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How to Handle the Post-Holiday Sales Slump in 2015

In many ways, our economy is still trying to find its feet since the last recession. Holiday sales in 2014 weren’t spectacular, which may have discouraged you. However, there are ways to beat the sales slump, whether your 2014 season exceeded expectations or underperformed. Here are the strategies you should implement to give your 2015 sales a kick-start.

Online Trends You Can Take Advantage Of

Some sales hacks are already established as being a good idea year round — and you should take advantage of this new consumer market! These include making your web design responsive (look equally good on any device) and optimizing your mobile presence (giving your mobile site just as many features as the desktop version has). The latter is especially important, as more and more shoppers are shopping on the go. Here are some other ideas to boost your post-December sales:

  • Make notes of what ran out sooner than expected, what didn’t sell well, and which discounts paired best with which items.
  • Give customers the New Year’s deals they expect, but throw in a surprise: entering them to win a new product before you launch it, donating a percentage of their purchase to charity, or a similar perk.
  • Reward customers with discounts for sharing holiday photos of their family using your products.
  • Use the list of new customers as an opportunity to start or promote your loyalty program, offering them free points for joining now.
  • Highlight those items in your inventory that cater to self-improvement, a big theme every New Year.
  • Offer established customers a little bonus in the form of discounted items they may like, based on their recent purchasing patterns.
  • Provide exemplary return and exchange services, even though you know you’re as tired as they are. Using a discount or free item to convert returns into exchanges can help brighten everyone’s mood.

Whatever consumers expect from you, do something a little extra or a little different. Let them know that just because the Christmas marketing season is over, it doesn’t mean you’ve lost your edge. Remind them why they started shopping with you: because you’re worth their time.

Surprising Offline Promotions that Drive Traffic

You don’t have to rely solely on online hype to keep your business afloat during the dull days of January. Think about ways you can reach your customers offline that will keep them coming back to you.

The first technique is perhaps the most obvious: having a quality product. Sure, you may already have that quality product, but could you improve their durability, function, portability, or other features to make them even more irresistible to your customers? When you have a truly high-caliber item, it becomes one of the quietest, yet most reliable, ways to build brand loyalty.

Another clever way to maintain top-of-mind awareness is to include a physical thank-you coupon in each order you ship. Unpacking a discount along with their original order is enough to convince many shoppers to go ahead and treat themselves. This helps them create something to look forward to after the holidays end.

Above and beyond good products and special markdowns, take some time to see how your customers are doing. Have them share their favorite holiday moments with you. Send of your holiday customers a cheerful snail-mail greeting. People remember small touches of kindness for a long time. This also gives you a great opening to mention a little later how your company is settling back into real life, and how excited you are about the upcoming year. Clients will be more interested in updates about you now that you’ve shown interest in them.

Optimizing Both for Maximum Benefit

As always, there’s no reason that online and offline advertising can’t work together. If you operate locally, you can use your social media to highlight offline events (festivals, scavenger hunts, sports team sponsorships) and reward fans with mentions and discounts when they engage with you offline.

Just because we live in a digital age doesn’t mean print promotions are no longer relevant, or that you shouldn’t keep your brick-and-mortar store looking sharp. Many “showroomers” will come and shop at your physical location if they like what they see online. Showing consumers where they can get the best deals, paired with the stellar in-person service you provide, may win you as many IRL shoppers as online ones.

Holiday cheer doesn’t have to end with the holidays. Continue reaching out to your patrons, both new and old, to let them know you’ll never stop appreciating them. A few gestures of goodwill could be your solution to avoiding the dreaded zone between New Year’s and Valentine’s Day.

How have you kept your customers engaged during the dead weeks?

Katherine Halek is the lead advertising and print strategy advisor at Signazon and Easybanners.com, leading online printers that provide marketing collateral for thousands of retailers around the United States. Katherine enjoys writing about storefront advertising, retail management, and the ins and outs of marketing. Connect with her on Twitter and Google+.

Mobile: The Solution to your Customer Care Problem

Guest Blog By Stacy Adams

There is an inexcusable and avoidable problem in customer service today: 73% of brands think they care for consumers, yet only 36% of consumers agree, according to a recent Mblox survey. The retail industry performed only slightly better than the cross-industry average (36%), with 41% of those surveyed saying they felt cared for by retailers. Clearly, there is major room for improvement – but where do retailers start, and why is this gap so important to fix?

Because this gap will impact the bottom line sooner rather than later. Take this year’s holiday shopping season, for example. Mobile stood out from the pack – Cyber Monday mobile sales were up 27.6% over 2013. Increasingly, consumers are making purchases outside of brick-and-mortar stores, underscoring the need for brands to reach outside their physical locations to care for their customers, taking advantage of various channels and messages. This approach will create customer advocates and set the tone for sustained business.

It’s no secret that major opportunity exists for mobile – it allows businesses to reach consumers at the time, in the place and in the manner they want to connect – which is crucial in today’s on-the-go, “experience age.” Yet, our survey, conducted by Millward Brown Digital, found that while 86% of consumers are open to connecting with brands through their mobile devices, only 58% of brands are using mobile to communicate with customers! There’s no excuse for this disconnect, when mobile can directly enhance consumer satisfaction and close the disparity between businesses’ perceptions and reality. Below are a few tips for brands to use mobile to close the care gap.

Focus Improvements on Email and SMS: Email and SMS are consumers’ preferred modes of mobile communication, sitting at the crossroads of consumer satisfaction and preferences. Enhancing these areas will directly impact customers’ satisfaction scores, because more consumers are interested in these channels than others, such as mobile apps and games. Businesses can improve these communications by tailoring the message to fit consumer preference. Consumers most want to receive texts and emails from brands regarding shipping status, confirmation of returns and marketing messages that include deals, promotions and sales. Therefore, brands should craft messages that communicate these types of messages.

Expand Your Mobile Strategy to Encompass Customer Care: Inundating consumers with deals, promotions and content is not an effective strategy – in fact, it may just aggravate and alienate the consumer. Brands must take into account customer care, which ensures quality and service continue well beyond the point of purchase. For example, retailers can share a mobile survey with customers to solicit feedback and improve future experiences, or create a personalized loyalty program that consumers choose to participate in via text.

Combine Mobile Tactics to Enhance Effectiveness: Consumer preferences for time, content and frequency of communication vary – meaning there’s not one best way to communicate via mobile. In retail, consumers prefer email for marketing messages like deals, promotions and product sales. While SMS closely followed in the survey, it was for more urgent communications, like alerts. Consumers want retailers to use mobile to communicate situations such as shipping status, deal notification based on sales nearby, order updates or special events/appearances. To truly care for customers, brands most consider logic and behavioral data – and then use this information to develop a multichannel approach that works best for their audience.

Increasing consumer acceptance of mobile brand engagement parallels organizational shifts. Functional boundaries between marketing, information technology and customer service are beginning to blur. The common ground is the enhanced customer experience – an objective that demands capabilities from across each of these disciplines. Harnessing the power of mobile to provide customer care offers unprecedented opportunities for brands to support their strategic business objectives, such as to cultivate deeper customer relationships, drive recurring revenue and create operational efficiencies. If retailers employ a smart mobile strategy, they will create deep, lasting customer relationships and see a positive impact on their businesses.

Stacy Adams is Vice President Marketing at mBlox

Retail Loyalty: Focus on Success by Putting Common Assumptions to Rest

Guest Blog by Tim Moulton

Loyalty marketing was born in retail, a concept that started with S&H Green Stamps back in the 1930s and has been around so long that by now much of the practice is steeped in myth. Retailers often tend to side with historic “best practices” even when research points in the other direction. Using data to demystify the reality of loyalty, however, can give retailers a clearer picture about the true value of loyalty programs instead of the historical fiction that may be clouding their minds.

When it comes to consumer behaviors and preferences, there are numerous retailing myths that don’t hold up to current research. Here are five:

Myth 1: Discounts are more compelling rewards than loyalty currency

Fact: Sales and discounts can be popular, but the rewards from loyalty programs keep high-value customers coming back. According to a recent Points loyalty survey, “From Everyday to Extraordinary,” program members spend more per purchase (54%) when they are rewarded with loyalty currency, and 69% will switch brands to earn their favorite currency. While sales and discounts can lure customers away from other retailers, they also exert continuous pressure to keep prices low, which in turn erodes profits.

Rewards programs are structured to stream revenues back into the business by attracting the activity and word-of-mouth influence of a loyal customer base. As author Fred Reichheld noted in his book The Loyalty Effect, loyal customers spend more, buy higher-margin products and cost less to serve, and a 5% increase in customer retention rates can boost profits anywhere from 25%-100%, Moreover, when retailers attract a steady stream of loyal, eager-to-buy customers, the data and information that can be unearthed from their transactions and preferences lead to further success. Loyalty data creates a more personalized shopping experiences for customers, and a data-driven blueprint for continued growth for retailers.

Myth 2: Consumers want cash back, not travel rewards

Fact: Consumers treasure extraordinary opportunities and memories as much as they like cash. Convinced that consumers will always choose cash over points/miles, some retailers have abandoned rewards programs in favor of cash-back strategies. Yet studies have found that while consumers will select cash when given a choice, they are more satisfied with rewards programs that result in a luxury item or experience. Experiences they otherwise would not have purchased for themselves, like concert tickets or an exotic vacation, will foster the loyalty that brings consumers back again and again.

As early as 2004, marketing professor Xavier Dreze of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania described the phenomenon within the context of frequent-flyer miles and memories: Cash-back represents money that is used to buy everyday items or pay bills, while frequent flyer miles buy trips that create lasting memories, and those memories make miles a special form of currency.

Tip for retailers: Make customers feel appreciated with rewards that create special moments and memories.

Myth 3: Loyalty programs only work for high-priced items

Fact: Bigger is not always better. Consumers like earning loyalty currency (points and miles), whether the earning rate is in big chunks or small increments. Points’ survey of 1,500 members in North American and the UK found that 68% appreciate the ability to earn small amounts of points and miles, while 48% set long-term goals for which they plan to earn incrementally.

The more flexibility programs offer, the more consumers can do with smaller points/miles balances. Offering options ensures that program members see strong value in earning with the lower purchase amounts of everyday spend.

Tip for retailers: Offer consumers opportunities to do more with points/miles so that smaller balances have higher value.

Myth 4: Consumers don’t want more marketing communications

Fact: The personalized messaging from loyalty programs actually helps eliminate communication clutter. Members of loyalty programs behave like bank customers: they check their accounts frequently, keep tabs on balances and are constantly looking for ways to bolster their accounts with more points/miles. In fact, offers mailed to loyalty program members have an open rate of 41%, compared to a 19% industry average, according to findings from SpotOn Data.

A personalized outreach deepens members’ affinity and loyalty toward a retailer. Remember, loyalty members appreciate rewards programs that keep them informed, motivated and engaged.

Tip for retailers: Keep communications relevant by providing key information like limited one-time offers or bonus earn opportunities.

Myth 5: Loyalty programs are too expensive

Fact: It is true that creating a loyalty program is a huge financial endeavor that requires more marketing, technology and financial infrastructure than many retailers are capable of managing. This is why establishing a partnership with an existing program is a viable alternative with retailer benefits. It gives customers the miles/points they crave and allows them to build up their balances in their favorite airline, hotel or financial services programs. It can boost a retailer’s brand equity via affiliation with a name-brand partner. Another key benefit for retailers is that a partner program brings with it a new and potentially large customer base for visibility, marketing and outreach.

Tip for retailers: Search for partners that enhance your brand image and also extend your brand into high-potential customers segments.

Loyalty programs can help today’s retailers struggling with stiff competition, empowered consumers, the constant pursuit of more customers, and need for increased revenue. Consulting data to demystify the common assumptions about loyalty programs is the first step toward loyalty program success for retailers of any size. That will ensure that you build your loyalty strategy on sound business principles rather than gut feel.

More information and retail loyalty insights can be found in From Everyday to Extraordinary and Retail Loyalty Redefined.

Tim Moulton is VP, Points Business Solutions & Business Development, Points

Who Do Last-Minute Holidays Shoppers Trust? Survey Says: Not Retail Stores

Guest Blog by Tamara Saucier

It’s three days before Christmas and you just thought of the perfect gift to buy your friend.  You need to find this item – it’s just too right.  Do you rush off to your local store in the hopes they’ll have it? Not this year.

A recent study by YouGov, sponsored by GT Nexus, found that only 39% of US shoppers trust physical stores to have their desired last-minute gift items in stock this holiday season, leaving 61% of the consumer trust pie to online retail instead.  The findings are eye-opening since consumers historically have gone in-store for their last minute holiday purchases.  But this change is just the latest in a long line that has shaken up the retail industry.

Ecommerce has disrupted all traditional modes of retail by offering a wider selection of goods, instant access to product reviews, and convenient delivery – all at a typically cheaper price than physical stores.  But despite the growth of ecommerce, retailers saw last-minute holiday shopping as one of the last protected areas of in-store retail.  This may no longer be the case.

What Led Us Here

It’s no secret that customers have embraced ecommerce and the market is clearly shifting in that direction. As a result, retailers are facing an identity crisis much in the same way that newspapers and magazines were a decade ago.  The newspapers who survive differentiated themselves by their excellent content and delivery. Taking a page from their papers, retailers who want to survive will need to do the same.

Here are a few factors this year that have led us to where we are today:

  • Early stocking: Retailers started stocking for the holidays early to avoid last year’s shipping issues and to prepare for West Coast port delays. While this advanced planning was good, in theory, it left them vulnerable to volatile shifts in buying patterns as the holiday season progressed.
  • Consumer smarts: Online consumers are smarter this year and don’t seem to be waiting until the last minute to order their gifts. Online numbers are expected to be higher (according to ComScore, $42.5 billion has already been spent online during the holidays, up 15 percent from last year), a sign of consumer confidence in ecommerce.
  • Forecasting forethought: The parcel carriers were much more prepared and were requesting better forecasts from the retailers to plan deliveries accordingly.
  • In-Store reputation: Consumer confidence in the physical store is low – likely due to last year’s low inventory levels and the general acceptance that if consumers go to the store too late in the holiday, they’ll find the shelves shopped bare.

Consumers are clearly in the driver’s seat and this puts more pressure on retailers as they struggle with inventory visibility and agility. Whether retailers can get a handle on their inventories in time for the holidays can make or break their entire year.

Where to Go

The problem of customer confidence in retail isn’t a holiday problem.  It’s a year-round problem, magnified during the holiday season.

The global expansion of commerce has made supply chains increasingly longer and more complex. There are so many interconnections spanning tens of thousands of miles that managing inventory from supplier to consumer becomes extraordinarily difficult. Still, today’s retailers need to look upstream in the supply chain network to solve inventory problems down on the retail floor.

Retailers must become more aware of all their operations. Greater awareness coupled with more information on hand means retailers can better respond to sudden changes.

To get to a point where retailers have just the right amount of profitable inventory to serve last-minute holiday shoppers, detailed information about the entire supply chain network and agility are absolutely required.

The myriad of problems facing traditional retailers isn’t going away.  And it’s not going to be fixed by rearranging deckchairs. It requires re-thinking what content and delivery mean in a modern retail setting. Using technology effectively is the biggest trick to competing in an ecommerce marketplace. Retailers who can put technology to use to gain better control over their supply chains can differentiate themselves on fulfillment, assortment, and customer experience. Those who don’t will find that the 39% of shoppers who still trust them in a pinch won’t stick around much longer.

Tamara Saucier is VP, Retail Industry Solutions, GT Nexus

What the Data Reveals: Enticing Customers with Points and Miles

Guest Blog by Tim Moulton

Consumers often dream of travel rewards, and high-dollar business travelers are the superstars of any rewards program. But what about the small earn-and-burn opportunities of everyday spend? Can loyalty programs at high frequency retailers capture the hearts of consumers and motivate them to truly change their behaviors? A recent study shows that yes, consumers do respond favorably to programs at high-frequency retailers like supermarkets and grocery stores, pharmacies, clothing retailers, convenience stores and gas stations, and are actually more engaged and motivated to spend than the high rollers.

Data from Points’ recent survey of 1,500 loyalty program members, compiled in a report titled “From Everyday to Extraordinary: How Retailers Can Woo Shoppers with Points and Miles,” reveals that rewards-hungry consumers are quite highly motivated by earning small amounts of points/miles with everyday spend. These often-overlooked “Everyday Earners” simply have a passion for collecting every way they can.

Retailers can tap into this highly motivated segment by following five key engagement tactics:

Tactic #1: Over-deliver to current rewards members

Shoppers at high-frequency retailers are looking for high-value, everyday, frequent offers. The Everyday Earners report shows that 60% of loyalty program members actively look for promotions that will help them earn points/miles. Almost as many — 56% —say they never/rarely miss a chance to earn even small amounts of points/miles in their favorite programs. And almost three-quarters (71%) prefer shopping at stores where they’re already members of a points/miles program.

Marketers already know that it’s more cost-effective to retain current customers than to acquire new ones, so treat existing and loyal customers royally by offering members-only promotions to make them feel special and valued. Customers will respond – 69% of those surveyed said they would buy a different brand to earn more points/miles, and 54% will buy more when they are being rewarded.

Tactic #2: Offer frequent rewards to build shopping habits

Rewards members say that they enjoy earning points/miles as part of their daily routine, so reach out to them on those terms. Among loyalty program members, 71% prefer to shop where earning points/miles is easy.

Moreover, nearly 8 in 10 (79%) rewards program members say they are likely to return for more points/miles. Eighty-eight percent say they look for rewards-earning opportunities even after a points/miles redemption, proving that they aren’t “hit and run” earners. In addition, 76% pay more attention to programs that reward them often. The takeaway: frequent rewards for Everyday Earners keeps them coming back.

Tactic #3: Mix in the big earn opportunities

Consumers say they adapt their shopping habits solely to beef up their points/miles accounts. Almost half (46%) buy in bulk if rewards are involved, even if they do not need that particular purchase at the moment. And 69% charge big-ticket items – including jewelry, construction materials and even hospital bills – for the large points/miles payoff.

Seventy-five percent of rewards members say it’s worth the effort to earn both large and small amounts of points/miles. At the same time, less than 14% of shoppers say they buy extra points/miles outright or ask for them as gifts.

Since shoppers would prefer to earn as many rewards as possible on their own, help them get closer to their goals by mixing in larger earn opportunities. One solution is to award smaller amounts for some items and make larger offers during special events or special promotions.

Tactic #4: Make rewards visible

Since 81% of consumers say they actively seek rewards and promotions, support their search by making points/miles as easy as possible to find. Use multiple channels to promote campaigns or rewards-related offers, including brand and partner websites, banner ads, in-store signs, social media or email newsletters and mobile marketing initiatives.

Overall, the clearer your value proposition, the better. Make program details easy to understand, and keep promotions and offers simple.

Tactic #5: Give customers an incentive to switch

Although a loyalty program’s biggest power is in retaining customers, don’t rule out the possibility of attracting new ones as well. An estimated 80% of shoppers would switch stores for the opportunity to earn points or miles. Another 60% of consumers go “out of their way” to earn points/miles in programs to which they belong – perhaps visiting another store location.

Don’t be shy about attracting those who are willing to change their shopping routine. Lure them from competitors by making a “match a competitor’s rewards” offer or a “new customers only” campaign to let newcomers know they’re valued as well.

Everyday Earners are looking for opportunities to spend more, and shop more frequently, with their favorite programs. Even small rewards can change impact customer behavior; high-frequency retailers can capture this upside by optimizing for these frequent shoppers.

Tim Moulton is VP, Points Business Solutions & Business Development, Points

Top Mistakes Retailers Should Avoid When Updating POS Technology

Guest Blog By Joe Pergola

If you’re like most retailers, you worry about making a mistake when choosing a Point of Sale (POS) solution. It’s understandable –POS software is a huge investment and the decision has a huge impact on the ultimate efficiency and success of your business.

What’s worse, there are now thousands of POS options to choose from, and they’re all different. It’s overwhelming and confusing, and many retailers end up with the wrong system if they don’t take the time to understand what’s truly most important for their business. In fact, it’s common for retailers to go through two or three different POS systems before they find one they’re happy with and finally improves their bottom line.

So how do you know which POS solution is best suited for your business? The following are some of the most common mistakes retailers make when updating POS technology, and will help make sure that you choose the right system, the first time around.

1.    Do not use unintegrated payment apps to make sales. In order to run a business effectively, you need to be able to review sales, inventory and profitability data all in one place. However, there may be times when you become tempted to process payments outside of your system. Don’t be lured by that shiny new app you read about in a tech magazine. Invest in a POS system with true mobile extension capabilities if your business takes you on the road, for full for integration with your in-house system, including (and especially) your accounting software. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck manually reentering data to update your balance sheet.

2.    Do not get tricked into a lifetime of high transaction fees. Many POS solutions and mobile payment apps on the market today advertise free POS hardware, software or mobile card readers for signing up to use their service. Be wary of these offers ­– as a business owner, you know what free really means. These companies will make hefty profits off of you for years to come through your back end card transaction fees. Establishing a competitive merchant services account for your business and purchasing your own hardware will be far more cost effective and put you in a more powerful negotiating position down the road.

3.    Do not let your personal tech preferences dictate what’s best for your business. iPads with their Retina displays and million-megapixel cameras are cool, there’s no doubt about it. In fact, some merchants correctly assume that an iPad-based POS is necessary to project the right image to their Apple-loving customer base. However, it’s important to question whether the Apple brand is worth the tradeoffs as they often come with higher costs, less peripheral options and proprietary cloud databases. Android devices boast many of the appealing capabilities that Apple products offer, and at lower costs due to more manufacturing competition. Plus, the open source nature of Android allows for more hardware options when you need new receipt printers, barcode scanners and cash drawers.

4.    Do not rely on a local reseller for ‘everything.’ Beware of the reseller who promises to handle ‘everything’ for you – chances are they’ll be busy “handling everything” for another customer when you need them after you’ve gone live. Seek a system that is intuitive enough for you to set up and manage yourself. Having access to live phone and remote desktop support is important too, as you don’t want to be completely dependent on a third party.

5.    Do not assume you’ll never need mobile capabilities. Some merchants figure they’ll never need to process payments away from their location. However, when new opportunities arise, such as the chance to participate in a local festival or food fair, they realize they do need mobile capabilities after all, but their POS system doesn’t actually support it. The moral of the story: Select a flexible option that is capable of mobile extension.

If you are considering a POS system, then you are looking for a solution that will save you time and automate your business. If your POS system does a poor job, it could cost you countless dollars in time, payroll, theft and a lack of accurate information when you need it most.

While selecting the right system can be a lengthy process, the good news is that with such a wide variety of POS solutions available today, you’re sure to find the right fit for your business, at a more affordable cost of ownership than ever before.

Joe Pergola is President, AccuPOS Point of Sale

Retail Beacons: Location is Everything

Guest blog by Oren Levy

In today’s highly connected world, privacy is becoming a more precious and rare commodity. Between social media and mobile connectivity, the lines between the personal and public spheres are blurring, and now people are reachable and information is accessible virtually anywhere at any time. As a result, there is mounting concern about data exposure and accessibility, particularly in the realm of retail. Consumers are worried about merchants’ efforts to extract and store data about their customers, and the increase in retail data breaches has not positively impacted their sense of security.

Matters of data security and transparency have been further pushed to the fore with the advent and implementation of beacon technology. Venture Beat explains beacons as battery-powered sensors that use BLE technology to detect the location of a Bluetooth enabled mobile device and then transmit messages or prompts to the devices, often through the use of an associated mobile application.

Even though most Americans already use mobile devices in store for research and showrooming purposes, as reported by Business Insider, consumers are wary of this technology that can tap into their phones – and ultimately their pockets. The question then is whether beacons are as invasive as consumers believe? This paper will explore the actual capabilities of beacons to show the value beacons add to the shopping experience for consumers and retailers alike, as well as the way this technology protects consumers and their privacy.

Big Brother, Big Data, and Beacon Misperceptions

Before explaining why consumers should or should not be concerned about beacons, it is crucial to first explain how beacons work, what kind of data they provide, and the ways they do protect consumer privacy. One of the reasons consumers dislike the idea of beacons is that they attribute to beacons the ability to spy on them, allowing retailers to exploit them. In reality, beacons’ functionality is completely dependent on the consumer.

As Executive Director of the Future of Privacy Forum, Jules Polonetsky, explains, beacons do not track consumers or collect data. Moreover, before a beacon can operate on a consumer’s mobile device, the consumer must authorize a number of permissions. Firstly, Bluetooth must be activated for the beacon to detect the phone at all. Next, since most beacons function in conjunction with an associated application, consumers must also have the correct app downloaded on their mobile device with location services and push notifications enabled. The technology can only impact the consumers who have opted to activate it on their mobile devices, and consumers can change these settings at will to prevent receiving targeted messages from beacons.

There is much mystery surrounding beacons in regards to the type of information they collect about consumers and the manner of data collection. In fact, beacons draw data about location exclusively – they detect where a consumer is in a store or whether he or she is passing by outside the store. Based on location metrics, retailers that deploy beacons can learn about where customers spend the most time browsing in-store, the average customer journey throughout the store, and general browsing patterns. They cannot draw any personal information about consumers – any personalization capabilities enabled by beacons are tied to the associated loyalty program or app when it is authorized to do so.

Based on the metrics collected, retailers can then analyze information and draw conclusions about in-store navigation and popular products in general. For example, if consumers consistently lingered by a display but very few actually purchased the item on display, the retailer could conclude that he or she might have to reconsider the pricing of the item to boost sales and customer satisfaction.

Disturbing or Disruptive?

Although beacons do not violate privacy to the extent presumed, consumer concern about them is not completely unfounded. In October, Buzzfeed exposed a scandal where New York City phone booths were fitted with the devices, causing a sense of voyeurism amongst the city’s residents. As Buzzfeed and the New York Times have described – given that the user has authorized all permissions associated with beacons – this technology could easily be used to proliferate spam and exploit consumers anytime and anywhere. Beacons make it possible for advertisers to invade the personal domain, infringing on shopper privacy. Lori Andrews, an IIT Chicago-Kent college of law professor, points out that the conclusions to be drawn from the location technology can be invasive: “Knowing a person’s location can reveal whether she is at a mosque or church or synagogue, whether she is at an abortion clinic, an AIDS clinic, or meeting with a competitor of her employer” she said in an interview with Red Eye Chicago.

While concerns about data privacy and beacons are legitimate, it does not mean that beacon technology should be dismissed as an intrusive technology. Beacons are already showing great promise in the retail sector as well as in other industries: in addition to being used to optimize in-store experiences, a number of companies, including Barclay’s bank, are using beacons to improve their service and accessibility to handicapped customers. They are even being used by airlines and airports to improve customer travel efficiency and in stadiums and at sporting events to share helpful information.

For consumers open to authorizing beacons, beacons can translate the personalization features enjoyed by online shoppers to the brick-and-mortar shopping experience. Online customers receive recommendations for items they might need or enjoy at various points in their digital shopping experience – a phenomenon that beacons are enabling in-store. The Guardian has reported that House of Fraser even plans on putting the beacons in mannequins and pushing notifications of where items in the display are located in the store. Consumers benefit from the useful location and navigation services enabled by beacons, which assist in in-store navigation and product discovery, as well as providing location-specific offers when appropriate.

From Detecting Location to Building Loyalty

In enabling a more seamless in-store experience, through beacons retailers improve shopper satisfaction and conversions in addition to gaining valuable location-based data that can help them further maximize their retail potential. Retailers can even use beacons to detect consumers passing by their store and incentivize entering the shop. They can determine inefficiencies in their in-store design and make improvements that better serve the needs of their customers – they can even use this information to optimize website content and organization. Finally, utilizing the apps associated with beacons, retailers can share custom content and offers with consumers to personalize their brand experience and build loyalty.

However, beacons’ impact will be limited unless retailers regulate the collection and use of consumer data and become more transparent about data collection processes and objectives.  As TechTarget suggests, companies using beacons “walk a fine line between offering useful information and being invasive.” If they can strike the proper balance regarding data collection and use, then their benefit to both retailers and consumers will be clearer and better executed.

One way to regulate beacons could be to restrict beacon interference to the checkout stage, so as not to bombard consumers while they shop. Other suggestions include focusing on beacons’ location data and resulting analytics instead of using the devices to push notifications to consumers. By limiting the frequency of messages sent to a consumer’s phone in a given period of time, consumers will feel less badgered by the brand and more likely to repeat their experience.

Furthermore, if retailers inform customers about them, why they use them, and what data they collect, they can impact consumer confidence and, ultimately, brand loyalty. As beacon technology develops the question of what retailers do or can collect may even become regulated by governing bodies to further protect consumer interests and privacy and to create a standard of what protecting consumer privacy entails. The applications associated with beacons will also have to be standardized, as to achieve optimal success with beacons, retailers will have to condense the amount of applications a consumer has to download. By concentrating all beacons into one centralized application, customers are more likely to download one beacon associated application than numerous branded options.

The bottom line is that providing a beneficial experience is crucial to the success of beacons – if the consumers can appreciate the added-value of beacons to their shopping experience, they will realize they do not need to worry about retailers’ invading their privacy. Instead, they will appreciate that the limited data retailers collect can have major impacts on their retail experience without being overly intrusive. Once consumers feel confident using beacons, they can be used to optimize other elements of the retail experience as well: One major possibility for beacons is their evolution to pushing checkout capabilities to shoppers’ phones instead of requiring them to wait in line to pay for their purchases.

Oren Levy is CEO of Zooz

Tips for Holiday Success

Here are some tips for success this holiday season from Shmuli Goldberg, director of marketing for Feedvisor.

1.     Feedback makes all the difference

Seller rating on Amazon is calculated by points. If an order is fulfilled without any problems, it receives points, and if a problem arises, points are taken off. The amount of points either granted or deducted depends on the size of the problem.

Receiving negative feedback is a factor that deducts a huge amount of points, thereby negatively affecting the overall seller rating. Since orders placed in the last 30 days have a greater effect on a seller’s total score, receiving POSITIVE feedback NOW will vastly increase your chances of winning the Buy Box over the coming months.

Practical Tip: Why don’t you get in touch this week with all your current customers and ask them to leave positive feedback on their experience with you? Even better, get in touch with customers who have given negative feedback and ask them to remove it.

2.     Stay in stock

What you certainly do not want, is to be out of stock of any items during the Christmas period, especially the popular items. Not only are you unable to win the Buy Box this way but sourcing products during the holiday season can also be a lot more difficult and expensive.

Practical Tip: Order all of the inventory and supplies you think you’ll need, now. To get a rough estimate of how much you need, you can expect to sell between 2.5 and 4 times as much as usual (unless you’re selling Santa memorabilia, in which case you’ll probably need a lot more!).

3.     You’ll disappoint the children if the gifts arrive late!

Shipping time is crucially important for the Buy Box. The various times are arranged into brackets, including: 0-2 days, 3-7 days, 8-13 days and 14 or more days. While moving within brackets certainly affects your share of the Buy Box, jumping between brackets has an even greater impact and may result in you securing the Buy Box.

During the holiday season, buyers pay particular attention to shipping rates, since they want their purchases to arrive before December 25th.  With the notoriously slow mail during such a peak time, it is extremely important to get your shipping times spot on.

Practical Tip: It may be worth spending slightly more in order to ship your items quicker. While your profit margin per item may decrease slightly, you won’t be complaining if you win the Buy Box and increase your sales!

4.     Respond Quickly to Your Customers

While not as vital as price or overall seller rating, customer response time does still impact the Buy Box. For example, sellers who want to score best need to respond in less than 12 hours. Amazon only care about response times for the 90 days, which is why, if you want to win the Buy Box over the coming weeks and months, it matters how you respond to customers right now and in the next 90 days.

Practical Tip: While it obviously takes more time and energy to respond quickly to customers, it may be worth putting in that extra effort in the lead up to Christmas, so you’ll be in the hot spot to grab the Buy Box at this most lucrative time.

5.     And, of course, Price

Although perhaps the most obvious factor, it nevertheless must still be mentioned! Price your products competitively and you are half way to winning the Buy Box. This is something that can be done in seconds and there are multiple repricing software out there that will save you the time repricing manually. While certainly vital all year round, getting the price exactly right during the holiday season is an optimum way to see your revenue soar.

Practical Tip: If you’re not currently using any repricing software, how about trying one now? Here at Feedvisor, we understand that different repricers suit different people and that’s why we offer free demos to anyone who wants to test us out. Most other repricers also offer the same, so why don’t you sign up to one now and see if it makes a difference to your sales. If it does, you can subscribe straight away and continue using it through the holiday season and beyond.

The Details are in the Data: How Online Retailers Can Shine this Holiday Season

Guest blog by Jeff Deisner

It’s no secret that the holiday season is the busiest and most profitable time of year for the retail industry. As the holidays approach, the press is awash in stories about the strategies retailers are practicing to drive traffic into their brick-and-mortar stores. But what does the season hold for online retailers?

Online holiday sales have steadily increased in recent years and are expected to continue to do so. In fact, the National Retail Federation’s digital division, Shop.org, has predicted an 8 to 11 percent increase in e-commerce sales this November and December over last year. Just as brick-and-mortar retailers are preparing for the holidays with door-buster promotions and hiring temps to cover extra floor shifts, online retailers can also shine this holiday season by following a three-step strategy for providing offers that are sure to resonate with consumers.

1) Determine the data points to track – The best way for online retailers to put a holiday data tracking strategy into effect is to start with determining what information to track. While this may vary slightly for each retailer, most will want to track where customers are located, what they are searching for, which devices they are using and what sites and channels are driving conversions. These key datapoints will give retailers valuable customer information that can be used to refine holiday offers.

By knowing where consumers are located, retailers can localize their offers. For example, you don’t want to offer discounts on heavy down jackets to customers in Southern California beach towns or offer board shorts to customers in the grip of a snowy New York winter. Understanding what customers are searching for helps to identify the category of items to present to the user for future shopping.  Knowing which devices consumers use will also help online retailers ensure their creatives are viewable. Not having a landing page load properly on a mobile device can really hurt sales on key shopping days. Most importantly, by tracking which sites and channels are driving conversions, retailers can adjust their digital spend accordingly.

2) Organize and analyze through tagging – Once they have determined what to track, retailers will need to find a way to organize all of their campaign data. One of the simplest ways to accomplish this is through tagging. Much how keywords make blogs searchable, retailers can use this powerful tool to help them sort through vast amounts of campaign and offer data.

Through tagging, retailers can separate and analyze data in a manner that best fits their holiday campaigns. Additionally, they can also use tagging to greatly reduce the time it takes to manage data and campaigns by applying updates to any campaign data en mass, and activating and deactivating a large number of offers all at once. Tagging is useful for grouping and separating offers and payouts by type such as pay-per-click, display, profit share, revenue percentages, etc. Tagging can also be used to group some of the aforementioned datapoints to more effectively align offers with customer data.

3) Identify what’s working…or not - While tagging will help retailers organize their data, offers and creatives, split testing will help them determine what is resonating with customers. Split testing is a random experiment designed to test which of two or more marketing creatives is more effective in driving traffic and conversions. The effectiveness of nearly identical versions of the same item with just a slight variant is compared to see which is more successful in accomplishing a desired outcome.

For example, retailers can split test:

  • A square blue button vs. a round red button
  • A call to action that reads “Ask for a quote” vs. “Request a demo”
  • A square ad vs. a rectangular ad
  • A link to another web page vs. a link to a PDF

Just about any marketing creative can be split tested. Retailers can get started by choosing just a few key items that will provide actual insight into better ways to convert customers. By taking the time to create and split test multiple versions of creatives, retailers can get a much clearer picture of customer behavior throughout the holiday season.

Once retailers have determined what data to track, how to organize their data and how they will use multiple creatives to split test, they’ll be armed with the tools to optimize campaigns in real-time. And with 23.8 percent of all annual retail sales being made in just the month of December, retailers cannot miss out on a single sales opportunity. By following these simple and effective steps, it’s not too late for retailers to shine this holiday season.

Jeff Deisner is Vice President of Operations and heads up Client Services for the marketing technology company, CAKE.

Bah Humbug! The “Amazon Effect” is Haunting Retailers This Holiday Season

Guest Blog by Leela Rao-Kataria 

When you’re not Amazon, the holidays are terrifying.

For consumers, the act of gift-buying flings you into a state of panicked, obsessive-compulsion where the 24-hour, several-day madness of searching for the lowest prices pits you against the furious elbows of other adrenaline-filled, piranha-like shoppers.

And if you’re a retailer, prepare to get eaten alive.  From “pre-pre-pre-holiday” sales, to door-buster deals, to matching prices so low they make no sense—you’ll throw all hands on deck to get trampled by the holiday stampede, solely in the effort to attract more foot traffic.  And after the dust settles, there’s still no guarantee you’ll come out ahead.

Unless you’re Amazon.

A Prime Ribbing 

Amazon sits pretty as America’s poster child for online retail.  It won shoppers’ hearts by making shopping (and gift shopping) simple, not scary. Not only does Amazon sell items from every product category under the sun—at severely discounted prices—it also delivers them with unprecedented speed and reliability.

Delivery matters.  Of 500 respondents polled in a GT Nexus global survey, 70% said they’d received a package late at some point, and a majority emphasized that on-time delivery was crucial to them.

Amazon has allayed shipping concerns with cheap expedited shipping, detailed tracking information, and robust delivery options, including pick up at its Amazon Lockers.

The results speaks for themselves.  Overall e-commerce revenue grows at a rate of about 14 percent year-over-year, while Amazon is growing almost three times faster.  By 2012, it was the U.S.’s 12th largest retailer, and by 2017 it’s projected to be the second. And Amazon Prime members currently total 25 million in the U.S. alone.

But the most impressive thing about Amazon is its ability to taunt other retailers on their own turf.

It’s common to see consumers strolling down store aisles, opening their phones to look for reviews of a product via Amazon and to find the product to be cheaper there rather than on the store shelves, with low-cost or free shipping.  Many times, customers even flat-out ask brick and mortar associates whether their products can be found cheaper on Amazon.

That’s the “Amazon Effect”—the spectral presence of the e-commerce giant even in tangible, physical stores.

The Holiday (Fighting) Spirit 

This holiday season, spending is expected to increase 4.1 percent over last year.  A National Retail Federation (NRF) study even showed that sales should reach roughly $617 billion, a whopping 19.2 percent of the industry’s $3.2 trillion in yearly sales.

Those statistics put retailers under a lot of pressure. On the one hand, there’s a brilliant opportunity to make up for what might have been a lackluster year. But on the other, a bad holiday quarter can ruin the whole year.

And then there’s Amazon, which will be sure to double down on both deals and fulfillment.

But retailers don’t plan on going quietly into the silent night. Here are 4 strategies retailers are using to combat the Amazon Effect:

  1. Increasing technology innovation:  Big box retailers, according to Forrester Analyst, Sucharita Mulpuru, are working to catch up to Amazon’s technology. For example, Wal-Mart has gained online market share and recently announced plans to invest almost half a billion dollars more this year into its technology spend to improve its online profile and user experience.
  2. Improving in-store pickup: This is the biggest point of opportunity for brick and mortar stores to best Amazon. Short of waiting on delivery, Amazon Lockers in select regions is currently the only option the e-commerce giant offers, but consumers want more in an in-store pick up, especially around the holiday season when speed and convenience matter.
  3. Selling exclusive products: Amazon is great at selling mass-produced goods, but retailers can offer something different– unique, personalized, or hand-made products that  seem to be more in demand with the rise of online shops like Etsy.
  4. Providing value-added service:  Retailers can also distinguish themselves from e-commerce sites by bundling products with in-store services. For example, Claire’s offers free ear piercing when you buy a pair of earrings.

Jumping Down Chimneys 

Retailers can thrive during the holidays by playing to their strengths and offering value-added, in-person experiences. But they need good infrastructure behind them.

The battle of e-commerce versus brick and mortar will soon give way to a more fluid, ambiguous model of online/physical omni-channel stores, fueled by agile infrastructure.

Retailers need to operate as smart networks, tying dynamically to consumers as well as their suppliers to keep up with retail innovations. When you’re not Amazon, things might seem rough, but there’s a whole world of innovative opportunity out there. You just need to seize it.

Leela Rao-Kataria is Marketing Manager, Retail Industry Solutions with GT Nexus