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Your Customers Want a Better Mobile Shopping Experience

Photo credit: gail on Flickr.

It should now be clear that mobile devices are going to play a huge role in how customers research, search for, and buy products for the foreseeable future. This is a fact that we have known for a few years now.

However, while more businesses are starting to make investments in mobile, several studies have made it abundantly clear that we are a long way from getting it right.

Part of the issue is the complexity of the shopping experience and the role that mobile devices currently play.

In order to get mobile marketing right you need to think about a lot of things, many that extend beyond the mobile device itself.

Many marketers are still trying to use their traditional ways of advertising to people without taking into account what is happening all around consumers as they interact with the brand on their mobile devices while out and about in the offline world.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that many businesses haven’t had much luck with their mobile marketing efforts.

In fact, according to the recent “CMO Survey Report” sponsored by Deloitte, the American Marketing Association, and The Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, most responding CMOs do not feel that mobile marketing currently makes a substantial contribution to their company’s bottom line. In fact, 40% said that mobile marketing makes no contribution at all. (Note: I would argue that measurement is partially to blame for these responses.)

As time goes on, brands and retailers will start to listen to customers and give them more of what they want and need. When this happens, we will not only see more happy customers, but a better return on investment for the businesses that use mobile devices to properly communicate with their customers and prospects while they are interacting with the brand in other ways.

Why Customers Don’t Shop on Mobile Devices

As I have pointed out in the last few posts, most retail transactions still take place in a brick-and-mortar store and about two-thirds of e-commerce transactions still take place on a desktop.

A recent GfK study that was commissioned by Facebook IQ has some insights into why omni-channel shoppers (those that research and bought items via a variety of channels including smartphones, tablets, desktop computers, and in brick-and-mortar stores) aren’t currently shopping on their mobile devices.

When omni-channel shoppers were asked why they shopped on a desktop vs. a mobile device, 56% said that it is easier to see all the available products on a desktop, 55% find it easier to use devices with bigger screens, 27% said that they find it difficult to compare products and retailers via a smartphone or tablet, and 26% said entering personal data is not very user friendly on a smartphone or tablet.

All these responses indicate that brands and retailers need to improve the User Experience (UX) of their mobile apps and websites. Even the responses that have to do with the size of the screen can be improved with better design.

When looking at why omni-channel shoppers chose to shop in a brick-and-mortar store vs. mobile, 47% said they like to touch and feel the products, 46% said that they don’t want to wait, 41% said that the shipping costs too much, and 25% said that in-store shopping is relaxing/enjoyable.

Two of the issues here can be fixed with shortening the time it takes to ship the product and by offering reduced-priced or free shipping to customers.

However, the other two issues really aren’t issues at all. They are actually opportunities that brands and retailers can take advantage of.

Thinking About the Whole Customer Shopping Experience—Both Online and Offline

As mentioned in the past, Forrester Research estimates that 49 percent of total sales in 2016 will be influenced by online interactions.

Many of these interactions will happen on a mobile device when a customer is in your store.

Brands and retailers need to be thinking about everything that a consumer wants and needs when they are making a decision to buy a product or service. This includes the interactions that consumers are having with your brand offline and via a mobile device. Each of these can reinforce the other and make them more effective than they would be alone.

In a recent post on the iMedia Connections blog, Jeff Hasen, Mobile Strategist and Founder of Gotta Mobilize, highlights the fact that businesses haven’t caught up with the times.

In the post, Jeff Hasen quotes Martin Sorrell, chief executive of the advertising group WPP.

“The essential problem is that big companies are not thinking about mobile in the right way,” Sorrell is quoted as saying. “They’re thinking of it as an extension of digital, just a way to reach consumers. They’re not thinking of it in a way that changes their businesses or adds values in a way they weren’t able to do previously.”

Final Thoughts

Mobile devices are changing the way that consumers live their lives. This includes the way that they shop for products and services.

This is something that experts will be talking about for a long time. And, for good reason.

Businesses need to adapt to these changes. Those that do it first will succeed. Those that don’t will be forced to follow, because their customers and prospects will demand it.

Photo credit: gail on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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More Evidence That Smartphones Are Key to Success in an Omnichannel Retail World

Photo credit: Sharon Hahn Darlin on Flickr.The role that mobile devices play in retail continues to grow. Not only are consumers using mobile devices to research products and get recommendations, a growing number of transactions are being completed on mobile.

According to a recent press release, Criteo’s “Q4 2015 State of Mobile Commerce Report” found that about four in 10 online transactions in the United States occur across multiple devices or channels. Furthermore, close to one-third of e-commerce transactions actually are completed on a mobile device.

This is particularly important given the fact that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, “E-commerce sales in the fourth quarter of 2015 accounted for 7.5 percent of total sales.” And, as I pointed out in the last post, Forrester Research predicts that within the next 10 to 15 years, e-commerce could account for as much as 25 percent of total sales.

Moreover, as alluded to above, mobile devices are impacting offline sales as well, as consumers use their smartphones and tablets to research and get recommendations about products online before or even during a shopping trip at a brick-and-mortar store.

Mobile Influences the Offline Transaction

As a recent article on the Mobile Commerce Daily website points out, “More than $1 trillion of total retail sales in 2015 were influenced by mobile phones, with most of this coming from in-store transactions and further growth expected, according to a new report from Forrester Research.”

The article goes on to point out that Forrester Research expects web-influenced sales with grow to $1.3 trillion in 2016 and reach $1.6 trillion by 2020. To put it a different way, web-influenced sales will account for 49 percent of the total sales in 2016 and reach 55 percent of total sales by 2020.

The article also points out that this trend is being fueled by larger smartphones and faster wireless networks. Furthermore, the fact that search engines are providing ways for consumers to find the information that they need quickly via their smartphones is also a factor.

It’s not surprising that more retailers and brands are looking for ways to advertise and engage with consumers on their mobile devices. Those that don’t are going to be left behind.

A Majority of Mobile Transactions Are Conducted Via a Smartphone

As I already pointed out, most retail sales still take place offline.

However, the percentage of sales conducted online continues to grow, with nearly a third of these online transactions actually taking place via a mobile device.

According to the Criteo report mentioned earlier, 60 percent of sales that take place on mobile devices are completed via a smartphone.

It is important to note that tablets drove higher value sales than smartphones.

However, 43 percent of tablet shoppers used multiple devices in their shopping journey. This means that in addition to the desktop, smartphones are important even when the final sale is conducted via a tablet.

Final Thoughts

In an omnichannel retail world, the path to purchase can take many twists and turns along the way.

A consumer could research, check for product reviews and recommendations, and purchase a product after interacting with the brand and/or retailer online via a desktop computer, tablet, smartphone, and/or offline at a brick-and-mortar store or kiosk.

Therefore, it is important to give consumers the information that they need when and how they want it and allow them to purchase from you when and how they want to.

As mentioned, the offline store is still going to be the most common way for consumers to purchase products for the foreseeable future. However, as this post points out, the smartphone is going to play an ever-increasing role in determining what will be purchased and where that sale will take place.

Photo credit: Sharon Hahn Darlin on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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In an Omnichannel Retail World, It’s “Bricks” AND “Clicks”

Photo credit: Bell Ella Boutique on Flickr.In recent years, e-commerce retail sales have grown at a faster rate than sales in the more traditional “brick and mortar” locations, but it would be a mistake to think that “brick and mortar” stores are going to go the way of the Dodo bird.

As a CBS news article pointed out in November of last year, “Online sales claimed 7.4 percent of the retail dollar in the third quarter, up from 2.8 percent 10 years ago, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. E-commerce, which accounted for $87.5 billion in the September-ending quarter, was ahead 15 percent over the same period in 2014. Brick-and-mortar retailing nudged up just 0.6 percent, year over year.”

The same article points out that Amazon is seeing healthy growth while sales at more traditional merchants are remaining stagnant or losing ground.

The author of the article continues, “Forrester Research predicts that online retailing will reach a natural peak within the next 10 to 15 years, reaching as much as 25 percent of total sales.”

However, if you reflect on this statistic for a while, the logical conclusion is that even though e-commerce sales are going to take a larger piece of the pie, approximately 75 percent of sales will still happen in the “brick and mortar” store.

This is general point that the author of the CBS article is trying to make.

In fact, many retail experts have been pointing out how important the “brick and mortar” store is to the future of retail.

That said, traditional retailers can’t rest on their laurels. The path to conversion going forward is not going to be the same as it was in the past.

Consumers Use Online and Mobile to Get Ideas, Research Products, and Purchase Items

While the Internet is only a few decades old, smart marketers have found ways to measure and optimize the online conversion process.

However, by giving consumers the ability to quickly get ideas and research and compare products, what consumers do online can also have an effect on offline sales.

This has become an even bigger issue given the fact that many consumers now have a smartphone with them, giving them the ability to browse, research, and compare products even as they view the items in real life in “brick and mortar” stores.

Therefore, when looking at the big picture, what a consumer sees online can and will impact online and offline sales.

With this in mind, Google and other businesses are working hard to help retailers and brands increase sales by driving customers to their online and offline stores.

In order to optimize these efforts, retailers need to be able to measure what effect online marketing has on offline sales. While the process isn’t perfect yet, Google is trying to provide a solution to this problem, as well.

Final Thoughts

In today’s world, retailers and brands shouldn’t choose to market and sell their products online or offline.

The way to success will be using tactics that give customers the information that they need when and where they need it and the ability to buy the products when and how they want to.

Therefore, the correct choice is actually marketing and selling products online and offline.

Photo credit: Bell Ella Boutique on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Why Brands Shouldn’t Wait to Invest in Mobile Marketing

Photo credit: Audio-Technica on Flickr.If your brand hasn’t allocated at least some of its marketing budget to mobile, it is missing out on a huge opportunity.

Even brands that have taken a wait and see approach to mobile marketing are starting to see the value that mobile brings to the table.

In fact, according to a recent eMarketer article, this year more businesses are planning to invest in mobile advertising than ever before.

However, it’s not that businesses will be spending significantly less to reach consumers on their desktops. In fact, while the amount spent this year on ads targeting users on desktops is projected to be slightly less than it was in 2015, eMarketer is reporting that this number should rebound in the next few years.

That said, the amount of money budgeted for mobile advertising is projected to skyrocket.

And, it’s not surprising given the fact that according to an article published on Forbes.com in August of 2015, a majority of online content is now consumed on mobile devices.

This same article also pointed out that mobile ads have reach, as most U.S. adults currently have mobile phones and/or tablets.

Not only that, people are three times more likely to open a mobile ad than a desktop ad.

Furthermore, mobile ads are “ridiculously cheap.”

According to the Forbes.com article, “Mobile brands have underinvested in this area, and prices haven’t caught up yet. Compared to the cost of traditional advertising streams, mobile ads are a bargain. TV and print ads’ CPM is $100, while online CPM hovers around $3.50. Mobile CPM, on the other hand, can be as low as 75 cents.”

Final Thoughts

Mobile ads are currently more likely to be opened than ads targeting consumers on their desktops.

And, mobile ads are currently relatively inexpensive, when compared to ads targeting consumers via other marketing channels (e.g., television, print, desktop, etc.)

That said, this is likely to change as more businesses start to target consumers on their mobile devices.

The increased competition is likely to drive the costs up. And, if consumers get bombarded with ads on mobile devices, the open rates are probably going to decrease somewhat.

This is not to say that mobile will lose its value—the fact that so many people consume content on mobile devices, combined with the added ability to target customers and prospects when they are most likely to purchase your product or service is what makes mobile advertising so desirable.

With the right planning, mobile advertising is going to continue to be a very effective way to reach consumers.

However, it doesn’t pay to wait.

Brands that are currently using mobile are not only benefiting from less competition, they are also learning what works and what doesn’t.

This will give these brands the knowledge to succeed when the level of competition increases.

Photo credit: Audio-Technica on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Six More Things That Will Influence Business in 2016

Photo credit: Vestman on Flickr.From the buzz on the Internet, it would be easy to guess that 2016 will be the year of mobile or the year of the Internet of Things.

I’d argue that it is going to be the decade of mobile or the decade of the Internet of Things. I’d even venture a guess that it might be the millennium of mobile or the millennium of the Internet of Things. But, who knows what cool stuff will be invented a few decades from now.

With this in mind, I am not going to say that this is the year of anything.

However, I do think that there are several things that are worthy of watching in 2016.

The List of Things That Will Influence Business

I’ve been updating this list for a few years.

Most of the items on my past lists are still worthy of keeping an eye on.

Here is a list of some of the things I have been watching in the last few years with the year they were added to the list:

1) Rapid Advancements in Technology [2013]

2) Mobile (User Experience and Marketing) [2013]

3) Mobile Payments [2013]

4) Mobile-Influenced Merchandising [2013]

5) Privacy Issues [2013]

6) The Evolution of Marketing and Public Relations [2013]

7) Emerging Markets [2013]

8) The Internet of Things [2014]

9) The Evolution of Retail [2014]

10) Omni-Channel Retail [2014]

11) A Global Marketplace [2014]

12) 3D Printing [2014]

13) Cyberattacks [2014]

14) Ethics [2014]

Additional Things That I Will Be Watching in 2016

As I mentioned in past years, this isn’t a comprehensive list. Rather, these are some of the things that I feel will have the largest impact on business in the upcoming years.

Here are the items that I have added to the list this year:

15) Online Video

This one should have been on my list when I first started it. In my defense, I did write about the importance of online video marketing in 2014.

Online video is only going to become more relevant as Internet speeds increase and the costs to upload and consume video content decreases globally.

Furthermore, not only are people consuming a lot of online video content because they found it on social networks, videos can also show up in search engine results pages (SERPs).

16) RFID, NFC, and Beacons

These can be classified as a subset of several of the items already on my list, including mobile (user experience and marketing), mobile payments, omni-channel retailing, and the Internet of Things.

Any business looking to increase efficiencies or leverage some of the cool new ways to interact with consumers on their mobile devices needs to be looking into these technologies.

17) Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR)

I am reluctantly putting these on my list, mostly because I haven’t had any firsthand experience with them that has blown my mind. However, enough people are talking about these technologies to add them. I need to learn more about the ways that they can be used before I can write anything further. Stay tuned.

18) SEO for the Internet of Things

Not many experts are talking about it yet. But, I think that they should.

The Internet of Things is going to influence every aspect of our life, including using sensors to give us the information needed to make decisions that will simplify our life and make it more enjoyable.

As time goes on, I predict that Google and some of the other search engines will want to use this data to include it in their SERPs.

Google has already started to do something like this by showing when some businesses are the busiest in its search results. From articles that I have read, Google is obtaining this information by collecting anonymous information from the users of the Google Maps app.

I think it is inevitable that Google will start to expand and include data from other sources. However, this is going to require some sort of standardization of input data before Google could use it to provide information in its SERPs. This is what I am currently calling SEO for the Internet of Things.

19) Experiential Marketing

I have heard a lot of experts using the word “experiential” a lot.

According to Wikipedia.com, “Engagement marketing, sometimes called “experiential marketing,” “event marketing,” “on-ground marketing,” “live marketing,” or “participation marketing,” is a marketing strategy that directly engages consumers and invites and encourages consumers to participate in the evolution of a brand. Rather than looking at consumers as passive receivers of messages, engagement marketers believe that consumers should be actively involved in the production and co-creation of marketing programs, developing a relationship with the brand.”

This is an area that I plan to learn a lot more about in 2016.

As an added bonus, if documented correctly, an experiential marketing campaign can be shared on social media sites to make the investment more attractive for business leaders.

20) Wearables

By now, everyone has heard about fitness trackers helping people get healthier.

And, although Google Glass has failed so far, there is talk that they are trying to bring it back in a form that will be accepted by consumers.

If wearables do continue to take off, there are countless ways that businesses can benefit, including finding ways to use the data to better consumers’ lives. As always, it would require consumers to opt-in. But, when they do, a lot of cool things can be done.

Bonus: Implantables

I’m not ready to add this to my list, because I think that we are at least a decade from mass adoption of implantable technology for nonmedical purposes. However, like wearables, implantable technology can be used to make consumers’ lives better.

Final Thoughts

These are some of the things that I plan to continue to watch in 2016 and beyond.

And, as I have mentioned in the past, a new technology that we don’t know about could change everything.

So, you have my list. What’s on your watch list for 2016?

Photo credit: Vestman on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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‘Tis the Season for Giving Gift Cards – The Gift of Drinking, Dining, or Shopping

Photo credit: tales of a wandering youkai on Flickr.According to a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation (NRF) in the first week of December of 2015, at the time the data was collected over nine in 10 consumers had yet to complete their holiday gift shopping. In fact, about eight percent said that they would not purchase their final gift until Christmas Eve, with another six percent waiting to purchase their final holiday gifts on or after Christmas.

For many consumers, this means stopping in at a favorite restaurant or store to pick up a gift card for someone on their shopping list.

With this in mind, many experts offer suggestions for consumers and retailers alike.

“After years of exchanging gift cards over the holiday season, consumers may want to try to avoid the potential awkward exchange when the card they’ve given their loved ones are worth less or more than the one they’ve received,” says Pam Goodfellow, Principal Analyst at Prosper Insights and Analytics, in an article on the NRF website. “However, there will always be an appetite for gift cards, especially with procrastinators who will wrap up their shopping in the final hours.”

Why This Is Important to Retailers

As we enter the last few days before Christmas, many shoppers will be heading to stores to make their final purchases. However, there inevitably will be some people on the consumer’s shopping list who are particularly hard to buy for.

This makes for the perfect opportunity for stores and restaurants to suggestive sell gift cards.

Not only do gift cards keep the retailer top-of-mind when consumers open their gifts on Christmas morning, it also gives them a reason to visit the store the week after Christmas.

“For retailers and consumers alike, the holiday season doesn’t end on December 25,” reports Kathy Grannis Allen in an article on the NRF website. “In fact, for many consumers the week after Christmas is more than just an opportunity to exchange that sweater from grandma. According to the survey, two-thirds (65.9%) of holiday shoppers said they are planning to shop – both browsing and buying – retailers’ after-Christmas sales. Specifically, 47.2 percent of shoppers said they would shop at a store and 43.1 percent will shop online that week. Nearly six in 10 millennials (18-24 year olds) will shop that week, both in stores (59.2%) and online (59.3%).”

According to the NRF, when consumers were asked when they would use the gift cards that they receive during the holidays, about one in five said that they would use it as quickly as they could. Another 42% said that they would watch for really good sales or promotions to maximize the value of the gift card. That means that if the after-Christmas sales are good enough, it could temp consumers into stores to use their gift cards.

The Gift of Shopping

Many retail experts are pointing out that experiential gifts (e.g., tickets to sporting events, concert tickets, a weekend getaway, etc.) are very popular this year. It could be argued that gift cards fit into this category.

If you think about it, a gift card to a restaurant or movie theatre is the same as buying actual tickets to an event. And, for people who love to shop, a gift card to a store could also be valued for the experience as much as the actual product that the consumer buys with it.

In their book, “Gen Buy: How Tweens, Teens, and Twenty-Somethings are Revolutionizing Retail,” Dr. Kit Yarrow and Jayne O’Donnell write, “As we’ve noted before, gift cards not only guarantee that just the right gift will ultimately be acquired, but they also provide the “gift of shopping.” Shopping with permission to buy in the form of prepayment is way more fun than shopping just to see what’s out there and to socialize.”

Therefore, it is no surprise that gift cards still remain the most requested holiday gift this year.

Counterpoint: Gift Cards Lack Personalization and Surprise

It needs to be noted that retailers might want to try to help the consumer pick out the perfect gift for their loved ones before suggesting the purchase of a gift card.

As Dr. Kit Yarrow points out in an article on Time.com, “While gift cards and wish list picks are never going to land in the worst gift ever category, there’s something missing in the transaction: relationship-fortifying thoughtfulness and the emotional boost that accompanies surprise.”

Final Thoughts

With only a few shopping days left before Christmas, many shoppers are going to be out and about looking to purchase the final items on their holiday shopping lists.

While helping the consumer find the perfect gift should be the first priority, suggestive selling gift cards is an excellent way to get consumers back into stores in the weeks following Christmas.

Furthermore, with experiential gifts becoming more popular, a gift card can actually be the perfect gift if the recipient is a movie lover or a huge fan of a particular bar or restaurant. And, if the person who the gift is for loves to shop, the “gift of shopping” might actually be the best gift that they could receive this year.

Photo credit: tales of a wandering youkai on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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The Internet of Things and the Future of Digital Marketing and Public Relations

Photo credit: NYC Media Lab on Flickr.Technology is changing the world that we live in.

In fact, with the rapid increases in computer processing power and the decreases in the costs-of-production, the world that we live in is changing at a mind-blowing rate.

When looking at marketing and public relations, many businesses are currently still trying to figure out how to properly integrate social media, SEO, content, and mobile into the marketing mix. This leaves very little time to think about what is going to be influencing business in the upcoming years.

However, given the rapid speed of change, companies that don’t adapt in all areas of business, including the way that they market their products and services to customers, will be left behind.

Therefore, keeping an eye on what technology advancements experts feel will impact our world in five, 10, or 20 years is a must when businesses develop their long-term business strategies.

This includes, but is not limited to, something that will have an effect on everything.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

In the near future, many of the “things” that we interact with on a daily basis will have a sensor embedded in them and will be connected to the Internet, allowing them to exchange data with computers, mobile phones, and other “things.”

The possibilities for making our lives better are limitless, as are the opportunities that will be created for marketers to get their messages out to consumers in a more effective and efficient way.

Some of the most interesting things that I have heard about lately involve helping make consumers’ lives better by the use of the data collected from these sensors.

However, the Internet of Things is still in the nascent stage of development and many issues need to be worked out. This includes privacy issues, as well as making sure that the data collected is used in an ethical way.

From a marketing and public relations standpoint, this is of the utmost importance.

If the results of a recent survey conducted by Google Consumers Surveys for Auth0 is really an indication of the public’s current level of trust with the Internet of Things, marketers and public relations professionals have their work cut out for them, as many respondents who are aware of the Internet of Things have concerns with security and personal data collection.

The Age of Context

In their book, “Age of Context: Mobile, Sensors, Data and the Future of Privacy,” Robert Scoble and Shel Israel highlight some of the ways that technology is already being used to make the world a better place.

They also make predictions as to how technology might evolve in the near future.

The authors of the book are very optimistic about the future uses of technology.

In particular they are excited about how businesses can use technology to better the lives of consumers, and in the process, increase sales by helping target the right person at the right time in the right place.

As they mention, “Context will allow us to receive messages based on location, time of day, and what we intend to do next. We believe this will dramatically boost response rates because customized messages will be more relevant to the recipients. An ad for a discount at a nearby restaurant when we are hungry is pretty likely to get us to act immediately.”

However, while Scoble and Israel are optimistic about the possibilities that these new technologies will bring, they are not naïve.

In fact, they point out some of the problems that have already arisen, as well as some of issues that businesses need to consider in the future, particularly regarding privacy and the use of the data collected.

Final Thoughts

Advancements in technology are going to bring about some very exciting changes in the near future.

However, as the study conducted by Google Consumer Surveys mentioned earlier points out, when asked about the Internet of Things respondents said that they are concerned about security and personal data collection issues.

What this means is that businesses are going to need to find ways to use these new technologies to better the lives of their customers, while making sure that everything they do is transparent, ethical, and protects the customer’s privacy.

They are then going to have to make sure that consumers feel comfortable with what the business is doing and are aware of all the benefits that these new technologies will bring.

Photo credit: NYC Media Lab on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Buy Online, Pick Up in Store Isn’t a New Idea – But the Process Still Needs Improvement

Photo credit: Mike Mozart on Flickr.Offering customers the option to buy a product online and pick it up in the brick-and-mortar store is not new idea.

In fact, I remember Circuit City offering this option way back in the early 2000s.

However, even though the idea has been around for a while, many stores often fail to meet customers’ expectations.

In order to stay competitive, retailers are going to need to work on streamlining the process.

Why Offering This Option to Customers Is So Important

From the retailer’s perspective, offering the option of buying a product online and picking it up in store helps make the sale and saves the customer and/or the retailer money on shipping, which can still be costly even with the discounts that they receive from delivery companies based on the high-volume of shipments.

It is also something that retailers are being forced to offer based on the competition, as many stores are currently offering this option.

Furthermore, this is something that customers want.

In fact, according to the CFI Group, 75% of consumers indicate that the ability to order online and pick up the item in the brick-and-mortar store is somewhat or extremely important to them.

Retailers Currently Promise Quick Turnaround Times and an Easy Shopping Experience

On the surface, it looks like retailers have a good process in place to fulfill these orders, as many stores currently promise a relatively quick turnaround time.

In fact, according to a post on the Two Cents blog, many major retailers promise to have the order ready in one to four hours from when the order was first placed online. (The turnaround time promised varies by retailer. See the post for additional information.)

What Customers Are Experiencing

While retailers are promising quick turnaround times and a smooth buying experience, this is not always what they deliver.

In fact, according to a recent article on The Wall Street Journal, “A survey of over 1,000 online U.S.-based shoppers by JDA Software Group Inc. shows that, of 35% who opted to buy online and pick up goods in a store in the past year, 50% encountered problems getting their purchases. This is a surprisingly high failure rate of a strategy meant to offset the high costs of conducting e-commerce, said Wayne Usie, senior vice president of retail at JDA.”

Another article on the RetailWire site provides a case study that explains how one retailer botched an order that a customer placed online and opted to pick up in the store.

The comments on The Wall Street Journal and RetailWire articles provide some useful insights into the issues that customers and retailers face when taking advantage of this option.

For example, in a comment on The Wall Street Journal article, Gary Bernard points out that he used the buy online, pick up in-store option for an item that Walmart carried nationally, but didn’t have at his local store. He stated that he used the option in order to save the $5 delivery fee on a $10 item. And, as he explained, it took him about 8 minutes to get the item. After completing the transaction, he came to the conclusion that this option is good for certain items that can’t be purchased at the local store, but he wouldn’t use this option to buy one or two items that could be purchased by just walking into the store and buying them off the shelf. That said, he was satisfied with the process for this type of purchase.

Average Time Needed to Complete a Purchase

A Consumerist blog post written last year highlighted a study that was conducted in 2014 by StellaService that found that, on average, it took customers using the buy online, pick up in-store option less time from the time they entered the store to the time that they completed the checkout process than it took a traditional shopper who found and purchased items off the shelf.

However, this didn’t include the time it took for the store to collect the items for the shoppers and notify them that the items were ready. In the study, StellaService stated, “Items were available for pick up in just over an hour on average.”

It is also interesting to note that the average amount of time needed for the checkout process for the buy online, pick up in-store option took longer than the average time needed at the checkout desk for the traditional in-store shopper, at 3.1 minutes vs. 1.1 minutes, respectively.

Note: Many stores try to encourage traditional shoppers to spend more time shopping at stores, as this often leads to increased sales. However, efficiency at the checkout desk is something that all retailers strive for.

Some Key Issues to Consider

There are a lot of issues that need to be considered when developing the process for the buy online, pick up in-store option.

Photo credit: Mike Mozart on Flickr.As a post on the Internet Retailer blog points out, proper training of store employees and adequate signage are extremely important to making this process work as it should. The post also highlights the fact that when you get customers to come to the store to pick up items that they purchased online, there is an opportunity to upsell other items. This can have a tremendous positive impact on the retailer’s bottom line.

In the comments section of the RetailWire post mentioned above, Melanie Nuce, VP, Apparel and General Merchandise, at GS1 US mentions that item-level RFID technology will also help fix some of the problems that retailers are experiencing with the buy online, pick up in-store option.

Final Thoughts

Retailers are always looking for ways to differentiate themselves by providing customers with options that make the shopping experience more convenient.

When done correctly, offering the option to buy online and pick up the items in the store can save customers and the retailer time and money. It also provides the retailer with another opportunity to get the customer in the brick-and-mortar store, which can lead to additional impulse buys.

However, as mentioned above, a study conducted by JDA Software Group Inc. found that often the processes that retailers currently have in place do not always work the way that they should.

These failures can hurt the retailer’s reputation, particularly if problems happen on a regular basis.

The good news is that people are already thinking about ways to improve this process.

Retailers that take the lead and are among the first to provide an efficient and smooth buying experience on a consistent basis should experience positive effects on their bottom lines not only through increased sales, but also through the decrease in expenses needed to get products into customers’ hands.

Keep in mind, successful retailers will need to continually improve the process, as positive word-of-mouth could lead to more customers using the service. This could strain the retailer’s resources even further and again lead to failures which could negatively impact future sales.

However, not offering the service might be worse than not trying at all, as many customers already say the option is important to them.

Photo credits: Mike Mozart and Mike Mozart on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Machine Learning and the Future of SEO

Photo credit: Sam Greenhalgh on Flickr.Many of your current and future customers have found or will find your business by doing a search on Google or some other search engine. This is true whether you work for a Fortune 500 company or the mom-and-pop store down the street.

While many factors influence whether or not a searcher clicks on your website when it is listed on a search engine results page (SERP), studies have found that the higher the website ranks on a SERP, the more likely it is that a searcher will click.

It is for this reason that many companies, both large and small, are investing in search engine optimization (SEO).

The different factors that influence your ranking on a SERP are always changing. In fact, if the recent announcement from Google is an indication of the future, the way businesses optimize their websites for search may soon be completely different than it is today.

Hummingbird: Google’s Search Algorithm

According to a recent post on Search Engine Land, there are many factors or “signals” that determine where a webpage ranks on a Google SERP. The article on Search Engine Land was written as a follow-up to an article on Bloomberg.com that discusses a new signal Google is using in its search algorithm.

“Signals are things Google uses to help determine how to rank Web pages,” writes Danny Sullivan, Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. “For example, it will read the words on a Web page, so words are a signal. If some words are in bold, that might be another signal noted. The calculations used as part of PageRank give a page a PageRank score that’s used as a signal. If a page is noted as being mobile-friendly, that’s another signal that’s registered.”

“Google has fairly consistently spoken of having more than 200 major ranking signals that are evaluated that, in turn, might have up to 10,000 variations or sub-signals,” Sullivan continues. “It typically just says “hundreds” of factors, as it did in yesterday’s Bloomberg article.”

SEO experts use these known signals as a guide to tweak websites so that they are Google friendly and hopefully rank higher on a Google SERP.

Introducing RankBrain

Google recently announced that they have added a machine-learning artificial intelligence system into the mix to help assist in determining where a site displays on a Google SERP. Google is calling this new machine-learning artificial intelligence system “RankBrain.”

“The problem is that Google processes three billion searches per day,” writes Sullivan. “In 2007, Google said that 20 percent to 25 percent of those queries had never been seen before. In 2013, it brought that number down to 15 percent, which was used again in yesterday’s Bloomberg article and which Google reconfirmed to us. But 15 percent of three billion is still a huge number of queries never entered by any human searcher – 450 million per day.”

“Among those can be complex, multi-word queries, also call “long-tail” queries,” Sullivan writes. “RankBrain is designed to help better interpret those queries and effectively translate them, behind the scenes in a way, to find the best pages for the searcher.”

With RankBrain, Google is using the information and knowledge gained from some past searches to better understand future complex searches. In other words, Google’s algorithm is learning from past searches and using that knowledge to help rank pages to deliver results that it feels searchers are actually looking for.

RankBrain Is a Very Important Signal

As the article on Search Engine Land points out, RankBrain is not replacing the Google algorithm. Currently, RankBrain is only one of the many signals Google uses to determine where a website shows up on a Google SERP.

That said, it has been less than a year since it was first used and RankBrain has already become the third-most important signal in the Google Hummingbird algorithm.

It is unclear exactly how many search results are impacted. However, what we do know is that “a very large fraction” of the search queries on Google are being processed by RankBrain.

And, while I haven’t heard Google confirm this, it is entirely possible that RankBrain could play a larger role in the future.

What Does This Mean for Business?

While Bloomberg did break the story of RankBrain in the media, SEO experts were already aware that something strange was happening with SEO that they were having difficulty explaining.

In fact, Market Motive had a webinar a couple of weeks earlier, titled “SEO Webinar: Rise Of The Machines: What Artificial Intelligence Could Mean For SEO.”

In the webinar, Danny Dover explained how Artificial Intelligence is being used to help determine where pages rank on Google SERPs. However, I don’t think he mentioned RankBrain by name.

After the webinar, I sent a tweet asking Mr. Dover if he thought there would be a day when SEO would not be possible because of AI and personalized results.

“Interesting question. I think SEO as we know it today will disappear rapidly but SEO as in marketing online content will stay,” Mr. Dover responded.

He then clarified by tweeting, “Rapidly might not be the best word, perhaps disappear (but with no specified timeframe.)”

After Bloomberg broke the story in the mainstream media, Tim Wang asked Mr. Dover whether it would affect link building strategies and/or content creation. Mr. Dover responded by tweeting, “Yup. Machine Learning (one technique used in AI research) relies on training data not factors (a small but important diff)”.

If Mr. Dover is correct, in the future businesses will need to adapt and develop new ways of making sure that their website is found when a user does a search on Google or any of the other search engines. (As the Search Engine Land article points out, Bing has been incorporating its own machine-learning system into its algorithm it uses to rank pages since 2005.)

Final Thoughts

The goal of most search engines is to provide the most useful results for searchers. In an effort to accomplish this goal, the search engines are constantly updating their algorithms that determine where a website shows up on a SERP.

What this means for business is that whoever is in charge of making sure that the business’s website is optimized for search, whether it be a person on staff or an agency that specializes in SEO, needs to stay current on the best practices and trends in SEO.

While machine-learning is currently only a part of Google’s algorithm it uses to determine where a website appears on a SERP, it is already the third most important signal. And, it is entirely possible that it could play a larger role in the future.

This means that, in the future, businesses might need to use different tactics to optimize the business’s websites for search.

 

Note: While I have completed Market Motive’s SEO Foundations training as part of the Digital Marketing Foundations Practitioner Certification, I am not an SEO expert. I wrote this post to help make business leaders aware of some of the changes that could have an effect on their SEO efforts. I am relying on information from trusted experts. As just mentioned, it is important that the person who is leading the business’s SEO efforts be trained in the most current SEO strategies and best practices for optimizing a website for search.

These are the series of tweets that I cited in the post:

Photo credit: Sam Greenhalgh on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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An Early and Online 2015 Holiday Shopping Season – Why REI Closing on Black Friday Is Good Business

Photo credit: Chris Phan on Flickr.The business world was buzzing this week about REI’s decision to close its brick and mortar stores on one of the busiest shopping days of the year—Black Friday.

While it might have cost them some money in the short term, it was a very savvy business decision for many reasons.

The most obvious reason… all the free publicity REI is getting as business reporters and bloggers attempt to list and defend the company’s possible reasons for this decision.

What follows is a list of some of the factors that the company might have considered before making its announcement on Monday.

Black Friday Sales Are Not the Event That They Once Were

As Nikki Baird points out in an article on Forbes.com, there aren’t many surprise Black Friday deals to be found on Thanksgiving Day thanks to sites like blackfriday.com.

“Shoppers can see the deals way before the day they become available, compare the products, and if they’re enterprising and on the ball, they can find deals just as good or better right now – in fact, there are now price trackers that will help shoppers predict when the price will be the lowest, and apparently that more often happens the Friday before Thanksgiving, not after,” writes Baird.

With this in mind, it is not surprising that The National Retail Federation reported that there was an 11 percent decline in total spending in the four-day period between Thanksgiving Thursday and Sunday in 2014, when compared to the previous year.

It is also interesting to note that according to Google, about one in four consumers who responded to a survey conducted in January of 2015 said they had done some holiday shopping before Halloween last year. If this is true again this year, many consumers are already in stores looking for the best deal on the perfect gift.

Many Shoppers Are Turning to the Internet for Their Holiday Shopping

According to the National Retail Federation, “Almost half of holiday shopping, consisting of browsing and buying, will be done online: average consumers say 46 percent of their shopping (both browsing and buying) this holiday season will be conducted online, up from 44 percent last year.”

An Emphasis on Employees and the Outdoors Resonates With REI’s Customers

In an effort to capture more of a consumer’s holiday budget, many stores are opening earlier and earlier each year. In fact, many retailers will be open in the early evening on Thanksgiving Day.

While people often turn out in droves, many consumers (and retail employees) complain that retailers are missing the point. They feel that the holidays should be reserved for family time, not shopping.

By closing on Black Friday and giving their employees a paid vacation day, REI is sending a message that the family, employee well-being, and getting outdoors during the holiday is important to them, too.

Part of the reason that REI is able to make this unorthodox business decision is that REI is one of the few large retail cooperatives in the nation, not a publicly traded company.

“That basic structure frees up the business to do things that don’t really make sense in conventional market terms,” says Erbin Crowell, executive director for the Neighborhood Foods Co-op Association in a recent Washington Post article.

“Even if an observer called it a marketing strategy, it’s a really intriguing one that points to the fundamental difference between co-ops and traditional public corporations,” says Crowell.

“Clearly they’re seeing their social purpose, their cooperative structure, has value again,” Crowell continues, “and it’s something they want to lift up and share.”

Final Thoughts

REI made a bold move when it decided to announce that its brick and mortar stores will be closed on Black Friday and that employees will receive a paid vacation day in honor of the holiday.

Many factors may have played a role in this decision, including the fact that many consumers have been getting some of their holiday shopping done before Black Friday. In fact, many start before Halloween.

It is also important to point out that while the brick and mortar stores will be closed, customers can still purchase items from REI online.

The free publicity that REI is getting is also an added bonus.

In the end, REI’s management are undoubtedly hoping that this decision will resonate with consumers and create loyal customers who identify with the brand and the values that REI feels are important.

 

Photo credit: Chris Phan on Flickr.

Video credit: CNNMoney on YouTube.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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