A blog for all things retail and licensing.

Retailers: How to Convert Browsers Into Buyers

A journey-based approach for better sales conversion

By Anand Subramaniam, VP of Worldwide Marketing, eGain Corporation

Online abandonment is a big challenge

Analysts say online sales are expected to hit a trillion dollars this year—yet  web sites don’t make it easy for shoppers to buy. This in turn causes today’s impatient, distracted shopper to simply abandon a website with the click of a mouse or ‘swipe’ of a tablet. Shopping cart and online form abandonment rates are often upwards of 75%, and only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to lost sales on retail sites.  Shoppers often abandon websites even before they ‘grab’ the cart.  We call it ‘shopping abandonment’, a phenomenon that is even a bigger problem than just ‘shopping cart abandonment’.

Online customer journey: find, decide, buy

When shoppers buy online, they go through three distinct steps in their purchase process – find, decide and buy. Thanks to exploding SKU clutter, search dead-ends and content irrelevance, they might get lost or distracted, and simply defect.

Many eCommerce sites offer simple keyword search or online catalogs to help eager shoppers find what they are looking for, but keyword search is famously unintelligent and catalogs are not consumer-friendly. Would a skin cream be in the personal care, health or pharmacy section? Recently, when I searched for ‘glow-in-the dark analog watch’ on a leading retailer’s website, I got multiple pages of t-shirt hits with ‘glow-in-the-dark’ logos on them before there was anything related to watches.

Once the shopper finds some options, they’d need to next decide exactly what they want to buy. To make a decision, they typically search for product information and independent reviews, especially for non-commodity products. Many websites don’t aggregate this information – this is called federated search in tech jargon – causing shoppers to go elsewhere, never to return. Moreover, websites often make clueless, one-size-fits-all offers in the ‘decide’ phase that don’t move the customer journey forward.

Finally, when the shopper is ready to buy, they put things in their shopping cart and start to check out. But then they often quit at this stage for various reasons – whether it be the convoluted checkout process, shipping fees sticker shock, inability to find something, or another reason. When shopping for financial services and insurance, customers often need to fill out onerous online forms to ‘buy’. These forms are often complex, and there’s no real-time, in-purchase help, so the shopper simply gives up and goes elsewhere.

Creating ‘Wow’!

Connect with Wow:  Wouldn’t it be great if websites had a virtual assistant (aka concierge, chatbot, etc.) that made that all-important first connection with every shopper in a fun and clever way? What if the chatbot welcomed the visitor in an engaging manner, answered common questions in a natural language dialog, pushed relevant web pages to the shopper, gave website tours and even transitioned the conversation with all the context to a sales advisor, if needed? That’s what best-in-class, channel-integrated chatbots do – retail and telecommunications are among the industries leveraging virtual assistants for wow and cost savings. Chatbots can help to keep distracted and indecisive shoppers on your website long enough to move them forward in their purchase journey.

Guide to help find and decide: What if the website search understood the intent of the shopper and helped them ‘find’ by guiding them to what they need to buy through a step-by-step conversation – just like a competent sales person or an automobile GPS would? Intent-driven search technology and guided help based on AI (Artificial Intelligence) technologies like Case-Based Reasoning (CBR) can make it happen.  One of our telecommunication clients have implemented this approach – the company’s web site recommends the most appropriate set of mobile phone models and subscriber plans, based on an interactive self-service conversation with subscribers.

Sticky websites move shoppers to the next stage in their journey, namely, ‘decide’. They federate search results from not only from their own websites, but also from independent product review and customer support forums, making it easier for the shopper to ‘decide’, without ever having to leave the website. These sites also make relevant offers such as content, coupons, real-time chat or cobrowse offers from sales advisors, etc. to help the shopper decide what to buy. Moreover, they make these offers based on 360-degree customer context from the current interaction as well as past multichannel interactions and transactions with the enterprise, complemented by relevant ‘big data’. A unified multichannel customer engagement hub enables this approach.

Collaborate to close: With technologies such as click-to-call and cobrowse, combined with concurrent text or video chat, sales advisors can help shoppers complete online forms or shopping transactions, show them around on the website and close the sale. Our clients have been able to increase online conversion by up to 200% with this approach!

Go get ‘em!

There’s no question that digital commerce will continue to grow rapidly. Businesses that wow online shoppers  with smarter and better engagement in their online journey will be better positioned to convert browsers to buyers and expand market share.

Anand Subramaniam is the vice president of worldwide marketing for eGain, a leading provider of customer service and knowledge management software.

Lessons in Corporate Social Responsibility and Loyalty: How the Two Go Hand in Hand with New Technology

Guest Blog by Gerrit McGowan

In an increasingly interconnected and cause-conscious world, retailers face growing pressure from their customers to do business in a socially-responsible way.

And corporate social responsibility (CSR) is good for business, because it encourages customer goodwill and loyalty.

These were two of the main themes discussed during the National Retail Federation’s Big Show, held last week in New York City. Thousands of exhibitors and hundreds of thousands of attendees from around the world gathered to network, discuss current trends and gain insights from industry leaders.

In his keynote address, former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan pointed out that retail can play a big role in fostering economic growth in the developing world, which he characterized as “waiting for retail.”

Retail: A Potential Powerhouse for Economic Development

Retailers can do that, Annan said, by sourcing local materials and investing in their local partners.

Not only that, lower-income consumers control trillions of dollars and make everyday purchases at large retailers – so they are not to be ignored.

After all, the average GDP growth rate in China, India and most of Southeast Asia as well as Africa and parts of South America, has increased 4.8% over the past 10 years. And the best new markets for retailers include places we wouldn’t normally guess, such as Botswana, Mongolia and Azerbaijan. Furthermore, Edelman’s 2012 Goodpurpose study also found that consumers in these markets have high expectations of companies in terms of social causes.

Several other presenters discussed CSR and loyalty – which, when combined, can ultimately help retailers deepen customer engagement.

CSR and the Loyalty Connection: Meaningful Causes = Greater Engagement

“Charity alone won’t save the world. It actually takes…business and capitalism to do that as well,” said The Container Store CEO Kip Tindell during a joint presentation with Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.

Businesses are thinking about a wider center of responsibility, Robb elaborated, saying that retailers should help their communities not because they have to, but because they want to. This entails supporting local programs, ensuring that sourcing practices are transparent and dealing fairly with supplier nations.

Schultz went further, essentially saying that, in this always-connected age, consumers can quickly research companies’ business practices and base purchasing decisions according to what they find – i.e., they tend to give their loyalty to companies whose cause affinities align with their own.

When a customer develops an emotional connection with a brand, that customer is likely to share it – by recommending the brand – with family, friends and colleagues, not only in person, but also on social networks. They become, essentially, brand advocates.

Together, technology and CSR are powerful tools that can generate deeper loyalty and engagement. For example, a retailer might use an online platform to make it easy for loyalty customers to give any unused rewards, such as miles and points, to causes that matter to them.

When retailers follow their customers’ charitable lead, they forge more meaningful relationships with them, driving ROI and a loyalty bond that endures for the long haul.

Gerrit McGowan is CEO of KULA Causes

There is no Silver Bullet to Guarantee Online Merchandizing Success – but There are Ways to Improve Your Chances (Part Two)

Guest Blog by Steven Kramer, North America President of hybris, www.hybris.com 

Last month, I wrote about five key considerations to keep in mind when evaluating merchandizing tools and your initiatives (http://blog.retail-merchandiser.com/?p=211).  This post will expand on that and discuss four additional points to consider to help you drive success with your merchandizing efforts.

1. In search, context is king

The context of a consumer’s search is as important as the search itself. Here are a few questions you may want your tool to find the answers for and then weave them into the execution of merchandizing rules. Do you know this customer? What did he/she buy in the past? What do you know about the customer’s current session? Have they logged in with a Facebook account and provided me with access to what they like? Or what have they pinned on their Pinterest board? You may have that product in your store, and, although they haven’t searched for it explicitly, why not show it anyway? How did they interact with your business on other channels? Have they bought from your stores or via your mobile site? Can you create rules that take this effectively into account?

Can you present products depending upon a customer’s location? Can you factor in real-time stock levels?  Successfully blending product, order, customer and stock level information with the real-time context of the customer allows for very powerful merchandizing.

2. Promotions are more than just displaying a banner

Displaying a promotion is often more complex than just showing a banner.  It depends on a customer’s context as well as the context of the page or the navigation, and economical aspects play a role, too. Some of these factors have to be evaluated in real-time. For example, a promotion may be limited in how many customers can use it. You don’t want to show a promotion to your customer first, only to tell them later that they are no longer entitled to it.

3. Can you re-use your merchandizing tool across customer touch points?

By design each customer touch point has different characteristics, which merchandizers have to cater to. Although the goal is fundamentally still the same (getting the right product at the right time in front of the customer) the way to achieve it is different. What works very well via one touch point may not work so well through another.  For example, on a website it’s perfectly acceptable to have a search & navigation bar, show cross- and up-sell products, and have many filters and sometimes long lists of products. Research, though, has shown that customers rarely use their mobile phones in the same way that they use browsers on a notebook or desktop. In fact they often have the clear intent to find the one product they are standing in front of.  So the journey would probably not start with browsing, and the intent would most likely be to find a specific product very quickly. As a result merchandizing needs to happen on the product detail page, but in a way that does not distract the customer from the product they have already expressed interest in. Additionally, the tool set should support the merchandizing of accessories or similar alternatives in the space available.

Merchandizing tools that work across touch points can also be used to support customer service or sales personnel in-store. Tablets that provide access to content fed by the merchandizing tool can help salespeople stay educated, which leads to more effective and insightful interactions with customers, thus increasing the likelihood of sales.

4. Does your merchandizing tool play well with others?

As in the physical world, merchandizing is a team sport in the virtual world. Various tools have to work together to provide that great customer experience and bring out the products your customers love and are profitable for you. On any typical state-of-the-art commerce site, you’ll find a zoo of tools that have to be working together. Web Content Management, Recommendation Engines, Search & Navigation, Product Content, Behavioral targeting engines, Review Engines and many more. Some may have overlapping functionality; some may claim they can do it all. The reality, though, is that they all have their individual strengths. If orchestrated in the right way they can really make your revenue explode, but the opposite is true, too. So it’s important to merchandisers that they have a centralized view on all these tools and get a good and precise understanding of how they affect a customer’s journey, so these tools do good and not harm.

In Closing

Merchandizing is a team sport. So when selecting your tool set, think about how your perfect team looks so that it can deliver the trophies you deserve.  And be sure to feed your tool with quality content and leverage the tool across customer touch points for the most impactful merchandizing results.

Steven Kramer is North America President of hybris, www.hybris.com 

The Power of Digital Intelligence

The Power of Digital Intelligence: How Retailers Can Get Big Results Using ‘Big Data’

Guest Blog by Martin Doettling

We are living in an age of infinite information – a time when data is not just informative, it’s empowering. With recent advancements in the technology used to analyze customer data, retailers have more power than ever to gain insight into shoppers’ intent and behavior. For retailers, the big question regarding Big Data is how to derive the insights that ultimately generate sales.

Traditionally, businesses have had a great deal of success applying data analytics to garner digital intelligence and improve customer insight. At its core, this data helps retailers understand everything from customer demographic segments to shopper purchase preferences. By delving deeper into the data, key trends in customer purchase behavior become apparent. As a result, retailers can make better-informed, more strategic merchandising and digital marketing decisions that not only enhance the online customer experience, but ultimately increase the potential for conversion.

As the e-commerce market continues to expand and Big Data technology continues to advance, the potential and pressure for retailers to capitalize on the power of digital intelligence increases dramatically. In particular, the recent developments in right-time (not just real-time) data collection and reporting are allowing online retailers to become more agile and adaptable than ever.

The latest data technology allows online businesses to gain digital intelligence by viewing how their customers interact with their websites, understanding how they got there, and even the seeing the contents of their shopping carts, all as it happens.

Access to this right-time digital intelligence opens a new realm of possibilities for online retailers to enhance the online customer experience and potential for conversion. They can adjust their digital marketing campaigns the same moment that they launch to optimize the results. Online retailers can also use up-to-the-moment customer data to tailor featured products and website messaging on the fly. This new digital intelligence empowers retailers to engage with their customer as they are browsing their websites to pass along the most relevant promotions and offers.

Knowledge truly is power, and by fostering digital intelligence “as-it-happens,” retailers’ opportunities for driving customer engagement and cementing conversion are limitless.

Martin Doettling is CMO of Webtrends.

Back to the Future

Guest Blog by Scott Truitt

One of the biggest challenges that brick and mortar retailers will face in the coming years (and are already beginning to face), is the challenge of competing with online retailers accessible to customers through smart phones.

Despite predictions a decade ago that brick and mortar stores would become obsolete, customers continue and will continue to shop brick and mortar stores.  As much as we want the convenience and value of online shopping we still want to see, touch, and experience products before we buy them and we always will.  We also want the service and expertise of store staff, and we want the tactile connection with a company’s brand.

The challenge for brick and mortar stores over the past decade has been competing with online retailers on price.  That challenge is increasing exponentially with customers’ access to online information and sales channels via their smart phones right from the sales floor.  Smart phone apps are already providing customers with the opportunity to scan products in the store to comparison shop for lower prices available at other stores or through online sources.  So how can brick and mortar retailers compete with online retailers whose operating costs are much, much lower?

The answer lies in a 1947 movie, which you may have just recently watched:  Miracle on 34th Street.

In the movie, Kris Kringle (aka Santa Claus) “puts the customer ahead of the commercial” by helping Macy’s customers to find exactly what they want, even if it means sending them to another store.  As a result, throngs of customers express their undying gratitude to Macy’s and pledge to become regular Macy’s customers.  Flash forward 65 years, and this becomes the strongest solution to competing with online retailers.  Now, however, instead of being armed with huge books of newspaper ads for other stores, today’s store staff are armed with tablets.

One of the most interesting and dynamic developments in retailing in the past 5 years has been the development and growth of mobile POS systems – allowing store staff to research product availability, stock levels, product details, and even check customers out using mobile tablet devices.  This allows staff to continue to engage customers when they are most interested in connecting with staff, get answers without walking away from customers, and capitalize on the customer’s enthusiasm by processing their sale the moment that they are most excited about the product rather than making them come to the front of the store to check out.

Meanwhile, other customers are avoiding engaging with staff and even slyly checking their smart phones for price comparisons at other stores or online retailers.  This is a two-fold problem:  not only are they shopping elsewhere for the lowest price while standing in your store, but they are avoiding engaging with staff while they do it, denying staff the opportunity to address questions or concerns, or establish value in the in-store experience.

What if store staff went the other way, and offered to use their mobile tablets to comparison shop with the customer or for the customer?  What if they were as transparent as they possibly could be, helping the customer to find lower prices elsewhere using their mobile tablets, giving the customer all of the information that they possibly can not just about what they carry and at what price, but what the customer might find elsewhere?

What if, rather than begrudgingly accepting mobile comparison shopping as an unfortunate reality that brick and mortars are powerless to compete with, staff used that experience as an opportunity to illustrate to customers that, “Yes, it looks like you can save a couple of dollars by driving across town or by ordering it online.  If you buy here, though, our product comes with X Service, Y Return Policy, Z Warranty, we can save you 20% right now by signing you up for our Loyal Customer Program, and you get to take it home now, not later.  Oh, and here’s my card – if you have any questions at any time, you can call me directly and talk to a real human being.”  Imagine what kind of loyal customers that would create…

Admittedly, on the surface this might sound insane – helping your customer to find a lower price at a competing store.  But that’s exactly what the customers in Miracle on 34th Street thought – and yet their response was to become increasingly loyal to Macy’s for one very important reason:  Trust.

Granted, Miracle on 34th Street is a work of fiction.  But it has endured for 65 years because it resonates with us – as human beings, and as customers.  We would all like to be treated like the customers in that movie.  And the more we are inundated with shallow and insincere marketing messages, the more we value that kind of respect, understanding, honesty and trust.  And we’re willing to pay more for that.  We’re happy to pay more for that.

Price is just one factor in the value equation, and it can easily be overcome if you establish value elsewhere in the buying experience that is worth paying more for.  So the irony is that by abandoning the old paradigm of not wanting customers to know what they can get elsewhere and instead becoming their partner in the comparison shopping experience, you create a bond of trust that makes them willing and happy to pay more with you because they see the value that you are providing for that little bit of extra money.

We all know that the internet and mobile technology is going to radically change the way retailers engage customers – we just don’t know exactly how yet.  Increased transparency is certainly one answer.  Who’da thunk that that answer would have been right in front of us every holiday season for the past 65 years?

Scott Truitt is a Brand Strategist and Designer specializing in Brand Development and Prototype Retail Store Design.  His clients include national and international companies such as Office Depot, Nike, Costco, and Miller Brewing Company, as well as professional sports teams such as the Seattle Seahawks, Baltimore Ravens, and Pittsburgh Steelers, and regional retailers such as Aries Apparel, The Luxury of Leather, and Picasso Exotic Aquatics.  For more, visit scotttruitt.com

Impact of Ralphs v. UFCW Local 8 California Supreme Court Case

Guest Blog by John Douglas

Ralphs v. UFCW Local 8, decided by the California Supreme Court on December 27, 2012, upholds the constitutionality of two statutes – the “Moscone” Act and California Labor Code 1138.1 – both of which effectively provide trespassers on private property in California with immunity from civil injunctive relief if they are engaged in a labor dispute. These statutes were passed to protect union protestors – and the California Supreme Court’s decision effectively upholds that status quo. The result in this decision is diametrically opposed on the same issue seen in a 2004 decision by the United States Court of Appeal for the District of Columbia (the court that supervises the National Labor Relations Board and is “second in command” only to the United States Supreme Court) in another California case involving Waremart.

The Ralphs case arose in the context of a smallish shopping area and thus is most relevant to retailers operating on a “freestanding” basis or in a strip mall.  On the “plus” side, the California Supreme Court confirmed that such locations are not “public forums” under the California “Pruneyard” decision – an unsurprising result given the reluctance of the California Courts to allow protests outside, for example, small Planned Parenthood locations on private property.

Although California courts will be bound by the California Supreme Court’s views on the Moscone Act and Labor Code 1138.1, the California Supreme Court can no more “overrule” the Court of Appeal in the District of Columbia on a federal constitutional question than the latter court can overrule it.  Thus, in litigation involving the National Labor Relations Board, private retail employers and landowners / lessees in California will still be able to rely on the Waremart decision for protection against liability under federal labor law for calling police to the scene of labor protestors trespassing on their private property.  This is because the National Labor Relations Board on its own has no power to enforce its decisions.  Only the federal courts of appeal have that power – and the United States Court of Appeal for the District of Columbia Circuit has jurisdiction over all federal labor controversies in the private sector – and NLRB orders- wherever they arise in the nation.

In fact, retail employers in California may have some reason to be happy with the decision.  Although she hesitated to find explicitly that retailers in such locations are entitled (as they are under the Pruneyard case when they are a public forum) to set forth reasonable “time place and manner” restrictions on the activities of leafletters and protestors, in a concurring opinion, California Supreme Court Chief Justice  Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye found that unions and their adherents can rely on the Moscone Act privilege only to the extent needed to get their message across.  Activities that interfere unncessarily with the employer / landowners’ business – such as excessive noise-making and excessively large signs – are not protected, in her view, under the Moscone Act.

The bottom line – the decision is really not such a great “victory” for labor.  At most, disaster was averted.  California retailers will need to keep a close eye on the case in the upcoming month or two to see if an appeal is filed to the U.S. Supreme Court – the court that will have the last word.  If the “Supremes” decide to take the case, all bets will be off – and whether the statutes under attack will survive will be a very close call.

John Douglas is a partner in Foley & Lardner’s San Francisco Labor & Employment practice.

A Speedy Solution for the Master Franchisee’s Invoice Dilemma

Guest Blog By Nick Sprau

The franchising landscape has changed considerably over the past decade, and the result has been a real headache for some franchise owners trying to keep their books straight and current. Traditionally, a franchise owner was an individual entrepreneur who approached the franchisor, seeking to open one or two locations. More recently, however, individual owners have been selling to a master franchisee to gain economies of scale through consolidation. Now, many franchisees who began with a few stores find themselves with dozens or even hundreds of sites to manage across multiple geographic locations.

As master franchises have grown, so have their expenses, as well as the number of staff required to manage invoices. For example, one master franchisee with hundreds of outlets approached our firm for assistance after its UPS costs had risen to more than $1 million dollars a year just to transport invoices from local franchises to the master franchisee’s accounts payable department. At franchise headquarters, 15 to 20 people worked every week to record and code the invoices in a tedious, error-prone and endless effort.

With paper invoices like these—which are received locally to each franchise but paid centrally—the accounting department may be blindsided. Hundreds of bills are likely sitting on the desks of store managers, and accounting has no idea that this significant financial burden is out there. Furthermore, delays inherent in transferring paper from distant franchises mean headquarters has little negotiation power with vendors and often misses the opportunity for discounts granted for on-time payments, while they often sustain penalties for late payments.

Fortunately, technology has provided a solution that is slashing the cost of invoice processing for savvy master franchisees. Even better, the only skills the individual franchise managers require to use this advanced technology are the abilities to scan and email an invoice. This web-based service allows the master franchisee’s accounting department to receive electronic versions of paper invoices with equal ease from franchises located across town or those across the globe. Here’s how it works:

When a local store receives a shipment, the manager places the accompanying invoice in a scanner and emails it to the accounts payable department at headquarters, where the invoice automatically loads into a web-based solution. Now, by logging into a website, the store manager can view the electronic invoice and verify it, enter data, and code and approve it. If any delays occur in this process, the system issues automatic alerts and reminders.

With the online approach, accounts payable knows every invoice that is in the franchise’s system—no more surprises when they arrive at headquarters. The technology can integrate with the master franchise’s ERP system and provide the kind of insights needed to better predict cash flow. And for some companies, the cost of processing an invoice in this centralized fashion has dropped to just a fourth of the original expense.

For master franchisees and their franchises alike, the web is a great equalizer and eliminates many of the challenges inherent with multiple locations in multiple geographies with multiple people responsible for the different stages of the accounts receivable and accounts payable process.

Nick Sprau is VP of sales and marketing at Metafile Information Systems, a paperless ERP solutions provider for accounts payable, accounts receivable and human resources document management and workflow technology.

Reaching the Chinese Consumer Through Cloud

Guest Blog By Kevin Conway and Mark Smith

The Chinese market is a land of opportunity for online retailers, but reaching those consumers also poses great challenge on the back-end of a website.

Traditionally global e-tailers have had a choice for managing the end-user web experience: Navigate the complexities of hosting their content within China or take gamble on performance by hosting their cloud infrastructure elsewhere in the region.

Either road can be quite an undertaking. Compound the job with the proliferation of evolving cloud technologies, and the choices become downright overwhelming.

Clearly, China’s massive market is one that wants to be reached online. A recent Ipso China study found brand websites influenced the purchasing intent of nearly half of Chinese consumers. For further proof, online retailers only need to look at the web traffic on Nov. 11, when e-commerce sites generated more than $4.6 billion in sales during the country’s Singles Day, a gift-giving event spurring e-commerce demands akin to the U.S. Black Friday.

Realizing they have but just a few seconds to make a connection with consumers, e-tailers funnel resources into ensuring solid web performance that benefits the end-user experience. Yet, in China, dragging Internet speeds and spotty interconnectivity can weigh this experience down.

Latency can also pose a challenge for brands hosting their content in the cloud. Some e-marketers try to work around the latency issues by physically hosting content with China, only to find the task of securing a local-hosting license painstaking.

Launching a well-performing website in in China need not be this complicated. Here’s some advice for online retailers looking to offer the Chinese consumer a satisfying shopping experience.

  • Watch your speed. Slow page loads – or no page loads – will drive shoppers anywhere in the world to look elsewhere. Watch your site speed with tools that monitor the networking, application and other variables that can impact web performance.
  • Don’t forget the impact of third-party content. The performance of modern Web applications relies on a complex interaction of components that are often not completely assembled until they are in the customer’s browser or device. End-to-end performance visibility helps guard against inadvertent blind spots.
  • Look into virtual hosting options. With virtual hosting, content can be cached within China’s borders and distributed as needed through in-country content delivery networks. Savvis, a global leader in enterprise cloud infrastructure, recently launched a virtual hosting service that allows online retailers to reach Chinese consumers by locally caching web content housed in regional data centers.
  • Take steps on security. Payment security is a must for meeting your customers’ expectations and maintaining your reputation. Double check with your cloud provider to ensure their data centers meet your rigorous standards and help you comply with industry regulations.
  • Go mobile. A recent UN Broadband Commission report found Chinese Internet users will surpass English-speakers by 2015, but for many marketers in China, mobile is the universal language of consumers. Demonstrate you speak that language too by optimizing your sites and apps so they can engage with you, no matter what device they use. See if your cloud provider offers access to partners like Siteminis that can help transform your site to suit the mobile environment.

Undoubtedly, China is a lucrative, bustling market for global retailers looking to grow their base. But reaching that audience with your message can be a challenge.

A wide range of factors, from browser type to network connection, can have an influence on web performance, but online retailers do have options when it comes to using cloud reach the end consumer. Talk to your hosting company or service provider about their options for getting your sites into China – and maintaining performance once you’re in.

Mark Smith is managing director, Asia, and Kevin Conway is global director, consumer brands, both for Savvis, a CenturyLink company.

A New Year’s Returns Resolution

Guest Blog By David Sisco.

Now that the 2012 holiday shopping season has come to a close, it’s time for retailers to focus on the next phase of the holiday customer experience: returns.

According to the National Retail Federation, consumers are expected to return nearly $63 billion worth of holiday gifts this year – equivalent to nearly a quarter of all the merchandise that is returned to retailers in a typical 12-month period. Some of these returns will happen in store, but thanks to the large growth in e-commerce, many holiday goods will be shipped back to retailers. Many retailers allow consumers to purchase items online and return them in-store as more companies compete in this multichannel world. This changing market illustrates the need for retailers to take a new look at their practices as they head into the new year.

Based on historical data, UPS predicted it would ship more than 520,000 packages back to retailers on January 3 – our busiest day for post-holiday returns in 2013. At UPS, we call it National Returns Day. During the first week in January, we transported more than two million unwanted holiday gifts back to retailers. While National Returns Day has passed, the need to focus on returns is only beginning.

With continued growth in e-commerce, retailers can expect returns volumes to increase as well. Retailers that include a returns label in the package or provide electronic return labels can streamline the process and improve the overall customer experience and opinions consumers have about their brand.

How important are returns?

According to comScore’s 2012 Online Shopping Customer Experience study, commissioned by UPS, there are several factors that drive purchasing behavior: easy returns, estimated or guaranteed delivery dates, and the availability of free/discounted shipping.

From the research, online shoppers rate the returns process among the lowest areas of satisfaction in their online shopping experience and among the top areas in which they want to see improvements.

  • 63% look at a retailer’s returns policy before making a purchase
  • 48% would shop more often with that retailer if they were to offer a lenient, easy-to-understand returns policy
  • More than 60% want a return label in the box or an easy-to-print return label

As a New Year’s resolution – it’s not too early for retailers to re-evaluate their returns policies and procedures.

David Sisco is director of retail and consumer goods marketing at UPS.

Facility and Maintenance Services Primed for Savings

Guest Blog By Brian Miller

With profit margins shrinking and overhead costs soaring, retailers are under immense pressure to cut costs. While most business managers look far and wide for new cost saving ideas, too few are looking at indirect categories as a way to cut costs.

According to sourcing data from the past two years, retailers could save hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of dollars by competitively sourcing facility maintenance services like store cleaning, floor care, and snow removal. The problem is that many businesses simply aren’t challenging their suppliers in order to secure the lowest prices.

The results speak for themselves: Businesses that competitively sourced service contracts saved an average of about 22 percent. Even more impressive – nearly every e-auction delivered cost savings.

Looking more closely at the numbers, organizations that competitively sourced lawn care services achieved the highest average percent savings per event – 36.23 percent. The data also shows that floor care, store cleaning, and snow removal services provided buying organizations with significant savings:

  • Floor Care: 24.15 percent per event
  • Store Cleaning: 27.15 percent per event
  • Snow Removal: 15.92 percent per event

Additionally, purchasing execs were able to uncover high cost savings for trash hauling services (7.6 percent) and parking lot maintenance services (15.21 percent).

So why aren’t more businesses challenging their facilities maintenance suppliers for lower prices? Frankly, because many procurement executives are overly confident in the value they derive from their suppliers. The recent report – The Sourcing Confidence Bubble – found that 75 percent of buyers that don’t use e-sourcing feel their suppliers currently give them the best possible value – but market reports tell a different story. Aberdeen, for example, found that companies save an average of 16 percent through e-sourcing techniques.

To maximize value and secure the lowest costs possible, procurement professionals should put pressure on their suppliers by inviting competition, and let facilities maintenance service providers duke it out for their business. By regularly evaluating their service needs – and sourcing seasonal maintenance needs like lawn care and snow removal about six months in advance – retailers can regain the upper hand in negotiations, and unlock thousands of dollars in savings.

Brian Miller is VP of Services for Intesource, which provides enterprise e-sourcing and spend management services and solutions.