of the holiday season draws to an end, the numbers are in. Exceeding analyst forecasts across the board, e-commerce sales soared, increasing 15%-16% due to sharp spikes on both Black Friday – traditionally a brick-and-mortar event – and Cyber Monday. In fact, Cyber Monday 2015 set a record as the biggest online sales day EVER, bringing in $3.07 billion!

Thanksgiving Weekend Shopping Peaks 2015Curious to see how search query volume stacked up this year, SLI analyzed more than 340 million queries across 500+ North American online stores. We are thankful to report that people were still mostly focused on family and food this Thanksgiving, as this Turkey Day (and the following Saturday) brought in the least amount of online activity during the 2015 Thanksgiving-to-Cyber Monday holiday timeframe. Family time FTW!

Of course all bets are off once folks wake up on Black Friday. Aligned with the day’s online sales surge, SLI data showed that Black Friday is spilling into the e-commerce world in a big way! While Cyber Monday still experienced the most online activity – nearly double that of Thanksgiving – SLI found Cyber Monday only brought in 11% more activity than new online heavy-hitter Black Friday.

According to the NRF, nearly 102 million people say they shopped in stores on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday, BUT more than 103 million say they shopped online during this two-day stretch. Internet Retailer reported that “e-commerce accounted for $822 million spent in the first 11 hours of Black Friday, and discounts were mounting as online retailers jockeyed for position.” Ultimately, shoppers spent a whopping $2.72 billion online during Black Friday (14% more than in 2014).

In addition, much like our 2014 holiday study, night owls are consistently e-retailers’ most active shoppers. The peak online shopping hour was Cyber Monday at 10:00 p.m. EST. On Thanksgiving Day, the peak shopping hour was also 10:00 p.m. EST. Year-over-year, the exception has been Black Friday with a peak shopping hour of 12:00 Noon EST.

For e-commerce retailers, being ready for these shifting trends in peak days and hours is crucial to ensure they can reach their buyers and avoid site stress. This year Neiman Marcus, Target, and PayPal suffered extended outages that negatively impacted both sales and customer loyalty. Based on this year’s performance, we expect Black Friday to be neck-and-neck with Cyber Monday in 2016. Make sure your site is ready for this surge, and don’t forget to time-critical promotions for all those late-night shoppers out there.

For a 30-minute course on how better site search can keep your shoppers happy (and spending) through the rest of the holiday season and beyond, see our latest video presentation, Best Practices for E-commerce Site Search.

   

A Surge in Query Volume is Coming

Posted by , November 24th, 2015 at 9:09 am PST
Categories: eCommerce, Site Search | No Comments »
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black-friday-rushThis morning (when I was supposed to be sleeping, but wasn’t because of jet lag), Flipboard popped up an article about Google’s scale that mentioned Google serves 1.2 trillion searches per year. That’s a lot! In the last year, SLI served over 15 billion searches across our more than 1,000 customer sites, which is about an 80th of what Google reportedly served. Given these numbers, I’m sure that across the web the number of searches within websites is higher than the number of searches on Google, Bing and the other web search engines.

With Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday coming up, SLI expects to serve more searches in the next seven days than any other week of the year. Thanksgiving is very much an American holiday, but the retail events surrounding it have become an international phenomenon. Retailers around the world take advantage of the opportunity to boost their holiday programs. Last year we saw large query volumes from our Brazilian retailer customers. UK retailers are jumping on the trend with £1.9 billion forecast to be sold in Black Friday sales.

The SLI team has been working to ensure we have plenty of capacity to meet the peak query volumes across the more than 1,000 sites that we power. In measuring search activity during Thanksgiving weekend last year, we found the highest day during this surge in shopping resulted in about 2.7x the normal number of queries. But the real peak is when the sales first open, the emails are sent and people rush to get the best deals. During a recent pre-Black Friday sale we saw the per-minute query volumes hit 200x their normal level.

Especially at this time of year, it’s vital that retailers’ infrastructure is ready to handle these peaks. SLI customers can rest assured: we are ready and waiting.